Jesus Study 26 – Making God in my image

The problem with me is that I take Jesus for granted. I think I have somehow pigeon-holed Him and figured Him out. Instinctively, I make Him look, sound and believe like me. Jesus conforms to MY mold. Surely He would be a Republican! Surely Jesus would be “pro-capitalism.” Surely Jesus would go to my church. I spend most of my time studying Pauline works, theology, TULIP, eschatology, and practical steps on how to work out my salvation and how to be better at prayer. But I miss the Man, Jesus. I miss His foibles, His mystery, His idiosyncrasies, His “otherness.”

When I look at the Man and the Gospels, I see a Man who goes out of His way to perform miracles in secret and hush them up only to turn around and heal the sick in front of the religious elite on the Sabbath, who flees from crowds who seek to make Him King and yet willingly walks into the arms of those who seek to kill Him, who makes God’s law MORE difficult to keep than the Pharisees and then provides a way to keep it, who condemns exploiting the poor and adultery, yet rich men and adulterous women love His presence. I can’t figure Him out. He defies my original conception of an all-knowing, emotionally-balanced, put-together Jesus who was always patience and nice and gentle.

Then there are the uncomfortable parts of the Gospels I don’t like because I don’t understand them. Jesus’ miracles were blocked by people’s lack of faith, He doesn’t know the day or the hour of the Second Coming, He rarely makes claims about His DEITY to His disciples or Pharisees and yet openly admits it to a Samaritan woman and a Roman Prefect. He gets angry, He is passionate and easily moved to tears, He constantly seeks alone-time and yet He is often very lonely, He is “very God of very God” and yet asks God to change His mind if possible.

Another problem I have while reading the Gospels is that I know the FULL story while those in the story do not. I miss the surprise and wonder of the miracles, the joy and expectation of Jesus being the Messiah who would crush the Roman army and reinstate Israel, the anguish, terror, and gut-wrenching despair at His crucifixion. I know on Good Friday that He will rise on Easter Sunday. The disciples did not. I miss the emotions and lessons in the waiting, the unknown.

My goal in this series is to address the mystery of this Man and to try to take us back to the moments when Jesus taught. I want to feel the surprise, wonder, fear, expectation, impatience, worry, anxiety and doubt of His followers. Because I feel these emotions most days, and if I can read the Gospels and feel impatient, frustrated or sympathetic toward the disciples’ fear, anxiety, worry and doubt, then there is hope for me and you! There is something they don’t know that if they knew, they would not be so worried, fearful, or anxious, and therefore there is something I don’t know that will bring me hope, joy and peace. Join me as I study the God Man Jesus.

JESUS-HEALING-WITHERED-HAND

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. – Mark 3:1-6

I make Jesus into my own image. It’s terrible. I forget He was Jewish, not a white American. I forget He grew up in Israel, went to the Synagogue and was a practicing Jew. He was circumcised, went to all the festivals, and He was in the House of Worship every Saturday. The only story of Jesus’ childhood was when He and His family traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, just like other Jews. I think sometimes I forget that. His words, teaching, life and choices came out of a distinctly Jewish culture. Even a Fox Reporter recently insisted that “Jesus was a white man, too. He was a historical figure. That’s a fact.” We prefer to make a God into our own image. Jesus had brown skin, long hair, a beard and probably did not have blue eyes.

Also, Jesus didn’t break any of God’s laws. He was and is the only perfect Man, spotless, sinless. As I have discussed in previous posts, it was lawful to extend mercy or heal on the Sabbath, but the Pharisees argued that it was unlawful, that any activity beyond going to the Synagogue was “sin.” They believed that God thought they way they did (made God in their image), adding laws on top of laws. But they were wrong. God in the flesh enters into the House of Worship to teach His congregation a lesson on mercy and grace in this passage.

So me and the Pharisees have something in common. Both of us like a safe, predictable God who thinks and looks and acts like us. But Jesus refuses to conform.

Something else to notice is that a man with a physical deformity was an outcast and was thought of as a “sinner.” Those with physical deformities could not enter God’s Temple and were shunned by the Jewish society around them. It is interesting, even a bit scandalous, that this man came into the Synagogue. People would have thought of him as unclean. Was the deformed man there offering sacrifices? Was he praying for healing? Did he follow Jesus into the Synagogue? Was he brought there by the Pharisees as a test for Jesus? We don’t know, but whatever the circumstances, the passage tells us that the Pharisees are watching Jesus and waiting for Him to slip up. They really want to accuse Jesus of breaking the law. But Jesus knows their hearts, thoughts and intentions, and turns the tables on them.withered-hand

Jesus calls the deformed man to Him, and putting him before the religious leaders, takes away all the hypotheticals and theological quarreling of these Pharisees. Jesus points to this deformed man and asks these “holy men” if He should NOT heal this man simply because of what day it is. Should I deny doing good on God’s day? Will you condemn me for showing love and mercy? Jesus’ question has two implications: first, the Pharisees had made laws that, in essence, encouraged others to do harm and kill rather than do good and save life. Withholding love, mercy and grace is evil. To deny love is to hate, to deny mercy is cruelty, to deny grace is demand condemnation.

