April 10, 2011
Now, But Not Yet
Transformation versus Entertainment
How many of you have been asked by your children or grandchildren what you did in the days before video games, computers, the internet, satellite television, cell phones and all the other electronic devices that are such a part of our lives? It’s hard for some to imagine what life was like back in the days when electronic devices weren’t so prevalent in our lives.
I remember very clearly when some of the predictions of the coming revolution in electronics. Years ago I read an article predicting that one day people would have small satellite dishes attached to their houses. I thought that was the craziest thing I could imagine. Not only was it inconceivable to imagine such a small satellite dish, but the idea that people could own one was beyond my comprehension. Satellite dishes were for NASA, not private homes. At the time we were still putting aluminum foil on our TV antenna and only received about three channels, so a satellite dish seemed like science fiction.
It was hard to conceive of some of the other electronics as well. I remember the beginning of the video game era. In college several friends and I pooled our money and purchased the first video game system – anyone remember Pong?
And how many of you had a phone that was on a party line? Listening in on the party line was basically our form of entertainment. Now I have a cell phone that has video games, TV, music, GPS – more capabilities than I could have ever imagined.
Although all of these technologies have their uses, they have also had some very serious ramifications. Satellites, cable, internet, cell phones, video games – and all the other technologies – have so saturated our culture with entertainment that almost everything has to be placed in the context of entertainment to get people’s attention. These days, to get people’s attention, there are certain requirements, mainly a screen and an entertaining presentation. Without those elements, it can be very difficult to capture people’s attention.
As we continue our series of The Now But Not Yet we are turning our focus to the final days of the earthly ministry of Jesus and our theme is Transformation versus Entertainment.
Today we study the encounter between Jesus and Herod. We find that Jesus was sent to Herod by Pilate. Because Jesus was from Galilee, and Galilee was Herod’s domain, Pilate saw this as an opportunity to wiggle out of a difficult situation. While Pilate was happy to pass Jesus on to someone else, Herod, Luke says, was delighted to see Jesus. For some time Herod had been trying to see Jesus.
For Herod, this was basically an opportunity to see a show. Herod saw Jesus as being a provider of entertainment. Having heard about the miracles of Jesus Luke tells us in verse 8 that Herod was hoping to see some sign performed by Him.
Herod did not get his show. Not only did Jesus refuse to perform a miracle on demand, he was completely silent during Herod’s questioning, never uttering a word. Herod sent Jesus back to Pilate, greatly disappointed in Jesus.
Some might look at this event and wonder why Jesus didn’t give Herod a miracle. When you think about it, wouldn’t that be a great way to get people’s attention? Imagine the platform Jesus would have for his message if he performed a miracle in the court of Herod. Imagine if that miracle brought faith to Herod and his household! What would be wrong with that? Wouldn’t it be a helpful way to communicate Jesus’ message?
Evidently, Jesus didn’t think so.
I think it came down to this – Herod was interested in entertainment; Jesus was interested in transformation. In spite of the many miracles performed by Jesus not everyone believed in him. At the resurrection of Lazarus, for instance, there were many who did not believe in spite of being present at that that moment.
Entertainment is designed to stimulate a temporary interest but transformation is designed to bring about a permanent and significant change, and transformation necessitates the confronting of sometimes difficult and painful truths about ourselves that entertainment will avoid.
Telling the truth is the prophetic function of the Scriptures. Prophets were not just about the future; the primary function of a prophet was to tell the truth. The great example is the prophet Nathan, confronting King David with the truth of what he had done in having a man named Uriah put to death so that he could have his wife, Bathsheba (II Samuel 11 and 12). In one of the most dramatic scenes of the Bible, Nathan comes before David and tells a story about a man who owns many sheep but takes away the one little lamb owned by a poor family. David, not recognizing the story is about him and his guilt in having Uriah killed, is incensed and that’s when Nathan lowers the boom, proclaiming to David you are the man! (II Samuel 12:7).
Now, I’ll be honest and say I don’t like the style of preaching that just beats people up every week. I’ve heard my share of that style over the years and I just don’t like it. That’s not to say I don’t think we need to be confronted with some important truths, but there is a difference between allowing the words of Jesus to speak to us and someone who is preaching and decides to unload a batch of guilt and condemnation upon people.
