Sunday, May 29, 2011

Christianity and the American Dream

When the Pharisees first began to plot against Jesus, they revealed an interesting characteristic seen in many American "Christians" today. This was recently brought to my attention as my pastor preached on John 11.

Starting in verse 45 it reads, "Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. 'What are we accomplishing?' they asked. 'Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.' Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, 'You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish." (John 11:45-49)

The Pharisees saw Jesus as a threat to their position and power in society. They were afraid his influence would continue to draw people until the Romans saw him as a force to be stopped. They reasoned that the entire Jewish nation would be punished as a result of this one man. Enter High Priest Caiaphas with a simple (heroic) plan. Just kill the rabble rouser! Country Saved. Problem Solved.

Jesus is so often parallelled with sacrifice. His death on the cross was the ultimate sacrifice. The story in John 11 shows that the Jewish leaders were willing to have Jesus sacrificed, but it was for their own gain. They believed he must die so they could keep their power and prestige. Their purpose was entirely earthly in nature, and neither their goal nor their means were just.

The scary thing is that these guys were religious. They knew all the laws, and yet they didn't know God himself. They followed all the rules, but they were still enemies of Him. In the end, they saw Jesus as a sacrifice that would preserve their earthly goals, and they were willing to allow an innocent man to suffer injustly for their personal glorification.

The truth is that Jesus did not die so we could follow our own agendas...he died so we could have himself. He did not suffer the wrath of the Father so that we could reach our goals, and he didn't die to save us from temporary afflictions. He died to save us from eternal punishment in hell.

If we are to truly accept his sacrifice for us, it means we must also accept his purposes for our lives. This is something many American "Christians" struggle to accept. The American Dream and the whole of our society says that life should be about YOU...your happiness, your purposes, your comfort, yourself. Jesus' kingdom says otherwise. He says that if you are going to follow him, you need to lose yourself. (Luke 9:24) Jesus did not sacrifice himself so we could go on living as we please. He did not die so that we could make him an add-on while we "do our own thing." He gave up his life willingly so that we could give up ours. The Christian life is a dying life. It means dying every day and sacrificing ourselves not because we have to earn God's pleasure, but because we already have his pleasure.

If we really understood what happened to us when Jesus died and rose again, and if we really knew him and trusted his Word, we would see that the pursuit of our agendas is really missing out on true fellowship with Jesus. It doesn't make sense in light of makes sense in light of the rest of America. Shouldn't we be concerned?

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