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31 Flavors of Jesus? Why Christians Should Expect The Unexpected

Baskin-Robbins is home to 31 flavors of ice cream. But really there is only one flavor…Pralines n’ Cream. It’s money. Every time. Maybe you have a “go to” flavor.

But here’s the thing about my flavor: it’s the best. This is not my opinion. It’s fact. My taste buds tell me so. My wife usually asks me to taste her flavor, but I scoff at the idea that her flavor is better. Because it’s not.

But last time I went into Baskin Robbins, I saw something different. Oh, yes, my Pralines n’ Cream was amazing. But as my wife and I had our typical “mine is better” conversation, something hit me.

I treat Jesus like my ice cream.

Not that Jesus is tasty or I eat him. That’s weird. You see, like Baskin Robbins, I have my flavor of Jesus. And by flavor I mean, filter. Most of us have a flavor of Jesus we like best. Millennials see a social justice Jesus. The middle-class white person sees a family man Jesus. The boomers see a suit and tie Jesus.

“So, everybody has their flavor. No big deal, Frank.”

Except it is.

You see, filters frame expectations. Filters form worldviews. The result of these expectations and worldviews is a Jesus who always fights on our team, always accepts our philosophies and practices, and always believes our way is THE way.

A typical Millennial Christian believes Jesus would absolutely be in the community loving the marginalized, preaching and practicing social justice. A typical Christian boomer believes Jesus would absolutely show up early for worship, wear his best clothes, and be orderly. A typical middle-class family man Christian believes Jesus would have a job, care for his family and take his children to all their ballgames.

Everyone had a flavor for Jesus.

The Pharisees also had a particular flavor for Jesus. Jesus would uphold the traditions of the elders, stroke the egos of the religious elite, and take down the mighty Roman government.

But Jesus didn’t come this way. Not even close. And because they refused to alter their expectations or believe the Messiah could come in an unexpected way, they missed him.

In fact, they didn’t just miss him. They crucified him.

And here’s the question that haunts me, knowing I am not much different from the Pharisees. If Jesus returned today would I recognize him?

Even worse, would I crucify him?

Sounds crazy, but hear me out. If you read the gospels, you notice a fairly consistent trend. Regardless of who Jesus is around, he usually ends up saying or doing something contrary to the cultural norm.

Take the apostles, for instance. They expected Jesus to be a great king who would restore Israel, so they bickered about who would be the greatest and have the most power. The apostles were so jacked up on their own flavor that, even after seeing a resurrected Jesus, they still couldn’t grasp the fact that he wasn’t going to restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6).

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What about the marginalized and outcast? They expected Jesus to shun them, but instead he told them they were blessed by God (Matthew 5). Jesus even had the audacity to tell Jewish leaders Samaritans were their neighbors. That flavor isn’t even on the menu, Jesus.

And if that’s not enough, on one occasion, Jesus grabbed children and told his disciples that unless they became like children, they wouldn’t enter the kingdom of heaven. Children, Jesus? Really? Children had no rights or privileges in Jesus’s day. None. Yet Jesus said the kingdom of heaven belonged to them (Matt. 19:14).

“So, Frank. Let’s recap. You’re telling me Jesus chewed out legalistic church leaders, spent time with the homeless, and told the future leaders of the church to become like those with no privilege or power? Hey, nice story, bro. But that doesn’t sound like a Savior to me.”

I agree. And that’s the point.

Jesus turned heads with almost every action. Jesus left almost everyone saying, “Did that just happen?!” No one could label Jesus. No one could figure out Jesus’s flavor. Rocky Road? Strawberry Passion? Bubble Gum Explosion?

“I mean, c’mon Jesus, what flavor are you?”

We, Christians, want Jesus to fit our idea of who he is supposed to be. And I understand why. It’s comfortable. It’s easy. It’s predictable.

But when we force Jesus to fit our idea of him, we run the risk of missing Jesus.

Which do you really prefer?…Dead Jesus or Resurrected Jesus? 

Yet, this is where many Christians find themselves. Starting with me. We want to be religious. We show up at church on Sunday. We might even confess sin. But, for the most part, we want God to be predictable and controllable. We want Jesus but only on our terms. In essence, we want the Jesus on the cross, not the Jesus before death (you know the one who made everyone uncomfortable) and certainly not the resurrected Jesus.

The dead Jesus is easier, right? As long as Jesus is on the cross, we know where he is and how he will respond. And, at the same time, we can still come to the cross, sing a few songs, listen to a sermon, and tell dead Jesus we are sorry for making a few mistakes.

I will be honest, as an American Christian living in the south, to think  Jesus is alive frightens me. It terrifies me. If Jesus is alive, he is uncontrollable, and he is still in the business of doing what he did during his ministry….the unexpected. I don’t want that.

Yeah, I like dead Jesus better.

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Dead Jesus doesn’t challenge my comfortable lifestyle. He doesn’t leave the cross and inform my relationships at school or my partnerships at work. He doesn’t tell me how to spend my money or my time.

But the message of Christianity isn’t that Jesus died on a cross and was left in a tomb. The message of Christianity is that Jesus walked out of a tomb…alive! And if Jesus is alive, we should expect Jesus to show up in unexpected ways. We should expect Jesus to find the man or woman with no privilege or power and tell us to become like them. We should expect Jesus to chew the hides of self-righteous church leaders who proclaim their way to salvation is the only way. We should expect Jesus to scold us for choosing to use our Bible as a weapon instead of a catalyst to know God and engage the world.

Whether we accept the reality or not, Jesus is alive. And whether we are at work, at home, in the midst of heartache, in the messiness of divorce, in the joy of new birth, and everywhere in between, Jesus shows up. And when he does, we should expect Jesus to say and do the unexpected. But, we should also expect that the words or actions will be exactly what we need.

Why Jesus usually does the unexpected.

Before we leave this discussion, understand this. When Jesus challenges our worldview through Scripture or experience, he isn’t doing so as an angry cynic. He isn’t thinking, “Frank, you are so near-sighted. Get away from Pralines n’ Cream. Strawberry Passion is so much better. You make me sick.”

Not at all.

Jesus is pulling us towards new flavors because he wants us to see God more clearly. His love for us is the catalyst for his unexpected behavior. He knows our flavor is good but incomplete. Jesus has tasted every flavor, and he knows each one holds a deeper understanding of God’s love, grace, mercy, and holiness.

So, next time I go to Baskin Robbins, I will try a flavor other than Pralines N’ Cream. And, who knows? I might actually like it.

I should expect that.

Is it time for you to try new flavors? If you have a story about God doing the unexpected, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below. Let’s continue the conversation.

I love you all. To God be the glory forever. Amen!

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