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Cotton Patch Jesus

Posted by Wayne Johnson on

If you could go back in time and visit any period in history, what would you choose?

I've gotten this question a few times over the years. It's often one of those ice-breaker questions in group exercises, or a conversation starter in a party game.

Personally, if I could go back in time, I’d go back 2,000 years to Palestine. I’m curious what it was like to be around the Son of God in the flesh. Of course that’s not possible. However, there are ways for us to see the relevance of Jesus for us today. In fact, there's a way to consider what Jesus' life might have looked like if he had been born in rural America in the 1970s. While that may sound a bit "far out," it's exactly what a drama called Cotton Patch Gospel offers us, and you can see it tonight at The Bible Chapel at 7:30 p.m.

Cotton Patch Gospel is a musical drama written and performed off-Broadway in the 1970s. It sets the life of Jesus in contemporary, rural Georgia instead of ancient Palestine. Cotton Patch Gospel raises an intriguing question: What would it be like to be around Jesus if he was born and lived in our own lifetime? How would we be affected if we had the opportunity to be up close and personal with him?

I am sure, on the one hand, that Jesus would challenge many of our attitudes and behaviors. We might be surprised how often we’d be squirming in our seats and hemming and hawing when the light of the earthly Jesus is shone on our daily lives.

For example, John the Baptist, who announced Jesus’ coming, not only called the people to repent and be baptized but also to "produce fruit in keeping with repentance" (Luke 3:8). We need to repent. Is our repentance genuine enough to produce daily fruit that is consistent with a repentant heart?

We so readily confuse being religious with spiritual maturity and authentic discipleship. Jesus often challenged this human tendency. For example, the Pharisees had many rules and rituals that were designed to please God and earn his acceptance. But those rules and rituals often got in the way of living the way God wants us to live. The Pharisees criticized Jesus for breaking Sabbath rules by healing a man's hand. Jesus responded by challenging their assumptions and rules: "I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save a life or destroy it?" (Luke 6:9). Another time Jesus pronounced judgment on the Pharisees because "you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God." (Luke 11:42).

Being involved in many church activities and religious practices is not the same as true Christ-likeness. We are drawn to greatness, beauty, and achievement. We tend to honor and give deference to the wealthy and powerful. Jesus honored the insignificant. Of the poor widow who gave an offering equivalent to a dollar or two, Jesus said, "Truly I tell you . . . this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on." (Luke 11:42). Jesus saw her heart. He honored one who most people wouldn’t notice.

Many more examples like these can be produced from the Gospel record of Jesus earthly life. But Jesus did more than challenge attitudes and behaviors. He demonstrated the love, grace, and truth of God more clearly than anyone had ever seen before, or ever will on this present earth. He welcomed children (Matthew 19:13-15), healed every kind of illness (Matthew 9:35), felt genuine compassion for human lostness (Matthew 9:36), grieved with others (John 11:35), defeated Satan on our behalf (Matthew 12:28), brought us God’s life in the present and for eternity (John 10:10, 3:16), keeps and cares for his own as a shepherd cares for his sheep (John 10:11-18), and he served and sacrificed for our deepest needs (Mark 10:45). And to every person who repents of their sin and places their faith in him, Jesus ushers into the family of God (John 1:12).

What would it be like to be around Jesus if he were physically present today? It could be dreadful, especially for one whose heart is cold toward God. But for one who desires God and desires to live as God would have us live, being near Jesus would be getting as close to God as is humanly possible now. That would be cool indeed!

We hope to see you tonight at the show (and for dinner beforehand!), which promises a very intriguing look at Jesus' life. Learn more about this event, and let us know in the comments below what time period you'd like to visit!

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