Controversial Jesus #15 - Autonomy
Dr. Kurt Bjorklund looks at 3 different postures we can take towards Jesus and how each one can affect our relationship with him.
Good morning and welcome. It's great to be together. It's good to be back. I was away a couple of weekends. I always miss being part of Orchard Hill when I'm away for a few weekends, so it's great just to be here today. And let me just take a moment and pray, and then we'll jump into what we're talking about today. Father, I know we come from a lot of different places, a lot of different experiences, different journeys, but I pray you would meet with each of us in these moments, that my words would reflect your word in content and in tone and in emphasis. And we pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.
Well, certainly here in Pittsburgh the last few days have had a little chill in the air. It makes you aware that fall is coming, that things are about to transition. And if the temperatures didn't make you aware of that, certainly the school buses running around or maybe, if you have kids, the the coming school or the beginning of school has been a notation that the year is changing. And then there's something else that always marks the beginning of fall, and that is the return of football. And football, whether you're a fan or not, is something that happens all the time in the fall. And there's a receiver who used to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers who now has moved on to a different team, was traded away. And if you follow football at all, you're aware of this. If not, let me just give you a little update.
Most Steeler fans would've said we could have predicted that if he went to another team there would be some drama and some trouble. And so now he plays for the Raiders. And the NFL came out with a new rule about helmets having to be changed in order to help prevent concussions. So all NFL players needed to update their head gear, their football helmet. And almost all, whether they liked the change, didn't like the change, have complied, except for said receiver who is saying, in essence, I may retire rather than wear the helmet that the NFL is telling me to wear. Now, it's getting closer to being worked out. I can't imagine for millions of dollars he won't find an acceptable helmet.
But here's why I tell you this. Sometimes there are things that happen, and the incident that happens, in this case the NFL saying, "Here's the required helmet," brings about different reactions from different people, or we take different postures toward the same event. This happens all the time. If you encounter country music, you probably take a different posture than one of your friends. Some friends love country music and other friends are like, "I want no part of country music." You have this with political candidates or figures. One of your friends will take a posture of, "This person's awesome." Somebody else will take a posture of, "This person's awful." Well, when it comes to Jesus, we all take a posture one way or another. And what we've been doing over the summer months here is we've walking our way through the gospel of John. We began earlier this year talking about the unexpected Jesus, learning in John one through four what Jesus was like.
And then in chapters five through the end of chapter 12 which is where we are now, we encounter Jesus in conflict with the people of his day. He was controversial then. He's controversial now. And some of the controversies that he encountered then, the objections that people raised, the way that they didn't care for Jesus, are similar to the ways that people respond to Jesus today. And so today we've come to John 11, verse 45 into chapter 12, verse 11. And we see people taking different postures toward Jesus. And here's the precipitating event. Jesus was performing some miracles and doing different things and teaching and drawing people to himself. And the people who were in power were afraid that he would be seen as a leader of a insurrection against the government. And so they said, "We need to get rid of Jesus so that we don't get squashed by the government that is."
And there were two groups that were part of this. This is in John 11:45 and following. There were the Pharisees, and the Pharisees were the religious group. This was the group that was concerned about doing everything right religiously and not kind of running a foul of God in any way. You could say that this was the group that was conservative and religious. And then there were the priests that were part of this group that said, "We want to get rid of Jesus. We want to have Jesus killed." Now, you might hear that and you might say, "Well, who could be more religious than the priests?" Well, the Pharisees could be, for one. But the priests weren't actually that religious. They were part of a group... In order to become a priest, you generally had to be part of the Sadducees.
Maybe you've heard this word. The Sadducees were a more kind of politically charged group. And what their agenda was was to keep power. They tended to be wealthy. And in order to become a priest, you had to be in with the Sadducees. And so you could say that they were actually more secular and not as conservative. They were more liberal, progressive. So what you have is you have the religious conservative types and the secular progressive types coming together and saying, "We need to get rid of Jesus because Jesus is dangerous to us." That's what you have here.
