Wednesday, July 8, 2015
If I only knew Jesus better. . .
People who know celebrities and politicians often paint a less than flattering picture of them as people. From the White House to Hollywood, the impression is that if we really knew our favorite personalities, we might not like them so much.
In the Gospel for today Jesus is constrained by the unbelief of those who supposedly knew Him best. Did they reject Jesus became they knew Him too well? What about us? Does Jesus look better from afar and is He as good close up?
In the Gospel, the people took offense at Jesus. They did not only reject His message but Him. Jesus quoted a saying about a prophet not being honored in his own hometown but this was about more than familiarity. They were offended at Jesus and His message -- at the idea that their good works were not enough to atone for their sins. . .that sin was so deep and so powerful that it must be undone by a Savior appointed by God. . . and because Jesus was neither the Savior they expected nor the Savior they wanted.
The same could be said today. We would like to think that the more you know Jesus, the better you like Him. But that is not true. On the surface Jesus looks innocent enough but in reality Jesus is a radical challenge to the values and vision we have had about life since the Fall in Eden. Jesus is nothing less than shocking in His radical call to repentance, to faith, to discipleship, and to holiness.
The miracle is not that people knew Jesus too well and did not like what they saw but that anyone can love Jesus at all. Faith comes not with familiarity with Jesus, intellectual acceptance of His message, or the logic of His kingdom. Only the Spirit can engender faith in our hearts and lead us to trust in the radical words of the Word made flesh. Jesus marveled at their unbelief not because He was surprised by it but because it is a marvel how stubborn our sinful hearts can be -- even to the working of the Spirit.
Jesus calls us to nothing less than radical faith and trust. We want to think that faith means being won over by reason or intellectual argument. What does Luther say? I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him but the Holy Spirit has called me... In other words, reason does not lead to the manger and intellect does not lead to the cross; they cannot. Only the Spirit can lead us there, teach us faith, and renew our minds and hearts.
Sin has stolen our intellect and our will. It has skewed the way we see God and the way we see ourselves. We believe that God owes us justice but none of us really wants a just God; we need a merciful Savior. We believe God has treated us poorly and we have gotten less than we deserve; only the Spirit can teach us to see through sin’s deception and open our eyes and our hearts to the riches of God’s mercy in Christ.
We want to believe that eventually the Church will become the majority, the ruling majority. But instead the Church is pictured in Scripture as the oppressed minority, the lonely ship facing mighty storms, and the remnant who still believe. Is faith the norm or the exception? We want to believe that if only people knew the Lord better, they would believe in Him. But what we need is not familiarity; we need nothing less than the Spirit to teach faith.
We fear rejection. We want to be liked and loved and admired. But Jesus is surrounded by rejection and unbelief and opposition. He was then and He is now. The very things that those most familiar to Him found objectionable are the things people object to now – the depth of sin that requires as Savior, the Savior who is born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin, the suffering that produces righteousness, and the death that gives us life. . . Faith is not easy; faith is hard. It does not come naturally to us but require the Spirit to teach us.
Faith is not the norm; it is the exception. The norm is what we confessed earlier – we are by nature sinful and unclean. Without the Holy Spirit we would not believe. We think we need a reasonable, palatable, comfortable God to help us believe when what we really need is the Spirit to teach us to believe in the one eternal God whom we know through His Son. Jesus conforms to no ones expectations of God except the Lord's. He stands as a scandal and offense to everyone except those in whom the Spirit breaks down the walls of unbelief and plants faith.
The God we need is not one we can imagine or design but the God who is beyond our reason and imagination – the God who comes in flesh to save a sinful and rebellious people, who was born to die and who rises to give the unworthy His eternal life. This is not the God we want but the God we need. This is not the faith that comes natural or easy but the faith the Spirit teaches. The better we know Jesus, the more we require faith to hear His hard Word, to trust in what our eyes do not see, and to follow Him on the narrow way of holiness, righteousness, and faithfulness. We don't need time to get to know Jesus better; we need the Spirit to teach us faith. But where we believe by the power of the Spirit, there are the mercies of God made accessible to us, there the healing of salvation is our gift, and there the sinner finds welcome, forgiveness and eternal life. Lord, give us this faith always. Amen.