Among young parents in certain circles, the debate continues to rage: to immunize or not to immunize? It goes something like this: should little Johnny get his shots, which will inoculate him against various diseases, or should we opt out of the shots, because the immunizations can cause all sorts of problems. I’ll stay out of this debate in this space, but in the spirit of full disclosure, we just got a puppy, who of course is the cutest creature yet created, and Toby is getting his shots.
I came across one of the saddest stories in the Bible the other day, and it made me wonder if it is possible to be inoculated against Jesus. The brief account is found in Mark 6:1-6, where Jesus, after gaining quite a following, pays a visit to his hometown of Nazareth. He’s not going for a quick visit to see Mom and get some laundry done; he’s going to do what he does now that he’s left the carpenter life behind: to preach the gospel, heal the sick and drive out demons.
It all starts out pretty well, as many gather to hear him teach, but the people can’t quite get over the fact that they knew him. When he was a baby, they used to change his diapers. When he was a kid, they’d help him up after he skinned his knee. When he was an adolescent, they celebrated his coming-of-age. As an adult, they employed him to repair their roofs. They were all there at Joseph’s funeral. So here’s Jesus sweeping into town with his entourage (who won’t stop talking about the amazing miracles he’s done), but isn’t he the kid we used to make fun of? They are scandalized. They are offended, because they have been innoculated against the real Jesus.
As you probably know, immunizations are a fascinating bit of medical science (disclaimer: I’m no scientist, but I usually paid attention in school). As far as I remember, they inject you with a weakened virus, so your body’s immune system can fight it off easily enough, so when the real-deal virus is encountered, it will be ready to go, and all will be well.
Spiritually speaking, the people from Nazareth were inoculated against Jesus. They got a “weak” version of Jesus (or at least they thought they did). They got used to their idea of Jesus. Their Jesus was safe. Familiar. So when the real-deal Jesus comes along, they fought him off. The real Jesus didn’t fit into their preconceived notions of Jesus, and it was spiritually deadly for them. One of the saddest, and even most surprising, verses in the Bible finishes the story: “Jesus could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief.” (Mark 6:5-6)
The result of this amazing unbelief is unnerving. In the stories immediately preceding this one, we see Jesus calming a deadly storm, casting out a legion of demons, healing someone chronically ill (without even knowing!), and finally raising a girl from the dead (just in case you’re a little too familiar with Bible stories, can you picture what it would be like having your child die from pneumonia and then having her come back to life again?). Jesus clearly has power over creation, the spiritual realm, health, and even life and death. So it is shocking that the people’s unbelief could hinder Jesus’ power.
And yet we experience that all the time too. Jesus still has amazing power, but so often, even those of us who believe in him, are inoculated against Jesus. We may believe, but we’re spiritually weak. Like the folks from Nazareth, we have an incomplete version of Jesus in our minds and hearts. A weak Jesus. A twisted Jesus. There’s way too many false-Jesuses running around out there (and in here).
See if any of these versions of “Jesus” sound familiar: Tiny Baby Jesus (he’s cute, but never left the manger), Santa Claus Jesus (here to give you whatever you want, as long as you’re “good”), Vending Machine Jesus (you give him something, you get something back), Blond Hair, Blue Eyed Jesus (sanitized and Westernized for your protection), TV Preacher Jesus (with blindingly-white teeth, feel-good preaching, and always asking for money), Mean Schoolteacher Jesus (ready to whack you with a ruler at any moment), Hippie Jesus (everything’s cool, man), Hipster Jesus (nothing’s cool, man), Gun-toting Jesus (here to protect you from the Romans, Russians, and whoever else you don’t like), Crucifix Jesus (still on the cross, waiting for you to do enough good deeds so he can come down), Leave-it-to-Beaver Jesus (complete with white picket fence), or even Your Local Religious Professional Jesus (heaven help us all!).
If you’ve been immunized by these or the many other false-Jesuses out there, you’ll have a much harder time encountering and experiencing the amazing power and love of the real Jesus. You’ll have a much harder time trusting Jesus if you have a false belief of who he is. Thankfully the real Jesus is a healer, and can heal even our minds and hearts from being inoculated against him. You may be harboring one or more of these phony Jesuses (everybody does!). Perhaps it is time kick them out of town, and get a fresh start by encountering the real and true Jesus. Go to the source! Read all about him in the true stories of his life we find in the Bible. Get some help by coming alongside others who are striving to know and love the real Jesus. Pray my favorite prayer, which is borrowed from a random guy in the Bible who encountered Jesus: “I believe! Help my unbelief!”
Jesus continues to do powerful things here in Bennington. I pray that Jesus won’t be amazed at our unbelief, but many would be amazed at our great faith in our great God.
Bob Wiegers is the Pastor of First Baptist Church of Bennington, Vermont. His usual false-Jesus is probably Hippie Jesus. What’s yours?
The FBC spring tag sale is being held on Friday May 4th from 10am to 2pm and Saturday May 5th from 10am to 1pm. Saturday is $3.00 bag day. Admission is free both days. The sale features spring and summer clothing, household goods, children’s toys, books, fabrics, etc. Clean usable donations for the sale will be accepted until Friday April 27 and can be dropped off at the church annex from 10am to 2pm Monday-Thurs and from 10am to 1pm on Fridays. Please no TV’s or computer equipment.
