Jesus the Hedonist

Pleasure

I know, I can hear the cries of “Heretic” floating towards me as I write.

But think for a moment. What motivated Jesus?

Love. The Joy set before Him.

Hang on – “Joy”?

 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:2

Yep. Joy.

There’s a pseudo-puritanical mindset in so much of the church (note the small “c”) these days. Much is criticized about what has become known as the “Prosperity Gospel”. There is something wrong when a large section of an organisation thinks that health and wealth are ungodly.

Jesus never said money was evil, and He never said poverty was Godly.

The concept of Jesus as a Hedonist, a pleasure-seeker, sounds crazy at first. But consider what Hebrews 12 is saying. His motivation for going to the Cross was the Joy set before Him.

Personally I find an onerous task more palatable if I can see what the outcome will be clearly, and that outcome is one I want. I started my degree with the idea that it would help me find employment in South Africa. I met some great people while I was studying, but as the time passed it became apparent that I would need more than a degree and experience to ever be employable in this country. As a result, the work toward the goal became ever more a battle than it had been when I began.

Jesus didn’t have that issue. He saw the Church and Salvation of Mankind beyond anything He had to endure, and it gave Him pleasure.

It’s hard to find a sense of humour in some of the stories about Jesus in the Gospels. He tells one woman He won’t give the children’s bread to the dogs – meaning her. Taken as words on a page it sounds hostile, even xenophobic in its tenor. But her reaction suggests it was something else. Did she see a twinkle in Jesus’ eye? What was His tone of voice and His body language conveying? If you look and see an “in” joke in their exchange it makes more sense. Christ came to save the World, not just the Jews of the First Century. That meant the Samaritans, the Romans, the Greeks and even the “Brexit” and “Bremain” campaigners. It even meant Trump and Hillary supporters.

And He found pleasure in the thought of saving mankind from death.

We have this image of puritanical Jesus walking serenely (but never smiling) with His hands folded around the peaceful pastures of Nazareth. It’s in classical art. The child Jesus clearly came out able to walk, talk and not soil a nappy.

Nope. He came out human. And one of the greatest gifts God gave humans when He designed us was a sense of humour and a desire for pleasure.

Consider sex for a second. God designed the human form as a sexual being. When I caught my dogs in flagrante delicto ten years ago it was clear that it was nothing more than a biological imperative for them. But for humans, God designed sex to be pleasurable.

Now we live in a world that has fallen far from God’s design. Consequently there are perversions of everything God created. Remember when God made humankind He described us as “Good”. And I’m reasonably certain that we weren’t re-designed after the Fall with sex organs that we could derive pleasure from.

God designed sex to be the ultimate act of intimacy between a man and wife. A way of expressing pure love and desire for one another. But that purity has been twisted beyond recognition by the World.

Look at the creation story in Genesis for a moment. Whether you believe it to be literal or a parable is immaterial for the purposes of this line of thought. God lays out creation, builds Eden and tells mankind where to find the gold.

Huh? What?

Now a river went out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it parted and became four riverheads. The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one which skirts the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good. Bdellium and the onyx stone are there.

Genesis 2:10-12

So God creates everything, makes a garden and places man in it, then tells him where the gold is.

Heaven is described as being paved with gold and giant pearls forming the gates. This is hardly austerity measures. God, it seems, like gold. And He has no problem with us having it.

Money is not the root of all evil. If it were then any amount would corrupt us. Love of money, however, is a root to many kinds of evil behaviours. When Jesus was saying about it being easer for a camel to get through the eye of a needle He wasn’t referring to some gate, but rather He was aiming a laser-sight at the Pharisees in the audience. Their greed and desire for public recognition is well documented in the Bible. Jesus was saying that these men who place so much emphasis on making money and gathering riches would not enter the Kingdom, not because of the wealth per se, but because gathering more wealth was their idol. Money was their god. When Nicodemus came to Jesus and asked what the price of a ticket to Heaven was, Jesus told him he needed to be re-born. Nicodemus later spoke up for the Apostles to the Sanhedrin. He was convinced by Jesus and his focus became Jesus – but it doesn’t say he gave up all his money. The rich sold their things to share with the poor so everyone had enough after the Church began to grow, but not because having things was evil. Rather it was because holding onto things that could feed their friends was.

The love of money, making it the centre of your life and finding it necessary to display how much you have is what Jesus meant when He spoke of the rich not getting into heaven. He never cared how much currency someone gave, all that mattered was the heart behind the gift, and perhaps the percentage it represented. The rich man dropping gold into the offering gave less to him than the value of the copper coins dropped by the widow meant to her.

But I bet Jesus felt like dancing when He saw the widow’s faithfulness.

He searched out pleasure. He opened avenues for us to have a share in that same pleasure. We’ve kind of lost the plot in the West when it comes to that. Pleasure has become associated with excess. Not what Jesus was about. But I don’t think God cares if we drive a Reliant Robin or a Ferrari. I had a Harley-Davidson a few years ago, and the look on the salesman’s face when I told him it was in fact just a well carved lump of metal with a wheel at each end was priceless! I’ll buy another one day I’m sure, but right now I have a chinese 250cc bike that does the same job. And when I sell that on it’s still just a motorized lump of metal with a wheel at each end. For me, the pleasure is in riding it – because I can relax and it gives me time to sit with God. I’ve ridden motorbikes on and off for over 20 years, and it’s always been the same for me. I loved commuting to my last job on my 250cc bike because at the end of the day I could spend half an hour riding home with my thoughts on nothing but the creation around me and marvelling at the majesty of the sunset, the sheer size of Table Mountain and that no matter how bad the day had been the majesty of God’s creation, cool air on my face would give me pleasure and I could arrive home less grumpy than I’d left work.

