Let me tell you a story. It's a happytime story...
Mark 1:21-28; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Psalm 111; Deuteronomy 18:15-20
It's a fairly normal Saturday in Capernaum. Everyone is on their way to church. This is nothing new; everyone usually went to church. On this day, a new Rabbi was going to teach, someone who had just started his ministry. The most amazing part: he's a local. Sure, he grew up in Nazareth, about 20 miles away, but he's lived in Capernaum for a few years. People know him; people recognize him. Until a little while ago, he was just the local carpenter.
The time came for church to start, and everything went pretty normal, at least until it was time for the Rabbi to teach. He stood up, and the people couldn't believe what they were saying. Usually when Rabbis would teach, they'd mostly quote other Rabbis. This teacher was different. It was as if he didn't need to quote other people, like he knew exactly what needed to be said. The other Rabbis took their authority from other Rabbis; this one seemed to have authority that was all his own.
And then the strangest thing happened. While he was teaching, a man stood right up (he looked a little crazed, like he had an evil spirit) and screamed, "What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are -- the Holy One of God!" Now this is not how things go in church. You don't interrupt a teacher when he's teaching, and you definitely don't scream out at the top of your lungs.
Yet even through the shocked gasps, the Rabbi wasn't really all that flustered. He just said, "Shut up! Get out of him!" Then, almost before he finished speaking, the man started to shake, and started to scream even louder than he did before. Then, as quickly as it began, it was all over. The man was quiet, and everyone was amazed. You could hear a hundred different conversations all asking, "What is this? A new teaching--and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him." Even when the service was over, people were still talking. They told their friends, neighbors, and so on, until the whole county knew about this new Rabbi.
How would we react if, in the middle of a sermon by a guest preacher, someone stood up and started acting this way? And then, the guest speaker, unfazed tells the man to stop talking and leave, and the man has a seizure and wakes up all better. It's weird, and we'd probably talk just as much as the people of Capernaum did.
So, great. We have a wonderful teacher, with different authority from the other teachers. He can command evil spirits to do what he wants. Grandtastic. So what? Well for too many people that's as far as it goes. Jesus is cool. He does neat stuff. Woo hoo. Doesn't affect my life at all. That's, at best, how the world and even a good number of people who call themselves Christian view Jesus. Neat guy, said neat stuff, doesn't really matter anymore.
At this point, I hope a few of you are mildly offended. You should be! This is that attitude that the world perceives our Lord and Savior with. And you know what? It isn't their fault. This impression came from somewhere, and it's in large part from Christians who treat Jesus as either a cosmic vending machine or an old guy who gave us a get out of hell free card.
I'm as guilty of this as anyone. Too often I reinforce people's stereotypes of what a Christian looks like because I'm afraid to say any different. Instead of, say, offering to pray for someone out in the community when they tell me they're feeling sick, I give a somewhat useless, but friendly, "Hope you get feeling better!"
I'm sure we all find ourselves in the same place. Whether a fear of ridicule, or a fear of offending, or even a fear we can't even explain, we're nervous when it comes to telling people about Jesus. I can't explain why, nor do I know how to fix it, but we are. The challenge I think we have is to really look at how we live our lives in relation to Jesus. Is Jesus just a cosmic vending machine with a get out of hell free card, or is he is our Lord and Savior who loves us and wants us to follow him in loving others.