Critics of Jesus

illustration of Pharisees doubting Jesus

Our natural tendency is to dismiss our critics while gravitating toward those who praise us. While this may be beneficial to our psyche, there may be worthwhile things in the words of our critics. In this lesson, we’re going to look at five statements made by critics of Jesus. These five points are also things anyone, friend and critic alike, should be able to say about us as His followers.

No One Ever Spoke Like This Man

On the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus stands among the multitudes in John 7:32-39, and calls all who thirst to come unto Him. He claims to be the source of eternal life and salvation foretold by the prophets. The multitude divides over His statements, but, in verse 45, when the Pharisees ask Roman officers why they did not arrest Christ, those officers answer, “No one ever spoke like this man.”

Titus 2:8 tells us we should possess sound speech. What can people do with their words? How often is is said of us that our belief in God and Jesus is evident in the way we speak? Everything that comes from our mouths should reflect a Christ-centered attitude, so others can feel the same about us.

See How He Loved

In John 11, we read of Lazarus’ death and Jesus raising him from the dead. In verses 34-36, Jesus is moved to tears. Many present speak among themselves and say, “See how He loved him.” We know the new commandment of John 13:34 — that we love one another as Christ loved us. His love was evident and open, so it could be seen by all, even His critics.

In his epistles, John calls on us to love in deed and truth rather than in word only. Can those who see us day to day see the love we have? Do we love sacrificially, compassionately, and openly, so we are known as a loving person? Christ was unashamed to demonstrate His love for Lazarus, and our love for our fellow man should be so evident.

The World Has Gone After Him

In John 12, Jesus makes His triumphal entry into Jerusalem prior to His arrest and crucifixion. In verse 19, the Pharisees look on this and say, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.” Jesus influenced all around Him, and we are capable of doing the same.

In Romans 1:16, Paul says he is unashamed of the gospel as the means for salvation to all. Later, Paul calls on his readers to imitate him as he imitated Christ. Paul knew the example he set for others. Just like Paul, we can be so influential to those around us, both by our words and our actions.

I Find No Guilt in Him

In John 18, Jesus is now being shuffled through trial after trial. Pilate questions Him. Herod questions Him and returns Him to Pilate. They speak of Jesus’ kingship and of truth, and in the end, Pilate goes back to the Jews and says, “I find no guilt in him.” Both in the eyes of man and the eyes of God, Christ was without guilt.

We don’t have to give in to sin, and Christ showed us that in His life. In I Peter 2:21-24, Peter says we are called to follow this example, and Hebrews 4:14-16 assures us that Jesus our High Priest knows the temptations, sorrows, and pains we face; yet He never sinned. We are indeed fallible creatures, but we do not have to succumb to that fallibility. We can live as blamelessly as He.

Truly This Man Was the Son of God

In Mark 15, Jesus is hanging on the cross, and darkness descends upon the land. Some bring Him vinegar to drink in His pain, and Jesus gives up His life as the temple veil tears. In verse 39, a centurion looks upon Christ and says, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”

Both the letters to the Romans and the Hebrews impress upon us that we are adopted sons of God, heirs with Christ to the promises of God. Galatians 2:20 calls on us to crucify self in our lives and live as Jesus lived. We are sons of God, and our attitudes and conduct should reflect that relationship that others may say the same of us.

Worship in Social Media

Photo by Thom Weerd

We’ve been engaged in a series called “Worship 24 x 7,” and we’re looking at how to live in context of the Bible guiding every aspect of our lives. In this lesson, we’re going to examine how we live spiritually while engaged in online activities. How do we present ourselves as Christians in our modern culture of online communications?

Two caveats before we begin:

  1. I’m restricting this lesson to how we behave online socially. We could go into whole separate lessons about moral conduct online in the context of file-sharing, downloading pirated media and games, and visiting questionable websites; but those discussions can wait until another lesson. The focus of this lesson is social conduct.
  2. This lesson is not coming from someone who is afraid of the modern web or who sees it as inherently evil. I don’t get confused every time Facebook changes the shade of blue or moves a button. I know my way around social networking and have fallen into and climbed out of many of the pitfalls we’ll be talking about.

Potentials and Dangers

Social networks are amazing things. What began in the nineties as forums for small groups to congregate has blossomed into a mainstream phenomenon where parents, children, teachers, grandparents, and entire masses of people can reach out to each other and connect more easily than ever before. Through a variety of services, we can share pictures, bookmarks, links, hopes, fears, ideas, and so much more with our new online communities. The potential for communication is greater than in any point in history, for a few taps of our thumbs can take those messages and share them with the entire world.

