Jeff Cook: Jesus and Desire

Jeff Cook’s series on desire now moves on to Jesus.

“Blessed are the Very Smart for They Will See God.”

There’s a reason this beatitude strikes us poorly. It doesn’t seem to be how things work.

It’s not simply that those who are mentally slower or even wise in non-analytic spheres are some how lesser in God’s eyes. We reject this beatitude because God clearly doesn’t work this way.

Yet notice what this says about how we reason for Christianity. Do people need reasons for God belief? Yes, I think most do. Should we use every bit of good thinking we have for the sake of our world and the glory of Christ? Yes, of course. But when our apologetic becomes exclusively about the mind we cut up our audience and set to the side their passions, their will and their hearts (which I have argued here, here, and here).

This is a poor choice, and it is one Jesus did not make.

Jesus apologetic targeted the heart first. Notice just a sample from Matthew’s gospel of the ways Jesus spoke to the crowds who had not yet chosen to follow him.

The Sermon on the Mount

Some historians argue the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7) is the content of Jesus’ stump speech—a routinely delivered address (see Luke 6) painting the Kingdom of God and the invitation to come be a part of God’s fresh work. Notice how Jesus did not begin the address with an argument. He doesn’t start with Aquinas’s five ways or even a Pascalian Wager. Jesus began his most important teaching with an appeal to his audience’s passions.

The sermon starts with a pitch to two sets of people: those who look as though God has abandoned them (those empty of the Spirit, those easily abused, those mourning, and those hungering for their lives to be put right) and those who have done the hard work of God but seem to gain nothing from it (the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemaker, and the persecuted). This was Jesus’ target audience. These are the two types of people Jesus wanted to make up his movement—and to them he says: “heaven is here and its come for you, you will inherit the earth, you will be comforted, you will be filled, you will be shown mercy, you will see God, you will be called children of God, the kingdom of heaven is yours” (see more here).

This is not an argument in the common apologetic fashion. These are words targeted at longing. The Sermon on the Mount invited Jesus’ listeners to see reality as God does—and to want it. The move is perspectival. Jesus offered this audience a new way of seeing themselves and their world—to convert their thinking—but he gave them no argument for conversion. He simply put forward an appeal to their passions.

Jesus then blessed those who would take on this new perspective with a new identity: You are the light of the world, you are the salt of the earth, you are—a new Jerusalem—a city on hill that cannot be hidden where the Lord God is pleased to dwell. The beginning of the Sermon on the Mount is all about the desires of his early audience. Jesus showcased God’s work and priorities and in essence asked, “Don’t you want to be part of that?!”

The sermon ends in a similar fashion: there were two roads one that led to life, one to destruction; two trees, one that bore good fruit and one bad; two disciples, one invited in and one asked to leave; two homes (another temple image?) one that stood strong on the rock and one that fell with a great crash.

The implicit question was, “Which life do you want?” There is no argument here. Jesus offered two realities—and the choice was aimed at hearts.

Disciples

When Jesus said, “Come, follow me” to the man at the tax collector booth (Mt 9:9-13, Mk 2:13-17) there is no rational argument. There is simply an invitation: an invitation to rebel against Rome and forsake his duties, an invitation to cut off his stream of income, an invitation to start a new life. Why does Levi rise? Jesus had been living in Levi’s town. Levi—I assume—was a Levite who had left the priestly lineage of his family and had sold out to Rome. Now, sitting at his booth he is thinking about the life he truly desires. He had seen Jesus activities in Capernaum, and when Jesus offered a new beginning, Levi rose.

When Jesus sent out his disciples (Mt 10), he instructed his followers to proclaim that the Kingdom of heaven was breaking into our world, and then to heal the sick and drive out devils. Again, no argument here. The pitch is to the desires of those served. Do you want to be a part of God’s kingdom breaking into our world?

Evidence is given to John’s disciples (Mt 11): “Go report what you have seen…” Turning to the crowd Jesus said that “wisdom is proved right be her actions.” These are each appeals to empirical evidence. However, Jesus does not stop with the head. He spoke to the heart concluding his message to the crowds at this time: “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls.”

Notice too, in the following chapter of Matthew, Jesus rejected the longings of the crowd for more empirical evidence (12:38-39, see also 16:1-4). Evidence was neither bad nor good, but apparently it was not primary in Jesus’ mind—the heart was.

