October 21, 2020

Sundays with Michael Spencer: April 19, 2015

The Calling of the Twelve, Higgins

The Calling of the Twelve, Higgins

Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”…And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

• Mark 3:31-35

• • •

Most Christians aren’t like Jesus.

Should we even try to be? Isn’t that impossible?

None of us can be like Jesus perfectly, but the Gospel of the Kingdom calls Jesus’ disciples to hear his call and set the goal and direction of their lives to be like him. For a follower of Jesus, Paul’s words of “follow me as I follow Christ,” are translated simply, “follow Christ in every way possible.”

Ghandi said “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.” He’s far from the only one to have made that observation, and those critics aren’t holding anyone to a standard of perfection. They are simply looking for enough congruence that the claim to be a follower of Jesus makes sense.

Christians have gotten very good at explaining why they really shouldn’t be expected to be like Christ. At various points, these explanations are true. At other points, they start sounding like winners in a competition for absurdist doublespeak.

Perhaps many Christians don’t resemble Jesus because they don’t really know what Jesus was like. Or- more likely- they assume Jesus was very much like themselves, only a bit more religious.

Getting our bearings on being like Jesus will start with something very important: discarding our assumption that our personal and collective picture of Jesus is accurate.

One of the constants in the Gospels is the misunderstanding of Jesus. The list of mistaken parties is long.

Herod the Great mistook Jesus for a political revolutionary.

The religious leaders mistook Jesus for another false Messiah.

Jesus’ family mistook him for a person who was “out of his mind.”

Nicodemus mistook Jesus for a wise teacher.

The rich young ruler mistook Jesus for a dispenser of tickets to heaven.

The woman at the well mistook Jesus for a Jewish partisan.

Herod Antipas mistook Jesus for John the Baptist back from the grave.

The people said that Jesus was a political messiah, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.

The disciples….oh my. The disciples were certain Jesus was a political messiah/king who would bring the Kingdom through miracles, but just at the moment they were most certain of who and what Jesus was, he turned everything upside down. Only after the horror of the cross was past and the Spirit opened their minds and hearts to the truth did the disciples begin to see Jesus clearly.

Thomas mistook Jesus for a dead man.

Like the blind man in Mark 8, the disciples had partial, unclear sight that required a second touch for clarity.

I believe Judas misjudged Jesus. Saul the persecutor certainly did, as did Pilate and the Romans.

If you got all the people who misjudged Jesus into a room, you”d need a bigger room.

When our children were small, my son was a big fan of wrestling. Every wrestler has a “signature move” to end a match; a move that no one does exactly like they do.

When I read Mark 11 and the story of Jesus turning over the tables of the merchants and moneychangers, I believe Jesus’ “signature move” is turning over the tables of expectations about who he is and what it means to follow him.

Read back through the Biblical examples I’ve cited. In almost every instance, it’s Jesus who overturns the tables of expectations and preconceived notions. It’s not just a discovery by a seeker. Jesus is the initiator of the big surprises. Part of what it means to be a Jesus-follower is to have your notions of religion, life and God turned upside down by the rabbi from Nazareth.

So is Jesus like today’s Christians who so easily assume they know what Jesus is all about? I’d like to suggest that the answer is “No.” Jesus isn’t like today’s Christians at all, and a large portion of our failure of Christlikeness comes down to a failure to know what Jesus was like.

Do you like grape Kool-Aid? I’ve always loved the taste of grape Kool-Aid on a hot day.

Have you ever tasted grapes? Do grapes taste grape Kool-Aid?

No, they don’t. But you could easily imagine a child who loves grape Kool-Aid eating a grape and saying “Yuck!! This doesn’t taste like grapes at all!”

The real thing has been replaced by the advertised replacement so long that there’s genuine confusion and disappointment at the taste of a real grape.

So it is with Jesus. The version of Jesus that dominates so much contemporary Christianity is the grape Kool-Aid version of a real grape. And many, many Christians have no “taste” for Jesus as we find him in scripture, especially the Gospels.

