Jesus May Not be the Crazy Guy on the Pier

“Jesus is like a crazy guy yelling “I love you” while running down a pier and jumping off”.

I can’t remember who said that.  I think it was a German Liberal like Schweitzer.  The point he was trying to make was that the cross didn’t make sense as an act of love.  You end up with Jesus looking crazy, and the cross should be seen a tragic event that Jesus had no control over.  At least I think I remember that being the point.  Evangelicals like me use the same illustration to demonstrate that the cross doesn’t make sense until you look at sin.  Jesus would seem crazy heading to his own death as an act of love without it being as a substitution.

But I really don’t like it as an illustration.  It all doesn’t make sense.  That is, until recently…

I was listening to someone else use the illustration recently.  He pointed out that the problem with the illustration is that it assumes the the point of view is on the pier.  Or to put it another way, it assumes the person that Jesus is calling “I love you” to is standing on the pier.  If that is the case, then Jesus would seem like a crazy person.

But what if the person was not on the pier?

What if the person, the point of view, was in the water, drowning?  This changes it all.  Someone coming to rescue them as an act of love.  Someone so identifying with them that they would come and dive in the water to rescue them.

Then I worked out that the problem with the illustration is that we assume we are on the pier, we are safe.  We don’t need rescuing.  But the Bible points out that we do.  It also points out that our rescuer comes because he loves us.

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What happened to Hospitality?

“In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal”  (Robert Karris, Eating your Way through Luke’s Gospel).  It would seem that there are lots of times when Jesus is entering someone’s home to eat with them.  But the irony is that I have just spent the last week or so reading about hospitality in cafes.  Has hospitality become commercialised and what does that mean?

Biblically Speaking…

There are lot’s of instructions from the Bible to be hospitable.  Some of these instructions are for all people (Rom 12:13, Heb 13:2, 1 Peter 4:9).  It is important for Christian leaders to show an example of being hospitable (1 Tim 3:2, Titus 1:8).  Widows who are to be supported are to be hospitable (1 Tim 5:10) meaning that this is not just for the rich and people who are able to do so easily.  It means we all should be aiming to express hospitality as Christians.

The surprise is that we often think hospitality is having friend over for dinner (and that’s a good thing) but it’s not quite what the Bible has in mind.  These words translated as “hospitality” are from the Greek words philonexia (lover of strangers) and xenodoechia (receiving of strangers).  In each case it is the stranger that is accepted, brought into the home and fed.  It is done in the home.

In the Biblical culture there is the principle that you offer hospitality to strangers.  There was no concept of a ‘hotel’.  This, for instance, is key to the narrative of Gensis 19.  Instructions for being hospitable to travelling missionaries is given in 3 John, etc.

But I can hear some of the more Biblically astute among you say “What about the idea of an ‘inn”?  Wasn’t the story that Jesus was born in a stable because there was no room for them at the inn?”.  Acutally that was a mistranslation.  The Greek word katalyma is probably more to do with a guest room:“Katalyma…means generally lodging, but more particularly a guest room or dinning room” (Mark 15:14; Luke 2:7; 22:11).  NIDNT Vol3, p189.  There was probably no room for them in this room because other relatives who had come for the census were already there.  There is no mention of a stable in the text, but there is some archeological evidence that the manger was actually a part of the main room of the house, which is where Jesus was probably born.  (For more on this http://www.psephizo.com/biblical-studies/jesus-wasnt-born-in-a-stable/)

There is a mention of an ‘inn’ and an ‘innkeeper’ in the parable of the good Samaritan.  But again closer examination of the Greek word behind this shows that it is more likley closer to our Youth hostel or a caravan park than the Four Seasons.  The fact that this is the only mention of it in the New Testament shows that this is an unsual thing.

Cultural shifts

But hospitality has been commerisialised.  Hotels were the ones to start it.  Instead of staying in someone else’s home, you could now stay in a commericalised institution and have people do the work for you.  Resturants followed.  At first these were food halls with communal tables but resturants in Paris started to include seperate tables so you did not have to eat with others.

It wasn’t long before even a meal at home was being divided up.  There has been a 33% decrease of American families eating together and of those 1/2 do so with the television on (in Bowling Alone by Robert Putman).  “Instead we get our community vicariously through soap operas.  Friends is a television program or a Facebook number, not the people with whom we eat and laugh and cry.”  (Tim Chester, A Meal with Jesus).

