I skipped the stations of the cross on Good Friday to see a movie – The Young Messiah. The most pious among us might disapprove but, as Johnny Cash pointed out, the most pious among us are not Christian then.
I liked the movie a lot. I don’t think it was one hundred percent theologically correct, but it didn’t claim to be. It was fiction, the author’s imaginings about what Christ’s childhood may have been like.
Some Christians won’t see the movie because of the theological errors. Some won’t see it because the author of the book upon which it is based used to write books about vampires – not knowing anything else about her. But like Johnny said…
The movie depicts Jesus performing miracles as a child. This is where I believe the author’s imagination strays from reality. I won’t go into all my reasons for this belief – unless someone asks for them – I’ll just say that, being one of us, I don’t believe He was able to perform miracles until the Holy Spirit came upon Him at His baptism.
Because we can’t perform miracles until the Holy Spirit comes upon us.
Check out what Jesus said:
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8 [italics added]
“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” John 14:12
What happened when Jesus went to the Father? He sent His Spirit.
We can’t do powerful stuff without the Spirit, who dwells within those who confess the powerful name of Jesus.
Now here’s where it gets a little bit tricky and a little bit deep. You guys can handle tricky and deep.
Spirituality is popular these days.
There are loads of spiritual books. Some of them mention Jesus as one among many noteworthy and enlightened teachers. Some don’t mention Him at all. The ones I’ve read that do mention Him don’t mention Him as who He claims to be – the Way, the Truth, the Gate, the Bread, the name above all names, the only name by which we are saved, etc.
Some of the books, which contain beautiful truths based on His teachings, give Him credit, others do not.
Credit or not, there is no real power in Jesus’s teachings without the weight of heaven to carry them out.
We can read beautiful words and feel inspired to be a better person all on your own, sans the Spirit, but mere words fall short where the rubber meets the road.
I thought about that when my sister died.
And I thought about it recently when my pastor posted a parody on Facebook that poked fun at the trend toward spirituality over religion. The parody was so over the top that he didn’t think anyone would take it seriously. It struck me as funny, in the same way the old SNL “church lady” skits struck me as funny. Even though I am a church lady.
But someone was offended.
He felt awful about offending a parishioner who has been entrusted to his pastoral care. In the power of the Holy Spirit, he confessed his regret. He apologized from the pulpit, he apologized on Facebook. I was proud of him.
Humility is powered by the Spirit.
It’s the Spirit who cares more about a person’s heart and soul, when it comes down to it, than getting a laugh, a Facebook like, or even claiming the freedom to just be who we are – take it or leave it. It’s the Spirit who has the power to overcome self-defensive pride.
Jesus told us to turn the other cheek.
This is how He said it:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.” – from Matthew 5
Any one of us can aim to put that lovely concept into practice – whether we attribute the concept to Jesus or not – but without His Spirit dwelling in us, the concept fails.
Someone offends us and, instead of turning our cheek, we immediately poke the person in the eye for poking us in the eye. We lash out and offend them, and everyone like them, because we are offended.
To the offender who has the Spirit of God in residence, the Spirit says, “No, loved one, this is the way, walk in it.” And as we mature in our faith we say back to Him, “You are right, I was wrong.” And with that He nudges us to apologize.
Because there is great power in an apology.
And when the Spirit resides in the offended, indignation gives way to graciousness. And we cut people some slack.
That was the tricky part. Because I’m trying really hard to not offend anyone here. Not offending people seems to be getting trickier and trickier these days.
Now the deep part:
Remember when Jesus asked the guy who had been an invalid for 38 years, who wasn’t able to get into the pool when the healing waters were stirred, whether he wanted to get well?
It always strikes me when I read that passage that Jesus didn’t assume that everyone wants to get well. Perhaps He knew that some find comfort in the familiar, even when the familiar is crippling.
But if we really want people to love us, and not offend us, then we will help them succeed.
When they betray us, instead of lashing out publicly, we will ask them questions privately.
Questions like, “You said seekers are welcome at our church, but the parody you posted makes me feel like I’m not. Did you really mean to give that message?”
Questions asked in love nip the offense right in the bud. They give people a chance to share their hearts, to clear the air. If their heart and/or clear air is what we want.
But if remaining crippled and alienated by real or perceived offenses is what we want, we will offend right back.
We can’t really know people unless we are willing to ask them questions.
We can’t really love people unless we are committed to believing the best about them.
It takes bravery. And bravery is hard when we’ve been beaten down by the enemy of our souls. When we have his deceptive, slick, smooth-tongued, accusing, counterfeit voice in our ear.
Remember the movie I mentioned way back at start?
In the opening scene the devil is standing off to the side eating an apple watching a child being harassed by bullies. At just the right moment he tosses the bitten apple into the crowd, causing one of the bullies to trip over it and die. The devil immediately enters the crowd and whispers into a receptive ear, “He did it,” pointing to young Jesus.
The devil tosses the apple, trips up mankind, causes our death and Jesus gets the blame. (And then the young Jesus resurrects the ungrateful bully and we have the whole gospel story right there.)
The devil accuses Jesus and we believe him. And so we seek a counterfeit.
We might say we are seeking Jesus, but if we refuse to read His words – preferring pleasant plagiaries (yes, I did make up a word) – then we are actually rejecting Him.
When we seek a God of our own imagination, one who is safe, one who doesn’t challenge our prideful notions, one who is manageable, we remain powerless to change.
We can’t love His concepts without loving Him. We cannot know the power of His teachings separate from the power of His name. They are a package deal.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:5