Controversial Jesus #1 - Performance
Dr. Kurt Bjorklund begins the new message series Controversial Jesus by looking at the story of the paralyzed man in John 5:1-17 and asking us today, "Do you want to be healed?"
This is an auto-generated transcript. Please excuse any errors.
Good morning. Welcome. It's great to be together. I want to say a special welcome to those of you who maybe last weekend was a reintroduction to church. You decided just to kind of tip your toe in the water and wanted to come back, experience it again or jump into this series that we're beginning this weekend around the controversial Jesus.
What we are doing here today is very typical of what we do weekend after weekend here. There'll be singing where many of us will try to lift our hearts and our voices in a way of just acclaiming who God is, proclaiming who God is. And then we'll open the Bible and we'll read and try to understand that together. And then many will gather in groups, we call them Life Groups, throughout the week and they'll discuss and apply what we talk about here. And all of that is just designed to help anybody who comes, come to a place where they can find and follow Jesus Christ fully.
I want to thank those of you who also served over last weekend. We had 11 different services for Easter between here and the worship center, the chapel, Butler County, the Strip District plus the Good Friday services, and so many of you took it upon yourselves to be a part of that in more than just one service to serve and variety of ways, to invite people, to host people in your homes that you had invited. And we got a chance just to see God bring a lot of people through and hopefully help them take a step toward finding and following Jesus Christ as well.
Let's take a moment and just pray for our time today.
Father, we pray that as we're gathered here today that you would speak to each of us, that my words would reflect your word in content and in tone and in emphasis. And we pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.
Well, it doesn't take much to see controversy in our world today. We can see it clearly in any political figure. As soon as somebody runs for office and they take a position, whatever position they take becomes controversial. It's not that it's hard to understand their position, but you very quickly have at least half the people it seems like saying, "I don't care for that position. I don't like what they stand for."
And certainly, there's controversy around race or around economic opportunities, around educational opportunities in our world. And so we're not strangers to controversy. When we say that Jesus is a controversial figure, some of us may agree with that, some of us may disagree. Some of us may say Jesus is controversial and the reason that we think that is because whenever a position is taken that seems to be from Jesus or Jesus' followers over time, some of us don't like the position. And so we say, "Well, it's hard to understand," and there's a lot of disagreement that's controversial and what it does is it allows us to not have to bend our knee to Jesus or to something Jesus says.
Some of us maybe just see Jesus as being really kind of neutered of anything that's significant in terms of his positions. And so Jesus isn't all that controversial because we don't see anything he says as being challenging or difficult. But what we're going to do over these coming weeks is look at a section of the Gospel of John. There are four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They all give an account of Jesus' life. John has about 90% unique material from the other three Gospels.
When we come to John 5, we move into a place where Jesus is opposed. And what we'll see is that the opposition that Jesus experiences or controversies aren't that different and that day than they are in our day. That there are things that when we encounter Jesus' words or actions today are just as difficult or controversial for people in our culture, people in our churches to accept as they were in that day.
And today we're going to look specifically at John 5 verses 1 through 17, 18, which is an account of Jesus healing a man. And in John, there are seven different signs. This is the third sign, the word that's used to connote the miracles that John tells about to point to Jesus' deity. And in this instance what happens is Jesus heals a man who had been an invalid for 38 years, had been unable to walk.
Jesus goes up to Jerusalem, up because it was up in the mountains for a feast, and Jewish males were required to go to three feasts a year, three specific feasts. We don't know which feast this was, but there's a chance it was one of these three and while he was here, he goes to this pool, that's in Aramaic called Bethesda. Here's a picture of the pool today. And so this still exists in Jerusalem and the five colonnades are around this. And some people think that that is symbolic of something, but probably the significance is just marking this as an actual spot, an actual place of events.
And so Jesus and goes there and when he's there, the man wasn't able to get into the pool. Now, there's a missing verse. If you tracked with the reading that happened just a moment ago where it reads verse 1, 2, 3 and then verse 4 is skipped. And if you have a paper copy of your Bible, a written copy and the bottom on the footnote is verse 4. If you have a digital copy, there's a little place where you can click and go and it'll show you this footnote and it'll give you verse 4 and this is a rabbit trail, but I'll come back to what I'm talking about, but this is significant because some of us will read that and will say, "What's going on? We're missing a verse. And then it's here and it says it's not supplied in some earlier manuscripts."
