Killjoy Jesus?

Luke 21:5-19 & 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

Pastoral Prayer: Lord God, we admit that when things are going good, we don’t want anyone, even you, to tell us we might have put our faith in the wrong place. Our world is so full of negativity that we would like time to take in the rare good moments without thinking of what or whom we have trusted for those moments. We also admit that the good we think we experience is shattered by another shooting, the abuse, and neglect of children, and our own instabilities. Remind us today that our hope is in Jesus who told his disciples, and so us, that when the world is falling apart not to fear but instead to bear witness to your faithfulness in Jesus. And all God’s people say … Amen.

Is Jesus a killjoy?

How often have you thought, or said, “If you don’t work, you don’t eat?” Some of us may have smugly uttered those words. Especially so, if we realize we are quoting the Bible at someone. The Apostle Paul’s line is often misapplied. We look around and see panhandlers, the homeless and those who just don’t seem to be able to make ends meet and with an air of superiority, we extol the virtues of our economic system, telling folks if they just get a job or, a better job.

We like Paul for his directness. Maybe that is the attraction of some to our current President. He says, or Tweets, what he thinks. But, the comparison stops there. And Paul, make no mistake, is in the line of Jesus. Direct. Not worried if he will be liked or voted the most likely Messiah to succeed among all comers. Jesus made no claims to be the greatest. Jesus laid claim to only status. You can’t ruffle more feathers than when you set it up that you are the One. 

I and the Father are One. (John 10:30)

To Paul it was revealed what Jesus knew – Jesus is Lord and that is not a matter of social or political approval. There is no vote that put Jesus in office as our prophet, priest, and king. But, Jesus is Lord does not carry with it the same sort of burden generally associated with a human king, a human leader. Instead, the things that Jesus calls attention to is the way, the little ways even, faithfulness bears witness to a divided world. 

Paul’s admonition in its context is not an idea that supports our economic or political philosophy. These philosophies promote the idea that pulling oneself up by your bootstraps is some sort of Divine notion. A  2014 survey conducted in 2014 revealed,

When it comes to faith, Americans like a do-it-yourself approach.

Most Americans (71 percent), and in particular Black Protestants (82 percent) and Catholics (87 percent), say people must contribute some effort toward their own salvation. Two thirds (64 percent) say in order to find peace with God, people have to take the first step, and then God responds to them with grace.

That sounds right to many people, says Stetzer, especially in our “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” culture.  But it doesn’t reflect the Christian idea that faith is a response to God’s grace.

Many Americans also don’t mind being disconnected from a local church. About half (52 percent) say worshiping alone or with family is as good as going to church.

Almost all (82 percent) say their local church has no authority to “declare that I am not a Christian.” More than half (56 percent) believe their pastor’s sermons have no authority in their life, while slightly less than half (45 percent) say the Bible was written for each person to interpret as they choose.

The matter is one of authority. Increasingly, more Christians give evidence they are more indoctrinated by American economic and political ideals than the life of Jesus. If the survey revealed anything it is that authority shifted from a place outside a person to now reside inside a person. The move by those claiming Christ is actually disastrous for a faith that claims God holds ultimate authority and it is revealed in Jesus as found in the Scriptures. It makes the human subject, us, our own idols. Nietzsche was right when he gave the parable of the Madman, God is dead and we have killed him.

Here, in Luke, the setting is Jesus challenging the authority that people had invested in their brokered relationship with the representative powers of Rome. We should be very wary of anyone, any group, working to broker favors for people of faith. When Christians become obligated to those others in power, the source of authority and the object of our trust is no longer God. Not only is Jesus challenging the authority in a brokered relationship with the representative powers of Rome, but Jesus is also challenging the story the religious leaders are telling about the Temple. If you wanted to get someone riled up, just tell them their Temple will be turned to rubble. Who gave Jesus the authority to say such things?!