The Parables of the Kingdom

Jesus’ parables in Matthew 13 again target longing. He began with the parable of the sower, showing a set of hearts: hard, shallow, surrounded by thorns, and then a “good” heart which bore fruit. Again, this is a pitch to the longings of the “large crowds” to become like the good soil.

Jesus then spoke of wheat and weeds being harvested at the eschaton, and the weeds being separated out and burned while the wheat was invited in. So too Jesus described the end like a large catch of fish, the good fish being received, the bad thrown away. Just as Moses had concluded his great sermon with an encouragement to “choose life,” so to Jesus. But the preference of life over death is not made by rationality; its made by the heart.

Of course longing is most clear at the very center of Matthew 13—the very center of the Gospel itself—when Jesus says, “The Kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold everything he had and bought the field.” The field (as so often in Jesus’ parables) is the earth, the man who has entered is Jesus himself, the treasure is you and I, and Jesus—not because of rational deductions but because of longing—has given everything he had to purchase that field, so he might return and enjoy the treasure within.

When Jesus presented the Kingdom, his appeal was to one’s heart and longings—even his own (for more see this book).

The Heart

We could go on and on with examples, but perhaps what Jesus’ criticized showcases Jesus’ targeting of the heart over the mind most clearly. Speaking to the teachers of the law and Pharisees, Jesus’ inverted the blessings of the Beatitudes by pronouncing seven woes unveiling how God saw the “children of hell”. The closing woes focus on the heart, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence … You are like whitewashed tombs … full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean” (Mt 23:25-28).

The very word “hypocrite”—which Jesus used as a condemnation seven times here—means an actor or one with a mask. One who looks one way, but inside is different. It is clear that Jesus cared most about the insides.

The heart, not reason, was most vital to Jesus and his kingdom message. The entire Sermon on the Mount is arguably about the heart: a heart that is honest, has abandoned lust and rage, that is refined through fasting, prayer, giving in secret, and that is free from greed, worry, and judgment. The good heart walks through the gate leading to life. It is like a tree that bears good fruit. It rests on a rock and stands in the middle of hurricanes.

As such Jesus pronounced blessing—not on the smart—but on the Pure in Heart for they would see God.

Punch Line

The intellect is important. Its part of the whole human person, but it is not everything. In fact, we should note a truth that seems to stand behind all Jesus said and did: faith begins in the heart not in the head.

So, what should we say to the one who’s “defense of the faith” elevates the mind over the heart, or worse yet steps on the heart while reaching for the mind as thought the heart was secondary?

They may not only fail to see a person come to Christ; they may help build a wall which makes that soul irretrievable.

Jeff Cook lectures on philosophy at the University of Northern Colorado. He pastors Atlas Church and is the author of Everything New: One Philosopher’s Search for a God Worth Believing in (Subversive 2012). You can see his work at: www.everythingnew.org

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://inchristus.wordpress.com Paul D. Adams

    Misplaced emphasis? Worse…bifurcation?
    Is not the interpreter of the heart one’s head? Do we not live out the values and desires that we “understand?” Did not Pascal say “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing?” I get the point being made here, but not sure it’s a matter of heart first, then head. Rather the person as a whole is “targeted” in Jewish anthropology. One is not carved up into pieces in the biblical view of humankind. No well intentioned, biblically faithful apologist would merely pose intellectual fodder at the expense of ignoring the psychological and ethical side of things.

    I fear this, like so many of the posts here, is trying some new angle in an effort to be novel, postmodern and derail our thinking by building straw men.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Scot, thank you for this. It is absolutely true, but even more emphatically, it is absolutely necessary. Adults, particularly serious adult Christians, can be very afraid of emotions, of desire, of yielding, of depending. We are saddened yet not surprised to find hypocritical behaviour in an adult. We would be astonished to find it in a little child. 

    “He called a little child and had him stand among them. And  he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefor whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:2-4

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Paul (1). Morning. You wrote, “Rather the person as a whole is “targeted” in Jewish anthropology. One is not carved up into pieces in the biblical view of humankind.” This has been my point through the four posts, and the primary idea I wish to argue above (see the last section), for it seems to me that reason is nearly always elevated in modern teachings on “evangelism” and “apologetics.”

    You wrote “Worse…bifurcation? Is not the interpreter of the heart one’s head? Do we not live out the values and desires that we “understand?” How is your intro not self-refuting? In order to engage the topic the first thing you do is bifurcate.

