Monday, July 17, 2017

Come to me… Is this the gospel?

This is not exactly a continuation of an earlier post… well, maybe it is. Or it could be. I’m using it to explore the idea of Matthew 11:28-30 as a gospel invitation.

What was I doing in this Bible lecture? Well, actually I know how I got here—I tried to get a date with Doreen, but she got me to go to “Alpha” with her, then I found myself reading the… the New Testament for crying out loud!

Then I was hooked—not just on her, but on the subject; I mean I really wanted to understand all this. So when she invited me to a talk about the Good News of Jesus for Today (approximately), it sounded interesting enough that I didn’t even mind when she couldn’t make it at the last minute. Anyway, the lecture was starting.

“Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ This invitation is the centerpiece and summary of Matthew’s gospel.”

That confused me. I mean, was that it? I heard several times in college and grad school that “All have sinned…” which I never liked much, but this guy was talking about a yoke?

“What makes us weary and burdened?” he went on. “What makes me weary is trying to manage other people’s opinions of me.” I could relate to that one.

“And what burdens do we carry?” he continued. “Jesus isn’t talking about rent and groceries. But there are burdens we really shouldn’t bear, things we worry about—things I worry about—that we need to set down,” he said. I started making a mental list, which to be honest didn’t include world peace or a cure for AIDS; the issues, I’m embarrassed to say, were mostly about me. Affording a house, the next round of layoffs in the rumor mill, this sort of thing.


“So what did you think, Ray?” Jeff asked over a beer. I’d met him at Alpha, and wasn’t sure if he was like me, or if he already believed most of this.

“It’s more appealing than ‘You’re all sinners,’” I said.

“Yeah,” he said. “I mean, I don’t disagree with all that, but ‘Come to me’ is more, you know, inviting.”

OK, he did believe most of that. So I wondered aloud why he was here.

“I’ve been asking myself on and off the past few years, ‘What is the gospel?’ I mean, when Jesus preached the good news about 2,000 years ago, people were mostly really happy to hear it. What message would appeal that way to my friends and neighbors? Some years ago, I actually spent time knocking on people’s doors and asking them what they thought about Jesus. And if they let me, I’d explain the good news that although they were sinners, Jesus died for them. Results were, as they say, mixed.”

“Wow! You never struck me as one of them.” He chuckled a bit—he didn’t seem embarrassed at all. “So you still believe that, but you’re wondering how to market it better? I mean, ‘Come to me…’ and ‘All you guys are sinners’ sound like they came from different books.”

“Jesus did say ‘Come to me…’ but he also said that looking on a woman to lust after her was committing adultery in your heart. And that being angry at someone was like killing them. He also said to love your enemies. When I put all that together, I get the picture that we are all sinners. So he effectively said that ‘sinners’ thing too.

“Jesus healed a paralyzed man, but before he healed him, he said to him, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ This got him into some trouble with the religious authorities of his day. He definitely did it on purpose.”

I remembered that story. “Didn’t he say something like ‘So that you guys know I have authority to forgive sins’?”

“Yes he did! He made a big deal about having that power. Here’s how the thing about sinners ties in. If I don’t know that my sins are forgiven, I’ll be compelled to try to manage people’s opinions. I don’t think it’s possible to escape the addiction to ‘impression management’ unless we know our sins are forgiven.”

“Whoa. If I’m honest, I’d have to say I do a lot to give the impression that I’m cool or smart or whatever… though at the same time I try to tell myself that I shouldn’t care so much what everybody thinks. And it is tiring, like the guy said.”

“We like to think we’re too sophisticated for this, but we all have a kind of primitive fear of being found out. That’s why it’s good news that Jesus has the power to forgive sins.”

“So when Jesus says, ‘Take my yoke’ and ‘learn from me,’ he’s deliberately leaving some parts out—doing a kind of head fake?”

“Well, he doesn’t give the entire dissertation in every sound bite.” Did Jeff sound a little defensive? But he had a point.

“Fair enough. But if somebody hears the ‘summary and center-piece’ and tries to live like Jesus and learn from him, they’ll get frustrated that it’s not actually possible?” So much for all those guys who think religion is a crutch; this one at least was looking like a cast-iron bitch.

He paused a moment. “When Peter Drucker was a boy, his piano teacher told him, ‘You will never play Mozart the way Arthur Schnabel does. But there is no reason in the world why you should not play your scales the way he does.’ Drucker’s point was that a lot of practice is required. We can’t learn the Jesus way like we learn which sorting algorithm works best for which dataset. It’s a lifetime of walking with him. That’s why he said ‘yoke’; he didn’ say ‘teleprompter.’

“Jesus isn’t a textbook; he has a different way of teaching. Do you know the parable of the sower?” I didn’t. “Jesus says the kingdom of God is like this strange guy who throws seed everywhere.”

“Everywhere? Like not just in his field?”

“Right. On the road, on the rocks, in the weeds—very inefficient. The text says that some people came around him to ask what it meant, and Jesus said, ‘The secrets of the kingdom are given to you…’”

What? “Who’s the ‘you’ there?” I wanted to know.

“That’s exactly the point. Most of the audience said, ‘Great sermon, Rabbi,’ then went home and forgot all about it.”

“But the few who didn’t?” I asked…

“Right. The ones who said, ‘Uh, Rabbi, what did you mean?’ Those were the ones who heard the secrets of the kingdom.”

“So if you ask and keep asking, you’ll get it?” I think Jesus said something like that, too.

Jeff was nodding. “You know how every hotel room in America has a Bible in it?” I did, and not just in the USA either. “Probably 99% of the guests never even open it.”

I saw where he was going. “But anyone who reads it, and keeps reading to try and understand it and live it…”

“They get the secrets of the kingdom.”

Fascinating. The words of the parable say one thing… “So the parable is an invitation to do something, not just an explanation of interesting facts.”

“Exactly. He’s not giving us a dissertation or a topo map or a textbook. Instead he’s inviting us into a relationship. An apprenticeship.”

“So when he invites people to ‘learn from me,’ as he says,…”

“That’s apprenticeship,” Jeff completed the thought. The parable—well, its interpretation at least—also invites us to apprenticeship. But ‘learn from me…’ is more straightforward.

“So what do you think, Jeff?” I wanted to know. “You’ve been thinking about what the gospel is for today; do you think that’s it? That Jesus is taking apprentices, and if we sign up, we can get healing from our addictions and burdens?”

He was nodding. “Hey, that’s pretty good! Mind if I use that?”


Of course, the gospel is more than that (why is Romans 1:17 good news?). But as far as why it might be interesting to someone who doesn’t know Jesus, is it all that bad as a summary?

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