“We’re more popular than Jesus now.” – John Lennon
Fifty-one years ago, the London Evening Standard published an interview with the Beatles, the rock group that had taken the world by storm. John Lennon, one of the Beatles, gave the above statement, and it didn’t receive much attention until the interview was re-published in an American teen magazine. In fact, Lennon’s full line was a little more girthy than that which was reported. He said, “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I’m right and I’ll be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first—rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.” The result was a metaphoric cultural explosion that might have been the first real show of resistance of the institutional church against pop-culture, as preachers denounced the Beatles from the pulpits and church members burned their albums.
Of course, Jesus is alive and Lennon and Harrison are both dead. So there’s that. But the foolish claim of showy entertainment pretty-boys that they were more popular than Christ stung the church so heavily because, in part, they were right. The fact is, during his earthly tabernacling among us, Jesus went from overwhelming popularity (fueled mostly by intrigue) to overwhelming scorn. What was so offensive to the Christians of 1966 is that the desire to be more popular than Jesus – which clearly came across in Lennon’s attitude – was repulsive. We feel the same about the attitude of Christian leaders who desire to be more popular than Jesus. We hold a special antipathy toward those who twist the narrative of the Holy Scriptures in the process of aggrandizing their softer, kinder, public-relations gospel.
According to Jeff Durbin, the hipster pastor of Apologia Church in Phoenix who raised significant money to fight abortion and in return started a late-night comedy talk show (yeah, sketchy), our study of theology should make us into a person that people want to invite to dinner. Jeff Durbin is a guy that worldlings would probably like to invite to dinner, there is little doubt. But let’s consider this statement, “People wanted to have Jesus over for dinner even though He never failed to tell them the truth.” Durbin then points out that perhaps some, less-likeable folks, are not so popular – getting dinner invites and such – because of their attitude. Their bad attitude, Durbin says at the beginning, has come from their study of theology.
This is an audio message sent to a Facebook group of a former listener to Durbin who’s head just about exploded when he read the above statement. I thought it illustrated well the frustration that people are having with the softer, more PR-focused, more effeminate brand of evangelicalism that seems to be invading Calvinism as of late. He’s just a random guy who’s listened to Durbin for years, whose had enough…
So then, let’s see if Jeff Durbin is adequately portraying the Jesus of the Holy Scripture or if he’s just jumped on the soft-bellied bandwagon of New Calvinism. Let’s find this popular Jesus who was on the short-list for dinner invitations around Jerusalem and Judea.
These are the times Jesus ate in the Gospel accounts:
Jesus ate the Passover meal at the Last Supper (Matthew 26:17-30, Mark 14:12-26, Luke 22:7-39 and John 13:1-17:26). No one invited Jesus over for dinner (the room was rented or reserved, probably in John Mark’s mom’s house). There just the disciples gathered.
Jesus fed the multitudes twice (Matthew 15:29-39, John 6:1-15). No one invited Jesus over for dinner (it was his idea to feed them – John 6:5). In fact, the next day, Jesus screaminhem for just wanting him around to feed them (John 6:26).
There is at least one time someone invited Jesus over for dinner. The Pharisees invited Jesus in Luke 11:37-54. Do you remember how that went? The Pharisees invited him in order to entrap him, Jesus set them off by not following standard cleanliness protocols, and it ended with Jesus yelling at them and calling them names. When he left, the dinner guests plotted about how to best entrap and kill him. So, the one time Jesus was invited over for dinner, it did not go well.
Jesus invited himself over to Zacchaeus’ house in Luke 19:1-10. Zacchaeus did not invite Jesus (if you have a hard time remembering this story, just recall that song you used to sing in Sunday School and it should elucidate this for you).
Jesus was invited to stay and eat with the disciples on the Emmaus Road, but they didn’t know it was Jesus, so that hardly counts (Luke 24:28-35).
Jesus ate at the house of his disciple, Levi (aka Matthew), who had invited his tax collector friends. The tax collectors did not invite Jesus (Mark 2:13-17).
Jesus ate at his best friends’ house, that belonging to Mary, Martha, and Lazarus (Luke 10:38-42). This wasn’t a matter of sinners inviting him for dinner because they liked his attitude.
Jesus ate with his disciples after the Emmaus experience. Again, this wasn’t a bunch of sinners inviting over Jesus because they were enthralled with his disposition (Luke 24:34-36). He invited himself and had to ask for something to eat.
Jesus ate grain with his disciples on the Sabbath, and the Pharisees criticized him for it (Matthew 12:1).
A couple things from what the Bible teaches us about Jesus’ likability. Jesus ate with people who (A) were his disciples (B) who he was personally and miraculously feeding or (C) he invited himself over to eat with. It seems that most – if not all – of the criticism of Jesus eating with scoundrels came from the evangelistic meal he planned with his new convert, Matthew, in Mark 2 or Zacchaeus in Luke 19.
One thing is abundantly clear. Jesus was not a popular dinner guest. The only time he was invited over for dinner they entrapped him, he yelled at them and called them names, and he left with them plotting his death. So yeah, Jeff Durbin. That’s Jesus’ history as a dinner guest. Was Jesus “doing it wrong?” Did Jesus just need the cool factor of Jeff Durbin? Maybe if Jesus had a late night comedy show, bedazzled his chest hair with some costume jewelry, and told more jokes then he wouldn’t have been such a smashing failure at being well liked. Heck, maybe he wouldn’t have wound up nailed to a tree and crucified.
I guess Jesus’ “attitude” – according to Jeff Durbin – wasn’t that great after all, considering that it led to his dinner guests (if you count the multitudes who ate his loaves and fishes) leaving him in droves or plotting his death.
Mark my words; there is a happier, more ecumenical, confetti-cannon type whimsical niceness that is invading our corner of evangelicalism which is entirely divorced from the Jesus of Scripture. If you want to be more liked than Jesus, good luck. If you want to be more popular than Jesus, have at it. If you want to imitate Jesus, accept whatever dinner invitations you get very carefully, because they may want to kill you afterward.
And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” – Luke 9:35
The Gospel is a stumbling block and stone of offense (1 Corinthians 1:28, 1 Peter 2:8), and people hate it. Your attitude – no matter how whimsical, nuanced or chill – will not remove the offense of the Gospel without removing its efficacy.
[Contributed by: JD Hall]