What happened with the transmission of the Bible is that there were manuscripts, and there are thousands of them that they give us the content of the Bible and because there's thousands of them, we can compare different aspects of the manuscripts to make sure that we have as close to the original as possible. But then as time went on, some later manuscripts came forward and most of the earlier... We found them later, but they were earlier. The earlier manuscripts did not contain verse 4.
So the scholarship today basically says that what people think happened is that an editor added it as a way to explain this miracle. And there's nothing here that's doctrinally different or changes anything, but that's why. And so actually the degree of certainty around your Bible should actually be higher because of little notes like "This doesn't appear in the earliest manuscripts," is what this means. All right. That's the end of the excursus.
Now, when Jesus gets there, he finds this man and probably dozens or hundreds of other people around, and this probably was a pretty challenging, sad space because if somebody is blind, lame, can't walk, chances are what they did is they live there and they live by charity. And so if somebody can't walk and he has no one to help him, what does he do when he has to go to the bathroom? He just does it right there. I mean, this was probably not a pleasant spot that Jesus comes to, and Jesus comes to this place, and when we come to this we see I think two challenges that Jesus makes to self-perceptions, to mindsets of people in his day and people in our day.
And so we're going to look at this man and then these religious leaders, the religious leaders that were gathered. And so the man is challenged by Jesus because he saw himself, I'm going to say as a victim, and we see this in verses 1 through 9. The reason I say this is because when Jesus came to him and he said, "Do you want to get well?" The man said, "Look, I have no one to move me into the water. I have no one to help me."
Whether or not the water had any effect in terms of healing, the added verse says that the Angel stirred the water and the people believed would heal or if it was just a myth that they believed, the point is the man was there and he didn't feel like he had any opportunity to change his future and he didn't take personal responsibility. And so Jesus comes to him and he asks this offensive question, "Do you want to get well?"
I mean, that's an offensive question. If you're suffering with something, if something's not right in your life and somebody says, "Do you want it to be better?" That's a little offensive because of course, you want it to be better. That's your point. And I believe that what Jesus was doing in this moment is that he was pointing out this victim mentality that this man had started to have. "It's been 38 years. It'll never get better. No one will move me into the pool. I can't change anything and I'm not responsible for what's happening to me."
And so Jesus, without putting the man into the pool says, "Take up your mat and walk." And the man takes up as mat, probably what he had to lie on, his life was contained and he walks away. And as the story unfolds, what happens is some of the religious leaders see him carrying his mat and they say, "You're carrying your mat on the Sabbath. That's against the rules, the law. You shouldn't be doing that." And they say, "Who told you this?" And he says, "I don't know," because Jesus had slipped away into the crowd, we're told.
And then at verse 14, it says this; later, Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, "See you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you." Now, this is a striking statement again because in this moment Jesus finds this man, he says, "Stop sinning so that you don't have something worse happen to you." And what has happened over the years of people studying the Bible is some people have read this and they've said this is Jesus sang in essence that the reason this man was suffering is because of his own sin and he has to stop sinning so he doesn't get something worse.
Other people have looked at this and said maybe Jesus was speaking more in jest. Like these leaders are saying that you're sinning, "Hey, stop sinning so that you don't have anything worse than being an invalid like this." And either of those are possible, we don't know the tone or the exact tenor of this, but here's what's significant. And that is if you're suffering, if you are in hardship in your life, to be able to identify that there are several causes of suffering because if we lock in to simply to one cause it can lead to a harder way of relating to God and a victim mentality in our lives.
Let me just give you four different ways or causes for suffering, four causes. The first is this, and that is we suffer because we live in the world. In the general world, there is suffering because of the fall. Romans 5:12 says this. So in other words, one of the reasons you and I suffer in this world is because we live in a world that has fallen from God's original creation. The second reason we suffer is because we're a victim of somebody else's actions. And what I mean by this is somebody might swindle something from us, somebody might hurt us, somebody might abuse us, somebody might betray us. And as a result, we end up suffering.
