A few years ago a friend and I were doing some landscaping work and since we both appreciated humor and the work wasn’t all that challenging we decided to tell some jokes. It wasn’t long before the jokes became crude and rather inappropriate and, I admit, hilarious. In the middle of laughing I remembered that I had been studying the book of Ephesians in the Bible and I remembered there were a couple of verses that deal specifically with paying attention to the words that come out of your mouth. One verse in particular, Ephesians 5:4, says, “Let there be no filthiness, nor foolish talk, nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.” Sincerely wanting to be obedient to scripture, I asked my friend (also a Christian) what he thought. For some reason his response really caught my attention. “Come on man, don’t you think Jesus appreciated a good dirty joke?”  Now I know that Jesus was popular among the “sinners” and I’m pretty sure that Jesus was a really funny guy. As a matter of fact, I think some of the things Jesus said in the Bible were probably jokes. For example, Jesus nicknamed James and John the Sons of Thunder. Now perhaps there is some really deep, theologically important meaning behind this. Or maybe Jesus just gave a couple of his friends a silly nickname like so many of us have done, I’m not really sure. As I thought over that conversation with my friend I couldn’t help but wonder, did my friend really think that Jesus told dirty jokes, or did he project that onto Jesus because he wanted to legitimize his own appreciation of dirty jokes? And then I began to wonder in what ways I might be using Jesus to legitimize some aspect of my own theology or worldview.

Over the past several years I have realized that this is really quite common. Everywhere I look I see a different, one-sided Jesus being proclaimed. If you listen the purveyors of the prosperity gospel and the word-of-faith folk you get the impression that Jesus came to help you get lots of money and really nice stuff and be really spiritually powerful. They say things like “Jesus came so that you can have life to the full,” and “if you give it will be given back to you pressed down and running over,” and “you can move mountains if you just have faith!” If you listen to some of the more radical folks, however, you get the idea that Jesus wants you to give away all of your stuff, become a full-time missionary, and even suffer for Jesus. They say things like, “If you don’t give away everything you have and take up your cross, even hating your own family if needed, you can’t be a disciple of Jesus.” Some hardcore holiness folk make it seem like Jesus was really serious about sin and they say things like “if your eye causes you to sin you should cut it out because it’s better for you to enter into heaven without an eye than for your whole body to be cast into hell.” A lot of atheists, as well as liberal Christians (don’t read what I’m not saying there), like to point out that Jesus was all about love and acceptance and they talk about how Jesus hung out with the sinners and condemned the self-righteous religious people.

But wait a minute? Didn’t Jesus actually say and do some of those things? Yes. As a matter of fact, everything above is something that Jesus actually said or did. Jesus did call people to radically abandon their own lives and follow him but he also promised that his heavenly father would provide for and empower them. Jesus did love sinners and he hung out with them often, but he never condoned sinful behavior. Yes, as cliché as it has become, Jesus loved sinners and hated sin, but not in the same way that we sometimes use that as an excuse to actually hate sinners. Jesus actually loved them enough to spend time with them and help them.

So all of this either means that Jesus was inconsistent and contradictory or it means that Jesus’ message can’t be reduced to simple proof texts that legitimize my own worldview and desires. I submit that if some aspect of Jesus’ teaching doesn’t challenge some area of our life and theology and even make us a little uncomfortable then we probably aren’t reading the Bible honestly.

Maybe instead of making Jesus the champion for our causes, we should become champions for his cause. We are the ones who are supposed to change and be like Jesus, not change him to be like us. That will require us to approach the text honestly, with genuine humility, and, if necessary, be willing to change deeply-held beliefs we may have about him. I challenge you to go back and read the gospels with this in mind.