Where would the real Jesus perform his “signature” move of turning over our popular misconception of him?

Here’s just a few tentative and preliminary suggestions.

Jesus wasn’t building an institution or an organization, but an efficient, flexible movement with the Gospel at the center and grace as the fuel.

The church Jesus left in history was more a “band of brothers (and sisters)” than an organization of programs and buildings.

The message at the heart of all Jesus said and did was the Kingdom of God, which implicitly included himself as King and the status of all the world as rebels in need of forgiveness and surrender.

The movement Jesus left behind was made up of the last, the lost, the least, the losers and the recently dead. The world would never recognize this Jesus shaped collection of nobodies as successful.

The Woman Caught in Adultery, Higgins

The Woman Caught in Adultery, Higgins

Jesus treated women, sexual sinners and notoriously scandalous sinners with inexplicable acceptance.

Jesus taught the message, power and presence of the Kingdom. He did not teach how to be rich, how to improve yourself, how to be a good person or how to be successful.

Jesus didn’t teach principles. He taught the presence of a whole new world where God reigns and all things are made right.

Jesus rejected the claims of organized religion to have an exclusive franchise on God, and embodied the proof that God was in the world by his Son and through his Spirit to whomever has faith in Jesus.

Jesus practiced radical acceptance in a way that was dangerous, upsetting and world-changing.

Jesus calls all persons to follow him as disciples in the Kingdom of God. This invitation doesn’t look identical to the experiences of the apostles, but the claims and commands of Jesus to his apostles extend to all Jesus-followers anywhere.

God is revealed in Jesus in a unique way. What God has to show us and to say to us is there in Jesus of Nazareth. All the fullness of God lives in him, and to be united to Jesus by faith is to have the fullness of all God’s promises and blessings.

Jesus didn’t talk much about how to get to heaven, and certainly never gave a “gospel presentation” like today’s evangelicals. Nor did he teach that any organization of earth controlled who goes to heaven.

Jesus never fought the culture war.

Jesus was political because the Kingdom of God is here now, but he was the opposite of the political mindset of his time as expressed in various parties and sects.

Jesus was radically simple in his spirituality.

Jesus was radically simple in his worship.

Jesus wasn’t an advocate of family values as much as he was a cause of family division.

Jesus fulfills the old testament scriptures completely, and they can not be rightly understood without him as their ultimate focus.

The only people Jesus was ever angry at was the clergy. He called out clergy corruption and demanded honesty and integrity from those who claimed to speak for God and lead his people.

Jesus embraced slavery and servanthood as the primary identifiers of the leaders of his movement.

Jesus didn’t waste his time with religious and doctrinal debates. He always moves to the heart of the matter. Love God, Love Neighbor, Live the Kingdom.

Jesus expected his disciples to get it, and was frustrated when they didn’t.

Jesus died for being a true revolutionary, proclaiming a Kingdom whose foundations are the City of God.

Does this sound like Jesus as you’ve encountered him in evangelicalism?

That’s the sound of tables turning over.

That’s the taste of a real grape, not the Kool-Aid.

That’s why so many Christians aren’t like Jesus.

They have no idea what he was really all about.


  1. Aidan Clevinger says

    I love Michael’s writings, and I agree with a lot that’s here, but some if it is itself a caricature of Jesus. For example,

    “Jesus didn’t waste his time with religious and doctrinal debates.”

    Well, except for His rebuking the Sadducees for not believing in the resurrection. And His teachings concerning His own person as the Christ, with all that that implies (His divinity, atoning death and impending resurrection, the coming of God’s new creation in Him, His own position as Judge of all the world, etc.). Not to mention His institution of the Sacraments, and attendant corrections on what those Sacraments were and meant (especially in John’s Gospel). Jesus was intensely doctrinal.

    “The only people Jesus was ever angry at was the clergy.”

    “Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you?” – Jesus, speaking to someone not in the clergy.

    “Jesus wasn’t an advocate of family values as much as he was a cause of family division.”