Somebody might get drunk some night and drive through a stop light and hit us and we suffer and it's because of somebody else. There's a third cause of suffering that we see in the Gospels and that is we suffer of demonic activity. Now, I realize that this might shock some of us, or we may not like this concept, but in the Gospels, 20% of Jesus' miracles dealt with demon possession. And what that means, and you can see an example of this in Matthew 8 verse 18, what this means is that at least some of the suffering that happens in our lives, some of the suffering that we encounter is spiritual in nature and part of a spiritual battle in our lives.
And so whether you like the concept of demons or spirituality or not, if you take the Bible seriously, one of the things you see is that when we suffer, it might be just general sin in the world like a fallen world that might be somebody else's actions, but sometimes it is demonic and there are two errors that we can make when it comes to demons. One is we can see everything as having a demonic cause and always blame a demon, but the other is to never put any spiritual forces into play when we think about things but to always say that it's natural.
But then there's a fourth cause, and the fourth cause is us. It's our choices, it's our foolishness, it's our sin. And certainly, not all suffering is a result of us. In fact, Jesus in John 9 when he was healing a man born blind and the people said, "Who sinned? This man or his father?" Said, "Neither. It's not like that." And so clearly in the Bible, not all of our suffering is related to our sin, but it would be kind of irresponsible to look at the Bible and say, none of our suffering is ever a result of our sin. Sometimes it's our own choices, it's our own foolishness. We put ourselves in a place where we begin to suffer.
And here's what Jesus is doing when he comes to this man and he says, "Do you want to get well?" Is he saying, "Are you going to simply accept your suffering?" Or "Are you willing to start to think about other possibilities in your life?" You see what I believe Jesus is doing which he does with all of his miracles is he's reversing the suffering and pointing to the restoration of all things. Here's a verse in Isaiah 35 verse 6 and this is speaking of God's coming kingdom. Here's what he says.
Says; then the lame will leap like deer and the mute tongue will shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The idea of the Kingdom of God is that all of the brokenness, all of the pain will be restored. So a man who's been unable to walk for 38 years will get up and carry as mat and walk and that is the Kingdom of God, restoration being realized.
Now, there is one big question that we see in this passage, at least one question that jumps at me. And that is, so Jesus walks up, presumably, there's dozens, maybe hundreds of people there who are suffering and Jesus heals one. Why doesn't he heal hundreds? Won't that have been a greater demonstration of his kingdom and his power and his glory to have said, "Everyone here, take up your mat and walk. Everyone here, your sight is restored."? But he does it for one, not for everybody. Why?
Well, it would seem to me that part of this is understanding that Jesus in his initial mission coming to earth was initiating the kingdom, but it's in part kingdom that is realized fully when he comes a second time. And the reason this is true is because what he does is he heals the one and says, "This is my kingdom. The lame begin to walk. They can run and leap." And yet you're still in a broken world where there are many who don't receive that healing.
You see, a lot of times you'll hear people teach in a church context that God wants everyone to be healed, God wants everyone to experience all the goodness of this life. And what's happening often is they're confusing the kingdom of the whole realization of the kingdom where one day all the lame will walk and the here and now where sometimes Jesus says, "I'm going to heal the one, but I'm not going to heal all of them."
Now, I realize that as I say that, that if you're here and you're saying, "Well, I'm in a tough spot today. Here's what's going on for me. Why isn't God doing something for me?" that it can lead to challenges in terms of how you see God, how you see the world, but go back to what Jesus asked this man. What did he ask him? Simple question, "Do you want to get well? Is this what you want?" You see too often what happens for people in that day, our day is that we live with a victim mentality meaning that what we do is we say, "This situation that I'm in, it can't get any better. It is hopeless, it is broken," and it becomes a way for us to avoid taking action or responsibility.
Now, certainly the most dramatic of these are physical situations like this man, but there are other situations that we can have this mentality. We can have it in a relationship, a marriage that feels broken, we can have it when we feel as if we're at the end of our resources, the end of ourselves, the end of our strength. We can say, "I don't have enough to keep going." And what happens when we have a victim mentality is that we feel that everything's out of our control and that there's either somebody out to hurt us or that the world, the cosmos is conspiring against us somehow.
