Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Considering Culture: Jesus is My Homeboy?

One thing I hope to do on a recurring basis is step outside of our cultural context and consider how our culture might influence how we understand Scripture. That old question, "Does a fish know that it's wet?" is an apt illustration. In the same way that a fish doesn't realize he's wet, we often don't realize how much we are influenced by our culture, because we are swimming in it.

For example, I live in America which is a representative republic. Because of this, the citizens of America have some say in who runs the country. We have the ability to elect our leaders and remove them from office. (Of course this is true in any democracy.) Even our president, who is considered the world's most powerful man, is elected every four years, and he is limited to eight years in office. In other words, despite the tremendous power of the presidency, it still comes with great limitations placed on Him by the people and our constitution. 

In fact, in a republic such as America, the voter is referred to as the sovereign, or absolute ruler. Benjamin Franklin said, "In free governments, the rulers are the servants and the people their superiors and sovereigns."

sov•er•eign [sov-rin, sov-er-in, suhv-] noun
1. a monarch; a king, queen, or other supreme ruler.
2. a person who has supreme power or authority.
3. a group or body of persons or a state having sovereign authority.

Because I have lived in America my entire life, I have no concept of what it means to live under an absolute monarchy in which the king's word is final, and he has absolute power over life and death. In the ancient world, the word of the king was law, and this was the most common form of government. That being the case, we need to remember that this modern form of government was a foreign concept in the ancient world.

Why is this important for us to understand? Because the claim that Christ makes on us is that of a King with absolute power and authority, not that of a president hoping to be reelected. He is our Sovereign. We didn't elect Him, He will never be termed out of office, and His word is law. And there will come a day when every knee will bow to His authority on earth as in heaven.
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. -- Philippians 2:9-11
Because of these same cultural influences, we have a stubborn habit of giving Jesus a makeover to better suit our time and sensibilities. In the 70's we made Jesus a hippy in movies like Jesus Christ Superstar. In the 80's we made him a conservative republican, in the 90's we made Him a New Age guru, and today we're trying to make Him a green socialist. We are forever trying to mold Jesus into our own image to enlist Him to our pet cause. Even worse, we have lost all sense of reverence for Christ in the process.
The phrase Jesus is Lord is so ubiquitous, we no longer stop to think about what it means. Instead of Lord and Savior, we think of Him as Life coach and Savior. We live any way we choose and think of Jesus as a personal assistant or a consultant who gives advice on how to make our dreams come true. But, once again, that is not the Christ of Scripture. If we don't learn about Jesus from Scripture, without realizing it, we will simply believe whatever the culture is selling about Jesus at any given moment.
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. -- Galatians 1:8
It is vital that we understand who Jesus is on His terms, and according to Scripture, not according to the shifting sands of culture. Jesus is the Sovereign Lord, He is high and lifted up, and He is due proper honor, respect and reverence to the glory of God.
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. -- Colossians 1:16-18

To further illustrate, let's consider an Old Testament appearance of Christ (known as a Christophany) from the book of Joshua. Jesus appeared to Joshua as the Commander of the Lord's Army on the eve of battle with Jericho.
When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, "Are you for us, or for our adversaries?" And he said, "No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come." And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, "What does my lord say to his servant?" And the commander of the LORD's army said to Joshua, "Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy." And Joshua did so.  -- Joshua 5:13-15

After an encounter like that, can you imagine Joshua saying anything like, "Jesus is my homeboy"? Jesus refused to be pulled into any man's cause, and that is the pattern throughout Scripture. Christ is Sovereign. When Christ is seen in His glory, men are overwhelmed and fall at His feet as if dead.

We must never forget that Jesus is King of kings, and Lord of lords. But this King is like no other. He is perfect in humility (Phil 2:5-8), He came as a servant to give His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28), He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:5), and yet He calls us friend.
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. -- John 15:13-15
This is the same Jesus who wrapped Himself in a towel to wash the feet of His proud disciples, and this same Jesus will serve His servants in the kingdom to come. What kind of king does that?
Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. -- Luke 12:37
So yes, while we can bask in the warm glow of the love of Christ and enjoy His friendship, we must never forget Who He is.
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. -- Revelation 19:11-16

Jesus is not a lump of clay that we can mold into any image. He is the Almighty God and King who wore a crown of thorns and vouchsafed to us the privilege of friendship. The only proper response to such a King is reverence, wonder, joy, awe, and worship. Once again, I will close with the words to another wonderful hymn that says it all so well:
Amazing love, how can it be?
That You, my King would die for me?
Amazing love, I know it’s true
It’s my joy to honor You
In all I do, I honor You

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