And what we see through this and then into chapter 12, where we have an account of Mary and Martha and Lazarus and Judas, is we see some of the different postures that we can take toward Jesus today. And the first posture that I want to highlight is that of the priest and the Pharisees. And I'm just going to say that this is a protective posture. And it's a protective posture because they felt threatened by Jesus, that he was going to take away their power, that the masses would follow him instead of them, that they would lose out to the people of their day in terms of of having their power, their lifestyle taken away.
And when I think of a protective posture, I think of this, putting your hands out and just simply saying, "That's as close as you come." In fact, I have one of my sons who anytime he doesn't like something and he's asked to do it, he does this. He's going to like, "Nah, I don't want any part of that." That's kind of the protective posture. It's saying, "I don't want any part of what it is that you're asking of me, Jesus."
Now, you may say, "Well, how is Jesus a threat? I mean this guy who walked around 2000 years ago saying, 'Treat people nicely.'" If that's your version of Jesus, he isn't much of a threat. But Caiaphas, who was the high priest that year, in verse 50 says this, and this is really dramatic irony if you think about it. He says this, in verse 50 he says, "You do not realize that it's better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish." Now, he's speaking very literally, not figuratively at all. He's saying, "It's better if Jesus is crucified than that the government marches on us. Let's have him killed because it's better for us." And what he doesn't realize is that in saying this, he's actually speaking a very clear word of what the gospel is, it's better that one man die for the people than all the people. And so these people were threatened by Jesus and they said, "We want to get rid of Jesus."
And here's how Jesus is threatening maybe in our day, in our world. Certainly you aligning or letting Jesus live doesn't impact your potential freedom from the government. But there's still a threat that is often felt. And a lot of times it's around something that either Christianity or the Bible asks us to believe that we don't like or don't want to believe because it puts us at odds with culture. Or there's something that we don't want to practice, even if we believe it, that the Bible asks us to do. And so what we tend to do is we tend to say, "I'm going to take a protective posture toward God, toward Christianity, toward faith. I'm not going to let it come near to me because, if I do, it's going to demand some kind of a change."
There's all kinds of areas that this could relate to. Sometimes this relates to just the teaching of the Bible around what might be called exclusivity. In other words, that you have to come to Jesus to come to God. And that's really out of step in our culture because people hear that and they say, "Well, can't people be sincere and believe whatever they want and find their own path to God?" And so sometimes we'll hear something like that and see that it's taught in the Bible and we'll say, "Ah, I don't really like that," and we take a protective posture. Or maybe it's around sexual ethics. We see something the Bible says about it and we say, "I don't know that I like that. So I'm going to keep that at arms length."
Or we see something that it says about our money, about the idea of tithing and taking our resources and giving them for ministry purposes. And we say, "That'd be a lot. I'm not sure I want that." Or maybe it's about how we treat the poor or about our words and gossip and slander or gentleness and kindness, or whatever it is. And we say, "I don't like that." Now, most of us, probably, who at least are gathered here, wouldn't just simply say, "Oh, no, no, no, I don't buy any of it." Now, maybe some of us are. Maybe we're here because somebody promised us a free launch or something. And for us, we're saying, "I don't want any part of Jesus because Jesus is going to impact my life negatively."
But for many of us, what we'll do instead is we'll pick and choose and we'll say, "Well, I don't really believe in a God like that. I don't like that kind of God. I don't like that version of God. I don't like the way you think of God." And so what we'll do is we'll re-interpret or we'll find somebody who interprets something that goes along with how we like things. But what we're doing is we're still keeping Jesus at arms length. We're still saying, "Jesus, you're not really significant in my life."
Here's what Jim Carrey once said. He said, "I'm a Buddhist, I'm a Muslim, I'm a Christian. It all comes down to the same thing. You're in a loving place or you're in an unloving place." Now, in one sense, if what Jim Carrey meant when he said this is I don't care what faith you are, I just care if you're loving to people, fine comment, fine quote. But if what he meant was there's no distinction between any faith at all, it's just whether or not you love, he misses the point. And here's my point. Whether he means to or not, he's saying, "I don't want the idea of an exclusive Jesus. I don't want the idea of a God who demands anything. I just want to love." And you see that there's a little piece of us that likes that. Because if we can just say, "God is just love, the God that I worship is just love," than anything goes for us.
