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.
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.
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.
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.