Second, it is a rhetorical question, meaning the answer is obvious.“Of course it is right to do good and to save life on the Sabbath!” one would expect these religious men to answer. But they didn’t. They sat there silently, fuming at Jesus for displaying how foolish and illogical their “laws” were. This foolishness, pride and stubbornness is what causes Jesus to look at them “with anger.” Jesus, God in the flesh, gets angry.

Can you imagine an angry Jesus? I mean, this is Jesus we are talking about! He is angry at their sin. ANGRY. But there is component that makes His anger different than my anger. Jesus looked at them “with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart.” Jesus is angry at their sin but grieved at their blind eyes, deaf ears and stone hearts. They are blind guides leading other blind men, and they will lead their followers straight to hell.

God-GrievesSin not only angers God, but it grieves Him. Have you ever seen a child turn to their parent and yell, “I hate you!”? After all the love, care, protection, nourishment, mercy, patience, kindness, gentleness and provision the parent has shown toward this child, they rebel, push away, insult, defy, hate. It feels like a part of you is dying! This is how God feels when we sin, when we disobey, when we choose to love, follow, pursue or indulge in someone or something other than Him!

When we sin, we tell God, “I don’t want you. I want this! You are not enough for me.” Imagine how that grieves God. We get a tiny look into God’s grief over our sin in this verse. Even when they are in the middle of their sin, hating Jesus, wanting to trick, manipulate and kill Him, Jesus is desperately pursuing their hearts! He is wounded and pained by their sin, He weeps that their sin keeps them from Himself. He is after their hearts! He loves them while being angry at them.

Isn’t that incredible? What kind of love is this? What kind of Man is this? What kind of God is this, who can love those who want to shame and kill Him? Not just love them later after He has dealt with His anger, but RIGHT THEN, IN THE MOMENT! Amazing.

follow-jesusFinally, after convicting these men and teaching us about God and His love, Jesus heals the man. There are three things we need to see here: First, Jesus does not bow down to pressure or expectations, but goes ahead and heals this man. This is easy to say, but difficult to do. Jesus refuses to compromise or “fall in line.” He obeys God, He does what God does. He is uncompromising in his obedience. Man, that is convicting. I am thinking of all the times I “soften” my words or stance on something to appeal to others, the times I compromise God’s truth to make myself feel better, the times I go along with my friends or family (or just stay silent!) because it is easier for me. Oh, that is convicting. We are to follow Jesus, not tradition, not those around us, not our instincts.

Second, Jesus HEALS! Just imagine you are standing there in that synagogue. This poor guy shuffles up to Jesus, his hand withered, limp and deformed. It may have been that way since he was born or it may have been the result of a farming accident. But imagine seeing this lifeless, broken hand be made whole right before your eyes. His hand is not just broken, but “withered.” Jesus made the muscles, bones and flesh expand, contract, full and whole!

I’ve never been a witness to a physical healing like this, so I’m just guessing here, but wouldn’t that just blow your mind? I can’t get my head around it. This hand was irreparably damaged. His condition was irreversible. He was beyond the help of medicine (probably even modern-day medicine and surgery). Then Jesus says the word, and BAM! His hand is remade, made anew, healed, restored, made right. Right then and there. Imagine the joy and wonder of this man and of Jesus’ followers. NO ONE had EVER done anything like this! Don’t just gloss over the miracles of Jesus. They are truly miraculous. Jesus takes the things that are beyond all hope of healing and heals them.

Third, the very thing that SHOULD soften the hearts of these Pharisees (God stepping into the flesh, into time and space, and resetting the bones, reshaping the flesh, strengthening the bone and muscles of this man) in fact HARDENS their hearts toward Jesus and drives them to leave this synagogue and go to a meeting where they start discussing plans on how to murder. What opens the eyes of one darkens the eyes of the other. This miracle should have the Pharisees in awe and wonder. Instead, it pushes them to hate and jealousy. So do not say that, “If only I could see a miracle, I would believe in God!” That is false. Look at the Pharisees and learn. Gain wisdom. Do not be foolish. Jesus saves, not His miracles, not your proof or evidence. Trust Him now, and He will save you. That, in itself, would be a miracle.

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