Monday, April 3, 2017

"Beneath the Surface"

French author Jules Verne (1828-1905) is often called one of the creators of science fiction. He is known for many works, but his most famous are Around the World in 80 Days, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. These fantastic journeys have different characters and plot lines, but they are all about the same thing: seeing the world from a different point of view. One novel has the hero traveling the globe in a balloon, getting a bird’s eye view. Another gives the picture of a subterranean world where dinosaurs still live, complete with an immense fresh water sea and lit by electrically charged gas at the ceiling of the giant cavern. The last lets you travel in a submarine beneath the surface of the waves, to see giant squids and other amazing creatures. Jules Verne seems to have a fascination with seeing the world from a different perspective. Perhaps that’s what we all need—the ability to see beneath the surface to understand life in a different way.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ disciples have a hard time seeing his ministry from a perspective that’s different from the world’s expectations. John 7:2-5[i] says:
…Soon it was time for the Jewish Festival of Shelters, and Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, where your followers can see your miracles! You can’t become famous if you hide like this! If you can do such wonderful things, show yourself to the world!” For even his brothers didn’t believe in him.

Like so many who have bought into the commercialism and consumerism of ministry, Jesus’ disciples would have him get famous to make a million bucks with his preaching. Maybe today they’d advise him to have his teeth whitened, and buy him Italian tailored suits to complete the image. I mean, who doesn’t want to be seen with a successful celebrity—that’s a heck of a lot better than a homeless wandering preacher! But Jesus isn’t interested in becoming a superstar. He’s far more concerned with telling the truth to a world that’s lost in sin and killing each other with hatred. I wonder—are you able to see beneath the commercialized religion of celebrity preachers? Are you able to go deeper than that, to a gospel that shakes the world to its core? To some, it isn’t the gospel unless it’s glitz and glamor. To Jesus, the gospel is about Truth.

In verses 10-13, the people debate about Jesus’ true identity—but they can’t see beneath the surface to who He really is:
But after his brothers left for the festival, Jesus also went, though secretly, staying out of public view. The Jewish leaders tried to find him at the festival and kept asking if anyone had seen him. There was a lot of grumbling about him among the crowds. Some argued, “He’s a good man,” but others said, “He’s nothing but a fraud who deceives the people.” But no one had the courage to speak favorably about him in public, for they were afraid of getting in trouble with the Jewish leaders.

Some people think of Jesus as good moral teacher, but assert that He is not God. C.S. Lewis said that Jesus is either “a lunatic, a liar, or Lord.” In Mere Christianity, Lewis writes:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice.[ii]

In verses 14-24, Jesus decides to go to the festival after all, and begins to teach. He is aware that many are offended because He healed a man on the Sabbath. To some, it isn’t the gospel unless it follows all the rules and regulations of their religious understanding. But defends Himself saying:
“I did one miracle on the Sabbath, and you were amazed. But you work on the Sabbath, too, when you obey Moses’ law of circumcision. (Actually, this tradition of circumcision began with the patriarchs, long before the law of Moses.) For if the correct time for circumcising your son falls on the Sabbath, you go ahead and do it so as not to break the law of Moses. So why should you be angry with me for healing a man on the Sabbath? Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.”

Jesus encourages people to “look beneath the surface,” to not get so fixed on legalism that they are unable to see the bigger picture. If you are able to look beneath the surface, you will understand correctly, but as long as you keep a surface-level understanding of religion, you’ll miss out on what God is really doing through Jesus. Jules Verne would suggest you get a different perspective—a bird’s eye view from a balloon, or maybe a subterranean journey. From a spiritual perspective, this advice means to dig deep into the things of God. Allow the Spirit to help you see things as God sees, rather than through the murky lens of human tradition. As you look beneath the surface, I pray as the apostle Paul did:
…that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is (Ephesians 3:16-18).

[i] Scripture quotations taken from the NLT.
[ii] Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianity, London: Collins, 1952, pp. 54–56. (In all editions, this is Bk. II, Ch. 3, "The Shocking Alternative.")

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