Sometimes all I really want to do as a pastor is tell people how much I love Jesus. But because people have heard folks exclaim their love for Jesus quite often, it may be less than clear what I mean.
So, this Sunday in worship, I plan to use the sermon to simply share why I unabashedly love Jesus. We’re going to be working from Matthew 11, one of the more enigmatic passages in the gospels. So allow me, if you would, to offer some examples of what I love about Jesus, as a kind of foretaste, and hopefully an invitation to love Jesus the way I love Jesus.
So, first there’s the whole thing where Jesus never simply answers a question with, “Yes.”
Whether this is a survival tactic under a violent empire, or a discipleship strategy to force all hearers to think more deeply, it remains true, Jesus seems to avoid simple answers like “yes” or “no.” Pilate: “Are you the Messiah?” Jesus: “You say that I am.” Jesus is especially avoidant of answering questions regarding his Messiah-ship. So in Matthew 11, when John sends messengers to ask if Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus replies: “Go tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, etc.”
Related to this, Jesus is as political as heck, but not in the way anyone anticipated.
It’s like everyone nominated him to run for governor of Arkansas for a major party, and then instead of getting out stumping and winning votes, he spends a day volunteering at the children’s hospital, another day sleeping with the homeless on the street, and a third day up on Petit Jean preaching to a rag tag crowd of farmers. He’s an epic failure at traditional political strategizing, all the while conducting the most powerful movement building the world has ever seen.
He’s fully human and fully God, which also means he comes across as not-quite-human and not-quite-God.
Matthew 11:18: “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”” John was on many levels more holy than Jesus. In fact quite a few people in history have seemed better Christians than Jesus: St. Francis, Mother Teresa, Ghandi. So Jesus really wasn’t as great a man as some others. On the other hand, he’s the Son of God. But he doesn’t “do God” like you’d expect. He completely frustrates almost all the ways we tend to think about God by antithesis: he’s not impassible, almighty, immortal, omniscient, and so on.
He’s got the best mom.
His mom is like social justice warrior extraordinaire. From the time he was born, she’d been singing these amazing politically subversive songs (what we sometimes call the Magnificat). During his public ministry, she was always organizing, always present, bringing the movement forward.
The Almighty has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He said the oddest things.
Sometimes they were straight up paradoxes, or at the very least dialectical. Like the Sermon on the Mount. He told parables, which are pretty much the best short-short story collection ever assembled. And if you start to list the things he said that Christians tend to overlook, things get pretty wacky. As just one example, Jesus taught that John the Baptist was Elijah come again (and who was going to come “again again”; 11:14).
Did I mention he had the best friends?
We might mention Moses and Elijah, with whom he was tight. But then also Mary Magdalene, John the Baptist, the disciples (some better than others, as it were, but my favorite is Peter). And then he seemed to simply get out with people in social settings pretty much all the time. It’s like everywhere Jesus went was either to attend a party, or to assemble one. Hence, the water to wine in John 2. And again Matthew 11: the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’
He regularly stuck it to the powerful… like pretty much all the time.
But he could at the same time be really close friends with those in power who had themselves aligned with his movement. Think of Zachaeus. But he was always sensitive to the weak and lowly ones. Think children. Or the widow who gave all she had. Or the woman who washed his feet. And so on.
We have four stories about him, which is way better than just having one.
Some other religions portray Jesus in alternative ways… for example, at least a couple of world religions claim Jesus didn’t die on the cross. But we have on good record from four witnesses that he did, and this his death, even more than his resurrection, is central to the good news. Jesus died. On a cross. In complete faithfulness to his mission.
He rose from the dead and was both recognizable and unrecognizable.
He ate fish but also passed through doors. At his death, bodies came out of tombs and walked around Jerusalem. Ever since, people have tried to make sense of this moment, his death and resurrection, and they’ve come up with all kinds of fascinating perspectives, from the idea that the resurrection is just a collective unconscious insight of the apostolic community, all the way over to cosmic notions of a world transfigured and ontologically changed by the events around him in that moment… signified by the fact that the curtain on the temple with a painting of creation was torn in two when he died. All I know is, that was a big enough moment that people decided to go back and figure out roughly when Jesus was born and then date history from that moment.
I could go on and on, because I love this guy so much.
But in the end, one of the things I love most about him is that he coalesced a movement, a community of people who tries to be an outpost of the kingdom he cast a vision of, a continuing body of his presence in the world. The church is a lot of things, sometimes not that great of things, but in its best moments, it gives the world the continuing presence of this man, Jesus. That’s no small thing.