It’s Jesus that my friends and family trip over when it comes to faith. They’re OK with a general nameless, faceless deity- a benevolent one. They admit not understanding but throw their hands in the air hoping that God won’t judge them any differently than they judge themselves. They trust that he (or she, or it) knows they have good intentions. And I understand. Jesus is a problem.
I mean I’m asking my friends to believe in a God-man they have never seen, but only hear about from ancient manuscripts and people who often live lives that make them think this Jesus religion is foolish if not downright mean and bigoted. I’m asking a lot. I too wrestle with the fact that I have set all my hope in this Jesus I have never seen from the Bible.
But even still, I ask my friends to consider putting their hope in Jesus for three main reasons.
First, hope in Jesus because of what he said about himself in the Bible. It’s his words that grab my attention and force me to respond. What do I do with, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Or, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-29)
What do I say to the Jesus who said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17)
What will I do with the man who said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38)?
Second, I ask my friends to consider what Jesus did and what he led others to do. He led a counter cultural movement of scared and selfish people to elevated the poor, the socially outcast, the disabled, the sick, the women, the children, the men who the religious elite did not count as educated or knowledgeable. And this ragamuffin group, with courage, laid down their lives to tell other people that Jesus is the only one worthy of putting their hope in. They faced death daily to tell others that their only hope for being made right with God is Jesus. They did this because they lived with Jesus, they watched him heal, speak truth boldly without fear and march toward his own unjustified murder as though he could overcome death with his life. And he did. His followers saw him dead. And they saw him miraculously alive from the dead with the scars that testified to his suffering. Consider this account:
So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” -John 20:25-29
Third, I want my friends to put their hope in Jesus because of the evidence in the lives of his real followers. I ask my friends to consider that Jesus is actually living in them.
There’s a big Sissoo tree in my back yard where crows, pigeons and mockingbirds perch all the time. If I were to rest under the shade of that tree while the birds tweeted and chirped in it’s branches I’d be the recipient of bird poop in my face before too long. But you know what? That bird poop is not the fruit of the tree I’m trying to find shade under.
It would be foolish for me to chop down all the trees in my yard, accusing them of bearing nasty fruit, when it’s really the birds in the trees that are dropping grossness all over my face. But so often we do this with the people who call themselves Christians or the church.
Jesus said that God’s kingdom would begin with faith as imperceptible as a mustard seed, but would grow up into a huge tree, and many birds would make their home in it’s branches. There are nasty birds in the church. But their droppings aren’t the fruit the church produces through faith in Jesus. The true Christian will produce a sort of evidence or fruit from their lives that tastes like Jesus. The Bible calls it the fruit of the Spirit.
There are real Christians in the world. And the Spirit of Christ lives in them. And you can tell. They lay down their lives for each other. They serve even their enemies. They confess their failures and wrongs and turn to a better way quickly. They have a joy that defies circumstances even in their suffering and sorrow. They don’t hold tightly to the things of the world, but they invest their lives in others for their good. They love Jesus and they’ve never seen him.
We all put our hope in something or someone. Hope is what keeps us pressing on in this hard life and the lack of it is what leads many to stop pressing on. There is no escaping the reality that our lives are broken. We crave hope. We crave a wholeness, a peace, a justice, a love we don’t find here. And that craving will lead us to place our hope somewhere. But inevitably, the objects of our hope fail us.
Some of us hope in our willpower, skills and positive thinking. But failure and disaster are inescapable. Some of us hope in a relationship only to find that person fails to deliver the wholeness we crave. Some of us hope in doing good- maybe if we’re altruistic enough the world life will be better. And it will, sometimes. But no matter how much good (and who defines what is good is whole other topic) we do, it doesn’t fix our world or us.
Some of us hope in a certain lifestyle and maybe for yourself, if you’re born in the right place and time and have the right resources, you’ll build a nice greenhouse lifestyle that keeps the hard things out of sight and out of mind. But even if your lifestyle satisfies you, you have to turn your back on a broken world and on the reality that your relationships and other people’s relationships are broken too.
Some of us think we have given up hope. Like Hawkeye in Avengers Endgame, we lash out, taking vengeance, hardening ourselves, taking on bad-ass personas or drowning our sorrows in a bottle or porn or food. But our walls, exhibits of vulnerability-defying-strength, and pain-numbing practices are really the places we are placing our hope. Our hope becomes a prison and chains.
The tagline for my blog here starts with hope in Jesus for a reason. I have hoped in all the above and found myself with a mouthful of gritty disillusionment. I’ve choked on what I’ve tried to quench this deeper thirst in my soul with. But when I believed this Jesus who said he laid down his life for me, I found that rather than needing the world to be fixed for my benefit, I can go out into its brokenness and be broken and poured out for it’s benefit. Jesus has turned my brokenness into a spring of hope.
So why should you hope in the Jesus of the Bible? Because, I offer, that just as he said, he is the only way. He is what our souls long for.
The Hebrew Bible describes a peace called shalom. Shalom is a state of wholeness. Shalom is what we crave. Shalom is what we hope for. Shalom is what we and all the people around us, marching like ants to and fro, trying to find a place to rest our hope, are searching for. And there’s this Jesus who said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.” (John 14:27)
Put your hope in Jesus because of what he said.
Put your hope in Jesus because of what he did.
Put your hope in Jesus because he’s alive in his people.
I guess there is a fourth reason.
Put your hope in Jesus because there is no hope without him.