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Was Jesus a Good ‘Evangelist’?: More from Jay Lemke on the Ol’ Bait ‘n’ Switch

6 July, 2009

Here’s a follow-up to the previous post pointing up Jay Lemke’s fantastic Modern Reformation article, ‘Church: It’s Time to Stop the Spiritual “Bait and Switch”.’ Lemke urges the church to stop doing things even good secular communicators realize isn’t a good idea: drawing people in with one thing and then giving them something entirely different. Lemke ends the article by asking, What did Jesus do? Was Jesus good at evangelism, in this bait ‘n’ switch sense it’s often carried out today? The answer strikes to the very heart of the meaning of the Bible, of Christianity, of the gospel:

‘I love how Jesus handles such things. A huge crowd comes up to him after he has fed them with all of the fish and bread. He now has them in the palm of his hands. They will do anything he says. He can start a huge movement with all of these people. He can start a megachurch with a basketball court, a bookshop, and a café. And then he does something that many in today’s church would have advised against. He starts to tell people that he is the bread of life, that he came down from heaven, and that whoever believes in him has eternal life. In other words, he is dogmatic, black and white, and more than a little offensive. He tells them that only through him can they know God, and they begin to grumble and are frustrated by this hard reality. They begin to walk away.

Does Jesus run after them? Does he tell them to try him again, that they didn’t really understand? No. He allows them to leave, turns to his twelve disciples, and asks: “Do you want to leave as well?” Peter, bless him, says the only thing that we should also be saying: “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.”

It seems that Jesus had little interest in baiting and switching. He told people the truth, even if it meant turning people away. It seems that Jesus lost more followers than he gained. In fact, by our modern standards, Jesus could be called a poor evangelist. He never had someone fill out a card — or even some papyrus — to show how many people had “made the decision to follow him.” Indeed, when the rich young ruler comes and asks him the way to eternal life, Jesus doesn’t make it easier, but even more difficult. It seems that Jesus is always making it more difficult to follow him than the modern Christian church would make seekers believe. Why does Jesus do this? Why does he say things like: “Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect”? Or, “Sell all your possessions and give to the poor”? Or, “Only the meek will inherit the earth”? He is saying all of these things to drive us to the cross, to help us realize that he is the only one who can help us. Only by realizing that we can’t do what he says (I’m not that meek), will we turn to him and trust that he has already done all of these good works in our place. Martin Luther called it the “great exchange” — all of our sin put on Jesus, and all of Jesus’ goodness put on us.

The Bible is not about improving ourselves, but about how Jesus — and Jesus alone — sets us right before a Holy God who is angry with sin. It is about how we did nothing to deserve any of this love from God. In short, it is the most amazing and beautiful story ever told.

The church must stop turning Christianity into something it’s not. Only then, when people really understand how much trouble they are in from God and how much he sacrificed to save them, will they turn to the Bible as the 66 love letters it really is, and truly enjoy reading the Word of God.’

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