A good friend of mine was commenting on the fact that I’m a Christian…and he summed up Jesus like this.
“Basically…what Jesus taught was…don’t be a jerk. Right?”
(He used a different word from jerk – but you get the gist)
And I kinda scratched my head at his summary of Christianity. Because I can think back to many friends, bosses and leaders who I have known. And probably all of them would agree – it’s probably better NOT to make a habit of being a jerk to other people in your life. Some might even have given me that specific advice myself! But they wouldn’t call themselves Christians. Particularly since some of them were very anti-religious when I knew them.
Were they actually Christians without knowing it? Or is there something that goes a bit deeper to this Christianity thing?
Greg Koukl had a conversation with a Jewish chap once who challenged him like this.
“Why do I have to believe in Jesus, Greg? I believe in God…I try to live a good life and frankly I do a pretty good job at it. So why do I need Jesus in the picture? The God you Christians talk about seems very narrow minded and inflexible.”
Greg’s reply to him was very interesting. He asked him a question.
“Do you think people who commit moral crimes ought to be punished?”
As a prosecuting attorney, the guy had a keen sense of right and wrong. “Yes,” he replied. “Of course people who commit moral crimes should be punished.” Greg nodded his head. “I agree,” Greg said.
Then Greg asked a follow on question.
“Have you ever committed any moral crimes?”
The guy scratched his head. “Well yes, I guess I have.” And Greg nodded his head. “Me too.”
Here’s the thing – what this conversation has put a finger on – is bad news. Because – if I now pose these same questions to us…I’m guessing that we will get a similar result. You bet moral crimes ought to be punished! And I’ve done a great job of hiding it…but I am guilty of moral crimes in my own life too. Crimes that if I saw someone else do them I would think deserved punishment.
This is bad news folks. Whether I’m a jerk…or I’m the cool guy in the group that everyone else wants to be like. I’m facing bad news because by my own moral standards…I ought to face punishment for my own moral crimes.
Greg went on in his conversation with the Jewish guy. “Imagine you were standing in front of the judge, and your moral guilt was being laid out for everyone to see. And then the judge paused, and he said something very unexpected.”
“Are you interested in clemency?”
In other words…in spite of your moral guilt…would you like to be let off from your punishment? Well talk about a no brainer! Duh – yes I am interested in exploring that option Mr Judge, sir.
Here’s where Jesus comes into focus.
Clemency is offered to each and every person guilty of committing moral crimes against God – and it is offered in the person of Jesus. In other words – someone needs to face the punishment for the moral crimes. It can either be us…or we can say YES to the offer of clemency from the judge…and let Jesus face the punishment instead.
So – was the message of Jesus, “Don’t be a jerk!” Well no. It’s much more serious and deep rooted than that. The message is – you’re facing really bad news. But I’ve got a solution. Are you interested?
Is God being narrow minded by bringing up this Jesus guy that people must believe in? Well – do you think the judge offering clemency should be described as narrow minded? Not at all! If it’s us standing in the dock (and it is) then we would do better to describe him as good and generous.
This same choice faces each of us. Will you pay the price of your moral crimes – or will you let Jesus pay for you? It’s not a trick choice. You are free to say – forget this Jesus guy, I’ll pay myself. But having done that, you cannot then go on to complain that there is something wrong with the God who just offered you a free pardon that you turned down. Right?
Or am I being a jerk?