We build up our own pages to ourselves where we feel a sense of empowerment behind the anonymity of the keyboard. We are not, however, truly anonymous. People actually see these things we post and share — but we forget that those things reflect on us as Christians. See, along with this great ability to share ideas and knowledge across the globe comes a false sense of security and bravado. We aren’t talking directly to someone. We don’t see how our words and our comments affect others, so we grow bold in the things we share or approve of online.

A Reflection of Our Hearts

What we need to remember is that everything we do online reflects upon our character. When I post a tweet, it reflects my character. The same is true when I compose an email or forward one sent to me by someone else. It’s true when I send text messages, when I share someone else’s material in some way, when I write comments under a status update or blog post, and when I quote someone else. When I write, share, or endorse something online, it demonstrates where my heart is — perhaps more accurately than any other venue because of that perceived anonymity I allow to embolden me.

What I write is a form of speech. It is verbal language put into a visual medium, and the Bible has much to say about our verbal conduct. In Luke 6:43-45, Jesus speaks of fruit born by good and bad trees; every tree is known by its fruit. He then draws a parallel to our speech in relation to our hearts. If we are pouring out negative and hateful things from our mouth, what does that say about our hearts? In the parallel account of this lesson in Matthew 12:33-36, Jesus goes on to say that we will be judged by our careless words. Few settings are a greater temptation for careless words than when we are online. It’s so easy to simply hit a button without taking a second to think about how this will reflect on our Christian walk.

Ephesians 4:25-29 asks us to put away falsehood in our lives, to control our anger, and to only speak such things that are beneficial for encouragement. Then there’s James 3, where the apostle writes about the power of the tongue, and he paints a picture that portrays our tongues as nearly uncontrollable. James asks why we think we can curse our fellow man with the same mouth we praise God. He calls it a contradiction, and that same contradiction exists when we post mean-spirited, hateful, and unmerciful things online. That’s where the wisdom spoken of in verses 13-18 comes in. We have to be wise about what we post.

Some Practical Tips

So what are some things we can do to avoid tarnishing our reputations as Christians online?

  • Think about who is seeing your posts, especially on Facebook. Let’s avoid airing out relationship problems, becoming involved in personal arguments, and otherwise imposing our dirty laundry on others.
  • Is what you’re about to share even true? This is especially dangerous when sharing someone else’s post or forwarding an email — substantially more so when the topic skews political. Before you go sharing a juicy bit of outrage, you should see if it passes the Snopes test. Then you still probably shouldn’t share it even if it does.
  • Ask yourself what Jesus would endorse. I’ve seen Christian hit the Like button on statuses and groups that convey hateful attitudes, that portray misplaced priorities, that even use coarse language. Think about it, do you think Jesus would endorse a group called: “If you’re going to burn our flag, wrap yourself in it first?” Are we (like I Timothy 5:22 warns against) laying our hands hastily on others?
  • Ask yourself if your post is encouraging. Honestly, I know which public figures you hate; I know what laws and bills make you bitter; I know which celebrities get under your skin; I know which groups make you angry. It’s so easy to be negative, but we need to try to avoid it and rather share things that edify and encourage.
  • I’ve already touched on this, but texting or tweeting foul language is no better than saying it. And, no, I don’t give free passes for abbreviations. Let your words (and acronyms) reflect your spirituality.
  • Don’t post things that require disclaimers. “I don’t approve of the hateful way this person says this, but he makes a good point.” No he doesn’t. If it has to be done coarsely, rudely, or hatefully, then it’s not worth sharing, and the points made probably aren’t all that good at any rate.
  • If you wouldn’t be willing to say something you’re writing to someone’s face, then don’t write it. I’ve received messages and emails from Christians that simply turn my stomach, and I’ve never heard them talk that way in conversation. Hold your emails to the same moral standard as your spoken conversations.
  • Finally, consider the focus. What does your Timeline say about your priorities? Mine says I’m about 10% spiritual. That’s not good, but it unfortunately does better than a number of Christians online. Would anyone know you’re a Christian by the focus of your online conduct?