4 Comments

  1. Thank you for the thoughtful post, Thomas. I find your main point, about how Jesus should challenge you most insightful. It reminds me of a favorite quote of mine, from Rev. JB Heard, “The Tripartite Nature of Man:”
    “The majority of mankind think that they think. They acquiesce, and suppose that they argue. They flatter themselves that they are holding their own, when they have actually grown up to manhood, with scarcely a conviction which can be called their own. So it always was, and so it ever will be. Divine things are no exception, but rather an instance. The more difficult the subject, and the more serious the consequences of error, the more averse the majority are to what is called “unsettling men’s minds,” as if truth could be held on any other tenure than the knight’s fee of holding its own against all comers. Protestantism has brought us no relief against this torpid state of mind, for, as the error is as deep as the nature of man, we cannot expect any deliverance from it, so long as the nature of man continues the same, and his natural love of truth almost as depraved as his natural love of holiness. (p358-359)”
    I actually almost posted this quote in response to some of your friend’s comments on the Facebook post regarding Camels, Abraham, and the accuracy of the Biblical record; but I didn’t want to offend your friend, nor felt it would be received at the level I would intend. A difficult subject where error is of grave consequence tends to be resisted, ignored, and altogether avoided. It is like clutter and dirty environments, minds simply go NUMB to it. To disturb is often “greeted” with great resistance; and serious matters treated lightly. At the root is the ubiquitous problem with a lack of love of truth.
    Certainly the identity of Jesus is not an exception to this rule, but rather the chief instance. And he was enigmatic even when he was physically present two millennia ago and there was much speculation and confusion at the time of who he was and what he was his purpose. And Jesus, himself, seems to understand the need for his being to be mysterious and also applauded his closest disciples for having the spiritual maturity and wherewithal to perceive who he was. When I read John Beevere’s wise book, “The Bait of Satan: Living Free from the Deadly Trap of Offense,” I was delighted to see the new perspective that the concept of offense was central and essential to Jesus’ role as the messiah as well as to his ascent, if you will, to the climax of the cross and the point of great pivot in the History of mankind, according to the Biblical narrative (and likewise that it is instrumental to being a Christian). He was prophesied as a stumbling stone and a rock of offense, which the builders rejected and became head of the corner. So in addition to challenging, Jesus also OFFENDS. For truth can be offensive, even when couched in love; often it is not the fault of truth, but rather of the numbness, the aversion to truth discussed previously. This all seems to further support your main point that Jesus ought to challenge an individual. However, I’d posit that he is not the only one that ought to challenge, and that in general, anyone who is more enlightened either comprehensively or within their specialty should challenge you. Conversely, the said challenged should not bow down, but rather maintain their own upright dignity and rather nod as a diplomatic show of respect and deference.
    So how long have you been going to Seminary school? And what inspired you to choose Anderson University? I was considering seminary school for a period of my life, and investigated Dallas Seminary school, mainly because Rev. Ray Stedman went there, a man who’s thinking challenged me and has helped reshape much of my theology and worldview. As I was evaluating Dallas at the time I was introduced by one of the professors (if that’s the right term) to a book I’ve really enjoyed and absolutely love: How to Read a Book, by Mortimer J. Adler. It is a great read for anyone interested in understanding books of amazing thought, such as the Bible. To quote:
    “It is true that a book that can enlighten its readers, and is in this sense superior to them, should not be criticized by them until they understand it. When they do, they have elevated themselves almost to equality with the author. Now they are fit to exercise the rights and privileges of their new position. Unless they exercise their critical faculties now, they are doing the author an injustice. He has done what he could to make them his equal. He deserves that they act like his peers, that they engage in conversation with him, that they talk back.
    We are discussing here the virtue of teachability—a virtue that is almost always misunderstood. Teachability is often confused with subservience. A person is wrongly thought to be teachable if he is passive and pliable. On the contrary, t

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  2. Looks like my post was too long for the website infrastructure…

