the smartest man

Church can be awkward.

One Easter Sunday a woman behind me started screaming, “It’s about forgiveness! It’s about new life! Today!” And then, as if that were normal, she sat back down.

I’ve never forgotten that, just like the folks in the Gospel never forgot the day a man with an unclean spirit burst into their worship service.

Jesus is teaching when the man cries out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus? Have you come to destroy us?”

Can you imagine? This isn’t awkward. It’s frightening.

Demon talk makes us squirm. Maybe the Gospel writers didn’t understand mental illness? Maybe when they said “possessed” they were describing something they didn’t understand?

Maybe.

No doubt there was confusion in the ancient world about mental health, just like there is today. We have a long way to go until we understand that anxiety and depression are just like diabetes and cancer. Some of us have it. Some of us don’t. And this has nothing to do with character.

If you’re dealing with any of that, I want you to know something. God is with you. And the church, while flawed, is behind you and for you.

The trouble with explaining demon scenes away is there are too many of them.

What’s interesting about this scene is that we don’t know what Jesus is saying, only that people are astonished, for he taught with authority and not as the scribes. The scribes were teachers who interpreted scripture. What Jesus is doing is different. He isn’t appealing to authority; he’s being authority.

“I know who you are,” says the demon. “Have you come to destroy us?”

“Be silent, and come out of him!” Jesus replies.

And it did. That’s authority.

I wore a uniform in high school, but there were special days when I was allowed to wear my own clothes, even hats. On one of those days I walked into the chapel with a hat on. A teacher  told me to take it off. Without missing a beat I said, “Jews wear hats to pray.”

(I would have slapped teenage me.)

I don’t love being told what to do. But the older I get the more I realize I need to be told, because I don’t always know what’s best.

In the ordination process you get asked lots of questions. Somebody asked me this one: What does it mean for Jesus to be Lord and Savior of your life?

“He’s my Savior,” I said, “because he saves me. Not just from sin and death but daily. He comes to me and rescues me. Every single day.”

That part came easy.

“He’s my Lord,” I continued, “because I do things for him I don’t want to do. But I trust He knows what’s best.”

And I felt like a fraud. Because for all my talk, I want to be my own Lord.

But I need a Lord. 

Here’s the deal. We’ll never make Jesus our Lord unless we believe he knows more than we do. Because, as Dallas Willard used to say, “it’s not possible to trust Jesus, or anyone else, in matters we don’t believe him to be competent.”

Would you fly with an incompetent pilot? Let an incompetent surgeon cut your chest open? Do you give authority to anyone you don’t believe is smart?

I doubt it. Do you believe Jesus is smart?

We talk a lot about Jesus’  love, but what about his competence? Does he know how to help us be good engineers or good parents? Does he know what it takes to run run a business or keep a marriage alive?

The earliest Christians believed He did. He was divine, which meant he couldn’t be dumb.

I think it’s tough to claim Jesus as Lord until we’re ready to claim he’s smart. And not just smart, but the smartest man who ever lived.

I was in a doctor’s office some time ago getting a physical. I was going through a rough time and really stressed. As the doctor examined me my blood pressure shot up.

“Do you smoke?” he said.

“No.”

“Drink?”

“Yeah.”

“How much?”

(I told him, but I’m not telling you.)

“Work out?”

“Duh.”

He took the reading again. Still high.

He took the cuff off my arm. “Your father tells me you like to read.”

“I do.”

“What?”

I told him and we talked about books and life for an hour. Then he took the reading again. “You don’t have a blood pressure problem,” he said. “You’re stressed.” He smiled. “Relax.”

And I did, not just then but in the days that followed. His words had power because I trusted his authority. I believed him to be competent.

We may not be demon possessed, but all of us — from time to time — get possessed by something.

Anxiety. Money. Regret.

When this happens, we need a Lord to cast it out.

Don’t be afraid to make Jesus your Lord. He won’t abuse the position; he’ll use it to set you free. From sin. From death. From yourself.

“I know who you are,” says the demon. “ Have you come to destroy us?”

“Oh no,” Jesus says. “Just the opposite.”

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