    To your final claim: You should not fear the post seeking to be novel or postmodern (horror of horrors). You should fear that contemporary thinking about such issue has been derailed for a while now. And it ought to be replaced.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Jeff,
    Sorry for not thanking you too in (2). I read it without paying sufficient attention to the credits.
    God bless,
    Bev

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Bev (4) If you can mistake my hack New Testament work for Scot’s, I’ll take it!

  • http://www.wyattroberts.com Wyatt Roberts

    “The Sermon on the Mount invited Jesus’ listeners to see reality as God does—and to want it.”

    What a great way to describe it. Richard Bauckham says Revelation should be read in the very same way — as God’s perspective on what is taking place. Excellent article!

  • http://www.jesusandthebible.wordpress.com Lucas Dawn

    Your argument for the heart is somewhat smart. I understand you are reacting against “objective” reasoned presentations of facts (only the facts “mam”). You think Jesus appealed primarily to the passions, the desires, of the crowds. While you say Jesus tried to change their desires, your emphasis is on Jesus fulfilling “their” longings. The problem is that what the crowds desired was usually not what Jesus desired; and the “insides” of the crowds included their thinking as well as their longing; the desires of the heart are only one part of the heart; the heart is the seat of thinking and understanding, and also of willing and longing.

    In Mt. 5-7 Jesus is focusing on his disciples, not the crowds–who nevertheless listen in on what Jesus teaches, on how Jesus informs and seeks to change the thinking and actions and desires of his disciples. Like the crowds, when the disciples hear “the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” they think of a restored, glorious kingdom of Israel; their passion is to overthrow Rome. Jesus teaches that the true blessing is inheriting the (whole) earth; and this blessing (they should desire) is for the “meek” (whose words and actions are patiently gentle, not impulsively violent). Most of this “sermon” is indeed an argument, an argument against their common focus on the kingdom of Israel: in contrast to what Moses said, and to what they heard from the authoritative interpreters of Moses in the synagogues (namely, the scribes and Pharisees), Jesus informs and argues for his alternative, the kingdom of heaven and its (superior) righteousness, a righteousness of right words and actions (as defined by Jesus) as well as desires. This kingdom will not appeal to most; its gate is narrow and its way is hard; only a few find it; most will not want this new “reality.” A gospel that appeals to the desires of the crowd is not Jesus’ gospel of the kingdom.

    In Mt. 13 Jesus’ “pitch” is not to the crowds, but again to the disciples. To them Jesus will reveal the secrets of the kingdom; his parables hide the truth from the crowds (13:10-15) because their hearts (especially their minds, but also their will and desires) do not “understand.” Indeed the parable of the sower reveals the failure of most to bear fruit for the kingdom. The seed is the word of the kingdom, the teaching of Jesus about his new kingdom and righteousness; this word is sown in hearts (minds, wills, and desires) but the crowds are vulnerable to the evil one who reacts to that word (via scribes and Pharisees); and some of the crowd responds at first with joy to this word, but when confronted by their leaders (again especially the scribes and Pharisees) they let the word shrivel up; and some of the crowd who receive the word about a righteousness that does not seek treasures on earth cannot stop seeking (desiring and working for) what they have always wanted: treasures on earth. Only the good soil (faithful disciples) hears and “understands” and bears fruit by passing on Jesus’ seed (word) about the kingdom and its unique righteousness. (In 13:44 the treasure is the kingdom, not “you and I.”)

    Since the heart is especially the mind (the head) and will (including desire), Jesus teaches what disciples should be thinking and wanting; but the ultimate blessing (or woes) depends on disciples doing the will of Jesus. Unless one’s righteousness exceeds the acts (and motives) of the scribes and Pharisees, one will not enter the (final) kingdom of heaven. The heart of Jesus’ teaching is to listen to him (the new king), learn from him, and obey him.

  • http://lisesletters.wordpress.com Lise

    This such a beautiful post. Thank you.

    Related, my favorite gospel story is of the woman who anoints Jesus’ feet with oil. Even more, I love how Jesus comes to her defense when those around her are irritated by her lavish gesture and tears. “I entered your house, you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little. (Luke 7:44-47).

    I can just sense the magnitude of this woman’s heart as she pours out her love for Jesus. Her devotion is exuberant, courageous, selfless, spontaneous and radical. And when we experience love in this form, it touches us in the deepest part of our being. Love, not intellect, is what initially drew me to Christ, despite my being a fan of the mind.

