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~ Testifying to the Faith ~
“Jesus said to them, ‘I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you...Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.’ He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
“On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’ Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, ‘Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe...’ From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
“’You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve” (John 6:53, 57-59, 60-63, 66-67, NIV).
Here’s a possible “modern” response to Jesus’ question: “No, Teacher, but the executive board you appointed is concerned about the future growth of the ministry. The mass resignation of your students will severely impact negatively on incoming funds needed to maintain our needs and our outreach. Furthermore, this substantial drop in our numbers will only serve as fuel for the Pharisees to bolster their contention to the people of your ministry being bogus and too left wing to be of God. This bad publicity will hurt our outcome goals even more than the loss of funding.
“In all due respect, we recommend a reassessment of our outreach strategy. We need to find ways to bring back into the fold the many who left and to keep the few that are still with us. Our organizational image must also appeal to those who are not yet committed to other teachers.
“We recommend a more tolerant and inclusive presentation. We must take into account the sensibilities of the people and how easily they are offended. Their fragile self-esteems must be enhanced so they feel good about themselves, instead of being called into self-reflection on their unfulfilling life direction and spiritual and emotional needs and obligations.
“It would further our cause and outreach if you would refer to yourself as only one of the many wonderful roads to union with God. More people would be enticed and find our ministry acceptable if you acknowledged and gave equal respect to the teachings of others, saying something like, ‘The words I have spoken to you join with the many words of others who speak eloquently about spirit and life.’ Also consider this way of putting it since your first one really offended the people: ‘Feeding on me will help nourish you, empower you, and facilitate your quest for self-actualization. I love you enough that I would offer my own flesh and blood to strengthen you on your journey. Just remember, what counts in the end is that you journeyed with your best intentions and efforts.’ Don’t you think, Teacher, that this is what the people really need to hear from us, and that this would help them feel better about themselves and our cause more?”
A satire like the above makes the destructiveness of compromising who Christ is and what He is about more clear. Many of our Christian institutions in first world nations have moved into this more palatable presentation of the Gospel. In these times when Christ is often presented as our “buddy” and “helper,” the deeply rooted biblical notion of “fear of the Lord” is defined as “deep reverence and awe”. This poignant declaration of Christ is explained away or side stepped: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28, NIV). Jesus’ words point to a revelation of who God is, the Almighty Creator of all, the All-powerful Source of all.
In these times of corporate outreach and strategic marketing, the Gospel tends to be relegated to beginning with a ten second prayer asking Jesus to forgive you and save you from hell, assurance that you are now “guaranteed” heaven, followed by Scripture and doctrine memorization and presenting your life as a good “testimony.” This testimony or presentation may involve not smoking or consuming alcohol or illicit drugs, dressing modestly and keeping “sexually pure” until marriage; going to church services Sundays and mid-week; having weekly Bible studies alone or with others; listening to primarily Christian music and radio stations; never using profanity; supporting your local church and ministries financially and, occasionally, helping out with your hands and feet. People who keep this up for months and years may feel they have attained a spiritual life and are being true witnesses of Christ to those around them. Overlooked is the reality that fundamental and devoted believers of many religions provide the same quality “testimony” to others about their faith.
The thirteenth chapter of Matthew records many of Christ’s descriptions of what “the kingdom of heaven is like.” “As far as the east is from the west,” the kingdom of God transcends religious and moral practices. The kingdom is pervasively spiritual and infinitely more powerful than any of us can comprehend or fully experience on earth. It is not about what we usually think it is. When Paul quoted Isaiah (64:4) in 1 Corinthians 2:9, he was referring to “God’s secret wisdom...revealed to us by his Spirit”: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” “Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:16-17, NIV).
The six hundred miles of Roman catacombs used during the early Christian persecution for refuge, study and worship are still adorned with symbols of the kingdom and inscriptions of faith. In contrast, here is an epitaph written for a man who died young, representative of the pervasive disenchanted spirit of the Roman culture of that time:
“Live for the present hour, since we are sure of nothing else.
“I lift my hands against the gods who took me away at the age of twenty
“though I had done no harm.
“Once I was not. Now I am not.
“I know nothing about it, and it is no concern of mine.
“Traveler, curse me not as you pass,
“for I am in darkness and cannot answer.”
Too many people today feel the same way.
“’You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve.
Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words
of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God’”
(John 6:67-69, NIV).
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
Prayergear.com © October 10, 2003
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