Do you ever forget Jesus was radical?
Of course, I don’t mean he was radical in the sense of throwing pipe bombs or agitating for anarchy. Jesus was a radical in an entirely different way. A peaceful way. And yet, he was still such a threat to the established social order that the people in power wanted Him dead.
Somehow, I think we forget that. Or at least I do. It’s easy for me to get cozy in my American brand of Christianity and think what Jesus expects of me is actually pretty similar to what my culture values. Perhaps a little tweaking here and there, but nothing drastic. Nothing too…well…radical.
But yesterday I was reminded that is not the case. Yesterday, in the scripture, I had an encounter with the radical Jesus.
And He broke my paradigms.
The People Who Revile You Might Come as a Surprise
I’m reading through this advent devotional by Susie Larson, and yesterday’s scripture was Luke 6. I read through the first half of the chapter without any startling revelations, but all of the sudden, starting in vs 22, it was like I was reading something I’d never seen before in my life. (Which is certainly NOT the case.) The scripture is like that though. Right when you think it’s all familiar and you’ve “got it” by now, the spirit illuminates a passage anew and you feel totally gobsmacked.
Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.Luke 6:22
I have no idea why I never noticed this before, but ya’ll, this is not talking about being “reviled” by pagan unbelievers. Did you catch it? “for so their fathers did to the prophets”. Jesus is talking about other Jews here. He’s talking about the religious people! This is even more interesting when you consider that in 1 Timothy 3:7, when Paul was writing about qualifications for church eldership, he included the statement that these elders must “have a good reputation with outsiders”.
Outsiders. Non-believers. This time, we probably ARE talking about pagans.
Isn’t that such a strange contrast? It’s not a badge of honor for outsiders to hate you. It might even disqualify you for eldership! But it IS something to rejoice over when the “religious people” revile you on account of Jesus. Say what???
Of course, that doesn’t mean the unbelieving world is always going to love you either (there are plenty of other verses telling us it won’t!) but isn’t it interesting that when Jesus says we should “rejoice” about people slandering our reputations, it’s not the pagan world He’s talking about? It’s other people who claimed to worship the same God!
Something about the strange contrast of that passage jolted me wide awake. All of the sudden, I realized Jesus wasn’t saying things I expected him to say in this sermon. He was preaching a startling, radical message. Which meant I had better sit up and pay attention!
And as I did, my American Christian paradigms got seriously shaken up.
Sometimes, Jesus Doesn’t Sound Very American
But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either.Luke 6:27-29
People, I’m sorry to say, but this verse is not very “American.” Think about the people we admire in fiction and film. Sharp-shooter cowboys and super-heroes. They aren’t, generally speaking, the “turn the other cheek” kind of people. Sure, we prefer heroes who don’t do anything violent unless they are provoked. But once they ARE provoked…we want to see fireworks.
The American spirit says “I don’t start fights, I just finish them.” “Walk softly, but carry a big stick.” or, to quote the words of a hugely popular patriotic song “you’ll be sorry that you messed with the U.S. of A. ‘Cause we’ll put a boot in your ass. It’s the American way!”
Now I’m not here to criticize America. I love America. Nor do I intend to demean those who have sacrificed themselves for the freedom we enjoy in this country.
But what I’m talking about here is how, we as American Christians, have to be careful not to import this “American spirit” into our personal interactions. Because it simply isn’t the way Jesus taught us to respond to our fellow image-bearers.
As Christians, we have to remember that our highest loyalty MUST be to the kingdom and spirit of Jesus, not the national spirit of America. The person we emulate has to be Jesus, not Jason Bourne or Indiana Jones. And as I read those above verses, I realized that, as a born-and-raised American, this teaching of Jesus did NOT come naturally to me. When was the last time I actually returned evil with good? When was the last time I actually blessed somebody who cursed me? When was the last time I prayed, REALLY PRAYED for somebody I thought was treating me wrongly?
It so much easier to respond like an American. It so much easier to fight. It’s so much easier to criticize and revile back when someone criticizes and reviles me. It’s so much easier to look at American leaders who I think are harming me and my country and respond with vitriol instead of prayer.
But we have to ask ourselves, to whom do we give ultimate loyalty? Who’s creed do we follow when it comes down to the line? In our interactions with others, do we follow the guy who said “Soon as we could see clearly through our big black eye, Man, we lit up your world like the 4th of July“? or do we follow the Lord, who said “To the one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other as well”?
I love following Jesus, and I love being an American. But when it really comes down to it, in my day-to-day interactions with others, if I have to choose between the American ideal and the Jesus ideal, I had better be choosing Jesus!
Jesus’s Brand of Generosity is Earth-Shattering
Ok. Here’s another command that brought me up short:
Give to everyone who begs from you.Luke 6:30a
I would recommend you go back and read that sentence a few times and just think about it for a second.
Give. To EVERYONE. Who begs from you.
Do you feel all the qualifications jumping into your mind? ‘But Jesus, how do I know they really need help?’ ‘But Jesus, how do I know they aren’t charlatans?’ ‘But Jesus, how do I know they won’t just spend the money I give them on drugs and alcohol?’