The reason that we can settle into this victim mentality is because there are some benefits to us. And here's what I mean. If you take on a victim mentality in your life, what happens is all of a sudden you can say, "I'm not responsible because there are things beyond my control. It's out of control. I'm not responsible for what happens to me." Sometimes we can use it as a way to garner attention. By having a victim mentality people will pay attention to us and they'll give us their pity, their empathy.
We can see it as a way to hedge against all criticism because if we're a victim, then nobody can criticize us for the choices we make or the path that we take. If we're a victim, then we have the right to complain consistently, to garner more of that empathy and attention from others. And if we're a victim, then we can manipulate others to give us what we think we need. And sometimes one of the benefits of feeling like a victim is just the drama that it brings because drama can make us feel alive, but what Jesus does to this man, as he comes, he says, "Do you want to get well?"
And I believe that he was pushing against this victim mindset and saying, "You're not without hope. You're not without a future. So don't give in to this way of thinking." And when you take the whole event, his future may not have been realized with Jesus saying, "Pick up your mat and walk," but what Jesus was doing was he was saying, "You don't have to live as a victim."
Now, there's a second group, and this is actually I think where the controversy really comes, and this is the religious leaders. I'm just going to say the religious leaders saw themselves as virtuous. And we see this in verses 9 through 18 because here's what happens. The religious leaders see this man carrying his mat on the Sabbath. And what they immediately do is they say, "You should not be carrying your mat on the Sabbath. That's against the rules. It's against the law."
Now, in order to understand this, we need to actually understand something about Old Testament and how laws came to be because carrying his mat on the Sabbath was actually not against God's law, it was against the human-made interpretations of God's law. In the Old Testament, there's 10 commandments, hopefully, you're familiar with that, and the fourth commandment is that you should honor the Lord with the Sabbath. In other words, one day a week, one of seven, you stop your work, you worship God, you rest from all of your normal labor in order to focus your mind and your attention on God.
It was a given as a gift to the people of Israel. It was a slave culture in many ways when they were first in Egypt, in different places, and God says, "I'm going to give you a day where you just stop." And what happened was that the religious leaders, not these in this story, but over time came along and said, "Well, how do we structure and define rest and work?" And so they came up with all of these rules, all of these standards that would say, "Here's what work is. Here's what you need to do or not do in order to obey and keep the Sabbath."
So they took something that was a gift and they made it a burden. And in making it a burden, what they did is they said, "One of the ways that you work is you carry your mat." And so when this man carried his mat, they said, "This is against the Sabbath. You should not be walking." And here's Jesus knowing exactly what he's doing, healing this man on the Sabbath saying, "Get up, take up your mat and walk," knowing full well that the religious leaders would see him walk and carry his mat and say, "This is not what you should be doing." And this is by the way, what gives some credence to the interpretation when Jesus finds him later and says, "Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you," because he's the one who told him, "Take your mat and keep walking." Like just go.
And so here's what happens in terms of seeing ourselves as virtuous. And that is anytime that we take a principle and then we add to it an interpretation or an extrapolation or an implication and then we universalize that implication we say, "Because this is said, I interpret or I believe this and now everyone should do what I do. Everyone should think like I think, everyone should do what I do," we run the risk of beginning to say, "I'm virtuous, other people are bad," which by the way feels good to us because we like when we can say we're good and other people are bad. And what we do then is we start to make a whole system in which we say, "Here are the virtuous people, there are in the non-virtuous people."
And this doesn't just happen around church. This happens in every arena of life where people will say, "We have a political system, our system is good, the other system is bad and is full of bad people. We're the good people." It happens when people take a narrative and they supply it to just a way to approach the world. Here's how you know that this is something that we do and that is, as I'm even talking about this right now, chances are some of you are sitting here thinking, "I hope that somebody else hears this."
And what I mean is it's like, "Well, I hope the Democrats hear this," "I hope the Republicans hear this." "I hope that people who interpret faith this way hear this." And here's what I think Jesus is doing is he's challenging them because their definition of virtue had caused them to not love. They had prioritized their way of thinking, their way of rightness, their virtue over being present with a man who had just been healed.
