Opening My Hands
Today was the last sermon in a series at my church on the Story of the Christ. I wish now
I had thought more about each one and had written up detailed notes because the teaching is something I want to take into a quiet corner and gnaw, like a dog with a favorite bone. I've loved the Author for a long time; now I'm learning to love the Book.
One of the main points of the series - eleven weeks illustrated - was the shocking nature of who Christ actually is, as opposed to who we (now and the Jews at the time) expect him to be.
The Jews were waiting for a Messiah, for the one who would lead the nation of Israel against the tyranny of Caesar and reclaim their national and religious independence. They were looking for a warrior, a fighter, a King.
And, as Jeff (the pastor) pointed out, we today expect a different sort of Jesus. A wandering Buddha-prophet (only thinner), aimlessly hiking the rocky wilds, stopping now and then to wax eloquent and give us nifty sayings we can later immortalize on little plaques in our kitchens. Oh, and healing anyone he happened across. I unwillingly think of Miss America on tour, waving from a parade float, visiting orphanages and spreading smiles and good will.
Jeff painted an altogether different picture, intricate and richly detailed, and wholly scriptural.
Jesus, a man with a mission, a message that had nothing to do with Rome and taxation. And most certainly not an aimless wanderer, seeking out the downtrodden so he could demonstrate his powers. Wherever he went, he was mobbed by diseased - mobbed by them such that he couldn't do what he'd come to do. Soon he couldn't set foot in a city before the crowds would seek him out, so he hid, avoiding crowds, and if he did get found out by someone needing healing, he would say, "Shhhh, don't tell anyone!" It wasn't some perverse reverse psychology - don't tell! (But do!). He needed solitude to do his work - to train the twelve. And what was he telling them? That he wasn't interested in revolts against Rome. That he was going to die.
Die? What kind of Messiah dies? They didn't get it, thought he was speaking in metaphors.
His actual message - that he is the Son of God - was not what anyone expected to hear. Blasphemy! When he so much as hinted at it, people picked up stones. More than once his disciples spirited him away from a crowd set to stone him. Over and over those opposed to Jesus couldn't catch him. During daylight hours, the crowds protected him, and at night his disciples kept him in hiding. Until one of the twelve defected. Maybe Judas was disenfranchised. This Jesus guy sure isn't the king he was hoping for, the warrior, the second David.
People today don't want to hear this either. They're fine with Christ being a prophet, or some really good guy. Jeff taught on this today. Imagine the eleven (since Judas wasn't in the picture anymore) holed up in a room the day after Passover, the door locked. Jesus was dead. Dead. So he couldn't be the Messiah, because as everyone knew, a dead messiah was no Messiah.
But who was he? Minions of hell feared and obeyed him; the winds receded at his command; water bore his weight; disease fled at his touch ... he had even proved power over death!
He couldn't have been an ordinary man, with a few delusions of grandeur. Not with the power he had demonstrated.
A prophet? Sure, they may have thought. A prophet like Elijah. Prophets could die.
Only ... he'd said he was Messiah. He'd said he was the Chosen One. Had he lied?
Only ... then he would have been a false prophet.
And when the Marys came pounding on the door shouting, "It's empty! The tomb is empty!" what would they have thought? And when He appeared, bodily, they didn't break into cheers. They thought they were seeing a ghost. They were terrified!
But He took off his sandals. He ate. Not a ghost but a corporeal being, the same as He was before, but different. And very much undoubtedly alive. He had turned back the clock to the Garden, the choice of the first pair. The break - which He had now repaired.
I've always known the story. I could quote along, in a dull monotone, near any passage from the gospels and yet all my life the picture I've had in my head has been wrong.
No wandering prophet, patting children and snacking on loaves and fishes in the windswept grass. A man, at once man and God, with purpose and power and who has called me to Follow Him.
And here is the point of the past eleven weeks.
Follow. It's not about where I'm going. The Jews wanted to be free of Caesar, but Christ didn't care about Caesar or, ultimately, the political nation of Israel. He didn't come to lead their revolution.
Or, as Jeff said again and again, He didn't come to head up the parade I'm already leading.
It's not about where I'm going; it's about where He's going.
My parade, my plans, my desires, my goals - all of those things I'm clutching, knuckles white.
I'm holding tight. But if I want to follow, I must open my hands.