Do you go to church?
Over the past several months this question has come my way again and again. And since I didn’t really have a home church for a good nine months, my response usually was, “Off and on.” But what came to mind this morning at Emmaus Life was how irrelevant this question is.
It has the illusion of spirituality; even if I answer with, “A couple times a year,” I make myself appear spiritual in some way. And if my answer is true, then I probably go to church enough times to know some of the basic Christian moral teachings so if or when I’m asked about what I believe, I always have some small amount of knowledge to make everyone think that I’ve thought this through. I know enough to get by.
But when it gets to something beneath the surface, when one comes face to face with the Jesus of the Gospels, the facades and images fade away. They become null and void because the Jesus we find in Scripture isn’t like the image-seeking churchgoer. He makes people uncomfortable with what He taught them. In John 6 He’s teaching about eating His flesh and drinking His blood – communion – and those hearing Him interpreted His words literally. Obviously, they were grossed out.
“When many of His disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’” – 6:60
Shortly after that, in verse 66, John tells us that “many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.” As Scott talked about this morning, the real Jesus, the embodiment of the real God, is tough to deal with. He asks us to love our enemies (Luke 6:32) – even to pray for them (Matthew 5:43-44); to love the “true religion” He loves, which is to speak on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves (James 1:27); and to be, in some cases, politically incorrect to call sin for what it is: sin (John 8:11).
When the world only asks us to live a life of outwardly appearances, God is asking us to live an outward life of inward character. Jesus wants us to be a self-examining people – to catch ourselves when we might be hurting someone with our words, when we’re maligning their reputation behind their backs, or looking down on them because of the way they dress or talk or what football team they root for. And after we’ve stopped ourselves from doing something wrong, He wants us to go out of our way to make their lives better.
One thing Scott emphasized in this morning’s message was that following Jesus is not by any means easy (as evidenced above), but it also isn’t complex. In our Christian culture we’ve diluted Jesus’ teachings down to a level of convenience: Follow Jesus if you can fit Him into your schedule or lifestyle. If you can’t, well, you made a good effort and maybe next time you’ll be able to. But it’s as Scott said this morning, “There’s no third option; you either follow or you don’t.”
In the time after Scott’s message, we formed smaller groups to discuss various questions that Scott and written out for us. One of the questions was something along the lines of, “If Jesus’ message had turned so many people away then, how should we (Emmaus Life) go about directing our church?” What immediately came to my mind were Jesus’ twelve disciples.
If you’ve read any one of the four gospels, you probably noticed how seemingly unintelligent the twelve disciples were. Jesus repeatedly asked them, “Do you not yet understand?” and would then proceed to explain whatever they were confused about. Sometimes, even after things were explained, they were still confused. And if they weren’t confused, they were stubborn about something else (like staying awake while Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane). In spite of all their slip-ups and shortcomings, though, they stuck with Jesus. As Scott Lamb has said several times at Emmaus Life, it’s because of those twelve men that we are followers of Christ today.
Why did they stick with Him, though? He repeatedly rebuked them for their lack of faith or lack of understanding, and yet they kept following Him wherever He went and kept learning from Him every chance they could. And when He died, rose from the dead, and then ascended into heaven, they became more and more fervent for following Jesus’ example. Why? What would make them want to go through all of that?
“After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’” – John 6:66-68 (emphasis added)
Jesus’ disciples remained faithful because even though it got harder and harder for them to follow Jesus, life got better. Their spirits were alive and fervent for God more and more each day as they lived out Jesus’ commands and obeyed God. The more they actively denied the world to themselves and took up their crosses (their death sentence), the more alive they became.
As Scott said this morning, our walks with Jesus are not easy, but they aren’t impossible, either. And what’s most important is that though we might find ourselves challenging ourselves more and more each day – even to the point where it might feel overwhelming – life gets better. God permeates our hearts and souls and instills within each of us His peace, His forgiveness, His love. As each day goes by, and as long as we’re committed to Him, we’ll be closer to Him tomorrow than we were today.
And that is the whole goal for the Christian walk.