Podcast No. 12 is now available. It is the second of two on the subject of the Christian mind. It is called “Learning To Think Like Jesus,” and it is around 10 1/2 minutes long. To download it as an mp3 file, click here. To listen to the podcast now, click on the button below. This podcast is also archived on the “Podcasts” page of this blog. Thanks for listening.
Podcast No. 11 is now available. It is the first of two on the subject of the Christian mind. It is called “Has The Church Lost Its Mind?,” and it is around 7 1/2 minutes long. To download it as an mp3 file, click here. To listen to the podcast now, click on the button below. This podcast is also archived on the “Podcasts” page of this blog. Thanks for listening.
It was the beginning of the week of Passover, the most important Holy Day on the Jewish religious calendar. Whenever it was possible, Jews from all over Judea and Galilee would make the trek to Jerusalem to offer a sacrifice at the Temple and to eat the Passover meal in or near the Holy City. That was Jesus’ plan as well.
For more than a year, He had been making His way steadfastly toward Jerusalem, where He knew He would become the ultimate Passover sacrifice. He knew who He was. He knew He was the Messiah, whom the prophets had foretold, the one the people of Israel had been expecting for hundreds of years.
He also knew that He would be a different kind of Messiah from the one they were expecting. Before He could sit on a royal throne, He would hang from a rugged cross. Before He could enter Jerusalem accompanied by the hosts of heaven, He would enter Jerusalem astride the colt of a donkey.
Unfortunately, the crowds waiting to welcome Him would miss the symbolism. Their yearning for a conqueror who would overpower the forces of Rome and elevate Israel to a position of prominence among the nations of the world clouded their understanding and distorted their thinking.
The Messiah who came riding into Jerusalem would disappoint them. And many of these people who, on Sunday, cried, “Blessed is the One who Comes in the name of the Lord,” would, on Friday scream, “Crucify him!”
I think He anticipated their betrayal, and it broke His heart. Because in Luke’s account of Jesus’ Palm Sunday entrance into Jerusalem, he includes these words…
41 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. (Luke 19:41-42)
The word translated “wept” really means “loud wailing.” When Jesus saw the City of David, knowing that its religious leaders would soon be responsible for the gruesome death of the rightful heir to David’s throne, it broke His heart and provoked a gut-wrenching, blood-curdling moan that must have stunned all those within earshot.
The people who covered the road in front of Jesus with their cloaks and with branches they had broken off the nearby date palms wanted, so much, to see Him take the reins of power and establish Himself as their exalted King. But they couldn’t see the situation through Jesus’ eyes. They weren’t thinking with the mind of Christ. The cross and all its implications had no place in their mental picture of what a Messiah should look like.
I’m not so sure it is really all that much easier for us.
Oh, we talk “cross language” in church now. We wear crosses around our necks, either as jewelry or as the symbol of our office. We display the cross, and we reverence the cross, but I wonder if we seriously consider that the One Who died on the cross told us to be willing to follow His example.
In Mark 8, Jesus corrects Peter, in no uncertain terms, for suggesting that the Messiah might accomplish the purposes of God without suffering the humiliation of the cross. Then, after making it clear that Peter had come to his wrong conclusion because his mind was set on earthly things, not on the things of God, Jesus expands His instruction to take in a broader audience. Mark puts it this way…
34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his lifewill lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. (ESV)
Thinking like Jesus invariably involves the cross. Just as the cross loomed large in the mind of Jesus, it should also occupy a prominent place at the heart of our thinking as Christians. Just a few years after the crucifixion of Jesus, Paul wrote, in one of his earliest letters (to the Galatians)—
14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Gal. 6, NIV)
That word “boast” translates a word that really has no English equivalent. It means “to glory in, to trust in, to rejoice in, to revel in, to live for.” In a word, Paul is talking about an obsession.
We are often obsessed with ourselves or with money or fame or power. Paul’s obsession was the cross of Christ. But it wasn’t simply the cross as an object of humiliation and death that obsessed Paul. He didn’t fixate on the cross because of its gruesome role as an instrument of torture and execution. No, Paul was obsessed with the cross for what it represented in the life of Jesus… the ultimate act of obedience!