“Life is for the living. / Death is for the dead. / Let life be like music. / And death a note unsaid.” -Langston Hughes
Some of us are overly-fascinated with death, and some of us try to ignore it altogether. But, like taxes, it is a certainty (although I do know a guy who has apparently avoided taxes for a while, but I’m not so sure how that’s going to turn out). Oh, I can hear you from the other side of the page: “Come on now Pastor Bob, it is finally Spring, so can we talk about something a little more cheery than death?” A fine idea, dear reader, and I shall get there soon enough, but according to my weather app, it is currently 32 degrees out, and the lawn is still under a blanket of bright white, so we’ve got at least a little more winter to endure. Not to mention the fact that just this morning some of us said farewell to one of the dearest of souls you’ll meet.
Even with our cultural obsession with youth and physical beauty, the language of death pervades: “My car battery died…my phone died…the game is now in sudden-death…” And you can’t go to the movies or turn on a show without some sort of life-or-death struggle on full display (like Black Panther, or This Is Us, for just two examples). So, for as much as we’d like to avoid it, death is here to stay. Or is it?
Christianity is all about God’s free offer of eternal life, so I find it incredibly ironic that our favorite symbol is a means of grisly death: the cross. Many of us wear a tiny one around our necks. I carry a little one in my pocket most days. Just this morning we sang about “The Old Rugged Cross.” But can you imagine how horrified we would be if our neighbors or weirdo relatives centered their religion around an electric chair, a guillotine, or even a noose? “Oh, our dear sweet niece Sally, we’re so proud that you’ve passed this milestone in our faith, so we got you these lovely electric chair earrings. Look, they even light up!” The symbol we cling to isn’t far from that, except that it has been sanitized and gilded over the last 2,000 years.
So why would our eternal-life faith emphasize a grisly-death so much? Perhaps because death is baked into the nature of reality. Yet there are hints of hope everywhere. Have you ever noticed that nature itself goes in cycles of life, death, and resurrection? Summer, fall, winter, and spring. Daytime, evening, night, and sunrise. Full moon, waning, new moon, and back toward full. Plants thrive, fruit, drop seeds into the earth, wait in the darkness, and spring to new life. Or a tree falls and its nutrients are returned to the earth for the new growth to thrive. History repeats itself, as our families, communities, and institutions reflect the same cycle: growth, abundance, decline, death, and then a new start. Stories and legends of life, death and resurrection abound. The phoenix rises from the ashes. This is all well and good for the world around us, but it seems we’re stuck in the death part of the cycle. Will it ever end?
There is hope, but there’s only one catch: you’re going to need some help. In fact, you’re going to need a whole lot of help. Like many of us, I’ve sat in far too many waiting rooms and beside way too many hospital beds, dreading what the doctors might say next. I’ve been to a lot of funerals, and the dearly departed always stays dead. After a while you come to realize how helpless you are on your own. But help is always there. Some might call it a Higher Power. Some might call it Divine Intervention. But his real name is Jesus.
The day we call “Good Friday” was the beginning of the end of death itself. When Jesus (God himself in the flesh) died a grisly death on the cross, he died the ultimate death for us. Humanity can’t break the cycle of death on our own. In fact, we got ourselves into this mess, and continue to do so, when we turn from God, who is the author and source of life. We’re stuck in the cycle of death without hope for resurrection on our own. But God loved us so much that he sent his son Jesus to die the ultimate death, to break the cycle and bring us into resurrection life. Whoever receives this gift of eternal life by believing in Jesus is welcomed home into life as the un-dead. Our bodies may die, and we continue to experience life in a broken world. But those who trust in Jesus have a present and eternal hope, and have a new life to live now and forever. Our souls will live forever, and someday hopefully soon Jesus will return to bring resurrection life to all his people, and all of creation too.
Death itself has been defeated for us. This is what makes Good Friday so good, and Resurrection Sunday even better.
Bob Wiegers is the Pastor of First Baptist Church of Bennington, which is honored to host this year’s Bennington Community Good Friday Service on March 30 at 7pm at 601 Main Street. Many area churches will be participating, and all are welcome to join us.
Maundy Thursday (March 29, 5:30pm)
A very special service in conjunction with the Turning Point Center’s monthly recovery dinner and FBC’s Mercy Street service. We are welcoming our friends in the community to join us. FBC members are invited to bring potluck food for the meal together. We will also have a worship service around the table featuring communion and acoustic music. All are welcome!
Good Friday (March 30, 7pm)
We are continuing the tradition of the Bennington Community Good Friday Service. Multiple church communities will be participating, and we are honored to host. Join us in worshiping our Savior!
Easter Sunday (April 1)
Easter Breakfast potluck starting at 8am. All are welcome!
Worship Service at 9:30am to worship our resurrected Savior. Featuring a baptism service and welcoming new members, and special music.
Easter Egg Hunt after the service.
Bring along your friends, family, and neighbors!
Many Bennington-area churches will be participating in the annual Bennington Community Good Friday Service. 7pm on March 30. All are welcome. Bring your family and friends!