Using an inflammatory heading simply for shock-value is manipulative journalism. So I don’t want to do that here. But I do want to make an important point in a provocative way.
Here’s my point:
Before we can be an authentic follower of Jesus we first need to rediscover him. And to do so, we have to start undressing him.
I’m not trying to be crude or sacrilegious, but I would suggest that over the centuries we’ve dressed Jesus in so much cultural and religious garb that who he really is, is almost unrecognizable – both to those of us who say we are following him and certainly to those who are on the outside watching as we represent him. We need to disrobe Jesus, so we can once again find and follow him, and not simply some caricature we’ve created of him.
Here are a few items that need to be removed
The magic genie. Over the last several decades we’ve turned Jesus into our own magic genie, promising that if we rub him just right, not only will we have a blessed life in heaven one day, but while we wait to get there, we can live a blessed life now and just call it the American dream. Jesus isn’t opposed to us being “blessed,” and certainly there are many blessings as the result of serving him, but surely Jesus didn’t die a cruel death on a cross so we could have a better marriage, with 2.3 perfect kids, a bigger house, and a growing retirement fund. I think he died for a bit more than that.
A political mascot. I would also propose that over the past several decades we’ve wrapped Jesus in the American flag and paraded him out on stage as the mascot of our favorite political party. We’ve confused responsible citizenship with Christian nationalism. One’s biblical, the other isn’t. There’s nothing wrong with standing together in large voting blocs on issues we believe in – that is part of our democratic process. But we’ve done a disservice to the message of Jesus by presenting him as the one who’s against bigger government and for less taxes. Or the one who’s for family values but against equality for all people. (Don’t read into that last sentence something I didn’t say!) Or the one who’s for border patrol and against gun control. I’m not saying some of the issues that we, as followers of Christ, have stood for are either right or wrong (that’s a whole other post), and please don’t read into this that I’m unpatriotic – I’m not! But what I am saying is that when we make Jesus our mascot in the political process it’s a total misrepresentation of him, and personally, I don’t think it’s helped the cause of Christ, only hindered it.
A mean moralist. I would also suggest that we’ve dressed Jesus in a three piece suite with his hair slicked back, wearing a frown on his face, and a long lists of do’s and don’ts in his hand. And by painting Jesus as a mean-spirited legalist, we’ve disfigured his face, obscuring his beauty from many, who may have otherwise been attracted to him. Let me be clear here. We don’t need more cheap grace! There are imperatives involved in following Christ. But Jesus didn’t come to make us miserable as we try to manage our sin; he came to offer us a new way of life, that’s made available to us through his life, that’s already living in us.
Even though the interest in spirituality in America is up, the interest and involvement in Christianity is down, and I would suggest this disinterest and decline may be because of our misrepresentation of Christ. I’m not convinced it’s the life and message of Jesus that’s being rejected, but rather, much of the religion that’s grown up around him that’s being pushed aside.
I will admit the message of the cross is offensive. And I will admit that in a culture as consumeristic and narcissistic as ours, the gospel message may never be a popular one. But I do wonder how many people haven’t been able to get close enough to the confrontational yet life-changing message of the cross, because the false picture that we’ve painted of him has been a barrier to them?
Of course, many of the images I’ve presented above (and many more like them) are not the Jesus that’s presented in the Gospels. So what do we do about it? How do we start undressing him?
Here are a few things I’ve done over the last several years
- I’ve read, and then re-read and then read again, the Gospels. I spent over two years just in the Gospel of Mark alone, meditating on the life and message of Jesus, personally putting myself in the stories and walking with Jesus as he walked.
- I’ve been reading many of the Christian mystics and Christian classics. Their understanding of, and experiences with Jesus, have helped me remove some of my own “westernized” accruals of him.
- I’ve been reading the lives of other followers of Christ who lived in other places, at other times. Their stories have helped me gain a broader and deeper picture of the person of Christ.
How about you? In what ways do you need to undress Jesus?
As you consider this question and further reflect upon this post, I trust it will move your toward a more pure and sincere devotion to Jesus Christ.
Ken L Roberts
I’d love to hear your comments