If there ever was a human being who did not deserve to end his earthly life nailed to a cross, it was Jesus. He was, after all, God in human flesh. He never uttered a hateful word, never entertained a selfish thought. And yet, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
And that, in a word, is the key to understanding what it means to have the mind of Christ… to think about things the way Jesus would. The essence of Jesus’ thinking was to know and do the will of God the Father. Even when it meant pain and humiliation and death on a cross.
That’s why I wrote in my last post that the contemporary American church has lost its mind… its ability to think and reason and make decisions consistent with the thinking of Jesus. It simply cannot be said that the controlling feature of the American Christian community is to know and do the will of God the Father. For most American Christians, faith is something to be used, not something to be served.
Jerram Barrs is a protégé of the late Francis Schaeffer, one of the most influential Christian thinkers and writers of the twentieth century. I heard Jerram Barrs speak a number of years ago, and at one point in his talk, he compared American culture and society with that of his native England and the European continent, with which he was familiar. At the time, he had been living in the US about ten years.
He reflected on some major differences between Europe/England and the US, so far as the outward evidence of religion was concerned. He noted that church attendance in England was only a fraction of what it is in the US. He was stunned to see police on special assignment to direct traffic into and out of the parking lots of larger churches. He observed that, unlike in England where relatively few new church buildings have been built since WW2, in the US, new churches seemed to be rising all the time. And he noted the proliferation of Christian colleges, Christian schools, Christian radio stations and TV networks, Christian bookstores, almost none of which exist in England or on the continent.
He concluded his comments like this: “America has far more of the ‘trappings’ of religion than does England and Europe; the church is far more in evidence here. But for all of its obvious Christianity, when I read your magazines and newspapers, when I watch your movies and TV programs and listen to your music, I conclude that American society, for all its religious embellishments, is hardly less secular, less self-obsessed, less narcissistic than the societies of Europe and Great Britain.”
In contemporary American culture, we are losing the battle for the Christian mind. Our values are screwed up. We worship our work, we work at our play, and we play at our worship.
If this is the sad state of affairs in the Christian church, is there anything that can be done to change the situation? Indeed there is. And it can be summarized in one word: Repent.
The Gospels tell us that Jesus, at the outset of His ministry, came preaching the message… “Repent, the Kingdom of God is here.” And John writes, in Revelation 2-3, that Jesus’ last recorded word to the churches of Asia Minor was that same word… repent.
As Jesus used the word, “repent” means “to think again; to change your way of thinking so that you see all of life from God’s perspective. Change your way of thinking about life and reality so that you distinguish yourself from the non-Christian world by the way you think.”
Or, as Paul wrote in Philippians 2:5…
Have the same mind as Jesus. Think about things the way Jesus would.
Which is to say…
Look at everything in light of the cross of Christ. Recognize that the cross represents the ultimate fulfillment of God the Father’s purpose for sending Jesus into the world. Be consumed by the message of the cross, which is that through it, because of it, human beings, separated from God because of sin, have the hope of reconciliation and peace with God.
Rejoice in the privilege of unqualified obedience to the will of God, of which the cross of Christ is the supreme example.
And even though most people will reject it, misunderstand it, or dismiss it as foolishness, lift it high, take it up daily, and never waver in your devotion to the cross. Even if it means that, some day, like Jesus, you might be nailed to it.
Perhaps you have seen it too… the bumper sticker which reads: Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.
A more serious take on the same theme would be the motto of the United Negro College Fund: A mind is a terrible thing to waste.
By “mind” I mean that part of us that distinguishes us humans from lower life forms—our capacity to think, to reason, to evaluate, to make judgments and form opinions. When, for some reason, we lose the ability to use our minds, we lose touch with reality, our judgment is clouded, our ability to perceive and understand is distorted. Yes, a mind is a terrible thing to waste.