We can come up with a million reasons to hesitate, when we see that man standing there with his cardboard sign at the crossroads. There is simply so much we don’t know. What if he’s only a lazy drunk? What if we’d just be enabling bad behavior? And besides, we’re busy. We have places to go, we don’t have time to get our wallet out. And we were saving those five dollars for a coffee from Starbucks. We already give money to our church, and to that missionary in China. We can’t really be expected to give hand-outs to some random woman in a tattered sweatshirt sitting in the Walmart parking lot of our own hometown…can we?
All those questions bubble up, and yet, there’s only one answer in the text. “Give to everyone who begs from you.”
Now of course, if you actually KNOW somebody is a charlatan, that’s different. They aren’t really begging then, are they? But when it comes to all those other people, Jesus didn’t tell us to get character references, background checks, and financial reports from anyone who begs from us. He just said GIVE.
Why? I’m guessing it’s the same reason we love our enemies. The same reason we pray for people who treat us badly. The same reason we turn the other cheek. It’s because we are to model ourselves after Jesus, and it turns out, Jesus is not in the business of only helping people who deserve it. In fact, Jesus is in the business of helping a whole lot of people who absolutely DON’T deserve it. That’s kind of a key point of the gospel, isn’t it?
And if you think about it, wouldn’t you rather know you helped one person who really needed it, even if you helped a few other people who didn’t? If 10 charlatans take advantage of your generosity this week, but one hungry woman gets a hot meal because of your kindness, isn’t that worth it?
And in the end, even if we are merciful and generous to people who are liars and cheats, we are still following the pattern that has been set for us.
“And your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”Luke 6:35-36
“Why Do You Call Me Lord?”
There is so much more in this sermon that breaks my paradigms if I really think about it. Like lending without expecting anything back, and removing the log in my own eye before I try to help somebody else remove their speck. We’ve all heard these things before, but somehow, we seem to skim over them like they are just a nice sentiment, not actual instructions from Jesus teaching what His followers should look like. If you read this description and then read the history of Christianity, sometimes it’s hard to believe so many who claim to follow Christ have acted nothing like Him.
Jesus says that every disciple, when he is fully trained, “will be like his teacher”. (vs 40) We are supposed to be growing more and more like Jesus. And lest we think the commands He gives in this passage are too radical to be taken seriously, lest we assume they are just hyperbole, or helpful suggestions, Jesus finishes up with this piercing question:
Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and not do what I tell you?Luke 6:46
At the end of the sermon, He leaves his listeners with a convicting question, followed by a vivid word picture of a house that is built on a rock, vs a house that is built with no foundation. If we’re going to be followers of Jesus, and be part of the Kingdom He is building, we are going to have to build on a good foundation. We have to set our eyes on Jesus, and build in the pattern He set. And that means we don’t get to ignore His blueprint. If we are going to call Him Lord, we had better do what He tells us.
It doesn’t come naturally to us. It’s radical. So radical that it sometimes goes against all our instincts and makes us feel disoriented. As if He’s asking us to be part of a paradigm that is completely upside-down.
But the truth is, it’s our broken human world that is upside-down, and Jesus gave up His glory to be born here, to walk among us, to die for us, and rise again as the ruler of a new Kingdom that changes everything.
Advent is About a Right-Side-Up Kingdom Breaking Into an Upside-Down World
And that, my friends, is the power of Advent. It’s about arrival. Not just the arrival of a baby in a manger, but the arrival of God’s kingdom, come to earth. And the future arrival of Jesus as King, when all will be completed.
Our world is broken in so many, many ways. There are so many things wrong, so many things that run backwards to the way God intended them. God made a beautiful, wonderful world, and human beings broke it. We broke it so badly that the ways of God can seem totally foreign to us. But one day, that won’t be true anymore.
Jesus came proclaiming that “The kingdom of God is at hand”. With the coming of Jesus, God’s right-side-up kingdom broke into this upside-down world, and began a radical transformation. It begins in the hearts of human beings who, empowered by the Holy Spirit, walk in the ways of Jesus.
It’s going to sound crazy at first. In God’s kingdom, the greatest among us are servants. (Luke 22:26) In God’s kingdom, we are all one in Christ, without boundaries between slave and free, Jew and Gentile, male and female. (Gal 3:28) In God’s kingdom, the things we value aren’t power and vengeance, but rather compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. (Col 3:12) In God’s kingdom, we don’t try to outdo each other in striving for honor, but in giving it to others. (Rom 12:10)
It’s a crazy, radical, right-side-up Kingdom. It started with the coming of Jesus, and it continues with us, as we follow His lead.
This Advent, remember where your true loyalty lies. Let’s let the outside world see a King, and a kingdom, that is so wonderful it makes them them come, beating our doors down, wanting to know how they can be part of it.
Christ has Come. Christ’s Kingdom is here. And Christ our King will return to make all things new.
What are you reading and thinking about this Advent? Have you every considered how radical Jesus’s kingdom is? Let me know in the comments!
*This post contains affiliate links.