As you read through the biographies of Jesus, you repeatedly find Jesus leaving His home and searching for people who weren’t living the lives they were created to live. Every time he bumped into these people, Jesus looked at them and said something to the effect of, “This isn’t what you were meant for. There’s a better way to live your life. Follow Me, and I’ll take you there.”
I’ll give you a few of my favorite examples.
One day, Jesus was walking through a town when a mob of men threw a naked girl at his feet (John 8:1–11).
These men had caught this girl having sex with a man she wasn’t married to, and one of the mob leaders asked Jesus, “Hey, Teacher. We caught this girl in the act of sinning. She’s guilty, and there’s no doubt about it. Moses gave us a law that says sinners like her deserve to be stoned to death. What do you say? Do you agree or disagree?”
This was a trick question. If Jesus replied, “Don’t stone her,” then the mob would say that Jesus was also a sinner because he refused to obey God’s laws. If Jesus replied, “Stone her,” then the mob would say that he was mean, heartless, and intolerant. They thought they had Jesus trapped — but of course, Jesus was smarter.
Jesus didn’t immediately say anything. Instead, he knelt down and scribbled in the dust for a few moments before he finally stood up and replied, “You’re right. The law says that all sinners deserve to be condemned and punished. In this case, they should be stoned. So how about this? If you’ve never sinned, you can go first. You can throw the first stone. Then the rest of us will jump in, and we’ll give this girl what she deserves.”
Obviously, I wasn’t there, but I’m guessing it got quiet and awkward for a few minutes as the mob mulled over Jesus’ words. Jesus implied a terrifying truth in that statement: “All sinners deserve to be condemned. So if you want, we can start with her and work our way through the crowd passing out judgment and punishment until only the perfect people are left. If those are the rules you want to play by, then fine. When I count to three and blow this whistle, anyone who has never sinned can go to town on the sinners.”
If they played by those rules, Jesus would have been the last one standing. So the mob dropped their stones and went home, and Jesus was left alone in the street with the terrified, naked girl.
Now, if I were that girl, I would be thinking, This is the worst day of my life. I’d probably still have my eyes shut tight, waiting for that first stone to make contact. I’d hope it would go by fast. I’d hope someone could put me out of my misery.
How do you think that girl wound up in that situation? What led her to that place? I’m guessing that when she was in middle school, she didn’t write in her yearbook, “I hope that someday I’m caught in a hotel sleeping with some married guy who will never leave his wife like he promised. I hope a mob kicks down the door and drags me to the alley so I can lay naked and ashamed while they have a meeting about how to kill me. That’s the life I’m aiming for.”
That wasn’t what she had hoped for. But it didn’t matter anymore how she hit rock-bottom; it only mattered that she was there.
What did Jesus do? He rescued her.
He reached into her mess, picked her up from the dirt, covered up her nakedness and shame, and told her, “This isn’t what you were meant for. Things have to change. There’s a better way to live life. Follow Me, and I’ll take you there.”
Jesus was the only person in the entire crowd who was qualified to throw the first stone of condemnation. He was the only person without sin. He had every right to look that girl in the face and say, “I’ll do it. It’s time to get what you deserve.” But instead of giving her what she deserved, Jesus gave her what she needed. Jesus paid attention, heard her cries, left His home, risked His safety for her sake, set her free, and pointed her toward the life she was created to live. Only Jesus could have stoned her. And only Jesus could tear her out of the dragon.
Another time, as Jesus was walking down a road, he looked up in a tree and saw a short guy named Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1–9). Zacchaeus, a Jew from Jericho, had taken a job collecting taxes for the occupying Roman military. The closest comparison I can come up with is a guy from New York City, a few days after 9/11, charging people to look at the wreckage of the Twin Towers, pocketing a portion of that toll, and then sending the rest to finance further al-Qaeda attacks.
That is what Zacchaeus was all about. He was an Israelite profiting off the invading Roman government. He stole money from his fellow Jews who were already hurting, gave some to Caesar, and stuck some in an offshore bank account. He got rich by exploiting his own. He joined the enemy. He was a traitor.
Needless to say, Zacchaeus wasn’t too popular.
So one day, Zacchaeus climbed a tree in order to get a good look at this famous storyteller he had heard so much about. Jesus stopped under the tree, looked up, and said, “Zacchaeus, come down. Let’s go have lunch at your place.”
That did not go over well with the locals. During lunch, there were emergency meetings being held and last-minute text-messages being sent: “Jesus, why do You keep hanging out with sinners?”
In fact, the number one question asked of Jesus in the Bible was not, “Who is God?” “How do I get to Heaven?” or “What is the meaning and purpose of my life?” Those are all great questions, but that’s not what people asked Him. Instead, the most frequently asked question of Jesus that I find in the Bible is some variation of, “Why do You hang out, eat lunch, and become friends with sinners?”
Jesus always replied, “These are the people I love. I left my home for these people. I came to seek and save that which is lost.”
How do you think Zacchaeus felt? He couldn’t even have someone over for lunch without the entire town being shocked. How do you think he wound up in that situation? I’m pretty sure that back when he was a kid, he didn’t scribble in his journal, “I hope I grow up to become a traitor. I hope I walk away from my faith, family, friends, and people in order to work for the Romans. I hope everybody hates me. That’s the life I’m aiming for.”
The Bible doesn’t tell us how he wound up a traitor, but if he was anything like you and me, Zacchaeus had his dragons. Maybe he got tired of the “short guy” jokes that other people thought were so funny. Maybe each joke killed a part of his soul.