Now, don't misunderstand. There are times that there's a principle. You see, sometimes people will get the idea that when I talk about virtue like this, that there's never a principle that a follower of Jesus needs to stand for, and that what it means is that everything kind of goes. No, there are some principles that require a follower of Jesus to say, "This is what the word of God says and I can do nothing other than take a stand here," but what we sometimes do is we take our interpretations and we add to our applications and then we universalize them and then we say, "The good people do it the way I do it."
You see this is rampant. In fact, some people might even say, "One of the reasons I don't like church is I don't like the self-righteousness of the people there, how they think they're right, they're good and everyone else is bad." But you know what you do as soon as you do that, by the way? What have you done? You've now put yourself in the good group of people, the virtuous people who aren't judgmental, like those people at Church who tell everyone else how they should live, and so you've done the same thing. You just have a different standard that gives you your sense of virtue, your sense of well being that says, "I'm one of the virtuous people. I'm not like those people."
And any categorization like this becomes an issue. There's a new book that just came out recently called Seculosity. It's by a man named David Zahl. And he argues in this book and I think persuasively that a lot of how we see religion is actually kind of missed because we're all way more religious than we tend to think. And here's why this is important because right now I'm guessing there are some of us who are here saying, "Yeah, I get what you just said about me being virtuous and seeing people of churches being virtuous, but I'm not virtuous like church people are virtuous."
So let me just read you a little section of this from David Zahl. It's longer than what I typically would read, but I think this is worth it if you'll just hang with this for a few moments. He says, "We're bombarded with poll results about declining levels of church attendance and belief in God. We assume that more and more people are abandoning faith and making their own meaning, but what these polls actually tell us is more straightforward.
They tell us that confidence in the religious narratives we've inherited has collapsed. What they fail to report is that the marketplace and replacement religion is booming. We may be sleeping in on Sunday mornings in greater numbers, but we've never been more pious. Religious observance hasn't faded apace, "secularization" so much as it's migrated and we have the anxiety to prove it. We're seldom not in church. That's a bold assertion to make, I know, and one that depends greatly on your definition of religion.
If you're going with the common conception of robes and kneeling and the man upstairs or what we might call capital-R religion, then yes, people are bailing in unprecedented numbers. Some say this has to do with science, some with capitalism or moralism or distraction or indifference or whatever, but the roots of so-called secularization aren't that important, at least not for our purposes in this book. What's important is that what's happening and will in all likelihood continue to.
The landscape shifts, however, if you opt for a more expansive view of religion. For instance, as sanctuaries in Europe have emptied, folkloric beliefs have thrived. A majority of Icelanders claim to believe in hidden creatures like elves and about a third of Australians in lucky charms and not the cereal. Half of Sweden gives credence to mental telepathy and according to the App Store downloads, millennials in the United States are increasingly enamored with astrology.
Tempting as occult belief systems such as these may be, this book sets out to look at how the promise of Salvation has fastened onto more everyday pursuits like work, exercise, and romance, and how it's making us anxious, lonely, and unhappy. Perhaps a more helpful definition of religion comes from writer David Dark. He calls it, 'A controlling story,' or 'A question of how we dispose our energies, how we fit or organize our own lives and in many cases, the lives of others.'
According to this definition, religion is not merely that which explains the inexplicable, but the lens through which you sort the data of your days, rank your priorities and focus your desires. We call this small-r religion. A person's religion is shorthand for the shape that lens takes, namely the specific ways it refracts what we see and directs our longings. This can be a set of unconscious assumptions about the world or it can be a perspective that's deliberately adopted like an-ism of some kind, but most often it's both.
Well, a solid starting point, I wonder if Dark's definition veers tad too close to the dreaded term worldview because religion in real life is more than a filter or a paradigm. It's what we lean on and tells us we're okay, that our lives matter. It's another name for all the ladders we spend our days climbing toward a dream of wholeness."