Teach the World

We can go on and on about the dangers of social networking. Some of you won’t even touch sites like Facebook because you’ve seen the harm that can come through them, but there is so much potential for good. There is so much potential for seeing opportunities to help others in need. There is so much opportunity for edification and encouragement. There is so much opportunity to lean upon one another for support in ways that would have been impossible in the past. Let’s not squander these opportunities by misusing our time online, and let’s not lose out on opportunities to encourage because we are afraid.

Most importantly, social networking gives us the opportunity to share God’s word like never before. My Bible study blog gets visits from all over the world. Our congregational site and blog gets visited by people all over the world. We’ve been visited over 8,000 times in just the last week and over 50,000 times since the new site was launched. When you post to Facebook or other social networks, you are reaching out to friends and family who may live hundreds or thousands of miles away, who might otherwise only know you through annual Christmas letters. The potential is astounding. The opportunities are endless. Let’s use them well. Let’s teach the world. Let’s make each other better. Let’s save souls. Let’s be living sacrifices to God even when we network online.

lesson by Robert Smelser

Salt and Light

Carl Bloch's painting depicting Jesus sitting before a crowd and delivering the Sermon on the Mount
The Sermon on the Mount
Carl Bloch, 1890

In the Sermon on the Mount, right after Jesus covers the Beatitudes, He turns His attention to the way we present ourselves to the world. These verses are the natural outcome to our living as He describes in the first twelve verses of Matthew 5. In those verses, Jesus tells us to strengthen our relationship with God through humility and a hunger for righteousness. Then He teaches that we should take God’s grace and forgiveness and share them with others in our own conduct. This will lead us to stand out from the crowd in our priorities, our attitudes, and our conduct.

Matthew 5: 13 – 16:

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Salt and Light

Salt preserves, and light guides. Both are usually used to improve our lives. In contrast, both can be unpleasant if used incorrectly or overmuch. Neither do any good if they are hidden, and both require us to take action if we’re going to make use of them. Here, Jesus doesn’t talk about how these things can be used improperly; instead He focuses on salt and light as good things.

With salt, it’s no good if it loses it’s flavor. For us, that means that we are unhelpful when we cease to behave in the ways Jesus teaches us to. When we stop hungering for God’s word, when we stop showing mercy and forgiveness, when we let the negativity of this world turn us sour — then we stop profiting God’s purpose for us.

Light provides sight and it is necessary for life to grow. Light guides, and light travels. If we are that light on the hill, then that means we are going out and guiding others to Christ. We’re opening their eyes and then helping them grow in God’s word. His light shines through us in a way that others would want to learn more about our God.

Seasoning and Illuminating

What can you do to help do these things? How do we flavor and preserve the world around us as well as providing light and life? The first and easiest application is to make Jesus part of our everyday conversations. We should be sharing Him with others — not in a hostile argumentative way but in way that opens paths and allows others to see God’s light in our words. This then may lead to further study that allows for nourishment and growth.

Then, our actions must agree with our words. In the Beatitudes, Jesus doesn’t stop at merely hungering for righteousness. It’s not enough to know God’s word. We must live in a way that shines a light toward God. Our conduct must always be gracious, peaceful, and merciful. We should be keeping ourselves pure of heart and reputation. The way we treat other people testifies to the extent we have allowed Jesus to change us.

Worship helps us keep our flavor, and it energizes us to keep shining our lights. Even correction can help us grow stronger. In Acts 18, when Priscilla and Aquila take Apollos aside to help him better understand baptism, we see him then fellowshipping with other Christians and spreading his knew knowledge to others. What’s important in this correction is that Priscilla and Aquila come to Apollos, they correct him gracefully and peacefully. This grows, rather than extinguishes, his light.

Our words and our conduct travels far and wide. These can season others’ live. They can help point others to God. They can grow others’ faith. One example of this is in Acts 16 when we meet Lydia. Here, one woman hears God’s word from Paul and opens her heart. She then shares that word with her family, and God’s word would continue to travel from there. This is a repeated pattern in the New Testament — one person responds to the gospel, and that leads to others who lead to further others. It’s the simple way God travels from one person to the next.

Living to Guide

Sometimes we lose our spiritual seasoning. Sometimes we hide our lights. When we do, we need to seek forgivenesses, forgive ourselves, and then get back to work. We are God’s mouths in this world. We are His arms and His legs. He trusts us to do His work in this world so that others may find Him. We do that by seasoning the lives of others through our behavior and then shining God’s light for them. We use this light to guide others to Him as a beacon of hope in a world so full of darkness. Let’s work together to light our lights and season our conduct so that we can point others to God.

lesson by Alan Miller