Thursday, June 6, 2019

Following Judas: Forsaking Judas

9. Forsaking Judas

With Judas identified within ourselves and our lives today, the next step becomes forsaking Judas and truly following Jesus for who He is.  This sounds right and natural, but is a lot more difficult in practice, because it involves setting aside a lot of idols.  Including the idols we make of Jesus.  The versions of Jesus that we wish he were or believe him to be as opposed to the God He is.  Versions like:
  • The Jesus of 110% - The version that says in addition to salvation through faith alone, you have to keep this list of dos and don'ts perfectly.  This must all be done to please God.  To "earn" our salvation.  And who will punish us for the slightest little infraction.  As if there was ever anything we could do to be worthy or to earn it in the first place.  It's a version of a "Jesus and" theology that has existed since the day Jesus ascended to Heaven.  The same theology promoted by the Judaizers of the New Testament that Paul spoke against, teaching that new believers must also follow the Mosiac Law to the utmost degree.  A teaching that would put some form of salvation back in man's control, not just by grace alone.  Surprisingly, this is one of the more common misinterpretations.
  • The Prosperity Jesus - The Jesus that promises his followers good health, wealth, comfort, and success if they follow him.  A bastardization and misunderstanding of the promises that God works all things "for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" and that God has "plans to prosper us and not to harm us."  It's also in direct contradiction to the promises that we have that we will face suffering, promises from Jesus Himself.  "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world."  John 16:33.  The same Jesus who blessed the persecuted and falsely accused because of their faith.  There are a lot of people trying to sell this Jesus today, and it remains false.  It's another version of Judas serving to get personal benefit: here personal health and success. We have to face the reality that this is not promised to us.
  • The Hippie Jesus - The Jesus that is just "peace and love man."  The version that tells us that Jesus and God is love and only love.  That love will fix everything.  Love is all you need.  And while it is partly true, God is Love, it also ignores that God is holy and that His judgment will prevail.  It's the version that conveniently forgets that when Jesus comes again He will be coming as a conquering king on a white horse.  That forgets the Jesus who turned over the tables in the Temple.  This version is often offered as a counterbalance to another misinterpretation.
  • The Old Testament Jesus - The Jesus of wrath.  "Westboro Jesus."  Where Jesus is used to pour out judgment, usually on the people we don't like or agree with.  Those we fear.  The one who hates categorical groups of people.  The one used to justify all kinds of horrors in the past.  This version forgets that Jesus' followers were largely composed of outcasts and misfits, not the religious.  That He ate with the worst of sinners. That He was not surprised with the heathen acted accordingly.  And that He got most angry with the religious, not the world.   The version that forgets "Jesus was not killed by atheism and anarchy.  He was brought down by law and order allied with religion, which is always a deadly mix."  Barbara Brown Taylor
  • The Political Powerhouse Jesus - I almost called this one the "earthly king Jesus" or the "king of this world Jesus".  This is the Jesus currently being used to push for gains in political power and influence.  That prizes these above all else.  The Christians that want an earthly king, just like the Israelites asked for all those years ago.  That want the overthrow of a corrupt government and culture, though we are not promised that until the Revelation.  You can see this in political discourse over the past elections.  In particular in the Trump campaign of 2016.  When asked if he would want a political candidate who matched the teachings of Jesus and would govern according to the Sermon on the Mount, Robert Jeffress, Pastor First Baptist Dallas, replied, "Heck no.  I would run from that candidate as far as possible, because the Sermon on the Mount was not given as a governing principle for this nation."  He even went so far as to say if Jesus were running for office against Trump, he would still vote for Trump.  "Government is to be a strongman to protect its citizens against evildoers.  When I'm looking for somebody who's going to deal with ISIS and exterminate ISIS, I don't care about that candidate's tone or vocabulary, I want the meanest, toughest, son of a you-a you-know-what I can find - and I believe that's biblical."  This version has its roots in another interpretation.
  • The Bro-Jesus - The hypermasculine Jesus.  The version popularized by Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill.  Running away from the "long-haired...effeminate-looking dude" and presenting a Jesus with "callused hands and big biceps."  According to Driscoll, "real men" avoid the church because it projects a "Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ" that "is no one to live for [and] is no one to die for."  This is not something new and can be seen in movements like Muscular Christianity, coined in 1857 for Charles Kingsley's version of the faith, with proponents like President Theodore Roosevelt and leading to the creation of the YMCA.  Generally a reactionary version created with masculinity is not seen in Christianity.  The version taken to the extreme, though, downplays the commandments of Jesus to turn the other cheek, to love your enemies, to settle matters quickly with an adversary, and to give more than is demanded.  It downplays blessings on the merciful, the meek, the peacemakers.  
Each of these distorted versions takes a singular characteristic or subset of characteristics of Christ and makes them defining, to the exclusion of the others.  We can see this in Judas' motives.  If he was motivated by power or zealotry, he saw Jesus as a coming King, one who would restore Israel to power and overthrow Rome.  The Jesus of Political Power.  Ignoring what Jesus taught during his ministries.  Probably particularly incensed and confused by the render to Caesar and go the extra mile passages.

How often do we make Jesus what we want him to be and not recognize who He is?  I would offer we do it more likely than we are comfortable discussing.

But our forsaking needs to go even further.  There's one additional thing we need to let go of in order to forsake following Judas and to truly follow Jesus.

We need to let go of the idea that Judas is some special category of evil.  That he is worse than we are.  That we would never betray Christ.

Because we do.

We betray Him when we distort His words for our own purposes.
We betray Him when we show preference to the wealthy and powerful, the "acceptable" in His name.
We betray Him when we believe we are self-sufficient.

We betray Him when we focus on being comfortable instead of holy.

The truth is, we betray Him more than we would like to admit.  We, though, differ from Judas in seeking repentance and reconciliation, instead of finality.

When we can admit that we are no better than Judas, that we betray Jesus too, and seek to repent for it.  When we let go of following the version of Jesus we have in our heads and seek to follow Him for what He truly teaches, then we may be able to move on to the greater step.

Forgiving Judas.

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