And you see, it's a way of having a protective posture toward God. "You can't come near my world, my life. I'll do things the way I want to do things." So that's one posture. And if you take a protective posture, you say, "I take what I like and I discard what I dislike," it's not really God that you're worshiping. At the end of the day, it's your own version, it's your own kind of autonomy. And this is why we called this autonomy, it's you saying, "I get $20,000 to do whatever I want. I get my life to do whatever I want. There is no higher authority." That's what's behind that in many ways.
So here's the second posture. If the first posture is protective, the second posture I'm going to say is indifferent. And I see this in Judas. And I would say an indifferent posture is a little bit like this, folding your arms and just saying, "I don't care too much." Now, we see this in chapter 12, verses four through six, and what happens in chapter 12, after these accounts of the priests and the Pharisees wanting to take Jesus' life, is we see that Mary and Martha and Lazarus gather and are having a meal. And in the course of the meal, Mary takes some perfume. And we're told that the perfume costs an entire year's salary. So think about your income, think about a year of what it would cost to have perfume. That's really expensive perfume, by the way. Like that's off the chart expensive. But she takes this and she uses it to anoint Jesus' feet. So think about a year's income and using that money for a moment of adoration. Okay? It doesn't feel very useful.
And here's what Judas does. Judas comes along, chapter 12, verse four, and it says this, "But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected. 'Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?'" And then here's where we find out how much it's worth. "It's worth a year's wages. He did not say this because he cared for the poor but because he was a thief. And as a keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into the bag." Now, certainly, we could say that the Judas is hypocritical here. Because what he does is he calls out Mary's behavior as excessive while all the time what he cares about is money. And this highlights something, it hints at something. And that is whenever you are really annoyed by something that somebody else does, there's at least a chance that you're using it as a covering for your own indifference or your own hypocrisy.
Because you may think you're speaking truth to power or you're just venting on what somebody else does, but we're wired in such a way that our blindness sometimes allows us to think I'm calling out somebody else for doing something while all the time that might be true in our own life. Let me give you an example that isn't spiritual. So I have a vice. I've probably several vices, but one of my vices is that I drink more Diet Coke than is probably healthy for a human being to drink. Now, I've come to terms with that. It's part of my retirement plan, die early and those kinds of things. That's a joke mostly. But I'm at peace with how much Diet Coke I drink. So when I first came to Orchard Hill... And I'll drink two most days. And then on days that I'm happy, sad, it's a holiday, it's a Wednesday, I'll have more. But when I first came to Orchard Hill, there was a man on staff who drank lots of Diet Coke. He'd have four for breakfast and then he'd have a few more. I mean that guy had a problem.
You see what I'm talking about? Do you see what I just did? It made me feel better about my issue to say, "That guy's got a problem." And here's what we do spiritually, "That man, that woman, they have a problem. I don't have a problem." "Mary, she used all that money. She could've given it to the poor. I mean she's ridiculous." And what's he doing? He's reaching into the bag himself. Be very careful when you start to point out other people's faults because what you might be doing is you might be masking your own indifference, your own hypocrisy. You might just simply be saying, "I'm going to call out these other people for what it is they're not doing," and all the time you're sitting there with an indifferent posture. Now, part of why I say it's an indifferent posture is here's what we know, that Judas sold out Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.
Do you know how much 30 pieces of silver is in today's dollars? You probably don't because the commentators don't know. The commentators disagree. Some say that it's maybe a hundred dollars, some say it could be as much as a couple thousands of dollars. But here's the point, 30 pieces of silver was not a lot of money. It would basically be the equivalent of going out to a really nice dinner or maybe a week's worth of work for some people. And here's what he did. He said, "For that amount of money, I'll let Jesus go to his death." Do you know how indifferent you have to be to watch somebody die so you can go out to dinner? That's a little bit of what you see here. And what is happening is his indifference is saying, "What I want, what I need is what I want and need, and I don't care about anything else."
There's a commentator from another generation who wrote about this instance and about how we can be tempted in areas. His name is BF, Westcott. And he didn't use gender inclusive pronouns because it wasn't a thing then. So when he uses man, he's referring to man and woman. But here's what he says. He says, "Temptation [inaudible 00:17:07] common comes through that through which we are naturally fitted. If a man is fitted to handle money, his temptation may be in regard to money as the most important thing in the world. If a man is fitted to occupy a place of prominence, his temptation may be to think first and foremost about his reputation. And if it is a particular gift, his temptation may be to become overly invested in that gift. Judas had a gift for handling money and he became so fond of it that he first became a thief and then he betrayed Jesus for its sake."
