Over the years, I have seen t-shirts, bumper stickers, etc., which express a simple thought about Jesus in order to appeal to the un-churched. One of them goes like this; ‘Jesus is the answer’.
While I don’t disagree with this statement, it doesn’t do too much to connect everyday people with their Savior. Most people probably read this and then go about their day.
Let me offer an alternative, ‘Jesus is the problem’.
At first blush, this looks blasphemous. Yet, let’s consider how Jesus was received by the Pharisees of his time:
10Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. 11When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” (Matthew 9, NASB).
They had a problem with Jesus. He wasn’t holding to the Law in the way that they were. They were holding Him to a standard that focused on outward righteousness and adherence to the Law. They expected Him to be ‘squeaky clean’.
As if that weren’t bad enough, Jesus touched the sick. This was enough to make a person unclean! An unclean rabbi?!! Perish the thought! Jesus was their problem.
The Pharisees were caught up in their own righteousness defined by external law-keeping. Instead of leading them to Christ, they were offended, no, scandalized by Jesus. They couldn’t conceive of a God-man who was able to infect the sick with health, infect the blind with sight, infect the dead with life.
Their Law-observance led them away from the God who gave them the Law. Law observance leads to two main directions: 1. Self-righteousness and unwillingness to become unclean, or 2. Despair and rejection of God’s Law (rebellion). It lead the Pharisees to condemn Jesus and plot how they might destroy Him. That’s one way to get rid of the problem!
You would think His disciples were better at understanding who Jesus was. But, they were constantly jockeying for position:
35James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Jesus, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.” 36And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” 37They said to Him, “Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory” (Mark 10, NASB).
They believed Jesus would enter Jerusalem and fulfill the ascension Psalms (1 and 2). They were about to have a great king, and they were on the inside!
So, Jesus corrected their thinking with the Servant Songs from the last portion of Isaiah (just read Isaiah 53). Jesus had to become the scapegoat for human sin before He ascended to the throne. Jesus was their problem.
Both the Pharisees and the disciples were Theologians of Glory. The Pharisees were invested in their self-righteousness, position and power to be pleasing to God. The disciples were invested in their sacrifice and in the ‘big pay off’ from following Jesus.
But, Jesus introduced a new Theology into the world. Jesus was THE Theology of the Cross. His death meant the end of the Law because He fulfilled the Law and swallowed the consequences for law-breakers. The Pharisees who had believed that they were ‘pulling it off’ could now find the consequence to their behavior on the Cross that Jesus hung on.
The disciples, hopelessly defeated at Jesus’ death would find out that the truth was much deeper and greater than their own ambitions. Jesus’ resurrection was the demonstration of the power of God. It also meant that they lived in the reality of a new life; a new creation. And, as the Spirit was poured on to them, they experienced the beginning of this new creation. They became self-less, pouring out their lives in true sacrifice, rather than self-serving ambition.
We don’t want to think about this. Christians don’t want to believe that they have a problem. They’d rather go to their Christian chiropractor, their Christian dentist, and their Christian plumber and keep clean. This is much easier than finding our righteousness was never ours from the start. So, we return to our own vomit.
That’s why Jesus gets in the way of the things we really want to believe. He gets in the way of what we really want to do. All of the religious observance meant to earn God’s favor. All of the brown-nosing ambition. It’s all rooted in the same beetle-ridden dead tree; the self.
So, Jesus came. The only way to end our self-idolatry was to die for it. And in His death, at His cross, He frees us from bondage to law-keeping and selfish ambition. He did this by becoming sin, being crucified and crushed for your sin and mine by God the Father. He buries you with Him in Baptism. And, the coup de grace was that he was justifying you in His resurrection. He has made you a new creation through this work.
Therefore, there is no reason to return to the Law for righteousness. Christ, Himself is your righteousness. Live in the light of the Son of God who gave Himself for you. The problem has become the answer.