It is no exaggeration to say that Jesus is the most (wilfully) misunderstood and (wilfully) misquoted person in history.  At no time is this more clearly seen than around Easter and Christmas, when people who normally show no interest in him come forward to use him as a figurehead for their particular social or political cause. One Tweet I saw, for example, claimed that “Jesus was a radical whose anti-greed message of peace & love scared Establishment of his day.”

And so the socialist comes forward to tell us that Jesus was a radical with an anti-greed and anti-corruption message which challenged the establishment of his day and got him put to death. The liberal comes forward to talk of Jesus’s compassion towards the marginalised and how he would be in their corner today. The conservative or traditionalist comes forward to tell us about Jesus’s message of righteousness and truth.

These things all have two things in common. The first is that they all contain some element of the truth. Jesus did indeed clash with the corrupt establishment and call them out for their greed and “devouring of widows” houses. He did indeed associate with the marginalised and the outcasts, dining with publicans and prostitutes. He did indeed preach about morality and truth.

But as much as each one of these sorts of responses contains an element of truth, they all fall infinitely wide of the mark. Ultimately, they are attempts at self-justification, albeit using Jesus as the hook on which to justify ourselves.

The socialist wants Jesus to justify his thesis that the problem with society is the rich and powerful. “Be thou in my camp Lord Jesus as I rail against the unfair distribution of wealth.”

The liberal wants Jesus to come and justify his thesis that the problem with society is the oppression of minority groups. “Be thou in my camp Lord Jesus as I rail against inequality.”

The conservative wants Jesus to come and justify his thesis that the problem with society is the decline in standards. “Be thou in my camp Lord Jesus as I rail against the loss of traditional morality.”

At some level, those who seek to identify Jesus with their cause do so because they seek justification. At some level they quote and misquote Jesus because his words, deeds, sufferings and death make him the central figure in all human history, and having him “on our side” is bound to justify us and our cause. “Here is my identity or my thesis or my cause, and here’s what Jesus said about such things. He’s on my side you see.”

It is true that Jesus did come to give justification to men, women and children. Yet if we suppose that we can cherry pick the “friend of the poor and marginalised Jesus”, or the “compassionate Jesus”, or the “moral Jesus” or any other bit of Jesus that suits our cause to justify us, then we have a fundamental misunderstanding of who he is, of who we are, and of what he came to do.

It is absolutely true that he came to justify men, but he didn’t come to do this because of who we are. Rather he came to do it in spite of who we are. He didn’t come to justify us in our cause, but he came to justify us for his cause — the salvation of sinners from the righteous judgment of God. We do not get to have him in our camp, justifying our actions, our words, our cause, our explanation of why the world looks like it does and what can be done to fix it. Rather, we get to be in his camp when we accept his actions, his words, his cause and his explanation of why the world looks like it does and what can be done to fix it.

His explanation of why the world looks like it does is this: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6).

His cause was to come and die to pay the penalty our sins deserved: “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5).

And his way of fixing the world is to come and save sinners, by calling them to repentance, that through his death and resurrection they should die to sin and live to righteousness: “By his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant (Jesus), make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:11).

In other words, he came not to justify people for their ways, their opinions, their cause. On the contrary, he came to call them all — the socialist, the liberal, the conservative, the poor man, the rich man, the black man, the white man, the feminist, the patriarch, the lesbian, the heterosexual, the academic, the unlearned, the atheist, the churchgoer and any other person you can think of — to repentance. You. Me. We. Us. Them. We are all called, without exception.

On Good Friday we remember his death, which is the day when he was delivered up for our trespasses (Romans 4:25). On Easter Sunday we remember his resurrection, which is the day when he was raised for our justification (Romans 4:25). Easter Sunday — Resurrection Day — is the day when God the Father reversed the unrighteous judgement of men against his Son and proclaimed him to be innocent of all charges. It is the day when God the Father justified Jesus in his cause. And because of what Jesus has done, it is the day that makes it possible for God the Father to reverse his righteous judgement of guilty against us, and proclaim us innocent and righteous in his sight.

Happy Easter.

7 thoughts on “Finding the Real Jesus on Resurrection Sunday

      1. I know! I haven’t read your book though.
        I really like Dawking’s work but his book The God Delusion is a big miss. He proved to be totally ignorant on the matter and made a big mistake writing it.