You see, indifference, hypocrisy, thrives when what we're doing is we're saying, "What I need is what it is that I need, and I don't care at all about what it does in terms of Jesus or God." And here's the reality. If you really know who Jesus is, it's hard to be indifferent to him. He wasn't just a man who walked around the earth some 2000 years ago telling people to be nice to each other. He went to a cross and he went to a cross to bear the sins of humanity, meaning you either have to come to a place where you say, "He understood that all of us are sinners and I can't be good enough to earn my way with God. And I need desperately what Jesus did on the cross and his resurrection. And he lives and is preparing a place that where he is, we may go and be with him."
That's either true or it's not true, and if it's true, you can't just say, "Well, Jesus, I just want whatever I want. And for the price of a good dinner out, I can be indifferent to all that you're about." And I do want you just to notice something, and we'll see this in the narrative that's ahead about Judas, but in the midst of his hypocrisy and indifference, Jesus still loved him. And in the midst of his hypocrisy and indifference, Jesus basically let him do what he was going to do. In fact, at one point he says, "Go do what you have to do. Do it. Do it now." He doesn't challenge him directly. He basically says, "You live out what it is you want to live out." In other words, we have a God who is willing to let you and I live in our hypocrisy and indifference.
So we can take a posture of protection. We can take a posture of indifference. And then I'm going to say we can take a posture of worship, a worshiping posture. And I think we see this in chapter 12 verses one through 11 in the characters of Lazarus and Mary and Martha. And the point here isn't that I'm saying, "Go be like Mary and Martha and Lazarus." The point is, they saw Jesus and, because they saw Jesus, they took a worshiping posture. And if I were to have a posture that referred to this, I would have a posture of saying, "Go down on a knee." Or what you're doing is you're saying, "I bend my knee before God himself."
And here's how we see this. We see this because Lazarus took and reclined at the table. For him, it was spending time with Jesus. Martha served. Her way of worshiping, was serving, giving, participating. For Mary, it was this expensive perfume that she took and she used. And it says that she anointed Jesus' feet. Feet in that culture were used for walking with open shoes and dirt. They were dirty. And so this was an act of selflessness and passion. And it says that she wiped them with her hair, meaning that she wasn't self-conscious. What she was doing was she was saying, "God, you, Jesus, you are worth so much me that I'll take a year of income, I'll lose my dignity, I'll serve selflessly because you are worth that."
Now, some of us, what we'll do is we'll always evaluate what our response is to God by a cost-benefit analysis, by saying, "Is this useful?" And notice what you have here. You have a lady taking something and not making it useful, but instead saying, "I'm concerned just about the beauty of the moment." In fact, Jesus, when Judas objects, basically says, "You know, you'll always have the poor with you but you won't always have me." And what he's doing is he's saying, "You can't give lavishly enough to me." And this isn't just about the money piece because there was service, there was time, there was money. This is about passion. This is about coming to a point where you say, "The God that I worship is worth more to me than anything else."
And here's the thing about postures. You'll have a dominant posture. But even if you have a dominant posture, even if you worship, sometimes there will probably be times when you'll take a protective posture or you'll take an indifferent posture to the things of God. And the idea here is that whatever your dominant posture is, that you keep coming back and saying, "What has most value to me is the very things of God." Now, some of us, if we're honest, we'd say, "Yeah, but I don't feel like the things of God are the most valuable. I mean I want God, I want eternal life and all of that, but what I need right now," and you fill in your blank. Jesus, at one point, told a story. It's in Matthew 13. He said that the kingdom of God is like a treasure that's been hidden in a field. And somebody on discovering it will go and sell everything they have to buy the field because they'll know that what they will get will be infinitely more than everything else they already have.