The connection between Paul’s words and Jesus is tied to a vision of the future, both the immediate future but what we think of when we think of The End. 

For the Thessalonians, their preoccupation with the return of Jesus led them to fear what had happened to their dead loved ones.

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.

In Paul’s second letter it seems some have taken up the idea that if Jesus’ coming is so near then why work at all. It is that last bit that should get our attention. Why? Well, if we gave some attention to how that shows up today, it may be that we would reconsider how we treated those in great need, rather than provide off-handed, often callous responses having no clue about their personal circumstances. You know, the common sentiment we hear in telling others to, “Get a job.” Those you meet today who struggle are not those who have decided that since Jesus’ coming is near, why work at all.

Maybe you can see how the attitude toward those in need is influenced not by the life and way of Jesus, but by the ideals expressed in our culture. It creates division and if we are not careful, we Christians, the Church, participate. Paul, and the early church did not show scorn to those who struggled, telling them to get a job. Instead, they helped carry the burden. This was a feature of the early church. 

The preoccupation with the return of Jesus, even the fatalism that is also a bug to the Christian faith, leaves many idle when it comes to serving our neighbors. In other words, if we were to look for a way to connect Paul’s words to our own day, the laziness Paul describes would be a result of the faulty understanding of the effects of the Good News on our lives. For example, often a parent’s goal for their child is the confession of faith in the Lord Jesus. Once that is down and dated, other interests may now take up our time. We indoctrinate our children to the idea that all that matters to God is a decision. We stop short of telling them that decision means something to our way of living. 

And we wonder why we live in such a narcissistic culture. Rather than offer something different for the world, we decide to get all we can from the world once we have our future secured. It is this very idea that Jesus lays assault to when we get to The Little Apocalypse.

Admiring the beauty of the Temple led Jesus to make an outlandish claim to those within earshot. Jesus speaks both literally and figuratively when he points out that the Temple will soon lay in ruins. He calls into question the security people feel about their arrangement with the political powers. He startles the faithful who have put their trust in the religious system that places an emphasis upon the powerful and that wealth and is verification God is on your side. 

As for these things you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.

Killjoy Jesus. Why couldn’t Jesus be more positive? Herod had done a fine job remodeling the building. See how he cares of us Christians? Lulled to think the political powers were really interested in them when it came time for a vote, the people chose Barabas and not Jesus. And here, we get the layered meaning of Jesus’s words. While he was indeed talking about the future destruction of the Temple, Jesus, as the early church would take it, was talking about himself.

We learn from Jesus the relationship of the present to the future.

Just prior, the disciples and Jesus were hanging out in the Temple. You may recall the story. Watching people put their offerings in the plate, Jesus drew attention to a widow who put in all she had. Noting that she had given more than the rest, the disciples were trying hard to make the math work. While they were working their premodern calculators, Jesus made a big deal of the woman’s faithfulness to trust that God would provide for her having given her all. It is not a story about putting down the wealthy. It is a story about faithfulness. 

We actually need killjoy Jesus. Rather than killing God, we need God in Christ by the Spirit to enliven us that what matters for the faithful is faithfulness to bear witness that far from killing our joy, Jesus increases as we live out of our trust in him for our words and our ways. 

Alan Kreider points out in his book on the early Christian Church,

Amid it all [The world seemed out of control.], Cyprian, as bishop, wanted to keep the Christians true to their tradition. This, at its heart, meant embodying the Christian good news, bearing it in their bodies and actions, living the message visibly and faithfully so that outsiders would see what the Christians were about and, ideally, would be attracted to join them. So in 256 Cyprian wrote a treatise of encouragement for his people. “Beloved brethren,” he wrote, “[we] are philosophers not in words but in deeds; we exhibit our wisdom not by our dress, but by truth; we know virtues by their practice rather than through boasting of them; we do not speak great things but we live them.”

I generally take a manuscript with me to preach each week. However, the preached message is often a bit different than what you will find here. You may listen here.

About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.

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