In Canada, we’ve just finished an amazing baseball season with the dominant run of the Toronto Blue Jays. While they didn’t win the World Series, they captured the attention of Canada and the baseball world with their powerful offence and excellent pitching down the stretch. A good part of the change in their baseball destiny was due to the arrival of a dominant pitcher named David Price. In many ways, he was a “game changer” for the Blue Jays. As a free agent this off season, he has now signed with the Boston Red Sox who were immediately declared World Series favourites. That is the definition of a “game changer”. When they show up, everything changes. Other examples from the sports world would be Tom Brady or Lionel Messi. In music, you might think of Pavarotti or Elvis. In science perhaps Einstein or Darwin fit the bill. Nothing is the same when they are around.
In spiritual things there are many philosophies or religions that humans have embraced (both now and in the past). Whether Buddhism, Islam, Atheism, Christianity, Humanism or Judaism, all have tenets, beliefs and strongly held convictions and world views. However, while all of these belief systems and associated cultures have their major influencers and internal game changers, there is one who stands alone and transcends them all – Jesus the Christ, Yeshua, Joshua Ben Joseph, the man from Galilee (pick your favourite name). There is no one like him and never will be. Everything is different because of him. The ultimate cosmic game changer.
No one before or since Jesus visited this planet has ever claimed to be the Creator, Son of God, the Alpha and Omega (beginning and end), one with God, Saviour of mankind, resurrected from the dead, firstborn of all creation and returning to earth in the future very much alive. All of the “game changers” of the other world views are dead and gone or will be. Buddha, Mohammed, Moses, Ghandi, Carl Sagan and Christopher Hitchens (some of these things are not like the others). They are just not in the same league.
One of the biggest challenges we immediately face when discussing Jesus (I’ll choose the Greek version of his name) is that those who came after him made the unfortunate mistake of building a religion around him (Christianity) although this was never his intent. In fact, not only was this not his intent, it is clear by his words and teaching that his intent was to deconstruct the dominant institutional religion that existed in his world in his day – Judaism. This is what caused the Jews and Romans to conspire to kill him. The Jews, because he was a blasphemer (making himself equal with God and opposing the temple), and the Romans, because he turned their world upside down with unrest (inciting the Jews and claiming to be King). His message proclaiming that the Kingdom of God was in no physical location but within them was the death knell of both of their worlds – the empires of religion and politics. Interesting that both found common cause to unite in the attempt to destroy his message through the violence inflicted on him, including his eventual execution. The same thing has continued to happen ever since. Jesus transcends not only the religion that claims to bear his name but every religion, institution and world view created by man.
In reflecting on the horrific acts of violence being perpetrated in recent times and in the past by radical Islamic, Christian, racist, atheist, moralist and (insert label here) terrorists, they have one key thing in common – the perpetrator feels the need to lash out violently to protect the empire or institution they feel is threatened by the existence of those who oppose it. They must purify the world from the perceived threat. The “game changer” must be eliminated.
Let’s play this scenario out in the most recent and all too frequent cases of radical Islamic terrorism (a la 9-11, Paris, San Bernadino, etc.) Radical Islamists have twisted the Koran to teach that Allah expects them to kill infidels or kafir because they are either apostate, immoral or blasphemers of Allah or the prophet Mohammed (or all of the above). Their institution, religious empire or caliphate must be submitted to by all and protected at all costs. Whatever the motivation of the infidel, at its core the primary opponent and threat to their belief system is the sovereign freedom of that individual to choose. The freedom to not just choose another religion or world view but the existence of that freedom of choice in the first place. The western world’s manifestation of this freedom in the excesses of materialism, sexual immorality and gender equality just makes the problem more acute and in need of immediate action. While we may or may not agree with all of the various excesses and flagrant immorality in western culture, there can be no doubt that the root of those excesses is in the concept of individual, sovereign freedom. This is just a modern way of saying the kingdom of God is within you. This is the message of Jesus, the ultimate game changer.
Before anyone reaches the premature conclusion that this is all about radical Islamic terrorism it is time to pause and reflect. What if it is just the most recent and violent expression of institutional empire striking back against individual freedom? What if groups like Daesh (my preferred name for ISIS) are simply a mirror for the same mechanism at work in the “peaceful” and “civilized” world. Modern institutional Christianity may not burn heretics at the stake or conduct crusades too often in the 21st century but certainly metaphorically murders and casts out its “infidels” quite regularly. Observe the name calling and slander directed at anyone who dares question the deeply held beliefs of the climate change or the LGBTQA activists. They may not brandish automatic weapons or IEDS but the murderous intent remains the same – protect the institution or empire at all costs. Physical violence is abhorrent and should be stopped but let’s not be too quick to dismiss where it is coming from. Is it possible that the increase of violent words and militancy of all forms (especially social media) is inflaming the environment that is producing the increase of physical violence and terrorism we are seeing all over the world? Is it just a coincidence that Daesh is using social media as a weapon to terrorize the west?
It seems appropriate now to close with some thoughts on Jesus, the religion destroying, empire overthrowing, sickness healing, hunger satisfying, thirst quenching game changer. He said if you think it in your heart or speak it with your mouth, you might as well have done it. You will manifest whatever kingdom is within you. The manifestation of his kingdom is peace, joy, freedom and respect and dignity for all human life. May you truly experience it as a choice of your will.
John Matthews (Jesus follower)