As I close let me highlight three ways the bible says we try to get back to paradise, all of which the bible ridicules.
First is we redefine God. It happened as soon as Adam and Eve disbelieved the LORD. The devil said ‘Are you really going to let the LORD be God?’ And we constantly say no, and so we start to construct our own gods. The bible calls this idolatry and in many cultures it has meant literally chopping down a piece of wood and carving an idol. But we do it ourselves every day. If you’ve ever said “I like to think of god like this…” You’ve carved your own idol. If you’ve ever said “I’m not sure about this Jesus stuff, I think what’s really important is…” You’ve carved your own idol. If you’ve ever thought “I know what the bible says, but this is really what I’m living for…” you’ve carved your own idol. And you worship and serve that thing. And it has the power of life or death over you. Because when that thing comes through it’ll feel like life, when it fails, it’ll feel like death. You’ve got your own god, your own heaven, your own hell. And the bible is constantly ridiculing this do-it-yourself way of life.
There’s a hilarious passage in Isaiah 44 where the prophet is ridiculing idol makers who cut down a piece of wood and have the tremendous insight required to discern which end of the tree trunk is best for firewood and which is best to be worshipped as a deity. This bit – firewood. This bit – mt lord, my god, my all in all. How arbitrary! But that’s how ridiculous it is to reject the living God and to live for anything else.
Or in 1 Kings 18 there is a wonderful passage where the prophet Elijah goes head to head with the prophets of the false god – Baal. Elijah says, you set up a sacrifice to your god, I’ll set up a sacrifice to the LORD – the God who sends fire down on the sacrifice – He is really God.
26 So they took the bull given them and prepared it. Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “O Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no-one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made. 27 At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or travelling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” 28 So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. 29 Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no-one answered, no-one paid attention.
Isn’t that tragic? Isn’t it comic? You see Comedy is serious. And Christianity is comedic. But this is so common in the bible. People are always living for things that are not god. And we dance and we shout and we cut ourselves and we bleed for these things hoping they’ll deliver – but there’s no-one there. Baal’s not there for you. All human religion has busy people working for a helpless god. It’s tragic and it’s comic. But Comedy is serious and Christianity is comedic.
So idolatry – re-defining God – is one response humanity has to being cast from the LORD’s presence. A second, very much related, response is seeking to get out and make it in the world. Make the most of now. Be a success.
Jesus met a guy like this. The Gospels call him a rich young ruler. He was wealthy, he was powerful. By his own admission he was upright and moral. He was a success in the world and everyone present thought that this man was on the fast-track to eternal life. If anyone could earn entrance to the kingdom, this guy had it in the bag. He races up to Jesus to ask whether he’s done enough to merit paradise. In response to this man Jesus utters some very famous and very funny words. He says “It’d be easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into the kingdom of heaven.” That is a seriously shocking thing to say. Everyone thought this successful rich, upright man was on heaven’s A-list. Jesus says “That guy will be in heaven the day you get a camel through the eye of a needle.” Jesus goes on to say – it’s impossible. It is humanly impossible for any human being to be rich enough, successful enough, popular enough, upright enough to get into heaven. It’s just that Jesus chose to say it in a funny way. Camel through the eye of a needle is ridiculous. Even if you grease the camel and push. Even with a blender – this is impossible. Jesus uses some serious comedy here because Christianity is serious.
The third way humanity tries to get back into the LORD’s presence is of course religion. And you might think, well this is the right answer surely. Don’t make up false gods, don’t rely on wealth or success to get you in – but be religious. Join the right religious group – upright, biblical religion – follow the rules and work your way back into God’s good books. Right? Wrong. And this might shock you but the bible ridicules the religious more than any other group. More than the idolaters, more than the worldly people – it ridicules bible-based, moral-looking religious types.
We often think that when comedians mock Christians they’re being godless. I think often when comedians mock Christians they’re being Christ-like. Jesus went after the bible-based, moral looking religious types more than any other group. There was a religious group in Jesus’ day called the Pharisees. And Jesus went after them with unrelenting and devastating satire. And the people in Jesus’ day were shocked.
– Don’t the Pharisees radiate purity Jesus?
– Oh yeah – they dazzle like a white-washed tomb” Said Jesus, “Brilliant on the outside – rotting death on the inside.”
Talk about corruscating wit!
Jesus never stopped ridiculing the religious types of His day. Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, the most sustained teaching that we have from Jesus in the bible, Jesus constantly refers to these hypocrites. He doesn’t just tell His people the way of the kingdom, He engages in savage observational comedy about the hypocrites. When He speaks of how we should give He says: “Don’t be like the hypocrites, they commission a trumpet fanfare [ta da!] “I’m giving.” And when you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites. They love to stand on street corners, so they get two lots of people to see them saying “I’m praying!” And when you fast, don’t be like the hypocrites. They actually disfigure their faces. They walk around looking like they’re sucking chilli off a thistle so people say ‘what’s wrong’? “I’m fasting!” Jesus ridicules the religious.
He notices how judgemental they are. He says they’re always pointing out the speck in other people’s eyes – all the while they’ve got a tree trunk lodged in their own. That is a funny image. But it taps into the hypocrisy we all have. We all like pointing out the faults of others. We all feel better about ourselves by judging others – we all get a sense of moral high-ground by taking others down a peg or two. As George Carlin said – when you’re driving, everyone who’s slower than you is an idiot, everyone faster than you is a maniac. We’re constantly justifying ourselves – pointing out the specks in other people’s eyes. Jesus says You’ve got a plank of four by two protruding from your eye socket. Stop judging others to justify yourself. In fact – just stop justifying yourself. It’s hypocrisy.
Because do you notice how similar the religious are to the idolaters? The idolaters were very busy working for a passive, silent, helpless god. Actually the bible guys were doing the same. They became very busy, very melodramatic supposedly working for the LORD – but actually their whole way of life was assuming that the LORD is a passive, silent, helpless god who needs us to perform.
Jesus came into the world to tell us He’s not like that. He’s the LORD who works salvation FOR US.
And so idolatry is not the way back to paradise, and neither is worldly success and neither even is biblical religion – all those ways are ridiculous. Here is the way back to paradise – it’s the LORD Jesus Himself.
And this is the very deepest irony of the bible – the very deepest irony of the universe. Jesus Himself is the way back to God…
Final installment here.
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