    We are discussing here the virtue of teachability—a virtue that is almost always misunderstood. Teachability is often confused with subservience. A person is wrongly thought to be teachable if he is passive and pliable. On the contrary, teachability is an extremely active virtue. No one is really teachable who does not freely exercise his power of independent judgment. He can be trained, perhaps, but not taught. The Most teachable reader is, therefore, the most critical. He is the reader who finally responds to a book by the greatest effort to make up his own mind on the matters the author has discussed. ” (Adler, p 140)
    So as the Bible and Jesus are great, higher in thinking then myself, they ought to challenge me. And as I come to understand, I raise myself to their level, whereupon I’m responsible to take a position, to agree or to disagree, and to come to face to face to them, no longer as disciple/ master but as friend to friend, and from thence, to engage in conversation. Genesis has taught me much and one of the biggest lessons has been that God made man upright because he needs and desire to be worshipped by upright man. He doesn’t want us bowing down before him. Snakes go on their belly’s not mankind. Man is to have Dominion, and ideally to walk and talk with God. And notice that God’s first communications to fallen man are all in the form of questions, very telling indeed.
    In the “Bait of Satan,” John offers some keen insight to the naming of Peter. And the main reason I decided to respond to your post is to disagree with you regarding John and James being surnamed “The Sons of Thunder.” Martin Luther King, Jr. makes some very deep and keen observations regarding the record in Mark 10 which highlight these two men, in his great sermon “The Drum Major Instinct.” It is there that Jesus redefined greatness and addresses a core problem of mankind, that of the worldly ego. There is a greatness associated with John and James and the audacity of their request to Jesus. This chimes very well with their Surnames. “Wild at Heart” by John Elderidge has been very meaningful to my own heart and life. His thesis relates to the masculinity of man being WILD by nature, that this comes from their Creator, the Most High, the majestic, elevated one who reins on high. And God is terrific and powerful and WILD. A predominant theme is the role of animals in God’s relationship with man and how wild animals are. It is by no means trivial or accidental that so much focus attends, in Genesis 2, to this great project and assignment of Adam naming the animals. A Creative, communicative God puts intention in all of his works, not the least of which is the animals. Another theme in Elderidge’s work relates to the writ of passage from boyhood to manhood and the renaming of individuals, echoing the Native American practice of naming an individual later on in life. I also take note that the Native American’s have a bailiwick when it comes to animals and their spiritual meaning and importance. A great illustration of this naming is in the powerful movie “Dancing with Wolves.” It is from this perspective that I find Jesus surnaming John and James the Suns of Thunder pregnant with deep symbolic meaning and impetus. When I used to teach a bible fellowship, I did a word study on Thunder in the Old Testament (and taught about it) and was very much thrilled to see how closely Thunder is associated with the voice of God. One can even infer from some of the Psalms that when God said “let there be light” the actually sound of it was that of thunder. Even in the Greek pan theology, Zeus is greatly associated with bolts of lightning and thunder. There are aspects of the book of Job, as evidenced by Stedman’s “Let God be God” that also play into this entire perspective. Whereas I’m sure that Jesus had a great sense of humor and made use of it very often, in the case of the Sons of Thunder, I find it a very serious matter and one in which Jesus exemplified a very high vision and harbored deep intentions in surnaming them as such, perhaps even more so then with Peter. Recall JB Heard’s words that individuals grow up into MANHOOD with scarcely a conviction they call their own. A big point of John Elderidge relates to the fact that everyone’s heart is wounded with respect to this writ of passage to manhood and that the only way to solve it is to come to God in his role as a Father. So there is a lot of depth here with respect to what Christianity is really about. Note that in John 14:6 Jesus doesn’t say God but FATHER. There are other ways to get to God, but only one way to get to the FATHER God…
    Well my response has been quite lengthy, I would like to leave just with one p

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  3. Wow, I really enjoyed Thomas’ Article and Josh’s lengthy “Article.” They both demonstrated great insight. I was especially happy to be taught about the Son’s of Thunder from both of you; and yes, I do agree Jesus had a great sense of humor. After all, he got it from his Dad!

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