Church Write-Up: Christ as Driver, Christ as Lifeguard

Last Sunday was Palm Sunday.  The pastor preached about Luke 19:28-44.  The theme was making Jesus the Lord of one’s life.

In Luke 19:28-44, Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a colt, and a multitude of Jesus’ disciples acclaim his entrance, celebrating him as a king.  Jesus then sees Jerusalem and weeps for it, forecasting its downfall.  The reason for its downfall, according to the passage, is that it failed to know what made for peace and to recognize the time of its visitation.

The pastor was likening Jerusalem to Christians, or professing Christians, who fail to make Jesus the Lord of their life.  They want Jesus to ride around in the car with them as they are driving, but they do not want Jesus to be in the driver’s seat.  They do not want Jesus to lead them.  And the result has been disastrous: the pastor likened nominal Christians to people burning up the food on the stove, then burning up the stove itself, all because they are doing things their way rather than obeying Jesus as Lord of their life.

Similarly, the pastor said, when Jesus entered Jerusalem, people celebrated and acclaimed him, but they did not understand who he truly was.  They had their own conception of the Messiah as a political liberator from Rome, whereas Jesus came as a different kind of Messiah: one who wanted to rule people spiritually, such that they would become regenerated and righteous.  The crowds wanted to attach Jesus to their own agenda, whereas Jesus desired to set the agenda.

In reading the Gospels, I can sympathize with what the pastor is saying.  Jesus was calling people to repent.  If the Pharisees who were guilty of the sins that Jesus mentions in Matthew 23 repented of those sins, the world would have been a better place!  But there were obstacles that stood in the way of their repentance: some of the scribes and Pharisees were unwilling to relinquish their riches, their positions of power, and the religious interpretations that affirmed those positions, for that gave them their sense of worth and identity.  They would have to give up their sense that they were righteous and superior to others.  There were also Jews who wanted to overthrow the Romans, but Jesus was advocating another way.  Because Jews tried to overthrow the Romans, the Romans crushed Jerusalem.

I can look at the Gospels and say that it would have made sense for the characters to accept Jesus as Lord of their life, as difficult as that may have been.  In saying this, I am assuming the Gospel stories as they stand, particularly in their depiction of the Pharisees, although there are historians who will question the Gospels on this.  Maybe they are right and maybe they are wrong, but I am simply entering the world of the stories, seeing if they can spiritually instruct or edify me.

While I can read the Gospel stories and say that the characters should have accepted Jesus as Lord, following Jesus’ agenda rather than their own, I find such a proposition to be unrealistic in my own life.  Jesus’ commands look to unrealistic for me to follow.  Why can’t Jesus give me space to be human, rather than commanding perfection?  I have tried to be the perfect evangelical in the past, I think to myself, and I have fallen short.

I am currently reading Erwin Lutzer’s Christ Among the Gods, and Lutzer contrasts Jesus with other religious leaders.  Jesus claimed to be the sinless savior, Lutzer argues, whereas other religious leaders—-Buddha, Mohammad, the Dali Lama, etc.—-acknowledged that they were sinful.  I will add to that list Confucius, since I am reading Confucius’ Analects, and Confucius is quite candid about his own flaws and shortcomings (as well as his strengths)!  According to Lutzer, Jesus is not shouting commands to us on the shoreline while we are drowning, nor is Jesus drowning with us.  Rather, Jesus rescues us.  Jesus is the only one who can.

Maybe Lutzer’s argument can be nitpicked, but I can identify with what he is saying, since I have felt spiritually helpless.  Romans 5:6 comes to my mind: while we were still weak, Christ died for the ungodly.  So does Romans 8:3: the law was powerless because our flesh was weak, but Jesus came and condemned sin in the flesh.  I still feel weak, though.  God’s standards appear to me to be an impossibility.  And, to make matters worse, Paul and Christians seem to suggest that this should not be the case for those who have the Holy Spirit; or that depends on if you interpret Romans 7 as the thoughts of Paul before or after his conversion!

I’ll stop here.  I realize that this post ends on a downer!  At the same time, I will say that, at this moment at least, I see value in becoming more Christlike, even if I will fall short of perfection (or even a C-) in doing so.

 

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About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
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