Jesus presented truth to people, not entertainment. Jesus did not dilute the content of his message when that message needed to confront the need for transformation in the world and in people’s lives.
I don’t know if there were public relations people in Jesus’ day, but if there were he probably drove them crazy. Can you imagine a PR person or a media consultant approaching Jesus? Now Jesus, this stuff about a cross, can we tone that down somewhat? Or better yet, how about leaving that out all together? How about some more miracles? That one with Lazarus was great – now that’s what I’m talking about. Keep doing that and you’ll really pack them in. That’s what you need to do, give the people what they want.
But Jesus would not perform miracles on request because he was not interested in merely providing entertainment or amusement. He performed plenty of miracles, but when he chose to perform miracles it was because they were redemptive and led to transformation.
One of the functions of worship is to bring transformation. As the purpose of Jesus is to transform, so the commissioning of the church is also to transform lives.
And that is where we find the real tragedy of Herod. Herod stood in front of Jesus, God in human flesh, the creator and giver of life, the one who would give his life, and he could see nothing but an opportunity for some entertainment, nothing more than a chance for a temporary amusement.
When Jesus refused to perform a miracle, Herod decided Jesus had nothing to offer to him. Herod then sent Jesus away without understanding that Jesus had everything to offer him. Herod could only see what he wanted from Jesus, he could not see what Jesus actually offered to him. Herod was willing to settle for far less than what he could have had; he wanted a show, Jesus wanted to give life.
But Herod decided that since Jesus wouldn’t provide the entertainment, Jesus must become the entertainment. So Herod’s soldiers put a robe on Jesus, they mocked him and when they finished making Jesus the source of their amusement they send him back to Pilate. Because Herod did not get what he wanted, he considered Jesus to be inconsequential and he refused to take him seriously.
Isn’t that a sad portrait of Herod and his court? Because they failed in their attempt to get what they wanted from Jesus they mistreated and abused him and wrote him off.
But that is the pattern repeated throughout history. When people do not get what they want from Jesus they treat him as though he has no bearing on their lives or as though he is irrelevant and they mock him and send him packing out of their lives.
Jesus always steadfastly refuses to be pushed into what people want him to be; he will not allow himself to be at the mercy of the whims and desires of people.
One of the amazing qualities about Jesus is his level of determination to be true to his mission. Each day of this last week the stakes are getting higher and the conflict over his ministry is becoming greater and yet Jesus remains determined to fulfill his mission. And while he is very determined he is also calm and quiet with his opponents. Jesus said very little at his trial before the Sanhedrin; he has nothing to say to Herod and he had almost nothing to say to Pilate.
I find it interesting to watch how people respond to their critics and their opponents. A lot of people instantly melt under the weight of criticism and opposition; they respond harshly and that just escalates the conflict. Jesus remains very calm, and even more interestingly, he remains very quiet. Jesus makes almost no defense of himself. He has the ear of two influential rulers – Herod and Pilate – and yet he says almost nothing. Here was an opportunity for Jesus to present his plan and to speak to these two very powerful men, and yet he remained quiet.
Jesus decided it was best to let his life and ministry speak for itself. Jesus was supremely confident in who he was and he remained true to his mission. His critics and his opponents could not derail his mission and they could not shake his confidence or altar his determination.
Some years ago I went with a youth group to camp for a week. The speaker for the week was a really gifted preacher, and the worship services each evening included a really good band, lighting, lots of visuals – the type of worship that many of that youth group had not experienced, and they loved it. On the final morning of camp, at closing worship, the speaker made a really great point. He said, many of you will go back to churches where there is no band, there are no lights, there are no visuals, there is no screen, the format is much stiffer and you will probably long for the type of worship we have experienced here this week. Do not believe the worship in your churches is inadequate if they don’t have all these extra things. Worship is worship, whatever the format. What matters is not the style or music or any of those things. What matters is whether or not worship transforms you.
Entertainment surrounds us. Our entertainment-oriented culture can draw our attention away from what matters most in life. Jesus seeks to bring transformation to our lives. May we allow him to bring transformation.