24 Questions for Advent: Twenty-Three
Christ Crucified, John Pettis, Gift to the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church from the people of Wales, U.K
When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you with this message, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or are we to look for someone else?”
Any way you slice it, it is clear that Jesus did not fit the mold. Even John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin and chosen messenger, the “preparer of the way,” began to doubt whether He was truly the Messiah. Jesus’ response to John’s question was straight to the point:
Go and tell John what you have seen and heard:
the blind receive their sight,
the lame walk,
lepers are cleansed,
and the deaf hear,
the dead are raised up,
the poor have good news preached to them.
He follows that evidence with a revealing final statement: “And blessed is he who takes no offense at me.”
Jesus did wondrous miracles that should have ended all doubt that He was the Chosen One of God. But He also was offensive, apparently enough to make many wonder if He could possibly be the Messiah. Merriam-Webster defines “offensive” as: 1) making attack, aggressive; 2) giving painful or unpleasant sensations; 3) causing displeasure or resentment. Not exactly the stuff that people were hoping and praying for. In his final days, Jesus was first welcomed into Jerusalem with palms of praise before being abandoned to brutal crucifixion by week’s end. The story is harsh, scandalous...and offensive.
Even today, we find efforts to soften and tame the life of Jesus in signs, stories, and art. Christmas pageants make the arrival of the Babe in the manger seem downright sweet and wholesome instead of gritty and surrounded by tragedy (remember the slaughter of all the male babies under the age of two?). Depictions and portrayals of Him during His ministry make Jesus seem stoic, ethereal and pleasant. But ancient prophecy, as well as the reactions of those around him, tell a different tale.
Who believes what we’ve heard and seen? Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this?
The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling, a scrubby plant in a parched field. There was nothing attractive about him, nothing to cause us to take a second look. He was looked down on and passed over, a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand. One look at him and people turned away. We looked down on him, thought he was scum.
Isaiah 53:1-3, The Message
But what’s wrong with making the Savior a bit more attractive to people, anyway? Aren’t we in the business of selling a better product? Don’t we want others to be drawn to Him?
The problem is that we aren’t telling the truth, most likely because we don’t like to face the Truth. We are creating God into our own image, instead of the other way around. This has done great damage in a number of ways throughout history, primarily by the use of the Gospel to justify that “our kind of people” maintain whatever position, power and privilege that gives us advantage over others. Jesus had harsh words for those who did such things in His day---how many more will He have for us, who have had centuries of enlightenment since? Do we not know better than those who preceded us?
“Blessed is he who takes no offense at me.” My guess is there weren’t many then, but sadly, too many now, because we refuse to see or hear Him as He truly was and is.