Monday, April 1, 2013

“Us” and “Them”

Easter Monday

Acts 11:19-26  Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that took place over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, and they spoke the word to no one except Jews. But among them were some men of Cyprus and Cyrene who, on coming to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists also, proclaiming the Lord Jesus.  The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number became believers and turned to the Lord. News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion; for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were brought to the Lord.  Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul,  and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for an entire year they met with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called "Christians."

Jesus was not a Christian.
When I make this statement either in my history class, or from the pulpit, I get looks of bewilderment from many who hear this. I can almost hear them thinking “What? Of course Jesus was a Christian.” I can hear the next comment which is something like “And what strange teaching is he going to give us now?

Well here it is folks: Acts 11 v 26 tells us that the first time that the followers of Jesus were called ‘Christian’ was in Antioch. Mostly they would have called themselves “Jesus-followers”, or “followers of the way” or more likely “students of רַבִּי שׁוּעַ   (Rabbi Jesus)”.  Jesus was not a Christian - Jesus was a Jew!

I suspect that the reason we want to think of Jesus as a Christian, is that he will then be ‘like me’. This attempt to make Jesus ‘in my own image’ has been a recurring temptation of every generation over that past 2000 years. It is only when I recognise that Jesus is unlike me, that I am able to love other people who are unlike me too. This was the example set by Barnabas, and then by Saul. These two good Jewish believers were able to embrace the Greek Gentiles with acceptance and joy,

The challenge for us is to show the love of Jesus to people who are not like us. I have found this to be my challenge of the past week. I am in Japan – a country where I do not understand the language, the culture, or the climate. It is frustrating to walk into a bookstore and not to be able to read a single book; it is even more frustrating to be finding my way through bus tops and train stations in a part of this country where English is not spoken. I am tempted to ask: “Why can they not speak a language I understand?”  The actions of Barnabas and Saul challenge me to stop trying to understand the Japanese people on my terms, and instead embrace them unconditionally with the love of Jesus.

Thought: Can your relationship with Jesus help you learn to accept ‘other’ people on their terms, and not yours?

Second Sunday of Easter
Partakers of Eternal Life
Scripture reading taken from A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants p.148



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