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In the next chapter of The Secret Message of Jesus, McLaren focuses on how Jesus lived out his message. His communication that the “kingdom of God is near” was not limited to his words. Jesus’ signs and wonders also communicated.

In this chapter McLaren discusses what he calls the “tyranny of the impossible.” He writes, “When everyone ‘knows’ something is impossible, nobody even attempts it. Why waste their time?” But in the kingdom of God, the impossible becomes possible.

McLaren argues that that is the point of Jesus’ miracles. Through them the kingdom of God is demonstrated. “The kingdom of God–with its peace, healing, sanity, empowerment, and freedom–is available to all, here and now. . . . They make way for faith that something new, unprecedented, and previously impossible is on the move.”

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Jesus spoke in parables. When he taught the people, he used stories. But why did he use parables?

McLaren believes, “Parables entice their hearers into new territory. If they goal is an interactive relationship . . . a parable succeeds where easy answers and obvious explanations couldn’t.”

Parables cause the listeners to engage. It takes work to understand what Jesus was saying. Frequently Jesus’ disciples didn’t get the message. He had to explain to them what he was talking about. So, why not easy answers? Why not give it to them straight? McLaren argues that Jesus was not just aiming for the mind, but the heart. He writes:

“If it’s the heart that counts, then hearts can’t be coerced; nobody can be forced. They can be invited, attracted, intrigued, enticed, and challenged–but not forced. And that, perhaps, is the greatest genius of a parable: it doesn’t grab you by the lapels and scream in your face, ‘Repent, you vile sinner! Turn or burn!’ Rather, it works gently, subtly, indirectly. It respects your dignity. It doesn’t batter you into submission but leaves you free to discover and choose for yourself.”

Jesus was frequently misunderstood. The pharisees didn’t understand him. The crowds didn’t understand him. Even his disciples frequently didn’t understand him. We stand back, two thousand years later, and think about how dense they were. How could they misunderstand him? How could they be so obtuse? McLaren believes there was something more going on.

“In conversation after conversation, then, Jesus resists being clear or direct. There’s hardly ever a question that he simply answers; instead, his answer comes in the form of a question or it turns into a story or it is full of metaphors that invite more questions.”

So, what were Jesus’ intentions? Was he intentionally ambiguous? If he was, why? We’ll have to wait a little longer for an answer.

In this chapter, McLaren focuses on the story of the Old Testament. The story begins with “creation.” In creation God created the earth and all that was in it; and it was good. He created man and woman in his image and it was very good. However, this state does not last. The story moves into the second episode, “crisis.” Humans experience “the Fall.” They experience shame and alienation. Their relationship with God is damaged.

In the third episode, God extended a “calling” to Abraham and Sarah. A time of renewed relationship emerged. There is an exploration of God and his reliability. He is up to the challenge, but his people don’t always match up. McLaren calls the fourth episode by “conversation, covenant, or perhaps even conflict.” God’s people ended up in Egypt. Through Moses, David, and others, God expanded his relationship from a family to a nation.

McLaren doesn’t name the fifth episode. In this time period we encounter the prophets. God’s people ended up in exile. Even after they returned to the land, they anticipated something different, something better. For centuries they waited.

It is into this atmosphere that Jesus entered. Jesus came and proclaimed, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus’ message and ministry emphasized that God is doing something different, something better, right now. Jesus proclaimed a revolution.

But this was not a revolution of swords and spears. This was and is a revolution of healing and abundance, love and compassion. Jesus’ message changed the world. It can continue to change the world is we embrace the message and live by it.

McLaren emphasizes that Jesus’ message held several points of reference with his Jewish faith. Jesus’ message was especially consistent with the message of the prophets.

“Jesus spoke on behalf of the poor, the forgotten, the rejected, and the outcasts.”
“Jesus emphasized the inward sincerity of the heart and not mere outward conformity.”
“Jesus spoke of coming judgment on injustice and hypocrisy.”
“Jesus echoed and intensified the prophetic message that a new world order was possible and coming.”

Prophetic messages are not readily accepted. They frequently challenged the status quo. They took leaders to task. Prophets were not popular figures. Except with the poor, oppressed and downcast. Those looking for change rallied to the prophets.

What does this say about Jesus’ message and acceptance?

Sometimes we think of Jesus as apolitical. In our movement we’ve even had proponents argue that Christians should not be involved in politics. They shouldn’t run for office. They shouldn’t hold public positions. Some even went to the extreme to argue that Christians shouldn’t vote. After all, “This world is not my home.” Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.”

However, Jesus’ message impacted many different areas. Ultimately, he was crucified as “king of the Jews.” Here is a long quote from McLaren on the scope of Jesus’ impact.

“I’ve become convinced that if the good news of Jesus were carried in a newspaper today, it wouldn’t be hidden in the religion section (although it would no doubt cause a ruckus there). It would be a major story in every section, from world news (What is the path to peace, and how are we responding to our neighbors in need?) to national and local news (How are we treating children, poor people, minorities, the last, the lost, the least? How are we treating our enemies?), in the lifestyle section (Are we loving our neighbors and throwing good parties to bring people together?), the food section (Do our diets reflect concern for God’s planet and our poor neighbors, and have we invited any of them over for dinner lately?), the entertainment and sports sections (What is the point of our entertainment, and what values are we strengthening in sports?), and even the business section (Are we serving the wrong master: money rather than God?).”

So what do we do? How do we respond to the mess we’re in? McLaren says that Jesus’ answer is: “Change your way of thinking. The kingdom of God is available to all. Believe this good news! The empire of God is now available to all!” And he was not talking about “heaven after you die.”

Today I’m starting a new series on Brian McLaren’s The Secret Message of Jesus. McLaren begins by asking many thought-provoking, sometimes difficult questions.

“What if we have developed a religion that makes reverent and honoring statements about Jesus but doesn’t teach what Jesus taught in the manner he taught it? What if the religion generally associated with Jesus neither expects nor trains its adherents to actually live in the way of Jesus?”

OR

“What if Jesus had actually concealed his deepest message, not trying to make it overt and obvious but intentionally hiding it as a treasure one must seek in order to find?”

AND

“What if Jesus’ secret message reveals a secret plan? What if he didn’t come to start a new religion–but rather came to start a political, social, religious, artistic, economic, intellectual, and spiritual revolution that would give birth to a new world?”

Some of McLaren’s questions may make you question McLaren. But please hold off judgment for a little while. Let’s explore what McLaren has to offer.

“Jesus is dead and buried. It is a total disaster as far as his followers are concerned. Jesus excited their hopes for the kingdom of God, he gave them reason to believe that what God has promised to his people through the prophets would come to pass. But now he is dead. Disasters abound–death, disappointment, and doubt.”

As McKnight observes in his final chapter, we all face disasters, little and big. We face those times of uncertainty in life. We unsure where to turn and to whom. We need, as the disciples needed, the resurrection. We need that possibility. We need hope.

“Beyond death is the new life of resurrection. And beyond personal disasters there breathes the new life of Jesus’ offer of forgiveness, Jesus’ offer of presence, Jesus’ offer of faith, and Jesus’ offer of mission.”