Jesus vs. The Status Quo

Our Gospel reading for this week comes from John 6:22-7:24. We could spend weeks on this section alone, so I am not able to adequately address everything going on in John’s text. I do want to touch on a few items, however.

This passage comes just after Jesus feeds the 5,000, and walks on water where he acts like God (see Ex. 16:4 for manna, see “Enter the Water” sermons water themes). Jesus even uses language that indicates he is God (6:20 – “ἐγώ εἰμι” literally means “I am”, not “It is I” – see Ex. 3:14)

Now Jesus enters a discussion based on a statement by Jesus, “I am the bread of life.” (6:35) This is one of seven “I am” statements that Jesus makes in John’s gospel, plus an additional absolute “I am” statement in 8:58 (where he is nearly stoned for equating himself with God.) Jesus begins using figurative language of eating and drinking to describe how his disciples should relate to him. Jesus wants the audience to realize that God provided manna for the Israelites, and now God has provided Jesus for the Israelites and later the Gentiles (10:16). The manna was temporary, the ones that ate it were hungry again and eventually died. Jesus says if you feast on him, however (his words, his body, his blood – Lord’s Supper type language) then you will not die (6:50). Jesus’ audience, however, is really wanting more miracles…a free lunch if you will. (6:30-31) When Jesus quit feeding them, and instead entered into some serious teachings that were difficult to understand, they left him. (6:66)

This leads to an observation, but one I think John is channeling in the text. Following Jesus isn’t all fun and games and magic shows. Following Jesus takes work. Following Jesus requires you to engage your mind in thinking, and your whole body in following him. It means giving up yourself and your desires, and instead following Jesus wherever he may lead, even to the cross. One who truly believes Jesus is the Son of God, Lord of all, will go wherever he calls, and do whatever he commands, not simply want to sit back and be fed! (6:40, 10:7,11,14, 6:34)

Chapter 7 continues this same line of thinking…this idea that Jesus will entertain people, and carry on the status quo, including taunting along these lines from his brothers (7:3-5). But verses like 7:20 and 7:24 indicate that the people simply didn’t want to be challenged in their thinking…they were content to keep things the way they were. I close by sharing Dr. Ross Cochran’s commentary on this passage:

“The status quo killed Jesus. The status quo is so powerful that it will even turn a deaf ear to God. Obeying God’s word requires repentance and transformation. Few really want that. Most of us would rather embrace what we know presently in order to be comfortable. So we are tempted to reject anything that threatens the status quo, even if it is from God. Think of it! God appears in the person of Jesus and the people would rather have things as they are than to hear a word from God. Scary isn’t it? The status quo has a gravitational pull that must be overcome.”

Question: In your experience, what is the biggest status quo we are facing in the church today?

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Radical Disrupts Place of Worship

No this isn’t a recent headline from the New York Times. It’s likely what the Jerusalem Daily Gazette would have published the morning after Jesus cleared the Temple.

There is so much we can learn from this passage, but it so rarely gets brought up in churches. Questions about this passage always pop up. “Why would Jesus do such a thing?” or “Doesn’t Jesus love everyone? Why would he cause such a scene in a place of worship?”

There are two accounts of this happening in the Bible. One recorded by Matthew, the other by John. Today we’ll look at John’s account of this event.

John 2:13-17 New Living Translation (NLT)
Jesus Clears the Temple
13 It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover celebration, so Jesus went to Jerusalem. 14 In the Temple area he saw merchants selling cattle, sheep, and doves for sacrifices; he also saw dealers at tables exchanging foreign money.15 Jesus made a whip from some ropes and chased them all out of the Temple. He drove out the sheep and cattle, scattered the money changers’ coins over the floor, and turned over their tables. 16 Then, going over to the people who sold doves, he told them, “Get these things out of here. Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace!”
17 Then his disciples remembered this prophecy from the Scriptures: “Passion for God’s house will consume me.”
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

When I was growing up, I would hear someone reference this passage the moment a fundraising catalog entered the church building. But that’s just not the context for what Jesus is reacting to here. So if you don’t want to buy that stale popcorn, you may have just lost your scriptural basis for doing so. To fully understand what Jesus was so outraged about, we have to look back into history and take a look at what it took to worship at the temple.

Ever since the temple was rebuilt by Ezra and Nehemiah, it was the national place of worship for all Jewish people. As many as 2.5 million Jews would travel vast distances to worship God in His temple on holy days! And as we all know, there’s always cost involved when traveling.

Besides the cost of travel, a Jew wishing to worship would also have other monetary demands put upon them as they arrived at the temple. The “Temple Tax” offset the cost of maintaining the temple, and was equal to 1 day’s wage. If you were traveling with a foreign currency, you must exchange your money at a rate of 2 days wages. If you brought your own animal to offer as a sacrifice, there was a fee of 1/2 days wage for someone to inspect the animal. If you failed inspection, or couldn’t afford to travel with your animal sacrifice in tow, you could normally purchase doves at the cost of 2 days wage. But in the temple courts prices had been raised to nearly 40 days wages!

If you calculate the cost in modern day figures, it would cost anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 just to worship at the temple!

These services that Jew’s had set up as a convenience to traveling worshippers had instead become a roadblock preventing the poor from being able to worship God in his temple, all the while lining the pockets of the religious leaders. No wonder Jesus was upset!

It’s stunning to think that something which started out so noble by aiding God’s people in worship turned out to be just the opposite. God’s people lots sight of what they were doing, and what they were causing to happen around them.

Question: What sort of things stand in the way of worshippers today, and what can we do as the Church to remove those obstacles?

“Casual Christians”

I received an email containing an article that I’d like to share with you.

From the Barna Update 6/15/2009 – “Casual Christians, spiritually middle-of-the-road, perhaps even ambivalent about their faith, represent 66% of the adult U.S. population, according to Barna Research. Pollster George Barna describes this “tribe” as “faith in moderation.” It allows them to feel religious without having to prioritize their faith. Christianity is a low-risk, predictable proposition for this tribe and provides a faith perspective that isn’t demanding. A Casual Christian can be all the things they esteem: a nice human being, a family person, religious, an exemplary citizen, a reliable employee—and never have to publicly defend or represent difficult moral or social positions or even lose much sleep over their private choices, as long as they mean well and generally do their best. From their perspective, their brand of faith practice is genuine, realistic and practical. To them, Casual Christianity is the best of all worlds; it encourages them to be a better person than if they had been irreligious, yet it is not a faith into which they feel compelled to heavily invest themselves.”

I feel that a big reason that churches all across this country are struggling with worship practices, remaining true to the Bible’s teachings, reaching out to their communities, and carrying out mission work oversees is that 66% of all adults in the US are content to be Christians in NAME ONLY!  It’s apathy at its worst!  They say they want X,Y, and Z, yet when it comes around to actually working for it…well, they’re content to just sit back and not “invest themselves.”  John wrote about such a group of Christians in Revelation 3, specifically, the church in Laodicea.  Here’s John writing the words of Jesus:

Revelation 3:15-17 – 15I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.

1 John 3:16 – This is how we know what love is:  Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.

Does it sound like we’re called to simply be “Casual Christians?” NOT AT ALL!  Churches that are filled with this type of attitude will end up like the church in Laodicea…so despicable to Jesus that we make him want to vomit?  Is that what the church is called to do?  Christians must shake off the “lukewarm” attitude that we’ve developed and once again serve Christ faithfully!  We must be fully committed to Christ!!!!

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®.  Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of  Zondervan. All rights reserved.