    So, thank you again and here’s to emotional intelligence. “I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Lucas (7) Thank you for your thoughts. Lots to process here. You wrote, “The problem is that what the crowds desired was usually not what Jesus desired.”

    Not always. I think your claim is demonstrably false. (For example, some want evil to be eliminated and so does Jesus.)

    You wrote, “the “insides” of the crowds included their thinking as well as their longing; the desires of the heart are only one part of the heart; the heart is the seat of thinking and understanding, and also of willing and longing.”

    My claim above is that Jesus’ teachings target the will/preferences/desires. Any reason to think that is false textually?

    You wrote, “In Mt. 5-7 Jesus is focusing on his disciples, not the crowds–who nevertheless listen in on what Jesus teaches, on how Jesus informs and seeks to change the thinking and actions and desires of his disciples.”

    I argued that we should see the content of the Sermon on the Mount as Jesus routinely delivered stump speech and as such it would have been presented to the crowds (see for example Luke 6). Any reason to think that is false?

    You wrote, “Jesus informs and argues for his alternative, the kingdom of heaven and its (superior) righteousness, a righteousness of right words and actions (as defined by Jesus) as well as desires. This kingdom will not appeal to most; its gate is narrow and its way is hard; only a few find it; most will not want this new “reality.”

    Lucas, what argument does Jesus invoke showing the superiority of his kingdom vision that is not anchored in a desire-empowered-value-judgment? As I argue above, all of Jesus’ arguments appear to target the preferences of his audience (and that makes sense for that is how value judgments work at the foundational level). Show me then (1) the strictly cognitive arguments Jesus employs and (2) why the arguments above do not target the will/preferences/desires. It seems, my argument holds here.

    You wrote, “A gospel that appeals to the desires of the crowd is not Jesus’ gospel of the kingdom.”

    No because that would be mixing apples and oranges. The Gospel is the truth that Jesus is Lord. Jesus presents that truth in a way that is emotionally compelling. How else does a person choose to become part of Christ’s kingdom without desire?

    You wrote, “In Matthew 13 Jesus’ “pitch” is not to the crowds, but again to the disciples.”

    Matthew 13: 1 “On the same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the sea. And great multitudes were gathered together to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore. Then He spoke many things…”

    Jesus does indeed deconstruct the parable to just his disciples (as you say later), but I didn’t reference any of that to make my argument, so how does that deconstruction prove your point?

    Much love.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Lise (8). I love the Ezekiel reference here.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Jeff, thanks for this.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Thank you, DRT!

  • http://gospelthemes.blogspot.com/ Tom Schuessler

    Jeff: I am very moved by this tremendous post. I and three of my children studied the Sermon on the Mount last Lent. Your reference to the two types of people whom Jesus targeted clears up lots of questions that we came up with from that study. Tom Schuessler Mayville, WI

  • http://www.nateweatherly.com Nate W.

    Thanks for another great post Jeff.

    In my life, I’ve come to a point where I can clearly see a radical unity among all of mankind. Where I used to see groups of people separated by beliefs, now I see myself and others, regardless of intellectual belief, as united in a deep sense that God (or whatever name they give to fullness of Life, lasting Peace, and deep contented Rest) exists, yet is absent. In a million ways it has become crystal clear to me that every single person on earth is looking for the exact same thing: Heaven. And not one of us can claim to have yet found it.

    Every attempt to grasp peace, rest, joy, and security will fail equally, whether it be power, influence, romance, food, drink, knowledge, or religion.

    I think this is why we do not see Christ using intellectual to preach the gospel to the crowds. intellectual assent to the truths he preaches is not what he was concerned with. As you say so well, Christ seems to be speaking to people on a deeper level where the goal is not an exchange of one belief for another, but a radical change of self identity—movement from “I see, I know, I Have” to “I am blind and know nothing except that life is to step into the darkness.”

  • http://www.nateweatherly.com Nate W.

    *by “step into the darkness” I mean that we step into the garden of gethsemene rather than avoiding it. We love even in the midst of feeling most forsaken by God. We admit that we do not see God, but only his “back” (i.e. the place where he has been) and follow the road of love even as it delves into personal blackness and death.