It’s bad enough when a single individual loses the capability to think clearly and perceive realistically, whether through injury or disease or drug abuse or psychological and emotional trauma. When groups of people with the same or similar distortions in their thought processes and their facility to make judgments band together, they can form movements and create forces for evil that destroy lives and wreak emotional and physical havoc. As examples, consider the Nazis in WW2, or the Ku Klux Klan, or those folks from Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas whose intense hatred of homosexuals has so distorted their thinking that they disrupt the funerals of US military veterans.
Our ability to think clearly, to judge rightly, to perceive correctly is the most important part of who we are. Proverbs 23:7 tells us…”As a person thinks in his heart, so he is. Everything we do is a product of the way we think, the way we perceive reality, the way we form judgments and determine value.
That is particularly true when it comes to the church. But I fear that the contemporary Christian community, the church in America especially, has lost its mind. Here’s what I mean.
Christians are supposed to think differently from non-believers. Our system of values is supposed to be different. The standard by which we measure the merit of ideas and behavior is the law of God and the character of Christ.
When experts in the Hebrew law asked Jesus to identify the greatest commandment, he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.”
Now, be honest. Do you think most people, including most Christians, are serious about loving God with all their mind? How much time do we spend even trying to figure out what it means to love God with all our mind?
Then, in Romans 8, Paul wrote:
5 (T)hose who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. (ESV)
In his letter to the Colossians, Paul told the believers in that church:
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. (3:1,2 ESV)
Now, by that, Paul did not mean that Christians are to be, as the old saying goes, “so heavenly-minded that we are of no earthly good.” Rather, I think, he meant that our thought processes—the capability that God has given to each of us to think, reason, ponder, imagine; all of our faculties of perception, understanding, reflective consciousness; our ability to feel, to judge, to determine; all of these qualities that combine to make us who we are—should reflect the character of Jesus, our King, and the values of the Kingdom of God.
In fact he said as much, in no uncertain terms, when he wrote, in 1 Cor. 2:16… “We (believers) have the mind of Christ.”
And then, there is that instruction from Paul with which (for my Anglican readers) our Epistle reading for Palm Sunday, from Philippians 2, begins:
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.
That’s the New International Version translation.
The English Standard Version reads, 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. The New American Standard Bible renders it, 5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus. And the King James Version simply says, 5Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.
Taken together, these passages all focus upon the same idea. Christians are supposed to think like Jesus!
We’ve all seen those bracelets with the letters WWJD on them… standing for the question: What Would Jesus Do? I like them. I like to see people wearing them. I’m all for anything that reminds us that we have both the responsibility and the privilege of emulating the character and behavior of Christ as we live our lives in the midst of a non-Christian culture.
But it might actually be more accurate if those bracelets bore the letters HWJT–How Would Jesus Think?–since Jesus’ actions and behavior, just like ours, were the products of His thought processes. He acted the way He did because He thought the way He did.
When the followers of Christ don’t think like Jesus the King, the consequences can be severe. For instance, you may recall the Gospel reading which we (Anglicans) heard just a few Sundays ago, from Mark 8. The passage records Jesus’ question to His disciples, “Who do people say that I am? More importantly, who do you think I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the messiah,” and Jesus commended him for his discernment. But then, this exchange followed…
31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (NIV)
Peter, like most devout Jews in the early first century, was looking for a Messiah who would deliver Israel from the political, economic, and social oppression they had suffered as a nation, first under Babylonia, then Medo-Persia, then Greece, and now… at the time of Jesus and the Gospels… under Rome.
Peter was convinced that Jesus was the Messiah which the Hebrew scriptures had prophesied, and when he identified Him as such, Jesus commended him. But then Jesus went on to say that He would be tortured and crucified, and it was all too much for Peter to comprehend.
Messiah… crucified? How could it be? We can sympathize with Peter when the text says he took Jesus aside and began to “rebuke” Him. But then, Jesus makes it clear why Peter was confused. He was thinking like a regular person. And followers of Jesus who think like regular people are not thinking straight.
I’ll have more to say about what it means for Christians to think like Jesus in the next post. Thanks for reading.