Or maybe people kept telling Zacchaeus that he didn’t fit in, and after hearing it enough times, he believed it. That’s what happened to my friend Bob. One day, he confessed to me that he was gay. In his own words, “My older brother used to hold me down and molest me when I was a kid. All my life, people have called me names like ‘sissy,’ ‘faggot,’ and ‘queer.’ That’s how people see me. That’s what people think and say about me. I guess that’s what I am.”
Maybe that’s what Zacchaeus was going through: “My family doesn’t want me. My friends make fun of me. My religious community doesn’t think I’m good enough to be around. Fine. I’m out. I’ll take my ball and go home.”
Zacchaeus wasn’t living the life he had always hoped for. But, again, it didn’t matter how he hit rock-bottom; it only mattered that he was there. When Zacchaeus and his towering baggage bumped into Jesus, how did Jesus respond? “Hey, Zacchaeus. Let’s be friends. Do you want to have lunch?”
The curious thing about this story is that Jesus and Zacchaeus ate lunch, but before dessert was served, Zacchaeus stood up and announced to everyone within shouting distance, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (Luke 19:8).
I wonder what transpired over lunch, what part of the conversation caused such a shift in Zacchaeus. Maybe Jesus said something like, “Zacchaeus, I get it. I understand what’s going on in your life. I understand how you got here, but this isn’t the life I meant for you. You weren’t created for this. You’ve made a mess that has dominated your life, but it doesn’t have to anymore. There’s a better way to live. Follow Me, and I’ll take you there.”
Instead of giving Zacchaeus what he deserved, Jesus gave him what he needed. Jesus paid attention, left His home, ate lunch with him at the risk of His own safety, set him free, and pointed Zacchaeus toward the life he was meant to live. Jesus ripped Zacchaeus free from the dragon.
JESUS SLAYS DRAGONS
Isn’t it odd how we often find ourselves making choices that, only a few years, months, or days ago, we never would have imagined possible? We wake up one day and everything is different. We open our eyes and realize we’re nothing like the people we hoped we’d become, and we’re living lives we were never intended to live. It’s a terrible “aha” moment.
What happened? When did everything change? When did everything go so wrong?
Maybe your story is similar to that of the naked girl thrown at Jesus’ feet. You thought you were in love. You believed the promises of a person who swore up and down that he loved you and would stay with you forever. But he didn’t. He lied, used you up, and left. You lost hope and began a long string of poor choices, decisions, and relationships. It wouldn’t surprise you, if you were thrown at the feet of Jesus, to be stoned with condemnation and punishment for your mistakes.
Or maybe your story is like Zacchaeus’s. When you were young, you believed God was good and people were kind, but eventually you discovered that people were mean, cruel, and evil. Somebody held you down, hurt you, and took something precious from you. Certain people made you feel like you were nothing but a rag to wipe up their own filth.
On top of all of this, it felt like God didn’t care and wouldn’t help. So you gave up on God, people, and yourself. You worked hard, played hard, and did whatever was necessary in order to get ahead. You used and abused people, and you ended up becoming the kind of person who had mistreated you in the past. Now you look behind you and see nothing but a long trail of wounded, angry victims. You might be curious about Jesus, but you’re not brave enough to have a conversation with Him because you think it wouldn’t go well. You’re hiding up in the tree.
I don’t know your story. Maybe it’s completely different from the above examples. I assure you that Jesus’ response to your story will stay the same. Not once do you ever find Jesus bumping into messy people and then bash- ing them over the head with condemnation, judgment, and anger. He never lectures them about their many mistakes or reminds them of how far they’ve fallen short.
In all my years of going to church, never once have I walked through the front doors thinking, Boy, I hope the preacher reminds me of all the ways I’ve screwed up my life so far. That’s why I got out of bed. I came to church this morning for a good, heaping dose of guilt and condemnation.
I’ve never needed that. I’m already very aware of my guilt and warranted condemnation. I don’t need reminding. I’m looking for the same thing the naked girl and Zacchaeus were looking for: something better. Something freer.
I’m looking for someone to set me free from my 10’x10’ prison cell before it becomes my tomb. I need to know there’s hope. I need to know I still have a chance.
I need someone to slay my dragons.
Jesus understands this, so He meets you wherever you are. Whether you’re lying in the street, naked and humiliated; or you’re hiding in the trees, hated and empty, Jesus wants you to bump into Him. And every time, Jesus will offer the same hope:
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. — John 10:10
In other words, to quote the great theologians Led Zeppelin, from their masterpiece “Stairway to Heaven”:
There’s still time to change the road you’re on.1
There is a path in life that will rip you off, kill everyone and everything that’s important to you, and leave nothing but destruction and devastation in its wake. If you choose that path, you will become a dragon and stay one.
But there’s another path in life that is full and abundant. This path leads to the life you were designed and created to live. Jesus heard your cries, left His home, sacrificed His life, and conquered death so that you could have a shot at this better life.
Other people may have given up on you. You may have given up on yourself.
But Jesus has not given up on you.
Through Jesus, and only Jesus, you can be un-dragoned. You can be free again. You can have hope, joy, and a full life. The question is not whether this whole thing is truth or fairy tale. It’s absolute truth. The question is whether or not you’re going to stand up from the dusty ground, get down out of that tree, or leave the cemetery behind.
Excerpted with permission from No More Dragons by Jim Burgen, copyright James M. Burgen.
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Jesus has not given up on you! No matter what your circumstances. No matter if you’ve grown into someone you never in a million years when you were a little girl would have hoped and dreamed of becoming. No matter what. Jesus says, “You weren’t created for this. You’ve made a mess that has dominated your life, but it doesn’t have to anymore. There’s a better way to live. Follow Me, and I’ll take you there.” Come share your thoughts with us on our blog. We want to hear the story of how Jesus is un-dragoning you! ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full