Right now, Christianity is exploding all over the world. Millions of people in Africa, Asia and South America are choosing to love, worship and follow Jesus. So, what are they seeing in Jesus that we in the West are missing? Maybe it’s time that we in the West took some time out and re-examined the Jesus in the Bible. Forget about the Jesus we think we know. Forget about the Jesus we’ve heard about. Forget about the Jesus we’ve grown up with. And rediscover the Jesus in the Bible.
The Jesus we meet in the Bible
The Jesus we meet in the Bible hung around with people that you and I wouldn’t hang around with. Think about the people your mother did not want you to hang around with. Bikie gangs, tattooed gang members, corrupt politicians, sex workers, drug sellers, drug users, and maybe homeless people. Why? Well not just because it’s bad for your reputation, but if you hang around with these sorts of people, you start behaving like these sorts of people. If we hang around with violent people, we too will become violent. If we hang out with the sexually immoral, we too will become sexually immoral. So, there’s a simple logic there. But somehow Jesus doesn’t have this problem.
There’s a scandal about who Jesus is eating and drinking with. In Luke 5, the Pharisees (the religious leaders) and the teachers of the law complained to Jesus disciples saying: “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” - that is, the seedy and corrupt, the people your mother would not want you to hang out with. In Luke 7, we hear how a religious leader invites Jesus to his place for a meal. A woman in the town that has a reputation for being a sinner, washes Jesus’ feet with her tears, her hair, her perfume. The religious leader thinks: “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” But we find out in the Bible that it’s the opposite. It’s because Jesus is a prophet, it’s because Jesus knows this woman is a sinner. It’s because of this that Jesus does let her do these things to him. So that’s the Jesus in the bible.
Mistakes we can make about Jesus
So, what are mistakes we can make about Jesus? Here I suggest two. The first mistake we can make is the mistake that the religious leaders make. They confuse love with approval. They think because Jesus is loving and welcoming these people and because he’s mixing with them, he’s also approving of their behaviour, but you don’t have to do that. Sometimes the more loving thing to do is not approve. That means we too can welcome and love those we don’t agree with. We don’t have to approve of the violence, we don’t have to approve of the corruption - but we can still love and welcome. Because they don’t mean the same thing.
The second mistake we can make is make the opposite mistake and it’s to say of the seedy and corrupt: “Oh, isn’t it nice that they have found Jesus. Isn’t it lovely how Jesus eats and drinks with them.” Why is that a mistake as well? Because you’ve just got to hear how patronising that sounds. As if we are somehow morally superior and they are inferior. That’s the equal and opposite mistake - and I think - the mistake we are more likely to make.
So how does Jesus want us to respond?
The hint comes in a story that he tells. He tells a story of two men who go to a money lender and one borrows the equivalent today of $5,000 and the other borrows $50,000. And they both can’t pay back the money lender. And the money lender forgives them both. Then Jesus says, “Now which of them will love him (the money lender) more?” The religious leader says, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” Jesus says, “You have judged correctly.” And then he says something very strange. He says, “the one who sins much and is forgiven much, loves much. But the one who is forgiven little, loves little.” Notice he doesn’t say “the one who sins little, and is forgiven little, loves little”. He just says the one who is forgiven little, loves little. In other words, Jesus is saying we are all sinners. We are all in debt. The only difference is whether we realise we are in debt and we need this forgiveness.
So, the first thing we need to realise is that we too are in debt. We too need a debt forgiven. The second thing we need to do is ask for forgiveness. This humbling act is the most liberating because it frees us up for the third thing we need to do. And that is to love.
The Jesus of the Bible is friendly to the seedy and corrupt. And what we can learn from Jesus today is this: we can love without having to approve. Jesus says its ok that you’re not ok. There is guilt, there is wrong, there is sin.
You’ll find something that the rest of the world can’t give you with Jesus – and that is forgiveness. If we’ve been forgiven much, we’ve been set free to love much as well.
By Sam Chan
If you’re in Sydney - why not come along to Sam’s next Bible Shots talk in person. All details here.