God gave me that pleasure.

Jesus had the Joy set before Him as His pleasure.

What’s yours?

Seeing Despite the Clouds

Clouds

A dark cloud is no sign that the sun has lost his light; and dark black convictions are no arguments that God has laid aside His mercy.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon
There’s been a lot of turmoil recently in the world. Brexit, the bombing in Istanbul, continuing political turmoil in America. A lot of problems.
The World loves problems. It loves to try to block out the Light by throwing clouds across the sun, or rather trying to hide the Son.
CS Lewis said “A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.” There’s a lot of truth in that, as with most of what Lewis wrote. The man had a deep and profound wisdom that I hope in another 30 years I might have 10% of.
But the World hates the Light. It wants to try to dim God’s Glory by throwing clouds across our path. As I’m writing this there is a heavy rainstorm going on outside my window, rattling on the roof and a draught blowing through a crack in the window-frame. It reminds me of another storm.
Jesus had just fed 5000 men, plus their women and children. Conservative estimate may put the total at 12-15000 hungry mouths. And He did it with 5 loaves and 2 fish.
Pretty amazing stuff. You’d think it would make an impression on His closest friends.
I love the disciples. They see such an amazing miracle and then a storm on a boat and they forget exactly who it is they walk with. Clouds cover the event from less than a day before. They get focussed on the immediate situation, the storm.
The clouds.
They lose sight of the One they are walking with.
Peter does a bit better. They all see Jesus walking across the surface of the sea through the storm towards them. The boat is sinking, but Peter realises there’s something more here. He cries to Jesus.
Now something I’ll write about another time is how to ask Jesus a question. It’s too big to go into here in detail. Suffice to say Peter generally before Pentecost tended to open his mouth for the express purpose of changing feet. “If it is you” he calls to Jesus.
“If”.
What’s Jesus going to say? “It’s not me Peter, stay in the boat”? He puts God on the spot. He opens up himself as well.
The storm rages on. The swell is swamping the ship. It’s sinking, and there’s nothing Peter can do to stop it. He’s a fisherman. How many times might he have lost friends to a sudden storm on the Sea of Galilee? Now it’s him that’s caught in one.
But for a blinding moment Peter sees through the clouds and gets out of the boat. In the middle of the sea. And he walks to Jesus. Only when he begins to see the clouds, when he takes his eyes off the Christ, does he begin to sink.
I’ve never “begun” to sink. I step onto the surface of the swimming pool and I don’t “begin” to sink.
But Peter begins to sink. The clouds of the storm have distracted him, but he is still aware of the Son behind them – so he calls to Jesus again. And they walk back to the boat together, over the surface of the water.
What clouds are in your life? Finance? Sickness? Unemployment? Losing a home? Unhappy marriage?
The worst thing you can say to someone who’s depressed is “just pull yourself together”. The clouds of that illness overwhelm to the point that they are blinding.
We lose sight of the light behind the cloud. It’s easy to do.
About 17 years ago my dad was diagnosed with Glioblastoma, a particularly nasty brain cancer with a life expectancy of around 12 to 16 weeks after diagnosis. Treatments available at the time didn’t increase the time he had left, they simply made his last weeks miserable with nausea, drug induced diabetes, and so many tablets it took my mum aver an hour to get them all into him. He’d just be settling from the breakfast dose when she had to start with the lunchtime round.
Dad and I were close. He was my closest friend, my Spiritual brother. We had played and prayed together for most of my life. Now I was losing him. The clouds closed in around me, and despite having been a Christian for almost 15 years at that point I lost sight of the Son behind the clouds.
Depression followed, and brought 4 suicide attempts – a much longer story that I’ll share another time. The clouds swallowed me because I forgot how to look behind them.
Just a few days before he died there was a total eclipse in England. We went up to the top of the local hill where the parish church had stood until arsonists destroyed most of it a few years before. It was an amazing experience, watching the moon’s shadow cover the sun. Birds went to roost, flowers closed, New Age hippies rattled tambourines (much to everyone’s annoyance) but not once did anyone – even the smallest children – doubt that the sun would come out again.
We can deal with an eclipse, but we think the world is ending because of a cloud!
I see death and suffering on a daily basis in South Africa. It’s hard seeing someone come through when they just got the news that they have cancer, or HIV, or whatever the reason is they come to see us (I work at a medical practice). It’s part of the reason I’m getting out from working in that environment. It’s secular. I can’t turn to them and remind them that the Son is still there and on their side. We see many different religious beliefs as well as agnostics, and it tears me up inside to not be able to shake them sometimes and rattle the clouds away even if just for a moment.
I do get the chance sometimes, and that’s very rewarding. But I need more.
We are called to be the Light to the World, to let Jesus shine through us. But then we wrap ourselves up in the same clouds everyone else is covered by and try to hide so we don’t “offend” them.
It’s time to offend some people. Ever notice how the World doesn’t think twice about offending Christians? A conservative estimate suggested a couple of years ago that there are over ten times the number of committed Christians in America than homosexuals – not taking into account those who claim to have a foot in both camps.
Ten times the number.
Where are the “Christian Pride” rallies? Where are the vocal Christians? And I’m not referring to the cranks and crackpots lining up to endorse assorted political “leaders” (and I use the word under advisement), but the voice of the real, grass-roots Christians who can see through the clouds and smokescreen the media whips up.
How have we reached the point where the darkness is overcoming the light?
Clouds blow over. The sun is always there, just behind them.
Look past the clouds in your life today and see the Son shining, reaching out to you.
I’d like to hear: What are three things we can do to help us remember that even when the clouds are there, the light shines through?
And please, no “read the Bible more” or “pray harder” type answers.
Blow the clouds away!