The Rebel Jesus

There’s a Christmas song that is not even really a Christmas song that I love and am also haunted by. It’s called “The Rebel Jesus” by Jackson Browne.

The song shows a stark difference between what Browne sees between Christians and Christ. Browne, according to his own lyrics, does not follow Jesus. But his perspective is helpful for those of us who do.

Written almost 30 years ago, Brown recently recorded the song again from his home. Watch and listen closely:

The third and fourth verses particularly stand out:

[3] We guard our world with locks and guns
And we guard our fine possessions
And once a year when Christmas comes
We give to our relations
And perhaps we give a little to the poor
If the generosity should seize us
But if anyone of us should interfere
In the business of why there are poor
They get the same as the rebel Jesus

[4] But pardon me if I have seemed
To take the tone of judgement
For I’ve no wish to come between
This day and your enjoyment
In a life of hardship and of earthly toil
There’s a need for anything that frees us
So I bid you pleasure and I bid you cheer
From a heathen and a pagan
On the side of the rebel Jesus.

Read those lyrics one more time.

Do you see what Browne is saying? He wants to side with Jesus. But Christians are making it difficult. Friends, this shouldn’t be.

Jesus was the kind of person who attracted heathens and pagans. If 2020 has revealed anything to me, it’s that American Christianity treasures many things above Jesus. And the consequence is that “the heathens and pagans” are pushed further away.

This isn’t an indictment on any one particular Christian. I’m not saying God is angry and disappointed with his people. He never sees his saints that way because for those who truly trust in Jesus, we are the apple of his eye. He smiles upon us and sings over us.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t have work to do. Both can be true.

What I think Browne exposes is that traditionally organized church systems and structures are set up to keep us more aligned with the institution and the status quo than Jesus.

And that’s not okay.

I need to write more on this. So much more. But the last two weeks of the year is not the best time. (Who starts a 90-day writing challenge in November/December?!)

Many people are already writing about this and all its related tangents. Looking into the ugly underbelly of our traditional church system is becoming more acceptable than a decade ago.

But we need more. If we want to see change and renewal in our churches and if we want God’s people be the salt and light they were made to be, we need more to be exposed.

I’ll ask the same of you as Browne did: please, don’t hear tone of judgment.

Just an urgent plea to pursue, love, and imitate the Rebel Jesus.