A Sweet Story
The Balaam story in Numbers 22—23 makes it clear that Balak saw Israel as something to be cursed and Balaam saw Israel as an opportunity to make himself rich. I wonder what weary Israel thought of itself just at that particular time? We know this: He who knew her, really knew her, knew her as the nation that had broken his heart for a generation in the wilderness and as the nation that would break it again and again. All the more remarkable, then, that he said of her (Numbers 24:5): “How beautiful are your tents O Israel.”
We don’t have to guess what the powers in Jerusalem thought of the NT church (Acts 4—5), of what the people of Ephesus who worshipped Artemis thought of the new people among them (Acts 19:1-41) or how they were received by the Gentile world. There are suggestions throughout the various NT letters that their opinion of themselves varied with their experience and, of course, at some levels it matters what the Church thinks of itself. But ultimately it matters only what God thought and thinks of her. She is what he says she is and not what society or the world powers think—not even what they themselves think (see the Lord’s remarks to the seven churches in Revelation 2—3).
So what is she really?
A clear description has been given of her from various sources that all combine and go in the one direction. Here’s how it goes often enough.
Jesus, that poor soul, was too high-strung for a world like this. He was a good man, gentle and grieved by the evil and suffering he saw all around him. He cared a lot about the poor and probably worked many psychosomatic cures. You know how caring people can do that for hurting hearts.
His sensitivity might even have unhinged the poor thing because he said things like he was the light of the world, that the dead would all arise one day when they heard his voice, that if people wanted life they would have to feed on his flesh and blood, that he was God’s unique Son and that if he was killed he’d rise again—things like that. (Of course, though his later disciples said he did, we can’t really be sure he said any of these things; but if he did we’re not to jeer, we should pity him because his sensitivity could easily have driven him harmlessly mad.)
When it came to his teaching—the material that makes sense, that is—we find his teaching matching his actions. It would be too much to say he was original for much of what he said he had learned from his Jewish heritage but his beautiful life would have added strength to his teaching.
In any case, it’s a hard old world and his people, especially the leaders, had had enough of him and for some reason that we can only guess at they did away with him. Sad as it is, like every other human he stayed dead and by now he has turned to dust in some unknown grave, but you know, he was dearly loved! So it’s as though someone wrote over his tomb: “Gone but not forgotten!” For indeed he wasn’t forgotten and his followers gathered together to remember him and keep his wise, gentle sayings alive.
We can almost hear them now as they shared his beautiful sayings with one another and anyone who would listen. “You remember how he used to say things like, ‘Love one another…treat one another right…live in peace…work out your differences between one another.’ Ah, yes, a dear gentle soul, we won’t soon see another like him. And may we having gathered together to fondly remember him all leave this place and be better friends and neighbours because as long as we do he’ll always be alive in the world.”
And that is how the Christian movement started. It’s (at its best) a vast number of people who wish to follow the teaching and lifestyle of that beautiful 1st century figure. We can safely ignore all the extraneous materials we find written about him and try to follow (most of) his central moral teachings because, after all, the thing that counts is how we are to treat one another in this life—the rest is irrelevant.
Indeed, a sweet story!
And I suppose that there are some who really believe it.
©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.
Many thanks to brother Ed Healy, for allowing me to post from his website, theabidingword.com.
I especially like today's post; Jim tells a tale that sounds good, but in reality has nothing to do with the heart of Christianity- Jesus as sacrifice for our sins. Sometimes its a good thing to think like this, but be very, very careful when you do. At this point, you might find it useful to open your Bible and turn to 1 Corinthians, Chapter 15:1-9 and read for yourself... truth!!!