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Monday, September 30, 2013

Jesus Is Polarizing

Have you ever noticed how the more popular a person becomes, the more divided the world is on the love/hate scale towards that person?  LeBron James.  Justin Bieber.  Barack Obama.  The world loves these people.  The world hates these people.  Just mentioning these names likely made some of your hearts swell and others’ blood boil.

Jesus Christ trumps all of them.  No one in the history of the world has, does, and will continue to cause more polarizing emotions than Jesus.  Why?  Because He was, is, and will continue to be so loved.  As I wrote last week, even non-believers call Him the most influential person to have ever lived.  Millions of songs have been written about Him.  For Him.  Billions have praised Him.  Worshipped Him.  People followed Him everywhere He went.  No human being in the history of time has been written about more.  Buildings have been resurrected in His name.  Billions of dollars are given blindly (some would say) every year in His name.

That’s going to rub some people the wrong way.
·        Somehow, even His birth sparked hatred.  King Herod wanted Christ dead when he heard that the King of the Jews had been born (Matthew 2:3-16).
·        As an adult, Jesus wasn’t accepted in His own hometown (Luke 4:24).
·        There were times when He would arrive in a town and would not be able to perform many—if any—miracles due to the population’s lack of faith (Mark 6:5-6).
·        Religious leaders were getting so jealous of Christ’s popularity that they basically stalked Him, trying to catch Him doing something wrong (Mark 3:2).
·        The “chief priests and teachers of the law” spent their time plotting ways to kill Him (Mark 14:1).

A perfect example of the polarizing effect of Jesus is shown in back-to-back verses.  Christ had just brought Lazarus back from death in the beginning of John 11.  Verse 45 shows that many were amazed by His actions and believed.  Others, in verse 46, ran and tattled on Him to the Pharisees.  Fearing what this meant—what kind of repercussions it could bring—they began to plan Christ’s death.

See…what He said scared them.  He claimed to be the Son of God.  He claimed to be God.  He claimed that the only way to Heaven was through Him.  He claimed that He could forgive sin.  Those kinds of statements tend to annoy some people…especially rulers, government officials, and—yes—religious leaders.

Ultimately, they murdered Jesus because of His claims (John 19:7).

The thing is, it didn’t stop there.  Not only did they want Christ dead, they wanted all proof of His miracles dead too (John 12:9-11).  They had to rid the world of all evidence of what He had done.  These rulers, government officials, and—yes—religious leaders were so intimidated by Jesus Christ that they began putting anyone who believed in Him to death.

How can someone garner so much hate that the leaders of the world decide to brutally beat, torture, and execute Him the way they did?  At the same time, how can someone garner so much love that once He was gone, Christ’s followers continued to spread His word—willing to be murdered in order to do so?  Does a happy middle ground even exist?

Apparently not, as those powerfully polarizing emotions still exist today.
·        Christianity has become the most persecuted religion in the world.  Over 200 million Christians (which is roughly 10 percent of the global population) are socially disadvantaged, harassed or actively oppressed for their beliefs.  What’s more is that Christianity is facing elimination in its own backyard.  Between half and two-thirds of Christians in the Middle East have departed or been killed over the past century.  In 1990, there were over 1.2 million Christians in Iraq, but today there are fewer than 200,000 Iraqi Christians (Clark).
·        Fifteen European countries currently have laws that effectively restrict the freedom of religious practice and speech of Christians (White).
·        Across the globe, one Christian is being killed out of religious discrimination every five minutes (White).
·        On Sunday, September 22, nearly 80 people (including 7 children) were killed and over 100 wounded (including 37 children) when a suicide bomber in Pakistan walked into a church (NY Times).
·        Despite all of this, the love for Jesus continues in a powerful way.  Christianity remains the world’s most followed religion, with over two billion believers (roughly one-third of the earth’s total population).  It is the most popular faith in six of the seven continents, and in both of the world’s two biggest economies, the US and Europe (Brown).

While we in America do not have to fear death for our faith, we face a different form of persecution.  Here, we are shamed.  We are mocked.  We are insulted.  We are labeled.  We may not be physically executed for believing in Jesus, but we are socially murdered.

Christ told us that we would be hated because of Him (John 15:18-21).  He warned us that our love for Him would cause division in our relationships.  With the world.  With friends.  Even with family.  God’s way usually contradicts the world’s (Matthew 5:3-5).  Living the life of a Christian often means that you speak and act in a way that’s strange by societal standards.

Want to make it awkward in almost every room you’re in?  Start talking about Jesus.  The room will fall oddly quiet.  People will not look you in the eye.  They’ll fidget.  Some might even leave.  Mere mention of His name brings that kind of response from many.

Arguably, the worst of these is the fact that Jesus is polarizing within His own church.  We constantly disagree—sometimes to the point of verbal quarreling—about such trivial things as drinking, length of hair, music styles, clothing styles, speaking in tongues, where we sit in church, female leadership, swearing, who we should vote for…the list is endless.  Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:10: “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.”  In short—we don’t have to agree on every tiny thing so long as we remember the big picture: Christ is Lord of all.

Bottom line: Jesus is the most polarizing figure in the history of time.  He splits everyone into two camps: The ones who believe and follow and love, and the ones who try to explain Him away.  You are for Him or you are against Him.  You love Him or your back is turned to Him.  You are hot or you are cold.  There is no gray area.  There is no middle ground.  There is no lukewarm.

Many of Christ’s earliest followers left Him (John 6:66).  They thought that as the Messiah, He would conquer the world.  They thought the riches He was promising would mean literal money in their hands.  Some of His lessons were harsh and not easy to hear.  Basically—they jumped on the bandwagon when they thought following Him would make them wealthy and powerful—then bowed out when He said things that they didn’t like.  Jesus then turned to the other twelve and asked if they were leaving too (verse 67).  He wasn’t trying to make everyone mad, He was just giving the truth.  What’s awesome is that Peter gave the best answer.  “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life” (verse 68).

You are following Christ or you are not.  If you’re not…who are you following?  The world?  Yourself?  Jesus is the way.  The truth.  The light.  If you want eternal life, Jesus provides the only path.  Many will make fun of you.  Being a Christian isn’t the “cool” thing to do.  It’s not a popular choice.  That has to be okay.  As Francis Chan says, “Can you find one place in the Bible where the majority was right?  When in history has the majority been right?  When has the right thing ever been popular?”

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