Is This What Jesus Told Us to Do?

This is a look at the second temptation of Jesus from Eugene Peterson¢â‚¬â„¢s new book, The Jesus Way:

The second temptation: jump off the roof of the temple. The devil wants to use Jesus to dazzle the crowds of people on the street below with a miracle, to put a little excitement into their dull lives. ¢â‚¬Å“Jump, Jesus – these people will never forget it; it will change their lives. For years to come they will be telling their children and grandchildren of that angel-rescue, a convincing witness that God is supernaturally at their beck and call.¢â‚¬ The temptation is to embark on a circus career in miracles. And what could be better than a career in God-miracles, religious miracle, entertaining crowds, supplying ecstasy on demand?

The devil wants us to do the same, use Jesus as a hedge against boredom. Use Jesus as some people use drugs and alcohol, sex and fast cars, danger and thrills, television and guns. Use Jesus for his miracle potential. Use Jesus as a reprieve from the hundrum. Package Jesus as a commodity for weekend diversions.

The temptation is to reduce Jesus to escapism and thrills: an impersonal rescue, an irresponsible diversion, a manipulative reprieve from the ordinary.

Jesus is certainly capable of taking that jump off the temple roof. Why didn¢â‚¬â„¢t he do it? Jesus refuses to entertain us with miracles, just as he refused to entertain Herod Antipas (Luke 23:8-9). Jesus is not interested in diverting us from life, but in revealing the ¢â‚¬Å“more¢â‚¬ that is in life beyond what we can cobble together on our own, dimensions of beauty and challenge, depths of gladness, our mouths ¢â‚¬Å“filled with laughter¢â‚¬ (Ps. 126:2). What is more impressive than the miracles that Jesus performed is that he performed so few of them. Jesus never used miracles as shortcuts or labor-saving devices. ¢â‚¬Å“No Christian will suppose that Jesus in his carpentry shop ever laid aside the hammer and used the Holy Spirit to drive an awkward nail.¢â‚¬ His very occasional miracles were a way to show us the ¢â‚¬Å“more¢â‚¬ that is inherent to life, a revelation of the depth available to us in a life of love and obedience. The way of Jesus is not a sequence of exceptions to the ordinary, but a way of living deeply and fully with the people here and now, in the place where we find ourselves. (31-33)

The first temptation Jesus encountered was to ¢â‚¬Å“follow Jesus but then use Jesus to fulfill needs, first our own and then the needs of all the hungry people around us. It is the temptation to deal with myself and others first and foremost as consumers. It is the temptation to define life in consumer terms and then devise plans and programs to accomplish them ¢â‚¬Ëœin Jesus¢â‚¬â„¢ name¢â‚¬â„¢¢â‚¬ The second is to use Jesus to avoid boredom and to add style and flair to a potentially boring gathering. The first temptation makes us simply a distributor of religious goods and services; the second screams, ¢â‚¬Å“Let Him, entertain you¢â‚¬, creating a ¢â‚¬Å“Cirque de Jesus¢â‚¬.

While not attempting to call anyone¢â‚¬â„¢s worship gathering ¢â‚¬Å“entertainment¢â‚¬ or a circus, I wonder: How many of our churches are simply putting on a show?

In the new book, Jim & Casper Go to Church, Jim Henderson from Off the Map hires an atheist, Matt Casper, to go with him to several church services and make his observations. These churches included Saddleback Church, Mosaic in LA, Lakewood Church (think Joel Osteen), Willow Creek and a couple of others. These are big churches, with lots and lots of people. According to Jim:

Casper had a number of questions for me before, during, and after each church we visited. But the one question that was far and away the most difficult for me to hear was this one:

¢â‚¬Å“Jim, is this what Jesus told you guys to do?¢â‚¬

Casper saw and experienced – over and over again – what Christians do when they do church. He saw it done with big budgets and no budgets, in large stadiums and in small buildings. The same format repeated itself regardless of the setting. The greet-sing-preach-collect-present form played out in front of us with unrelenting predictability. And when it was all done, he would turn to me and ask, ¢â‚¬Å“Jim, is this what Jesus told you guys to do?¢â‚¬

Casper simply could not imaging Jesus telling his followers that the most important thing they should be doing is holding church services. And yet this was the only logical conclusion he was able to come to based on what he¢â‚¬â„¢d observed.

If people who had never heard of Jesus wanted to see what Christians were most interested in, they would have probably started their search in some of the same churches we visited.

¢â‚¬Å“If that¢â‚¬â„¢s where they started, they would have to conclude that Jesus¢â‚¬â„¢ number one priority was that Christians invest the very best of their energy and their money into putting on a huge church service – a killer show, as it were,¢â‚¬ said Casper. ¢â‚¬Å“Jim, is this what Jesus told you guys to do?¢â‚¬ (147-148)

Has the devil diverted us from the way so much that we¢â‚¬â„¢re all about putting on a gig, or creating a show, or dazzling people with our music or dramas or videos? If so, we are using Christ to give us an opportunity to perform and put on a show, and the question I have to wonder is the same question Casper asked Jim: Church, is this what Jesus told us to do?

David has been a systems thinker most of his life. He has started three businesses as well as designed and developed systems and processes in existing organizations. He has a Doctorate in Leadership and has also done additional post-graduate work in communications.

He has also pastored 3 churches and loves to think about, write about and podcast about scripture, theology, and leadership.

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1 comment
  • Hi, Dave! Thanks for posting about “Jim & Casper Go to Church.” I’m a volunteer with Jim’s organization Off the Map and I wanted to let you know about our Live event coming up this November in Seattle. Both Jim and Matt Casper will be speaking at this event. Here is the link if you want to find out more:

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