Monday, November 4, 2013

Our Offensive Gospel

Today is the first day in our 44th week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures* this week are:

  •  Ezekiel 16-18; John 6
  •  Ezek 19-21; John 7; Psalm 84;
  •  Ezek 22-24; John 8; Psalm 134
  •  Ezek 25-27; John 9; Psalm 85
  •  Ezek 28-30; John 10
Today's passage in John 6 brings me back to a sermon that I once preached, entitled "Flesh-Chompers and Blood-Guzzlers."  Pretty appropriate for the Halloween season, isn't it?  In that sermon, I talked about the misunderstanding that people had, when they heard Jesus talk about eating His flesh and drinking His blood.  I also talked about the Roman's misconception of early Christians, thinking that they were in fact cannibals.  Here's what Jesus had to say, in verses 48-71:

48 I am the bread of life.49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.
60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 andwe have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” 70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” 71 He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him.

Now, when I preached "Flesh-Chompers and Blood-Guzzlers," I thought it was a pretty cool sermon.  But I sort of got in trouble for it.  After the service was over, people came to me, complaining how offensive it had been.  Why, the very idea!  The only thing is--I titled that sermon in that way, specifically in order to be offensive.  You see, that's the sense that Jesus was trying to create.  We've sanitized the Gospel so much in order to keep from offending people, that it's lost its grit and its edge.  So when people came to me, telling me that they were offended, I knew I'd done my job.  My response is, "They were offended at what Jesus said, too.  If I've communicated that offense so that you were repulsed, then that's what I meant to do."

There are a lot of people who want to remove the offense of the Bible.  Recently, I read a book about hell, where the author stated that the doctrine of hell is offensive, and that it will drive people away from the church rather than drawing them to Jesus.  This author decided to come up with a new conception of hell that is kinder and gentler than what the Bible actually says--and then he taught his new idea as if it were truth.  Hell is offensive, he was saying--and we certainly don't want to offend anybody.

There is also a movement to remove the "bloody hymns" from our hymnals.  Songs that hearken back to the old sacrificial system, or that refer to Jesus as a sacrifice, are just to gory, these people say.  So they suggest removing such hymns as "Are You Washed in the Blood," "The Old Rugged Cross," "Nothing But the Blood," "At the Cross," "There is Power in the Blood," and "There is a Fountain."  They say that these are songs from a bloodier time, and that they offend modern sensibilities.  Yet every one of these songs references the Bible.  And the Bible talks about the blood of Jesus, which cleanses us from sin.  Offensive?  Maybe.  And we certainly don't want to offend anybody--right?

Some people say that it's offensive when we say that people are sinning, when all they're doing is engaging in certain activities that our culture views as normal.  But the Bible clearly says that the world's views of right and wrong are going to be radically different from God's views.  So they say we should alter what we believe to be holiness and sin, based on the world's understanding--because they say that the Bible is just too offensive to contemporary sensibilities.

Are they correct?  Should we change our outmoded beliefs in favor of the new morality?  Should we get rid of any offensive references to blood, atonement, sacrifice, sin, and hell--just to curry the world's favor?

Or, should we insist on biblical Christianity that takes God's word as truth, and doesn't bend to the whim of society?  

1 Corinthians 1:18 says, "...The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."   Then, verse 23 says, "...we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles."  2:24 tells us, "The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit."  Finally, we read in Romans 1:16, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile."

Sometimes, the Gospel is going to be offensive to people.  If it isn't offensive, then it isn't doing our job.  The truth offends liars.  Light offends darkness.  But you don't stop telling the truth just to keep liars happy, and you don't hide your light under a bushel just to keep darkness satisfied.  Neither do you change the message of the Bible, just because your market research says it's no longer "current" or "politically correct."  

Many of Jesus' followers left Him because of His offensive teaching.  It shouldn't surprise us when people fall away from the church because they can no longer deal with sound teaching.  Jesus said in Matthew 24:10 that in the last days, "...many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another."  1 Timothy 4:1 says, "Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons."  It's not difficult to observe that the church in the West is struggling.  Western European churches have seen such a radical decline that the future of Christianity is uncertain there.  The church in America likewise struggles.  Though her decline is not as pronounced as in Europe, pastors in America eye the future with fear and trembling.  So it's not surprising when some suggest that we need to change our message to something that's more palatable to the current climate.  

I say that packaging Christianity differently is one thing, while changing the church's basic message is another.  We must never compromise on the message of Christianity.  Perhaps the church is declining, not because it's dying, but for the same reason that Jesus' followers left him.  Maybe the real church is speaking the truth, and for that reason it's shrinking.  Maybe the church is experiencing a blowing away of the chaff and in the end, only true believers will remain.

So, I hope you offend someone sometime.  Not because you're trying to be offensive, but because you're speaking God's truth.

*Today's scriptures are taken from the ESV.

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