Why Was Jesus More Effective on the Streets Than in the Church?
A cursory glance at the Gospels explains a few simple, obvious things about the life of Christ and His earthly ministry ‘effectiveness’. One of those is that Jesus was more accepted and more “effective” in general society than in the synagogue (His ‘church’).
I put ‘effective’ in quotes because I believe Jesus Christ did everything that He came to do, completely, fully and perfectly. The lack of alleged effectiveness had nothing to do with a lack in Christ but more a lack of willingness of hearts in people. The Sower cast the seed wonderfully; the condition of the soil was the issue.
Let me explain.
Jesus was and is a Jew (spoiler alert). From everything we can surmise He went to synagogue and temple consistently and faithfully. He was fully integrated into Jewish culture and loved His people desperately. He would have been taught as a little boy in the Scriptures (Lk 2:21) and done all the same things as the other Jewish boys (albeit, He was a bit of a prodigy – Lk 2:41-52). My point is this; Jesus was in church a lot and knew all the leaders personally. He moved around a lot as a young child but settled down soon thereafter in the very small town of Nazareth. Although the local leaders may not have known much about His Messianic origin, nor His deity, they would have certainly marked Him out as a dedicated, good representative of Judaism.
No one could say a bad word about Him (Jn 8:46). No one had a story about the time that He swindled them in a carpentry business deal, or caught Him making moves on his girl. Perhaps He was quiet and withdrawn and no one knew much about Him, but I doubt that. Every indicator I see is that He was very charismatic and easy to talk to and relatively outgoing. Yet no one had a reason to not like Him.
People like that do really well in church sub-culture. They are heralded as the bar for all other kids to become like. They are picked for every leadership role. They are teacher’s pets and constantly encouraged as the ‘marrying type’. He may not have been the best looking guy, but He was strong, confident, healthy, likeable, funny, a good story-teller and a lover of people. From every indicator He should have been a synagogue super star.
Maybe He was at first. Maybe that’s why (Lk 4:14-15) He was welcomed so easily to the front in Nazareth to read the Scriptures that day. Maybe He was the super star that He should have been. But then things changed.
He questioned the status quo and brought in new ideas, fresh revelation from God and insight direct from the Father that upset the apple cart. He messed with culture. He disturbed the ‘natural order’ of things. He challenged authority. He sought to change world views, mindsets, perspectives, identities. He launched a revolution and no one was having it.
The streets were different.
I’m not naïve enough to think that culture doesn’t rule the streets as well. One would simply have to walk down the streets of Downtown Sacramento with a sandwich-board sign over their shoulders that read, ‘Evolution is stupid: Darwin needs Jesus’ or ‘The Inconvenient Truth is Jesus is the Only Way’ to know that there is a collective public opinion. What I’m saying is that on the streets there are different sacred cows than among the religious. If one is going to launch a religious revolution, the first ones to the fight are the religious leaders that hold the scepter.
This is not a church-bashing article (I don’t like those very much. I’ve grown weary of them.) This is a probe into questioning the intent of our hearts in the church and what we are willing to let God do in us and through us.
When Jesus walked down the streets He brought hope. The cripple received desperately needed assistance. The outcast was looked in the eye. The poor were told that they mattered just as much as the rich. The revolution worked in their favor. They were on the receiving end of the regime change. Jesus was a breath of fresh air.
Even in the semi-contentious, quasi-religious exchange with the Samaritan woman at the well led to her feeling more free and empowered. Even Pilate’s irritation at Christ’s resistance to bow down to his authority ended with him being quite certain that Jesus Christ was likely on the right side of the argument. Herod still got his taxes, the soldiers didn’t see any combat and the sinners didn’t feel attacked.
On the streets, Jesus healed freely and performed miracles constantly; in church He didn’t (Mt 13:58; Mt 21:14-15). On the streets He had thousands of followers; in church He didn’t. On the streets He was heard; in church He wasn’t. On the streets He received palm branches and heard ‘Hosanna’; in temple He didn’t.
Yet Jesus was leading a revolution on the streets just as much as He was in the church. The difference was the immediate power structures He threatened and the assumptions that He challenged.
My allegation is not that the streets had better hearts than the church, it was that the very institution that God put here on earth to hear Him and convey His heart and will to the world stopped listening and allowing Him to move. It was this rebellion and hard-heartedness (rejection), which triggered the temporary rejection of the Jews and the opening of the kingdom to the Gentiles. Did it have to go that way? Couldn’t the Jewish people fulfill the job they were given, to be the salt and light of the world and be the blessing to the whole world they were designed to be (e.g. Abrahamic Covenant)? Did God HAVE to go around the Church/Synagogue/Temple to get His will done? To be heard? To be received as King?
My fear as a pastor in modern-day America is that we are falling into the same rut with an added dimension. Just as then, God receives less and less room to move in our churches, yet today, we show up less and less on the streets as well. Where is God free to show up? Where will He be glorified? Where will He be accepted and heard?
Can we take Jesus back to the streets? Will we?
Can we allow more room for Him to be present and active in our services? Will we?
I want to be a kingdom-builder, not simply a kingdom-protector.
I want to hear fresh revelation from my King.
I want to walk the streets in power and authority, showing the world that God loves them and sees their needs.
Who’s with me?
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