A while ago, my wife noticed a bumper sticker on a car that read: “I’m the Christian the Devil and the liberal media warned you about!” Now this bumper sticker is obviously aimed at non-Christians. Even as a joke, as tongue-in-cheek, what kind of message does this convey to non-Christians? I get a number of underlying messages from this. One is this: FEAR ME. I am the Christian you should be afraid of. Don’t mess with me. But why should we be afraid of this Christian? Maybe I am the Christian who will stand up to you? Make you angry? Make you uncomfortable? Or maybe I am the Christian who will convert you? Judge you? Reveal your sins to you? Preach at you?
Whatever it is that we should be afraid of, one thing is in common to all of them – I think – and that is: POWER. I have the power to beat you, triumph over you, convert you, make you angry, judge you, etc. I have power to do something to you, so be afraid – I am the Christian they warn you about to stay away from. I am powerful – whatever that power is.
“I am powerful, therefore fear me.” This is not exactly a message we would automatically associate with Christ, would we?
Recently, during the Yom Kippur celebrations at York University, Toronto (where I serve) it was discovered that someone vandalized the cabinet that contained the Jewish sacred scriptures kept in the Meditation Room of the Scott Religious Centre by writing in marker a statement that says: “Jesus is the only true way to God.” Ignoring the possibility that this might be done by a non-Christian who is trying to simultaneously smear both Judaism and Christianity, which is highly unlikely for your average off-the-street graffiti writer, this is most likely an act by a Christian. What would propel a Christian to think they have the right to vandalize someone’s property, disrespect their religion, in order to proclaim their Christian belief? Is this really a “loving” act of evangelism? Or is this the act of the type of Christian the Devil warned the Jews about?
For my daily devotional readings, I read Marva J. Dawn’s Morning by Morning. On one of her devotions, she reflected on Revelation 5. In that biblical chapter, the apostle John describes his vision of a magnificent throne in heaven and an important sealed scroll in the right hand of the one seated on it. He begins to weep when it seems that no one is worthy to open the scroll to read its important contents. But one of the 24 elders around the throne comforted by saying: “Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” (Rev. 5:5) With such magnificent titles – Lion, Root of the mighty King David – and worthiness – he has “conquered” – one would expect a glorious appearance. We would likely imagine an Aslan-like lion coming forth with shining mane and intimidating presence to take the scroll. Instead, John saw a lamb, nay, a lamb that was slaughtered. A slain lamb is probably as far removed an image from a conquering lion as you can get. Yet the saints around the throne sing the lamb’s praise: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation…” (Rev. 5:9)
Marva Dawn reflects on this passage:
We are not at all ready for the appearance of this one who is called worthy, for he comes as a lamb, and not only as such a gentle creature, but also as a lamb that has been slain. …
Because of the glaring contrast between the names … and their actual fulfillment in the Lamb who was slain, we are forced to recognize this major theme of the New Testament in its entirety and particularly in The Revelation: the victory comes through sacrifice. …
Think what would happen if we would get this straight in our churches: victory is won through sacrifice. Could we aspire to … providing shelter for the homeless and meals for the hungry, … investing ourselves more deeply in the lives of the poor and the dispossessed to teach them skills, to help them find health care and jobs? … What would happen if God’s people would truly enter into the situations of our neighbors in order to bring peace and justice to the slums, tenement houses, ghettos, the emptiness of riches, the struggles of the physically or mentally disabled? …
Is our evangelism weak because we are not willing to submit our lives to the slaying and sacrifice that make true witness possible? To be followers of Jesus means that we are willing to suffer for others as he did. (Marva J. Dawn, Morning by Morning, edited by Karen Dismer, p.273; originally from Joy in Our Weakness, pp. 116-18, 120)
I wonder how much of non-Christians’ disdain for Christians and what passes off as Christian evangelism, and especially lately of Christian political action in North America, are rooted in the failure of Christians to submit to the sacrifice that makes true witness and true victory possible? How much of the political posturing by Christians, the pro-life rallies, the defend-traditional-marriage protests, are rooted in Christians following the image of a conquering lion rather than the lamb that was slain? How much of Christians’ sense of entitlement in our society rest on the laurels of lions past? How much of what passes off today as Christians standing up for the truth – like the above mentioned bumper sticker and the graffiti – are based on Christians acting more like lions than lambs?
Dawn, a woman who knows suffering intimately – she suffers from a host of ailments and disabilities – challenges us that to be followers of Jesus – Jesus who suffered, and died on the cross – means that we are willing to suffer for others as he did. That means, suffering not only for those we naturally love, but also to suffer for those who are, so to speak, our enemies – those whom we find unlovable, those whom we would not naturally be drawn to suffer for. Because that was what Jesus did: suffer and die for those who were, technically speaking, his enemies. What Jesus did NOT do was send a message of fear.
Where else do you see in Scripture this theme of victory through sacrifice?
Do you agree that this theme is not fully embraced and practiced in most churches today?