And then he talks about this pearl of great price, and it's the same basic idea that somebody who understands, that they see a pearl of great price would say, "I'll give everything in order to get that." And here's what Jesus is pointing to, is he saying, in essence, "If you understand who I am, if you get it, then here's how you'll know that you're worshiping in your posture rather than being protective or indifferent. And that is if you say, 'The kingdom of God is worth more to me than anything else in my life.'" And as long as you and I are playing cost-benefit analysis with God, what we're doing is we're not saying, "I've seen how valuable Jesus is and he's worth everything to me." But instead what we're doing is we're saying, "I want to make sure that I'm getting something back."
And here's what happens. And that is, if you start trusting Jesus with your life, what you'll see is that he is good and he is trustworthy. The song that we sang, that David [inaudible 00:00:23:45], he hasn't failed me yet. You'll begin to see that. But at the beginning, it's hard. And even sometimes after you've been on the journey for a while, it's hard to believe that. Because what we do is we say, "Well, I trusted and then this happened or that happened. God, why didn't you come through in this way?" And here's what we need to see. And that is sometimes when we have the moment between giving all we have and getting the pearl of great price or the treasure that's buried, it feels like a long time. But it's worth it.
If you have kids, maybe you understand this, or if you have parents. When you first have kids, one of the things you do is you try to provide for them. And what you're doing is you're laying a foundation of trust that says, "My parents will provide for me, they'll take care of me." And some of us have had wonderful parents who've done that, some of us haven't had parents who've done that. But if you've had parents who've done that, what happens is you begin to say, "My parents are trustworthy, they're for me." But as a child growing up in a parent's home, sooner or later you say, "I need to make my own way." But with God, the things that he asks are for your good, for my good. When I start doing this to God, what I'm actually doing is I'm saying, "I know better. I want my own autonomy. I want to do things my own way," rather than saying, "I bend my knee because you are a trustworthy and good God."
You see how we take different postures toward God? And even in our own journeys and seasons, we can take different postures. And the answer is not to simply say, "Try harder to have a worshiping posture." It's to actually see the beauty and the value in Jesus Christ on a consistent basis. And we do that when we acknowledge our own sinfulness, acknowledge the beauty of what Jesus has done, and we celebrate that. And so here's my question today for you. That is what is your posture toward Jesus today? Not what is your long range posture? What is your posture today? Are you bending your knee to Jesus or are you saying, "I don't want this part of what you have to offer. I'm picking and choosing." Or are you just indifferent saying, "You know what? All I care about is my direction, my life, where I'm going rather than bending the knee to Jesus." Because when you bend your knee, when I bend my knee, we put ourselves in a place where now we're saying, "Okay God, your will will ultimately be for my good, even if I don't see it today."
And this is ultimately what we want to create here at Orchard Hills, a community of people who, though imperfectly, will bend their knee to the God of the universe and in saying "We'll take a worshiping posture," We'll say not, "We'll decide, we're protective, or we're indifferent to the things of God or the plight of people around us," but instead in bending our knee. Although there will be those who will critique and criticize and say, "You're doing it wrong," we'll say, "You can say what you want, but you know what? We know who God is and he is worth everything." And when that becomes true, what will happen in this broader community is that people will see individuals here and people here and a community here of people who have come to see something that's even greater than what everybody else is fighting for.
You see, we all worship. When I talk about a worshiping posture, the question isn't whether or not you worship God or not. You worship something. And if you choose to worship something that's finite, something that doesn't have eternity tied to it, then that thing is vulnerable and your worship will in some ways be unsatisfactory to you. Worship your beauty and someday you'll get old. Worship wealth and someday you'll die and somebody else will get it. Worship career advancement and success and someday your career will be done and somebody else will take the job that you valued so much and they'll say, "Who was here before you?" Worship your family and you'll have some twists and turns that will be painful. And it's not that those things aren't great things, but it's that if those are your ultimate things, they will disappoint. But if Jesus is your ultimate thing, then you can have those things and not hold them so tightly that they consume you. Because they were never designed to carry the weight of your soul.
So we want to be people here who say, "We worship God." And even though there'll be days we'll get off our knee and we'll put our arms out, or we'll fold our arms, we want to say that this is worth it and remind each other all the time, through the singing, the worship, the groups that we're in, the studies we have, through our moments of teaching, that the God that we worship is worthy of our complete adoration and devotion, and that that's the safest place for us to put any of our devotion in this world.