  • http://www.jesusandthebible.wordpress.com Lucas Dawn

    Jeff, the thoughts of your heart seem to prefer a different Jesus than the thoughts of my heart. And “as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Our understandings and misunderstandings are the foundation, the anchor, for our preferences. You think Jesus targeted the preferences of the crowds. I think Jesus targeted the misunderstandings of his disciples, giving them new understanding that could change their preferences.

    In Mt. 5:1-2 Jesus sees the crowds and escapes up the mountain, where his disciples come to him; there he teaches the disciples. Lk. 6:20 also has Jesus looking at his disciples as he begins to teach. Jesus teaches them the gospel of the kingdom; this gospel is much more than that Jesus is Lord. When Peter confesses Jesus is the Christ in Mt. 16, and Jesus informs him of his coming suffering and rejection by the leaders of Israel, Peter prefers his own desires that the Christ (Lord) should rule over a reformed Israel. That desire is also the desire of the crowds; they do reject evil (sometimes), but the main evil they see is the Roman occupation; the main evil Jesus sees is the wicked rulers of the kingdom of Israel, where the citizens nevertheless remain mostly loyal to them and desire their increased power through overthrowing the Romans.

    Jesus’ teaching provides understanding to disciples that informs them of the differences between his kingdom (of disciples) and the kingdoms of earth–beginning with the kingdom of Israel. This is the case in Mt. 5 when Jesus contrasts what Moses (and the scribes and Pharisees) commanded for Israel, and what Jesus now commands for his kingdom. (“You have heard that it was said … but I say to you …”)

    In Mt. 13, crowds hear Jesus’ parables of the kingdom of heaven, but do not “understand with their heart.” The parable of the sower (secretly) informs (disciples) that most who hear Jesus’ word of the kingdom come to the point that they do not prefer it. All of these texts reveal Jesus targeting the misunderstanding and desires of his disciples. Jesus’ gospel (word) of the kingdom is not about targeting the preferences of his audience (whether the crowds or disciples); Jesus’ gospel explains what kind of king and kingdom Jesus is beginning; his interaction with opposing scribes and Pharisees reveals how different his alternative kingdom is. The righteousness and suffering of his kingdom are so difficult that few prefer to take that hard road. Such a kingdom is not “emotionally compelling;” it would be emotionally upsetting. What Jesus added that could be compelling for the few that find it is the eternal glory of the final kingdom in the end. But the difficult road required to reach that end–a road that includes conflict with the kingdoms of earth–is seldom preferred.

  • http://inchristus.wordpress.com Paul D. Adams

    Jeff (3). Thanks for the comments. Please accept my apologies for not reading all the posts in your series. Better, I should repent for not having 2 cups o’ java before responding to any post! ;-)

    It seems I’ve derailed the thrust of your concerns by raising some of my own straw men. This, of course, does not mean there aren’t those who seek to reduce the import of the mind and accentuate the heart in its place. Nevertheless, my rant is recanted. I REPENT! ;-)

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Lucas Dawn (16) You wrote,”You think Jesus targeted the preferences of the crowds. I think Jesus targeted the misunderstandings of his disciples.”

    Certainly its both, ya? My whole post is simply displaying the later—which are important don’t you think?

    You wrote, “Jesus teaches them the gospel of the kingdom; this gospel is much more than that Jesus is Lord.”

    Is there anything more important to “the Gospel” than “Jesus is Lord”?

    It feels through your response that you are not wrestling with the central ideas I’m putting forward, so I would challenge you to reconsider them.

    (1) When Jesus speaks to crowds he seeks to awaken their passions for God’s kingdom.
    (2) This is a good thing.
    (3) We should do likewise.

    Do you really have an issue with any of those three claims?

    You conclude: “The righteousness and suffering of his kingdom are so difficult that few prefer to take that hard road. Such a kingdom is not “emotionally compelling;”

    I strongly disagree. There is an assumption here that all people are hedonists, but that is false. Some people want a God worth believing in and would gladly suffer for that God.

    To your points: Even if I were to assume that Jesus never spoke to the crowds but only to the disciples (as you seem to argue), if Jesus is making non-cognitive pitches to his disciples, are not those pitches the kind the disciples will in turn pronounce to the crowds? Is not Jesus speaking to the crowds through the disciples, given your assumptions, and as such Jesus’ audience is still…the crowds?

