Jesus Misrepresented

angry man face
Photo credit: <a href="">Ryan Hyde</a>

Galatians 2:1-5

After 14 years I went back to Jerusalem, along with Barnabas and Titus. I went up because I’d seen another vision. In a private meeting with the leadership there, I laid out the story as I tell it to the heathen. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t, and hadn’t been, barking up the wrong tree. They didn’t force Titus, a Greek, to be circumcised, and he was right there. Even then, though, some moles had already snuck in, fake Christians who were spying on us, trying to undermine the freedom Jesus gave us, trying to re-enslave us. We didn’t give them even an inch, we didn’t flinch. It was all to ensure you’d always have the whole truth of Jesus’ story.

After 14 years of things not working, Paul “sees the light” again, and decides it’s time to get an endorsement from the people who have some credibility in the movement. But Paul still wants their endorsement on his terms. As Paul tells it, he was able to make his case, but not without some opposition right from the start. And, in his recollection of it here, he’s quick to attribute the most sinister motives to those with whom he disagrees.

There are two sides to any story, of course. Every couple years (on average), when I was a pastor, someone would come into my office wanting me to endorse “a ministry I have a vision for.” Sometimes, it was a cold call. Sometimes, it was someone who had been coming to worship for a couple of weeks and staying to bend the ears of anyone and everyone who would listen at coffee hour. It got to where I could see it coming – “This guy,” (it was almost always a guy, but there were a few women, too), “is going to be in my office in a day or two to tell me he’s got God’s plan for how I can do my ministry.” I’m sure they walked away from my office telling people I was the anti-Christ, too. There was even one guy who told me I was the anti-Christ before he left.

Paul came away with a limited endorsement, and they didn’t push the circumcision issue. (Could it have been a case of “don’t ask, don’t tell?”) Endorsement doesn’t imply mutual understanding, though. Clearly, those of a “traditional” mind in Jerusalem were not as willing to give the issue a pass as Paul thought. Nor has Paul really understood that their endorsement was not a blank check.

At the root of the division and ill-will, is a fundamental difference about what Jesus really represents. It’s quickly becoming such a stark difference that Paul’s religion and that of the Jerusalem church are already two different religions, each claiming to have a monopoly on the truth, each with it’s own set of rules and requirements. Already, on both sides, turning Jesus’ movement into a religion is a disaster.

Are You Standing on Ceremony?

mass baptism
Photo credit: <a href="">Simon Helle Nielsen</a>

Acts 19:1-7

While Apollos stayed in Corinth, Paul went inland until he reached Ephesus. When he arrived, he found some followers and asked them, “Did you receive the divine spirit when you believed?”

They said, “We’ve got no idea what you’re talking about – this divine spirit.”

So Paul asked, “What kind of baptism did you receive?”

They said, “John baptized us.”

Paul said, “John’s baptism was about people’s changing their lives, and to teach people to believe in the one coming after John, namely Jesus.”

When they heard this, they agreed to be re-baptized in Jesus’ name. And then, when Paul prayed over them, the divine spirit came over them and they began to speak in strange languages and to speak of the future.

In all there were about 12 of them.

This story has its roots in the need, early on after Jesus, to distinguish Jesus followers from those of John the Baptist. It’s entire aim is to clarify that Christianity is the “Johnanity 2.0,” the replacement to which everyone must immediately upgrade. The new version comes with a “divine spirit” that enables instant foreign language ability and soothsaying.

Jesus himself never says anything about baptism, except to acknowledge that many people went to John for it (for example, Mat 11:7 and parallels). He never implied that John’s baptism was insufficient. In fact, the gospels are unanimous in representing Jesus as having received the divine spirit at John’s baptism.

Nevertheless, as the Acts story has it, Paul deputizes these 12 other disciples to become the authorized agents of Jesus to the old school, the isolated, and the laggards who haven’t yet got the new official version of the story.

As problematic as it is, there may in fact be a case that “someone’s religion isn’t good enough.” But it’s not likely what everyone usually thinks of when such accusations fly.

Because as problematic as it is, historically, institutionally, and ethically, this story does have one hugely important take-away. It implies that standing on ceremony as one’s intention to change your life isn’t enough. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. The difference between Jesus’ baptism at John’s hands and the same symbolic action undertaken by these 12, is that Jesus did something about it. These other 12 just went back home to resume life as it always had been. The ceremony hadn’t changed anything. And, if you will extend Paul the benefit of the doubt, it may have been their unchanged-ness that caused Paul to question whether they really believed anything substantial at all.

In this regard, there are certainly any number of modern examples of “disciples” who have been baptized, but who nobody would ever know for all the difference it’s made in their character.

You Can Do It

Jesus van
Photo credit: <a href="">Marshall Astor</a>

1 John 2:1-6

My little children, I’m writing these things so you won’t continue to mess up. But, if anyone does mess up, we have someone to help us patch things up with God: Jesus. He’s a righteous dude, and he’s laid it all on the line to make things right with us again. And not just for us, but for absolutely everyone.

Here’s how to be sure you know Jesus: do what he says. Whoever says, “I know Jesus,” but doesn’t do what he says is lying. That person is faking his or her religion. But whoever is doing what Jesus says is really, truly ok with God. So, if you want to know how to be with Jesus, and whoever wants to say “I’m with Jesus,” – just do as he did.

It’s just that simple.

It doesn’t matter what your theology is. It doesn’t matter what you call yourself. Either you’re doing what Jesus did. Or you’re not.

And absolutely anyone can do what Jesus did. Jesus put it all on the line to prove it. If a nobody from the dirt-poor classes in an occupied territory can do it, certainly you can. You, who are sitting there reading this with more technological power in your smartphone than what was originally installed on the space shuttle.

Surely, you can do it. Surely, you can put yourself on the line like Jesus did. To participate in healing the nations (starting with your own nation) and making the world’s people free.

And if you do, John’s letter says, you’ll be alright with God. It’s just that simple.

[Bonus: Here’s a little song to help you get going with it.]