The following is the most recent talk given at Cafe Church as part of our Lent series looking at the person and claims of Jesus.
The internet these days, especially social media, is a melting pot of thoughts and ideas and people. It’s a place where people tend to say what they actually think without veiling it since they feel anonymised by their distance from what they are writing. From this have come two very different views on what Christianity is all about; that it’s all about loving everyone around us no matter what, or that it’s all about guilt; a moral code with a strict set of rules by which to live your life and if you don’t then shame on you.
I’d like to say that it’s neither of those things, it’s a blend of the two; the second flowing out of the first. You see when people think of Christianity being all about love they are thinking of a very specific kind of love. One that is blind to everything and simply accepts everything and everyone as it is and does nothing to change it. It’s this sort of love that is chanted at Christians when they speak out about abortion or some other moral issue: ‘Jesus taught us to love one another so why can’t you just accept people’s decisions and love them as He said’. But if we truly lived out this sort of love it would never change anything, we would love everyone in the world, which surely isn’t a bad thing, but we’d never do anything to change it. It’d lead us to love IS and murderers and terrorists but it wouldn’t lead us to change them, we’d just leave them to get on as in that paradigm that’s the most loving thing to do.
Jesus didn’t preach this kind of love. He taught that God’s love is the kind of love that loves anyone and everyone but isn’t some airy fairy love but a strong, powerful love that drives Him to want what is truly best for us. You see He loves us right where we are, but far too much to let us stay here. He is loving us forward to new and better things.
Let me unpack that a bit with two stories from the Gospels. See John 8: 1-11. This is a perfect example of Jesus loving someone no matter what. Jesus points out that we have all messed up and as such we as humans have no right to condemn people. So far it looks like those who align themselves with the former view are correct. But then Jesus says something, an almost throwaway line, you could almost miss it but it’s vitally important; ‘go and sin no more’. He doesn’t say ‘carry on as you were’, He calls her to a higher standard, to God’s standard. Whilst He doesn’t condemn her He doesn’t let her continue on the path she is on.
In the Old Testament the prophet Jeremiah writes ‘For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”’ God want’s what is best for us, He has a plan as to how we can best live our lives, to make the best of our time on earth. Surely then if He declares something to be wrong then it isn’t because He’s a killjoy but because He knows it isn’t the best for us. As St Paul wrote to the church in Corinth ‘All things are lawful but not all things are beneficial’. We can do whatever we please in theory but it won’t necessarily build us up or those around us. Imagine a parent who’s toddler is obsessed with putting things in their mouth. Most kids do it. Now imagine they somehow get hold of a knife. There is no way the parent would leave them to play with it or worse put it in their mouth. The parent knows what is best but when they take it off the child they start crying and wailing. They want the knife, its shiny and interesting. Will the parent give it back? Ofcourse not, they point to all the toys the child has and gives them one to play with but the child no longer wants them. They want the knife. So often we can be like that. We can do so much but once we discover something we want but can’t have we forget all the things we already have and complain that we can’t have this one thing. It wouldn’t be loving to give the child the knife. The parent knows what is best.
The second is the story of Jesus’ encounter with a tax collector. See Luke 19: 1-10. Tax collectors weren’t the most popular people in 1st Century Israel. They were seen as traitors since they collected money for the ruling Romans and were generally notorious for taxing people more than they owed and taking the extra for themselves. This is hinted to here when it states that he is rich. He becomes curious about who Jesus is and his encounter with Him changes Zacchaeus’ life forever. Jesus is never recorded as telling him to change his ways but Zacchaeus still sees the need for change in his life. In wanting to follow Jesus he realises that things need to change, that he needs to live as God would have him live. And he even goes further than just changing his ways. He offers to make up for his past misdeeds too in repaying those who he has wronged. You see sometimes we don’t even need to be told that what we are doing is wrong because we already know it is. Something inside us calls us to a higher standard but we ignore it or reason it away. When we come face to face with God, we realise our need to change and we happily do so because of what He has done for us.
You see God loves us. He loves us no matter what. But here’s the problem; He hates sin, those things we do which are wrong or those things which we fail to do which are good. And as a human race we are soaked in sin, there isn’t anything we can do about it, no matter how hard we try we still fail to live up to this higher standard. So first God gave humanity the Law. The ten commandments amongst it to call us to a higher standard and to give us clear boundaries as to what we can and can’t do. Along with the law He dictated the sacrifices which would need to be made for when we fall short of it, to allow us to come back to Him and to highlight the price of sin. God takes no pleasure in sacrifice but it is necessary to make us right with Him and to show us what it costs. But then God did something amazing. He came to earth as a human being in the person of Jesus. He lived this higher standard perfectly and He drew people towards both it and Himself. And then He died a humiliating and painful death on the cross. Providing a sacrifice which would cover all the sins of humanity both then and forever after. There is no longer any need for sacrifice because God has made a way through Jesus’ death to come to Him. We also no longer have to look to the law for salvation as Jesus IS salvation. When we look for the higher standard we need look no further than Him. He is the higher standard.
And once you accept all that God has done in order that you might be in relationship with Him and that you might have eternal life. Once you take it seriously. You will naturally be drawn to that standard. You will want to live as He wants you too after all he has done for you and because you realise He knows what He’s doing. And it will be easier than before as you have Him with you helping you towards His standard, in being more Christlike. Once you accept His love. And once you love Him in return. Out of that flows a life lived for Him. A life getting ever closer to that higher standard.