Here's what David's all goes on to argue. He goes on to argue that we use the word righteousness in religious terms to basically speak of our standing, but he said that that word doesn't communicate in our culture, but maybe a word that would be closer for us to understand or wrap our hands around is the word enough, enoughness, and that what we're doing in our culture all the time is we're saying, "If I can just live up to this standard and then I'll be enough," and we have them in every arena of our lives.
Some of us, it's how we look, how we dress. It's the social standing we have. It's the way that we earn money, it's our standing in our career, it's whether or not our kids are turning out, it's whether or not we're married, whether or not we're a good boyfriend, a good girlfriend, whether or not you fill it in. And we always are saying, "I just need to be enough." And in that what is happening is we are seeing ourselves as being virtuous on the basis of that. So whether you see yourself as religious in the big R sense of the word or you don't, you're religious in the small r sense of the word meaning you have something that you say, "I need enough of this," and here's where you know this shows up.
And that is whenever you see yourself being anxious, angry, irritated, upset around something, that is your small r religion. That is what you're saying. "I need more of this to feel virtuous, to feel good, to say I'm enough." And here's what Jesus does. These religious leaders say, "We're enough because we don't carry our mats on the Sabbath." And Jesus challenges that, and then at the end, he says, "My Father works all the time and I'm doing my work." It's a direct assertion of his deity. What he's doing is he's saying, "You think you understand how to be enough, but I actually am God. I know how you can be enough."
You see what happens is any time that we fill in kind of our own narrative to say, "This is how I feel good about me. I'm better than these people," what happens is we're using it to feel virtuous, to feel like we have enough. And what's ironic is a lot of times the way it begins is with a genuine desire to love people, to say, "I want to help people." And then what we do is we start to say, "Isn't that God's call? And everyone should love people in the way and the kind of mechanisms that I choose to love with as well."
And then we start to look at other people and say, "Because they don't do what I do, because they don't think what I think because they're not enlightened the way I'm enlightened, those people are the problem. I'm one of the good people, they're one of the bad people." Now, I'm again not suggesting that there aren't principles that transcend all of this and that there aren't even implications that you should be passionate about, but what I'm saying is as soon as you borrow virtue from that, what you're doing is you are using a small r version of religion to feel good about yourself.
Jesus challenges that and says that's going to be destructive for you because you'll end up using your virtue to avoid Jesus and you can end up using your victimhood to avoid Jesus. And what we really need is we need to come to a point where we deal with Jesus and say, "I'm going to claim enoughness, his virtue, his righteousness on my behalf." When Jesus says, "I am about my father's work," or "I must work too" what he's doing is he's saying, "I am God," and he's pointing forward again to the cross because in the cross Jesus addresses both the virtue and the victimhood that we feel.
The virtue because the whole story of the cross is that Jesus died for sinful people, for people who deserve punishment. And if you and I live in a way that we start to say, "Oh, I get that intellectually, but I don't really need that because I'm virtuous. I'm one of the good people," then the cross will fail to be sweet to us and we will instead of running to Jesus' righteousness, borrow our righteousness or our enoughness, our virtue from everything else in our lives, and in terms of victimhood, Jesus' death on the cross was the ultimate blow to that because if the narrative of the New Testament is true, that we're sinful people who deserve punishment and there's nothing we can do, Jesus did for us what we can do. In other words, he said, "You're not without hope and you're not without responsibility."
And so the question here today in many ways for you is have you been using either of these narratives as a way to avoid Jesus? Because coming to Jesus, coming to the cross, coming and saying, "I am not going to simply kind of live in my own story," is a way to not miss some of the things that God has for you even in this life. We're programmed when we see Pharisees are religious leaders come on to the pages of the New Testament if you've been around church to kind of say "Boo, boo. The religious leaders, they're the bad people."
But these people would have been the people that were seen as the people who had it all together and Jesus comes right at them and says, "You see yourself as virtuous, but you're missing it." When you and I get this, what happens is instead of saying, "My system is right, my way of thinking is right. I'm right, I'm good, other people are bad," we start to say, "I'm a person whose only claim is that Jesus' goodness, his enoughness, his virtue is on my behalf." And that, that puts us in a place where we can love freely and embrace people in this world and each other and ourselves.
So do you want to get well? Do you want to claim the virtue of Jesus? You do that in the cross.