    Peace.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Lucas Dawn (16) You wrote,”You think Jesus targeted the preferences of the crowds. I think Jesus targeted the misunderstandings of his disciples.”

    Certainly its both, ya? My whole post is simply displaying the later—which are important don’t you think?

    You wrote, “Jesus teaches them the gospel of the kingdom; this gospel is much more than that Jesus is Lord.”

    Is there anything more important to “the Gospel” than “Jesus is Lord”?

    It feels through your response that you are not wrestling with the central ideas I’m putting forward, so I would challenge you to reconsider them.

    (1) When Jesus speaks to crowds, he seeks to awaken their passions for God’s kingdom.
    (2) This is a good thing.
    (3) We should do likewise.

    Do you really have an issue with any of those three claims?

    You conclude: “The righteousness and suffering of his kingdom are so difficult that few prefer to take that hard road. Such a kingdom is not “emotionally compelling;”

    I strongly disagree. There is an assumption here that all people are hedonists, but that is false. Some people want a God worth believing in and would gladly suffer for that God.

    To your points: Even if I were to assume that Jesus never spoke to the crowds but only to the disciples (as you seem to argue), if Jesus is making non-cognitive pitches to his disciples, are not those pitches the kind the disciples will in turn pronounce to the crowds? Is not Jesus speaking to the crowds through the disciples, given your assumptions, and as such Jesus’ audience is still…the crowds?

    Peace.

  • John I.

    “the main evil Jesus sees is the wicked rulers of the kingdom of Israel”

    I disagree. Jesus looked behind the apparently obvious, what was manifest, and looked to what caused the manifestation. He saw evil and kingdom primarily in spiritual terms–the powers of this world (principalities of the air) v. his coming kingdom (i.e., his ruling all hearts and remaking our bodies and the world).

    The problem was spiritual, and so was the solution.

  • http://www.jesusandthebible.wordpress.com Lucas Dawn

    Jeff, your feeling that I am not wrestling with your central ideas is correct; I understand your ideas but I really do have an issue with them; I do not prefer them because I don’t think they are the truth; so I am not wrestling with them, I am challenging them.

    You challenge me with three claims. Again, there is a little truth in your claims. Jesus does speak to the crowds and challenges them to repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. But the greater truth is that their passion is for the kingdom of Israel, and against the kingdom of Rome. Both the crowds and the disciples have a hard time seeing the differences between Jesus’ new kingdom and the kingdom of Israel. Because Jesus’ kingdom will be made up of faithful disciples, he focuses on teaching them the differences between his kingship and kingdom and the kingdom of Israel. Only after his death and resurrection, and giving them the Spirit, do they understand and courageously challenge the same leaders of Israel Jesus did (and suffer for it). All the way through, the crowds remain loyal to their scribes, preferring the interpreters and enforcers of the law of Moses for the kingdom of Israel.

    When Paul later joins this kingdom where “Jesus is Lord,” he also suffers from the crowds in the synagogues who prefer the law of Moses to the kingship of Jesus. Paul especially carries out what Jesus taught about the scope of his new kingdom: it would be an international kingdom that includes even Samaritans and Gentiles. Most Jews in the synagogues hated (most) Gentiles; it was even part of the law of Moses. Their passions strongly rejected such a kingdom. And Jesus said as his disciples went out to all the nations teaching his gospel of the kingdom and its righteousness that they would be hated by all nations. There is a large crowd in every nation that has a passion for a certain god (or gods), and many will die for that god, but these gods are not the God of Jesus. In the U.S. the passionate desire of the “Christian” crowds is for the American Dream, which is not perceived as hedonism but as blessing from God, all of which is worth fighting for and dying for (“God bless America”). Some reasons why Jesus’ kingdom is not preferred is because he commands not to lay up treasures on earth (but give generously to the poor) and love one’s enemies (including foreign threats, like the Samaritans of Jesus’ day).

    As I try to explain (cognitively) this new kingdom I’m afraid your preference for a different Jesus (the Jesus who inspires the crowds) will remain the prevailing desire of your own “heart.”

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Lucas Dawn (21). Did you become a Christian because you “wanted” to become a reason or for other reasons?

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Bah that is:

    Lucas Dawn (21). Did you become a Christian because you “wanted” to become a Christian or did you become a Christian for other reasons?

  • Luke Allison

    I feel like Dr Cook and Lucas Dawn are two ships passing in the night.

