And blessed is the one who is not offended by me."
Luke 7:23 (ESV)
Jesus himself said that before he returned to the world, there would be many "False Christs" (Mt 24:23-24). His instructions were to his disciples of the future to be aware of the temptation to put your trust in something or someone other than the authentic Jesus. I have often read these instructions as the need to be aware of people crazy enough to claim to be Jesus or Jesus-like. However, I believe that Jesus' caution is much more subtle and the temptation is more insidious than I imagined.
I have come to recognize that the chief representative of the "false Christs" is not a person at all. It is an image that has been created by self-identified Christians that appears to be like the authentic Jesus, but will some significant differences. I have chosen to name this image "Small Jesus".
Small Jesus is worshipped around the world and in many worship communities, and for those communities, is indistinguishable from the authentic Jesus. In fact, Small Jesus is often preferred over the living Jesus for a number of reasons.
1. Small Jesus supports contemporary culture and its values. Small Jesus does not challenge his followers to participate in lifestyles that would be considered alternative or weird. Small Jesus is not counter-cultural, but pro-culture (no matter what that culture is). Small Jesus is a fantastic encourager of whatever social, political, or cultural values that you have.
2. Small Jesus supports the privatization of faith. Small Jesus recognizes that his niche is simply in getting you into heaven and out of trouble and discomforts before you get there. His influence is not in every aspect of your life, but only those that are "spiritual". Small Jesus is too much of a gentleman to interfere in your relationships, or spheres of public life such as economics, or politics.
3. Small Jesus is wonderfully impotent. Small Jesus is a sweet and pleasant savior of souls, but He simply can not influence the major issues of our day (poverty, war, terrorism, economics, human rights, etc). Small Jesus leads a movement of positive thinking but knows his place. Followers of Small Jesus know the rediculousness and humor of even thinking that Small Jesus has a role in changing the world where it counts.
4. Small Jesus never offends. Small Jesus is wonderful at supporting your self-determined goals and is careful not to be offensive towards the goals of others, even if they are conflicting. Small Jesus offers affection, but is unfamiliar with love.
I recognize Small Jesus all over the place. I call this image "Small Jesus" because he is the image of a Jesus that we can own and control. Small Jesus fits into our plans. Small Jesus sees us on the throne.
Jesus of Nazareth told a band of followers of John the Baptist, that they would be blessed if they were not offended by him. The possibility of being offended by Jesus lay in the preference for personally defined Jesus that was actually quite different than the historical Jesus. Jesus was asking John the Baptist and his followers to accept and follow him in his reality.
Authentic Jesus is counter-cultural. His "Kingdom" is an alternative way of living that is in contrast to the values and ways of the society around us.
Authentic Jesus makes everything sacred. His "Kingdom" approaches and encroaches on every single aspect of life.
Authentic Jesus is powerful. The message of his life, death, and resurrection is literally the "power of God" (I Cor 1:18). This means that the creative and redeeming power of the creator of the universe is available and can be applied to real issues. So Jesus can influence war, terrorism, poverty, politics, etc...
Authentic Jesus is offensive. Jesus challenges our understanding of what life is about, who we are, and how to live. He paints a portrait or vision of the world that is often at odds with our personal, cultural and nationalistic desires. It can be truly offensive, even though it is incredibly liberating.
Are you worshiping Small Jesus? Take a test today and think about how powerful, how liberating, and how encompassing your Jesus is? Do you expect him to change the world or keep the status quo?
Praying your connection with the authentic Jesus today,
Pastor M Traylor