I was Christmas shopping today and went into a really beautiful store with tons of “spirituality” merchandise. Floor to ceiling wind chimes, art, banners, candles, colorful stones, books, tapestries. Usually I go into these stores because I like some of that earthy, Chinese characters, peace-type stuff. It’s pretty, and calming, and the stores usually smell like incense. I definitely don’t expect anything that will resonate with me beyond the “Om.”
Most stores like this seem to worship the Earth, and Man’s eclectic view on peace and balance and harmony of mankind and coexist and all those vague new-age ideas that are very lovely but essentially mean nothing. But this particular store is a complete hodgepodge of faiths. They have a Jewish section, a Catholic section, Islam, Buddhism, some Jesus here and there, lots and lots of crosses. In one corner, there are Buddhas and peace signs and candles with words like “Serenity” and “Center.” Then on a wall on the other side of the room there are plaques that say “Jesus is the light of the world” and really beautiful crosses that say “Trust God.”
One of the items in this store was this plaque and this is what it said:
“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. – Jesus”
This plaque, with the right intentions, could have been a really special dedication to the gift of life and forgiveness that Jesus has given us. But instead the message was being used to further this idea of spiritual awakening and searching for enlightenment. It was as if to say that Jesus told us to open the horizons of our minds and realize what our spirits are capable of finding on our own. This in itself is absurd.
But also, how could anyone reduce Jesus to a quotable? The way His name was tacked onto the end of it gave me this icky feeling, not even acknowledging the source, the Holy Word of God. Not to mention, what is a cross without Christ? What is a crucifix without the unconditional, uncontainable love, sacrifice and blood of Jesus?
The whole weird experience just got me thinking.
I know a lot of atheists who deny God and Jesus completely. But it’s always astounding to me when people make the choice to acknowledge, respect, and even honor Jesus as a spiritual leader and teacher and peace prophet.
That’s just not who Jesus is.
Jesus is not merely a prophet, He is not just a wise teacher, a philosopher, and a spiritual leader; He is not a great man to be respected.
Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the perfect Lamb, the Savior and the sacrifice for the world, He is completely Man and completely God, and He is sitting on the right hand of the throne of God. He did not come to this earth to be considered a peaceful, pacifistic, hippie prophet. Jesus does not accept that from us.
Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother’….Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
Matthew 10: 34-39
Don’t get me wrong, Jesus is gentle and kind and humble, He came to the earth as a servant and sacrifice to the world, He loves us and He wants to give us peace in Him. But that doesn’t mean that we’re supposed to fit His teachings into our own little ways of living as if He was just a great thinker. He wants us to do His will, put Him first, worship Him alone and praise His Holy name, because He is God.
My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works from the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.
A great example of who Jesus is and one of the most beautiful passages in the Gospel is regarding the woman with the jar of expensive perfume. The Bible speaks a great deal about the poor and our duty as the body of Christ to humbly serve others and to love the least among us. But Jesus made certain to emphasize that His presence was above everything else.
The woman took the perfume and lovingly poured it on Jesus to honor Him. The disciples got upset and argued that she wasted it and she could have sold it for money to donate to the poor.
But Jesus said,
Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.
This is a beautiful moment, because Jesus knows that He is all that we need, whether poor or rich, weak or strong. Our human condition is something we will always deal with in this life, but Jesus is all that matters. I don’t think this is a concept that Mother Theresa, Ghandi, or Buddha put forth about themselves. And I don’t think this, along with most of what Jesus truly said, fits into the spirituality narrative at all.
The other thing about trying to classify Jesus as a great teacher is that it just doesn’t make sense. You can’t take pieces of Jesus that you believe are honorable, but deny the other parts. Jesus is either the Son of God, or He was a liar and a crazy person.
There is a great sample in The Reason for God by Timothy Keller where he quotes an interview that Bono from U2 gave about this very thing.
The interviewer Michka Assayas asked,
Christ has his rank among the world’s great thinkers. But Son of God, isn’t that far-fetched?
Bono puts it beautifully:
No, it’s not far-fetched to me. Look, the secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: He was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets, be they Elijah, Muhammad, Buddha, or Confucious. But actually Christ doesn’t allow you that. He doesn’t let you off that hook. Christ says, No. I’m not saying I’m a teacher, don’t call me teacher. I’m not saying I’m a prophet. I’m saying: “I’m the Messiah.” I’m saying: “I am God incarnate.” And people say: No, no, please, just be a prophet. A prophet we can take. You’re a bit eccentric. We’ve had John the Baptist eating locusts and wild honey, we can handle that. But don’t mention the “M” word! Because, you know, we’re gonna have to crucify you. And he goes: No, no, I know you’re expecting me to come back with an army and set you free from these creeps, but actually I am the Messiah. At this point, everyone starts staring at their shoes, and says: Oh, my God, he’s gonna keep saying this. So what you’re left with is either Christ was who He said He was–the Messiah–or a complete nutcase. I mean, we’re talking nutcase on the level of Charles Manson….I’m not joking here. The idea that the entire course of civilization for over half of the globe could have its fate changed and turned upside-down by a nutcase, for me that’s far-fetched…”
C.S. Lewis put it this way:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse…You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
It’s just not possible to take the parts of Jesus that you admire and toss the other parts away.
Above all, I think the thing that is most bothersome to me about misusing and diluting the message of Jesus and following this fluffy spirituality is that the people who do are the kind of people who truly do seek peace and want to walk in the light.
But Jesus is the light of the world, the only way to save our souls, the only way to achieve peace, serenity, harmony, balance, shalom. He does not belong in a group of inspirational people, He is not just a great quotable, He demands all of us.
I am the way and the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.
But of course Jesus is not the other extreme either. He is not a religion. He is freedom, He is grace and truth, He is our wonderful Counselor and Immanuel – God with us.
“Jesus cannot be liked. You either kill Him or crown Him.” – Timothy Keller
“You can have all this world, just give me Jesus.“