    Yes, Jesus came to bring a sword rather than peace. But He also condemned divorce in the harshest possible terms and affirmed God’s order of marriage as something which should not be torn asunder.

    Look, Jesus isn’t the kind of person that we church people often paint Him as. But neither is He the radical, edgy iconoclast who likes to tear down every religious/political structure He encounters. He turned over the tables at the temple. He also told Israelites to listen to the scribes and Pharisees because they “sit in Moses’ seat.” He rejected the Israelite’s expectations for Him as Messiah to radically follow the Father’s salvific will. He also encouraged people to pay their taxes, not only to Caesar, but to religious institutions (his apostles in fact demanded that Christians be subject to the Emperor, and Paul apologized for disrespecting the high priest). He pruned out extraneous traditions and false interpretations of the Law, but affirmed that the Law would last “until all was accomplished” and participated in the Passover liturgy as a circumcised rabbi. Christ tore down false religious structures, but affirmed good ones and established His own, which He has used to govern His Church for roughly 2,000 years. Reductionism is reductionism, whether it’s the kind that makes Jesus into the ultimate altar call sponsor, the kind that makes Him a prim and proper churchgoer, or the kind that makes Him a revolutionary who doesn’t play by your rules, man. Jesus is Jesus.

    • Good points. I also agree with much of what he said, but I feel it is often too easy and natural to go too far to the other extreme when faced with an issue with which we disagree.

      • I don’t think Michael was making these points because they were issues with which he disagreed. I think he was making them because he once believed in a Kool-Aid Jesus and then realized he’d become a Kool-Aid Christian. I think he shared things like this not as arguments but as convictions: convictions based upon a realization of the kind of Christian he’d become.

        • But there’s no need to overcompensate by making sweeping generalizations on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. As was pointed above, some of his comments were either inaccurate or unfounded. (also, for instance, what if Jesus did in fact spend some time “debating theology”, but it simply wasn’t recorded in the original manuscripts?). Anyways, it’s human nature though, we all do it. Instead of thinking that Jesus wasted “lots” of time debating theology like some of us and many in evangelicalism might do, we say that Jesus spent absolutely ZERO time on it.

    • I would agree with your assessments A C. I think what we read in Spencer’s writings is what his lense sees and where he himself was at. I don’t have the hindsight of reading this blog for so many years. Personally I can’t stand grape kool aid and the grapes today are picked way to soon. The only way to drink real grape juice is aged and in my case there wouldn’t be enough. Jesus encountered everybody where they were at and with what they could understand and always expecting to lift them into a higher place. I can see his frustrations then and with me, now. Thanks Holy Spirit for not giving up.

      Having said that some of what I SEE today is kind of kooky. I’ve walked with people who almost bully or do bully people. I’ve seen a man asked what their pain levels were from 1 to 10 and then again after prayer and use these kind of things as testimony. Boy I just don’t see it. I’ve seen people basically take the podium ( because pulpit might be in their case not) and say what is the proper way to do things with might I add an amen church. I turn my head to cheap speaker course tricks and hate manipulation. Jesus on the other hand when I am able to see it did everything through love. If I’m not seeing it then it just go to show I need more work. I need more work by Him on me. Alot. Have mercy Lord

      The thing is I am here for so long and that is not long compared. Paul was already living in the other realm here. I don’t know how to get there and stay there. I can see it but I have things holding me back in all honesty. Dare I take such a leap. All my life has led to a point here and now. I don’t want to take this leap and then say look at me. I want to do it for the only reason worth while and that would be Him. In humbleness how would that look and would anyone even be able to see the change. You should have seen me 8 years ago. I say that to my shame and to be honest it was most horrible.

      The thing is things still tug at me and get my attention. Things I don’t like and can’t even understand why they are able to do that because I don’t want them any longer. The radical changes that have occurred in me over 8 long (to me) years are the hope that keeps me looking. Spencer was looking. May we all keep looking. I love you jesus help me to do that better for us.

