Wednesday, November 14, 2012

CP 196 When God gives you a lemon...

CP 196 When God gives you a lemon…

Sometime ago Rosemarie was doing the Sunday School. When the time came around for the offering I realised that our weekly offering was in the envelope in her handbag. At the last moment I found it, popped it in the bowl… and noticed there was ‘inspirational’ writing on the envelope. All I managed to see was the first line. It read, “If God gives you lemons…”

For the rest of that service I was, sad to say, distracted by that phrase. I tried to guess its ending and couldn’t get anywhere near how it might have finished. All I could think of was dud cars, especially the British Leyland P76 which was quickly and universally scorned as a ‘lemon’ when it was first introduced to the market. It was ‘blessed’ with all manner of design faults and failings… it had promised so much… expectations were high… the marketing had been forceful… here was a vehicle to take on the Holdens and Fords. In the event, it was a dismal failure, a genuine true-blue, ridgy-didge ‘lemon’. And then Jesus popped into my thoughts.

Jesus a lemon? Jesus the Lemon? That was an unexpected twist and certainly an unexpected title fit for a King! Yet many of those who experienced his time on earth came to exactly that conclusion, that he was a lemon, a failure and a pretty hopeless one at that. From the moment Jesus began his ministry there were hopes and expectations about his prophetic and messianic possibilities. He did wonderful things and had miraculous powers. He could hold large crowds. He taught about a coming Kingdom, and he taught with an authority no Pharisee or scribe could match. But the thing about Jesus is that he never ever pandered to anyone else’s expectations and hopes for the Messiah.

Look at the wilderness crowd after Jesus had fed 5000. Let’s make him King! Surely he can rid us of the hated Romans and restore Israel to former glory. The man from Galilee would have none of it. His Kingdom agenda was not their kingdom agenda. Think of the Baptist. He started with, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” He at least expected a different Messiah and a different kingdom. But he expected ‘full-on’ judgement. “The axe is laid at the roots… branches without fruit… thrown into the fire… His winnowing fork is in his hand… chaff into an unquenchable fire.” But Jesus didn’t appear to deliver and he begins to wonder. “Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?” Translation: “Was I wrong about you? I fear you’re going to turn out to be a lemon.”

James and John also expected fire and brimstone. Peter just couldn’t see a suffering dying messiah. No one thought a messiah could come from Galilee, especially not Nazareth. He was ejected from his own synagogue. The Jewish leaders couldn’t buy the idea of a mere human messiah who claimed to be equal to God. Nobody around him could match what they were expecting with what he was actually saying and doing. Those around him had to deal with the sinking feeling that Jesus the hoped for Messiah was, well, a lemon.

Eventually Thomas chose to go to Jerusalem with him, fully believing he himself was going to die. The crowds first welcomed him and soon after shrieked for his blood. Judas betrayed him. The Jewish leaders disowned him, and renounced their God in the process. “We have no King but Caesar!” Peter denied him. The other disciples fled in the face of murderous hostility. Pilate washed his hands. The soldiers mocked and then nailed. The women wept. Jesus died. “He saved others but he couldn’t save himself.” Behold Jesus the Lemon.

He failed. Hopes crushed. Dreams shattered. Dreamers scattered. The futility of daring to believe. Unfulfilled promises. Much outline but no outcome. Pointless waste of a good man’s life. A Friday too terrible to forget. All of these emotions and conclusions of the faithful followers were succinctly captured in one phrase spoken just 2 days later. A stranger encountered a pair of Jesus’ followers heading home out of Jerusalem late on Sunday afternoon. He asks about their downcast faces. They tell him about Jesus of Nazareth, his words and deeds, the hope he had inspired, and his death by crucifixion. And then these words… “We had hoped…” We let ourselves believe… trust… but it turned out he was a lemon.

Now comes the great reversal. Jesus asks, as the RSV so beautifully has it, “Was it not necessary…?” He delivers the best big-picture bible study anybody could ever receive. Read it yourself in Luke 24:25ff. And reveals a demolishing truth. The Rejected and Unwanted One was never a lemon at all! Was it not necessary? What happened had to happen. It was planned to happen. It was timed to happen. The Almighty One made it happen. The suffering, mockery, rejection and death was the ‘without which nothing’ of the Lord God’s plan to redeem humanity. Its central requirement was complete, total and free forgiveness. That was the only way to skewer and smash the accuser’s power to condemn the sinful ones before the Holy One. Such forgiveness required blood. It demanded such a death.

I leave you with 3 scripture verses:
  • “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” 1 John 3:8
  • “…he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is the devil…” Hebrews 2:14

The third one says it all. Jesus the Lemon? No way! Never. Ever. Speak these words to each other. Shout them from the rooftops. Use them to comfort the sorry, broken ones:
  • “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead… but now… I am alive… for ever… and ever. And I hold the keys of death and the realm of the dead!” Revelation 1:17-18

So, if God gives you a lemon… and his name is Jesus the Christ… receive him and never let him go. And remember, anything but Jesus the Christ is a lemon.


PS One of my good members, (on a bad day,) completed the phrase this way: “If God gives you lemons… suck it up!

The envelope? “If God gives you lemons, take heart. He wouldn’t give them to you unless he thought you could make some great lemonade.” Corny, huh.


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