Today’s Reading: John 8
In Christian Letters to a Post-Christian World, renowned English writer, Dorothy Sayers, aimed some powerful words at religious people who have watered down the Son of God and made Jesus accommodating:
The people who hanged Christ never accused Him of being a bore; on the contrary, they thought Him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround Him with the atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified Him “meek and mild,” and recommended Him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.
As we have seen throughout our 260 Journey so far, Jesus is anything but those things. Four times in today’s reading, Jesus refers to Himself by using a common Old Testament title used only for God: I AM (see verses 12, 24, 28, and 58). That’s why this chapter opens with the religious wanting to stone a woman caught in adultery and end with them wanting to stone Jesus. Look at the ending of the chapter with me:
The Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.” Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple. (John 8:57-59)
By Jesus using that phrase for Himself, He clearly meant for them to understand that He was saying that He was God. And the religious were not having it—thus the stones. They needed the stones to “declaw” the Lion of Judah and make Him a manageable kitty cat, as Sayers said.
Consider this revelation U2’s lead singer Bono offered: “Religion can be the enemy of God. It’s often what happens when God . . . has left the building.” Or to say it another way . . . religion is what is left when God leaves the room. That is the truth!
Many years ago, a woman entered a Häagen-Dazs store in Kansas City to buy an ice-cream cone. After she’d ordered she turned and found herself staring directly into the face of Paul Newman, the famous actor who was in town filming Mr. & Mrs. Bridge. He smiled and said hello. His blue eyes were even bluer in person, which made her knees buckle. She finished paying and quickly walked out of the store. When she’d regained her composure, however, she realized she didn’t have her cone, so she turned to go back in and met Newman who was coming out.
“Are you looking for your ice cream?” he asked her.
Unable to utter a word, she simply nodded.
“You put it in your purse with your change.”
When was the last time the presence of God made you forget what was going on around you? Made you forget the dishes? Made you forget the ballgame? Made you forget the bank account? Made you forget . . . where you put your ice cream cone?
Christian writer Donald McCullough writes on how cavalier we treat the privilege of standing in God’s presence Sunday after Sunday: “Reverence and awe have often been replaced by the yawn of familiarity. The consuming fire has been domesticated into a candle flame, adding a bit of religious atmosphere, perhaps, but no heat, no blinding light, no power for purification.”
Author Annie Dillard echoes the sentiment:
Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should latch us to our pews. For the sleeping God may wake someday and take offense, or the waking God may draw us out to where we can never return.
And in John 8 when the religious heard this man speak about Himself by using the Old Testament term for being God—I AM—four times, no one thought of strapping in and putting on a crash helmet because they were talking to God. They just decided to try to stone Him. But that didn’t work, so they crucified Him. Crucified the Great I AM.
We must be careful that we do not try to do the same. As Charles Spurgeon once remarked, “Nobody can do so much damage to the church of God as the man who is within its walls, but not within its life.” May that not be you and me.