Of course we still have a desire to commune with those around us and so over the last couple of years we have seen the rise of the “3rd place” or the “Starbuck’s Phenonemon”.  The cafe that looks like a lounge room, but isn’t.  We do the hosting by buying someone else a coffee, but really it is someone else who does the work and cleans up.

Where does that leave us?

Having people over is a hassle.  It is hard work, takes time, is messy, means being vunerable, you have to go shopping, and at times work around people’s food restrictions .  If your visitor has kids there is another world of questions about which set of discipline rules do you apply?  The parents or the hosts?  There are lots of reasons not to be hospitable to new or even people you don’t know.

But then we have been given an instrcution from God to do so…

It is an opportunity to show love in a world that has been trying to consumerise love for the last century.  It is an opportunity to embrace or receive people in a way that they may never have at other time in their lives.

Did Jesus Plant a Church?

On the face of it this seems like a dumb question.  Of course Jesus planted a church, he planted the Church.  He is leader over all the church.  Any earthly church is ultimately planted by him.  But my question is, did Jesus plant a church in his earthly ministry?  If church planting is so important to churches, did Jesus himself do it?

Let me confess here and now, that I strongly dislike those talks/ books/ blogs that ask lots of questions and don’t answer them and even worse, ask those questions that are unanswerable like “what was going through Paul’s mind when he wrote 1 Timothy 2?”.  But yes, this is going to be one of those posts!!  As a church planter I am committed to church planting and I am praying that one day there will be as many churches as there are cafes in the city I live.  But I wanted to explore this as a thought experiment…
Did Jesus plant a church in his earthly ministry?  If so, where were the weekly Sunday meetings?  Did he appoint elders apart from himself?  Where are the small groups and youth groups?  Who ran the music ministry?  Why did he preach in the synagogues and outdoors rather than in his own church?  These are not meant to be facetious questions, but genuine, if Jesus did plant a church, why does ours look the way they do?
Let me give three possible answers, all of which I can learn something from:
1. Perhaps he didn’t
Maybe he didn’t plant a church.  That was not what his ministry was about.  This is all a false question and the assumption that Jesus didn’t do something (or did do something) is not reason enough alone to make these calls.  The description of his ministry is not prescriptive for us.  E.g. only he died for the sin of the world.  Already I can see critics of this piece gearing up to point out that one of the things wrong with this question is that I am ignoring the book of Acts and the rest of the New Testament.
If this is the case, it is still worth asking “does this mean church planting is not as a priority as are currently giving it?” (I think we are on the right track, but it is worth stopping and asking the question).  If it was not a priority for Jesus’ ministry, are there meant to be higher priorities for us?
2. Perhaps he did but it isn’t the form we are used to
Maybe he did plant a church.  But it was a highly mobile church (the disciples and not just the 12).  It was a mobile community of God’s people, living and teaching the Gospel in life.
This indeed is a different form of church, that I don’t think I have seen today (except maybe the Doulos).  But it does make you stop and think about form of church.  Why is preaching done outside the church?  Why the emphasis on discipleship inside?  Was there any sense of ‘worship’ as we would recognise it?
Such a form of church, again, does not have to be prescriptive.  It may well have been unique to the context, the leader and the salvation-historical context we are looking at.
Would such a model work today?  I have no idea, but I have my doubts.  Although the reasons for it not working would have probably been just as relevant in C1st Palestine.
3. Perhaps he did but his aim was what ours should be
Perhaps it is not form of church we should be looking at.  Perhaps it is the goal of church.  If Jesus did plant a church of disciples, then what did he do with them?  He made disciple making disciples (Matt 28:19).  He taught them, corrected them, gave them practical experience (Matt 10).  If this is the case what if our churches were to be communities of disciple making disciples.  Would that change the form of church?
I think it would, but not radically.   At the moment my definition of church is “God’s people, gathered around God’s word to praise His Name”.  What if it were meant to be…actually I have tried a few definitions (and deleted them) and they don’t seem to work but lets say there was something about “disciple making disciples” in there.  I don’t think the two definitions would be mutually contradictory, in fact I think the change would be quantum in the true meaning of the word. But it were true, then it would mean there would be some change….still working out what it would be though.
Lot’s of questions, few answers….