      Stuart, your comment on praying for me was a turning point. I have been back to the gym and I’m almost back to where I was… I hope you see this. It meant alot to me.

      • Thanks, W, that’s a blessing to hear, and I’m glad it helped.

        I’ve been at the gym as much as possible lately as well, but having some difficulties. My lower back has basically “gone weak”, I can’t seem to deadlift, nothing feels good, last Monday I couldn’t even lie on the floor, bring my knees to my chest, and then extend them. It was like there was nothing there, that weak feeling you get after a long plank. I just got a new office chair at work, one of those giant executives ones, and not only don’t I not like it (wasn’t my choice), but it’s forcing me to sit in weird positions. Might be related, might not be.

        Also, I was in a fender bender this past Thursday (guy in front decided to stop in the turn lane to allow others to illegally merge, I saw an opening after I had seen him take off, and he hadn’t taken off all the way; my car is fine, i busted his rusted bumper). Woke up Friday with my neck stiff, went to a wedding yesterday (my first one ever officiated by a woman too!), and throughout the night neck just got worse and worse, throat swelled shut a bit, couldn’t turn my head at all driving home. This morning, so far so good, but still very tender. I had fallen twice this past winter, last time early March, so maybe just that little bit of a fender bender was enough to jerk my neck forward and re-injure myself.

        Health is important. It’s discouraging that I seem to constantly reinjure myself in new and unique ways just when I’m starting to hit new personal records and stuff, but I know it’s temporary. We’re fixing a lot of issues. In the last year, I’ve lost over 30 lbs, gone from a 120 to 335 deadlift, and just yesterday had to go buy new wedding clothes…I’m down from a 3xl to a 2xl, and went from a 46w pant to a 40w pant (but it looks like i’m wearing skinny jenas, so more like a very loose 42w, lol).

        It’s been incredible. And I can’t wait to keep going.

        • I hurt my back bad along time ago. Discs and work and all. It happened from a fall on ice but it got so bad I couldn’t walk. It accumulated. I couldn’t get into cars and could only sit certain ways. Sitting has a lot to do with the back at least mine. Chairs are important. Don’t worry about a little time off it is when it goes to months that it becomes hard. So now you are in mine. Well you kind of always were.

          I have to smile I’m trying to get back to a 40 from a 42. I’m a pretty solid 280 though. I would be a lot harder though at 250 or below and did my best when I weighed 235. I was younger then and I was doing everything right as far as diet and sleep. On the brighter side I inclined 120’s for 6 which I haven’t done since before December.

          6 inches off my waist and I would feel so much better. That’s really where it counts. I lift weights up and I put them down.Lol

  2. Lots of good thoughts here. Lots of pure, honest convictions which Michael felt. Great analogy between grape Kool-Aid and real grapes. That’s a keeper.

    This is perhaps the kind of thing missing from iMonk recently: convictions about Jesus. I think our contributors are offering their convictions, but they’re more about non-Jesus issues and trying to tie Jesus into them than about Jesus himself. I’d love to see more stuff like this, which are semi-sermons.

  3. Ronald Avra says

    Enjoyed it; very good

  4. Michael has done it again. I found myself thinking, as they said about Jesus Himself, “who teaches like this?”

  5. Iguana, of Whose Night It Is says

    *Jesus fulfills the old testament scriptures completely, and they can not be rightly understood without him as their ultimate focus.*

    Yes, because it would have been impossible for people writing in the first century AD to compose stories that correlated to those written in the 8th century BC.

    • I think you may be missing the point of what Michael was saying, Iggy. What he’s saying isn’t that the Jewish Scriptures don’t make sense without Jesus in the sense of being incoherent, but rather that without keeping Christ as presented in the Gospels in mind, one is extremely likely (I would venture to say almost certain) to take the wrong conclusion from the OT, or even from the rest of the NT. Ideas that God is vengeful and bent on smiting people, for example.

  6. Iguana, of Whose Night It Is says

    Oh don’t worry: I don’t think god is vengeful and bent on smiting people.