The Holy Spirit depicted as a dove descending on the Holy Family, with God the Father and angels shown atop, by Murillo, c. 1677. (from here)
The Holy Spirit depicted as a dove descending on the Holy Family, with God the Father and angels shown atop, by Murillo, c. 1677. (from here)

This is the fifth installment in a review of John Ortberg’s book, Who Is This Man? The previous four installments can be found by clicking on the links below.

Here we will consider chapters 9 and 10. Chapter 9 tells us how Jesus taught us to see ourselves as we are. Chapter 10 explains one reason why the Christian religion grew so rapidly.

When Jesus Held Up Mirror

Chapter 9 is about one of the most dismaying experiences we will ever have, something even those wise among the ancients had not considered. Try to imagine you are on the receiving end of a tongue-lashing from Jesus. In fact, if Jesus’ first coming had been in our day, He might have been speaking of us.

Matthew 23:13-36 The Message (MSG)


13 “I’ve had it with you! You’re hopeless, you religion scholars, you Pharisees! Frauds! Your lives are roadblocks to God’s kingdom. You refuse to enter, and won’t let anyone else in either.

15 “You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You go halfway around the world to make a convert, but once you get him you make him into a replica of yourselves, double-damned.

16-22 “You’re hopeless! What arrogant stupidity! You say, ‘If someone makes a promise with his fingers crossed, that’s nothing; but if he swears with his hand on the Bible, that’s serious.’ What ignorance! Does the leather on the Bible carry more weight than the skin on your hands? And what about this piece of trivia: ‘If you shake hands on a promise, that’s nothing; but if you raise your hand that God is your witness, that’s serious’? What ridiculous hairsplitting! What difference does it make whether you shake hands or raise hands? A promise is a promise. What difference does it make if you make your promise inside or outside a house of worship? A promise is a promise. God is present, watching and holding you to account regardless.

 (continued here)

The scribes and Pharisees were among the most respected religious leaders of their day. Yet here was Jesus, castigating them. He called them hopeless. Frauds! Hypocrites! He told them that God sees through our pretenses, and God would punish them for their pretenses.

It is not enough to live what we consider a good life. God insists that we actually be good. How did Jesus’ disciples react when He castigated the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees? Did they enjoy seeing the scribes and Pharisees get their comeuppance? No. They wondered. If the Pharisees could not please God, who could? Before God, who is not a fraud, a hypocrite?

Fortunately, as John Ortberg explains, because of Jesus we can all please God if we want to, but first we must admit we need God to give us a new heart, to let our Savior change us on the inside.

There Is One God Who Loves Us All

Jesus introduced the idea that we can convert to different belief about God.

The idea of conversion itself world come into the world through Jesus. To that world, the movement of Jesus was like Churchill’s description of Russia: “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” Christians were actually called atheists by Romans because of their neglect of the gods. (from page 130, Chapter 10 of Who Is This Man by John Ortberg)

Before Jesus, people associated each religion with a tribe or a city. Christians, however, were something new, a people who found their unity in the salvation provided by Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:28 New King James Version (NKJV)

28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

What unites Christians? It is not race. It is not sex. It is not a religion.  It is not a tribe, a city, or a nationality. It is love. What unites Christians is love of God. Thus Jesus said we would be known.

John 13:31-35 New King James Version (NKJV)

The New Commandment

31 So, when he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in Him. 32 If God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and glorify Him immediately. 33 Little children, I shall be with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come,’ so now I say to you. 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

In our day, this idea hardly seems novel. So Ortberg tells this story.

I had a dinner with a missionary-anthropologist named Dan Shaw.  He knew he wanted to be an anthropologist since he was ten years old. He devoted many years of his life to translating Scriptures for a people group in Papua New Guinea. He faced a difficulty: they believed in the supernatural and saw spirits and gods in many places, but they had no word for a Big God who was ruler and creator of all.

Dan got to know them and found over the years that in extended families there was a figure called hi-yo, a father figure who would arbitrate disputes and make sure everyone was cared for and decide what was fair. Dan began his translation of Genesis: “Back before the time of the ancestors, hi-yo created the heavens and the earth.”

People said, “Wow. We had no idea. He is hi-yo over everything.”

Dan asked, “What if he’s hi-yo for everyone? Not just for you. Also for your enemies. For the cannibals across the river.”

“Oh no. We’d have to make peace with them.”

And peace happened. (from page 136, Chapter 10 of Who Is This Man by John Ortberg)

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