Have You Changed Jesus or Has Jesus Changed You?
The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice. Proverbs 12:15 This is one of my favorite verses. I completely believe that everyone should constantly examine their own beliefs actions. If you don’t seek input from a variety of others (not just those who affirm you) then it is guaranteed that you are going to be foolish in some area of your life.
Trust me, this totally relates to today’s passage!
When I was in college, I was working as a waitress at a local seafood restaurant. One of the waitresses that I worked with was a single mom who had just gotten out of an abusive relationship. She came from a family where most of her relatives hadn’t completed high school and none had gone to college. She moved to Boone, N.C. hoping to build a better life for her son. She got an apartment close to Mayflower Seafood and walked to work. She found a neighbor who she could pay to watch her son while she was at work.
I was always trying to find little ways to help her even though I was struggling too. One day we were working the lunch shift together and it was a really slow day. We took turns waiting on tables.
When it was my turn, I saw a very wealthy family from my church come in with some of their equally wealthy friends. I immediately thought, “Ka-ching! This group will make my afternoon!” Then I thought of my friend and I made an excuse to let her wait on them.
They were boisterous and friendly. They demanded a lot from my friend, but she was super sweet. They prayed loudly when they got their meal and they talked to my friend about Jesus. They stayed for a long time and I agreed to stay past my shift to help her clean up after them.
When they finally left, we eagerly went to the table to see what kind of tip they had left. We didn’t see anything! We picked up all the plates, nothing. I just knew that they had to have left something, so I checked the floor.
Then I went to the cashier, maybe they had left it with her…no….nothing! I looked over at my friend. She was looking down and intensely focused on cleaning so that she could try to hide her tears. But I saw her tears and they filled me with rage.
In my college years, I’m not sure if I listened to God more or just acted on impulses more, I think both, but I found the family from the restaurant at my church and confronted them about why they didn’t tip their waitress. They had a reputation for being generous. They were always being recognized for giving to missions and tons of stuff the church was doing. Why would they not tip their waitress?
Their answer was simple, “She wasn’t a Christian. We only give to things that further the cause of Jesus.”
I’d like to say I had this incredibly, wise, convicting yet gracious answer, but I didn’t. I just stood there like an idiot feeling shocked. How could you even hear about Jesus and think that was OK?
I feel like people who have never opened a Bible know enough about Jesus to know that he was kind to poor people. I can’t even fathom how a person could claim to be his follower and think that he’d be OK with not helping a single mom trying to overcome her poverty. I wondered if they really knew Jesus.
Grrrrrr! I’m still annoyed! They grossly misrepresented Jesus to my friend and they were held up as examples of what following Jesus was all about. How could that happen? They were leaders in my church...
Which leads me to today’s passage…finally!
In verse 12, Jesus is telling the Pharisees who he is. He is the LIGHT OF THE WORLD. If they will follow him, they will see the truth about who God is and what he wants from them.
Remember, these are the guys who spend all of their waking hours studying the Old Testament. All they do is read about God and talk about what they read.
But God was standing in front of them and they didn’t recognize him! In the rest of this chapter, Jesus tries to get them to see this one truth: If you really knew God, you would recognize that I’m his Son.
Then Jesus continues to teach. He says that he is “from above” and unless people believe in him, they will die in their sins. In response, the Pharisees say in verse 25, “Who are you?” This is one of many moments where I imagine Jesus face palming...
He just told them: I’m from God. He’s my father if you knew him, you’d recognize me as the Messiah you’ve been waiting for. Then he says, “I’m from above”---like heaven, duh guys, c’mon…and they are all like, “So wait a minute now, who are you?”
Then things get real…
Jesus says, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”(verses 31-32)
Like every foolish person who is confronted with their foolishness, the Pharisees argued. They claimed to be special because they were physical descendants of Abraham.
Jesus tells them that if they were really true, spiritual descendants of Abraham, they would follow God as Abraham did. They would recognize that Jesus was teaching the ways of God. They were guilty of spending their days memorizing the laws that God had given his people, yet never seeking to know God.`
We do something quite similar in America. We pick out Bible verses to claim. We figure out what rules to follow. We pray about what is going on in our life. But we never seek to really know God.
If you want to see how true this is, ask some Christians why they are Christians. Do any of them say, because I get to have a relationship with God? Probably not. Usually the responses are about forgiveness of sins, purpose, heaven, or recovery from an addiction or problem. While all of those things are good parts of being a Christian, they aren’t THE reason that we should be a Christian. As a matter of fact, you can have purpose, recover from addiction, be ok with your sins, and live a highly moral lifestyle without really knowing God at all. The Pharisees did. Much of America does.
In verse 48, the Pharisees accuse Jesus of being a Samaritan and demon-possessed. Obviously, they knew that he wasn’t from Samaria. They were accusing him of being a rule breaker, someone who rejected the Jewish religion.
Jesus continues to teach and he says that anyone who follows his teaching will never experience death. (John recorded this after Jesus had been crucified. So, he is definitely talking about more than physical death. People reading this would have the benefit of knowing (or at least hearing the rumors) that Jesus had been resurrected.)
The Pharisee’s reaction to Jesus’ statement proves where their heart was. They weren’t seeking to understand. They were seeking to condemn, as most of us do when someone disagrees with us. We aren’t secure enough in our own position to question and fully understand other people’s stories, we listen to affirm what we already believe and argue with anything that challenges us. (I'm including myself here! I'm part of WE-big time!)
The Pharisees didn’t ask Jesus to expound on what he meant by “they will never experience death”. Obviously, all kinds of great people that followed God had died, what did he mean? Instead, they said, “Are you greater than Abraham?”
Jesus tells them, again, if they really knew Abraham and God as they claimed, then they would recognize that Jesus is God in the flesh. They would know that the things Jesus taught and did completely fit with God’s character.
They asked Jesus how he could possibly have seen Abraham. When he replies with, “Before Abraham was born. I AM.” He was using the holiest name of God among the Jews, I AM. It is the name that God used to reveal himself to Moses.
Jesus, God in human form, stood before people who spent every waking moment reading and talking about God. When he revealed himself to them, they went nuts and wanted to kill him. They didn’t recognize him. It is the most sadly ironic thing I’ve ever heard.
They missed God when he was standing right in front of them!!! How can that be? They wanted a religion. They wanted rules. They wanted to be right. They wanted to be saved. They wanted to be morally superior. They wanted to be leaders. They wanted all kinds of nice things, but they didn’t want to really know God. They didn’t want to be challenged or changed.
I can see this in many American Christians: when they don’t tip their waitress, when they care about politics more than relationships, when they are clueless about real issues in our communities, when we live in extreme wealth while most of the world lives in poverty…
But like any foolish person, I have trouble seeing my own foolishness. Everything I'm doing seems right to me!
I have trouble seeing where I’m messing up! How do I make religion all about the rules? How am I not caring for others? How have I made my beliefs all about me? How do I use God to feel better about myself rather than being changed?
How can I know Jesus better?
Maybe I could start with not being so bitter and judgmental about something that happened 28 years ago when I was a waitress...LOL!!!!*
We could all stand to grow a little! I hope that you are challenged and excited by the idea of knowing God better!
* I did actually spend some time in prayer about my attitude. I do wrestle with having the right attitude about... well really everything. I think that I have forgiven these people. I hope that they have changed in the past couple of decades. I don't think I'm sharing their story from a vindictive place. I simply had the opportunity to see a side of things that they were clueless to. Sometimes Christians get involved in programs and forget about people they encounter in everyday life. I'm sure there are people living in poverty who could say similar things about me now...I need to open my eyes and ask more people...