Friday, August 01, 2008

Was Jesus a masochist?

My wife teaches English as a 2nd language to international students, and this term she has advanced students. One of them asked her: "Was Jesus a masochist?"

Good question. We sat down last night and wrote up an answer, which follows.

To examine this question, first we must define the word "masochist". From, we find the following definition:

mas·och·ism –noun

1. Psychiatry. the condition in which sexual gratification depends on suffering, physical pain, and humiliation.

2. gratification gained from pain, deprivation, degradation, etc., inflicted or imposed on oneself, either as a result of one's own actions or the actions of others, esp. the tendency to seek this form of gratification.

3. the act of turning one's destructive tendencies inward or upon oneself.

4. the tendency to find pleasure in self-denial, submissiveness, etc.

However, this definition does not tell the whole story, for in American usage, the word almost exclusively carries the connotation of #1 and #2, and #3 to some degree. #4 is a very general use of the word that most Americans think does not fit very well.

Next, we must consider the life and sayings of Jesus of Nazareth. We know virtually nothing about this man outside of the writings of the Four Evangelists known as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Fortunately, these four men's books contain great and wide detail about the life of Jesus. Each is a fascinating study in the history of the life of Jesus, and each comes at the historical account from a particular angle, since Matthew, Mark, and John were very different personalities but each lived with Jesus for years. Luke might not have known Jesus personally but interviewed many close friends and family to find the information for his Gospel (book). When we read these books, and I certainly recommend it, especially Mark and John, we discover that Jesus had a lot to say and was not afraid to say it. He told the future, he explained the present time, and he made it clear what his mission was. "(Jesus said), 'For the Son of Man (Jesus himself) came to seek and to save what was lost'" (Luke 19:10).

Jesus' actions were always based on love. He set a perfect example of life to everyone because he never made a mistake, never told a lie, never broke the law. He never sinned. "Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me?" (John 8:46). But to discover why he came to save people, we must first understand why people are lost.

At the beginning of the world, God created animals, plants, and the world. Then he created a man and a woman and gave them a wonderful garden in which to live. He told them they could eat from any tree in the whole garden except for one tree. But they decided not to obey God and ate from that tree. God was angry with them for breaking his command and sent them out of the garden. He had warned them they would die if they ate from the tree, and that day they died spiritually. They could no longer be close to God the way they were before. They were separated from God forever unless someone could rescue them. When the man and the woman had children, they discovered that their children also preferred breaking God's law sometimes instead of always obeying. Then they had children, and their children had children…all the way to the present. And what do we see today? People still hurt each other, still lie, still kill, still steal. Everyone's behavior shows that they prefer to break God's law instead of always obeying.

The Bible says that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Then the Bible explains what the result is: "For the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). So, if we sin, if we break God's law, the payment is death, separation from the loving God who created us. But God did not want everyone to be separated from him forever, so he sent his son Jesus to live on earth. Let's look at some of the things Jesus said about the reason for coming:

"I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10).

"I lay down my life–only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again" (John 10:18-19).

John 12:23 Jesus replied, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

27"Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name!"

Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and will glorify it again." 29The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.

30Jesus said, "This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself." 33He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

John 12:47 (Jesus said), "For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. 48There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day."

John 3:16 (Jesus said): "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son."

Jesus' mission is clear – he wanted to save people from separation from God in Hell forever. The way to do that was to take the punishment – death – in the place of those who deserve death because of their sin. So he knew he would die on the cross when he came to earth, but he was "delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, (and) nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put to death" (Acts 2:23). The plan of God has always been this way, since God knows all the future and knows everything. Jesus volunteered for it, as he said in John 12:27.

One last piece to the puzzle – even though Jesus volunteered for it, he still did not welcome the thought of the pain of dying on a cross. The night before he died, Jesus went to pray with his friends in a garden, and prayed.

Matthew 26:28 - Then He said to them, "My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with me."

And He went a little beyond them, and fell on his face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not as I will, but as You will."

What did Jesus mean by "this cup"? It was the suffering of being killed on the cross, which is a very painful way to die. Jesus did not want to have pain, but he accepted it because he could finish his mission, which was to rescue many people from death because of their sin. We can recall the definition of "masochist", seen above, and Jesus certainly did not receive any sexual gratification for his pain. He did not welcome it, but he accepted it because he had a higher purpose.

However, the story did not end there. Keep reading: Acts 2:24 – "But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power." Jesus predicted before he died that he would only be dead for 3 days, and he was right! God made him alive again after he died, and so he defeated death. Death is the enemy because of sin, but because Jesus died and then came back to life, people who love Jesus do not fear death.

Everyone is sinful – everyone breaks God's law. Jesus once told a man: "only God is good" (Luke 18:19). Romans 3 says "all have turned away, they have become useless. No one seeks God, no one does good. Not even one." Deep down, everyone is bad because everyone breaks God's law. Jesus said "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me" (John 14:6). If you put your trust in Jesus and ask him to forgive the times you've broken (and will break) God's law, he will forgive you and change you, and he will be your friend and your Savior (he will save you from spiritual death forever). He is the only way to be free from the prison of sin and separation from God, which we deserve because of our behavior.

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