    Jeff,

    Would you equate your ideas to NT Wright’s “epistemology of love” as described in Surprised by Hope? Here’s the specific quote:

    “We have traditionally thought of knowing in terms of subject and object and have struggled to attain objectivity by detaching our subjectivity. It can’t be done, and one of the achievements of postmodernity is to demonstrate that. What we are called to, and what in the resurrection we are equipped for, is a knowing in which we are involved as subjects but as self-giving, not as self-seeking, subjects: in other words, a knowing that is a form of love.”

    I’ve been trying to wrap my brain and life around that idea since I first read it.

    My only pushback on your interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount is hardly edged at all.
    It could be argued that perhaps you are projecting 21st century psychological introspection onto a 1st century tableau. But, immediately, I’m reminded that the hopes of the Jewish people were a collective nationalistic hope as well. Whatever individual dreams and desires existed within the assembled people, Jesus tapped into the collective dream of a historic people. As long as you emphasize this aspect slightly ahead of the individual, I’m with you all the way.

  • http://www.jesusandthebible.wordpress.com Lucas Dawn

    Jeff, I became a “Christian” when I was nine years old because an evangelist came to my church and said I needed a Savior who would forgive my sins. I indeed wanted to do this in order to save my soul. But I had little (cognitive) understanding that Jesus wanted disciples who would give up their former way of life in order to follow him in his difficult and narrow way. Instead, I became mostly a loyal member of my church, whose demands on me were minimal.

    I became a disciple of Jesus when I was 17 years old after reading the Gospel of Matthew. I wanted to do this after I received more knowledge about what Jesus wanted; the Spirit used that truth to reshape my thinking and willing and feeling. My new preference was based on my new understanding of who Jesus was and what he taught (including difficult things like denying oneself–one’s own desires–and following him). Most Christians around me showed little desire to dig deeper into that truth.

    Jesus says it is the Father who gives him his disciples (Jn. 17:6-10); it is the Spirit who gives birth to children of the heavenly Father, who are born not of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man but of God (Jn. 1:12-13; 3:6-8). The desires of the world in general–the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and the pride of life–are not of the Father (1 Jn. 2:16).

  • Amanda B.

    Perhaps this is a bit off topic; I hope not.

    I had a conversation just yesterday with a friend of mine. He was raised in Paris, with little to no exposure to religion (except for the, “I guess you should know what they believe so you can understand why it’s so stupid). He kept steering the conversation back into mind-only topics, and would not even hear me when I was suggesting that his focus was too narrow.

    I believe that our faith *is* a rational one, and that we *do* engage our brains when we believe in Jesus. But I also very much agree that an intellectual-only approach is not enough, either to persuade or to accurately communicate what Christianity is about.

    I have no illusions of finding that “magic argument” that will instantly cause this lifelong atheist to reconsider his opinion, but I was wondering if you had any ideas on how to productively dialogue with a person who is unwilling to engage in the slightest with anything that falls outside of the bounds of cold, hard facts.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Luke Allison (24). Good thoughts. On epistemology I’m simply arguing here for what Jesus’ argued. My own take is that all philosophy must start with desire, for you cannot start thinking with what has been proved but only what has been believed, and at that level you believe what you want to believe. I think Wright is correct that you cannot escape the subjective element, and from that spot you must go somewhere. Love seems–pragmatically–an excellent choice, especially as it weaves it our experiences of God.

    Yu wrote, “I’m reminded that the hopes of the Jewish people were a collective nationalistic hope as well. Whatever individual dreams and desires existed within the assembled people, Jesus tapped into the collective dream of a historic people. As long as you emphasize this aspect slightly ahead of the individual, I’m with you all the way.”

    I think this is correct. Perhaps I can say its a both/and. As you pointed out through Wright, you cannot escape the subjective. One might value the collective (and 1st century Jews probably did — though thats a big brush) but the pitch Jesus is offering seems to be embraced at the “my life” level as well, ya? “Sell all you have and follow me.” for example.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Lucas Dawn (25) Your post seems to confirm my point. And it is very good thing you…

    Wanted a Savior who would forgive my sins.
    Wanted to do this in order to save my soul.
    Wanted to become mostly a loyal member of your church.
    Wanted to become a disciple after reading Matthew.
    Had a new preference based on my new understanding of who Jesus was and what he taught.

    It seems to me Jesus is targeting such desires in his other audience as well.


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