I cracked my iPhone last week.
Yes, yes. Mandatory weeping all around. Thankfully I’m way behind the upgrade curve and frankly the spider-like cracks are probably upgrades in that they justify the utter dysfunction that is my little phone.
I wondered, looking at the glassy mess: “What would happen if I walked into the Apple store and told them I was leaving them to get a pay-as-you-go flip phone?”
Would they bend over backwards to keep me? Would they do whatever it took to keep my business? Would they make grandiose promises because - and I know this - they couldn’t bear to hear of someone having something other than their products and services?
Why? It’s because they know that when it comes down to it, they have a more sophisticated and helpful product than the flip phone guys. Hands down.
They’d say, “We’re sorry you feel that way. We hope you enjoy your new phone.”
So the illustration I’m making may cause some of you to cringe, but there are these moments in Jesus’ life that should scare us to death - at least those of us educated in the traditional evangelical church over the last 3 decades. Here it is:
People come to follow Jesus. (Matt. 8:20) Jesus tells them no.
A man says, “I’ll follow you, just let me get my stuff straight at home.” (Luke 9:59) Jesus says no.
A man is healed completely of a demon possession that freaks the whole community out. He wants to follow Jesus and the other disciples. (Mark 8:18-20) Jesus says no.
In a world where “following Jesus” means “walking the way to heaven” this is disturbing and counterintuitive to say the least.
But it’s in there. Black and white. Or in red if you’ve got one of those Bibles.
What do we make of this?
The only conclusion we can come to is that Jesus is extremely compassionless and is perfectly fine to relegate people to eternal damnation. Let’s sing a song and pass the offering.
Or, from the perspective that God is actually good and therefore so is Jesus, there is another perspective:
Jesus says no because we need to hear it. We need to be denied from time to time, in order to understand two very significant character movements:
- We don’t always get what we want.
- The Kingdom is an opportunity we won’t find elsewhere.
We who live in an on-demand world begin to see everything through that lens. Our families. Our friends. Our resources. All of it comes with a perpetual “Yes” - at least in our will and desire - and we can come to a place where we treat them all as if permission is assumed and entitlement is promised.
Jesus knows better, in fact He literally knows something better - namely the universe-rocking power of saying “Not my will but yours” and actually living into it. Letting our on-demand sensibilities take a walk through the valley of the shadow of “no” for the express purpose of figuring out that not only are we not God, but we are also not God’s employer.
Dallas Willard says that many people are “engaged in idolatry in the form of Christianity. They have made God their servant.” God just becomes one more hospitable customer service rep who wants to make sure we are “satisfied with the service have received.”
In that is death, hell and the grave. That is the life of ruin and madness and pain. We miss the goodness of no, of enough, of sitting with ourselves and others in the pain from which freedom has to come with time instead of being instantly granted if we aren’t open to hearing the “divine no” from time to time.
Oh, and #2.
Jesus can say “no” because of His deep and unshakable belief in the Kingdom and what it can do in the real, living, waking world. He says no, knowing that those true seekers will be back.
To put our hands to the plow, as Jesus says (see Luke 9:59-62), and look back isn’t productive. Why? Because when you’re plowing forward and looking backward, the lines grow crooked and the crops will be sown in inefficient, acre-robbing formations that limit their yield.
And also with us.
If we are pushing the Kingdom plow but keeping an eye out for something better (or easier, let’s be honest) that may come along then we’ll experience about as little transformation and life as any one person could.
So Jesus says no. Don’t bother. You’ll just get frustrated. You go and live and figure out the fact that whatever you’re watching for isn’t going to compete with the Kingdom.
No other relationship.
No other way.
No other path.
I hear people decry how exclusive Jesus is when He says, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Granted, we aren’t doing any favors by smacking people in the head with this, but let’s get right to the heart of what Jesus is saying.
Jesus knows there are other ways. That’s why He says “the” - it’s a distinguishing factor - but by “the” He invests the statement with value.
There are other paths, other kingdoms, other ways. None of them has what this one does. None of them compare to the Kingdom of my Father that I’m inaugurating just by being here. So it’s “No” for now, until you’ve seen all you want of that other way and realize how good it could be here.
I honestly need Jesus to tell me no on a regular basis. I need for my life to be denied, for me to experience a ceiling or a threshold so I can embrace limitations and take joy in what IS - namely the Kingdom in full vibrant force already - and wait expectantly for what is NOT YET.
If I’m going to break the power of compulsion in my own life and if I’m going to live out a Kingdom that overwhelms all others, I need to hear that “no.”
I need to hear it with the ringing, compassionate timbre of Jesus.
I need to hear it when I’m in agony.
I need to hear it when I want something else, something more, something NOW.
I need to hear it so that I can live it, the limitation of being imago dei on the missio dei here in the world of “yes.”
Has Jesus told you no lately? Have you thought about how good that could be?