  1. Excellent response to the socialist. A very instructive exchange for anyone lucky enough to read it.
    I think that the misquoting of scripture – either literally or contextually, has been around a long time and is of course a symptom of our rebellion against Truth (which is so total and complete today – “transgendered” and all). The so-called Reformation really facilitated the phenomenon. The King James translation – the “Protestant” standard quotes the Angel telling the Shepherds – “Peace on earth, goodwill towards men”. However the Catholic translation is “Peace on earth to men of goodwill”. Is this not a profound difference? Are they not almost diametrically incompatible? Does this not “sum up” the difference between Protestant (morphed into modern Happy Jesus) and Catholic theology quite succinctly?

  2. Money is not evil. It is the love of money that is the root of all evil. For the love of money people will lie, cheat, steal and kill.

    No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
    Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor yet for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
    Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feed them. Are you not much better than they?
    Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
    [28] And why take thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
    And yet I say to you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
    Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
    Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
    (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things.
    But seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
    Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

    As Paul taught, I die daily and I resurrect daily.

    I love this scene of the original Francis appearing before the Pope in 1210. Now, 800 years later, Francis is Pope.

    https://vimeo.com/47132524

  3. Rob, you write “The socialist wants Jesus to justify his thesis that the problem with society is the rich and powerful.”

    Are you discounting these scriptures?
    Then Jesus said to his disciples, Verily I say to you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.
    And again I say to you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

    Are you discounting the record of the rich man and Lazarus?

    How about this?
    And he spake a parable to them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:
    And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?
    And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.
    And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have much goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, and be merry.
    But God said to him, You fool, this night your soul shall be required of you: then whose shall those things be, which you have provided?
    So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.

    The early Church was Socialist/Communist long before Karl Marx.
    And all that believed were together, and had all things common;
    Acts 2:44
    And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.
    Acts 4:32

    How about Isaiah writing about Christ to come?
    And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.
    Isaiah 53

    James 5 talks about regime change of the system the rich have built on the return of Christ
    Go to now, you rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.
    Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth eaten.
    Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. You have heaped treasure together for the last days.

    Furthermore,
    So then because you arte lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue you out of my mouth.
    Because you say, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and know not that you are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:
    Revelation 3:16-17

    Revelation 18 is all about the merchants of this earth and the rich.

    1. Hi Ray,

      No I don’t discount these (or any other) Scriptures. They are warnings for those who put their trust in their wealth and riches (and it is a much needed warning), rather than condemnations of wealth itself. Abraham was said to be very rich. And you will see him in God’s eternal kingdom. Jacob likewise was very rich. And you will see him in God’s eternal kingdom. Riches and wealth are from God’s hand, but the issue is not the wealth but what we do with it.

      Take the parable of the talents. Who is commended? It is the ones who were given most (5 and 2 respectively). Why? Not because they had more, but because of what they did with them. They were faithful with what their master gave them and were thus rewarded. The “poor” man, on the other hand – the one who started with one – is condemned. Why? Not because he only had one, but because he did nothing with what he had.

      The issue is therefore not wealth, as such, but attitudes to it. Why is it hard for a rich man to get into the Kingdom of Heaven? Because of the human tendency to covet and trust in riches over and above God. Yet the poor have no automatic favour granted to them. They have to come into the Kingdom of God in exactly the same way as the wealthy – leaving their sins behind (and one of them might well be coveting wealth), and trusting Christ alone.

      As for the early church being socialist/communist, this is simply not the case. At a particular time of hardship, they held all things in common. But the crucial part of this is that it was entirely voluntary. This is most clearly seen in what Peter says to Ananias: “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.”

      The point of what he says is that nobody forced Ananias to sell his land. It was his. He owned it and could do what he wanted with it. And even after he sold it, it was still up to him what he did with the money. The problem was that he told the other disciples that he had sold it for such and such, and that he was giving it all to them. This was a lie. He had indeed sold it for such and such, but lied about how much he got for it. In his own eyes, he was a double winner. He got to keep some of the proceeds, but also got to look very generous in the eyes of others. His destruction was not, therefore, because he didn’t give up his property, but rather because of his deceit.

      Socialism/communism, on the other hand, is not voluntary at all. It is absolutely coercive, and an attempt by man manufacture “all things in common” by force, rather than by God moving people to willing generosity. It is completely at odds with the 8th commandment (and I might add the 10th, as it is largely based on envy). And we have spent the 20th century testing it and can now know it by its fruits.

      How then are we to view wealth/property? We are to respect each other’s property (see 8th commandment and associated laws). We are to view it as a gift from God (Ecclesiastes 5:19). We are neither to covet riches, nor to desire poverty, but to accept gratefully whatever God gives us (Proverbs 30:8). And whatever God gives us, we are to use liberally, voluntarily and cheerfully for the growth of God’s Kingdom and for the good of others (Acts 20:35).

      Blessings,

      Rob

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