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As they went out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry his cross. -- Matthew 27: 32 (ESV)
Anyone who has spent any time watching Joel Osteen preach knows that Jesus is quite often the farthest thing from his mind. A study was once done of over 800 tweets sent out by Osteen in a one year period and of them, only three mentioned the name of Jesus. Osteen is on record as saying that doctrine is not his gifting, which would disqualify him from being a pastor. He believes that people already know everything they do wrong, so he sees his role as that of an encourager. When it comes to encouragement, Osteen tries very hard to live up to that standard. The problem however, is without Jesus; he is left with only carnal encouragement. His words of comfort are always focused on this life now.
Because he fancies himself in this role and because his beliefs that people already know what they do wrong, Osteen rarely ever addresses sin, repentance, or Gospel centric themes such as the cross or the blood. Sure we might get a drive by mention of Jesus or the cross to give the appearance of Christian piety but in the end the sermon always comes back to you. My pastor once taught me that any sermon that cannot come back to the cross is not worth preaching. Joel Osteen works on the opposite premise. Forget the cross because it offends. Any sermon that cannot be narcissistically exegeted and brought back to the listener is not worth preaching.
One would think this would present a problem when it comes to Resurrection Sunday, known as Easter at Lakewood Church. He knows he has to face the cross then. He cannot avoid speaking about the resurrection after all. This week he wrote a short blog post that brilliantly displays how to not handle the Word of God. Let us reason together and learn what to avoid from people who call themselves preachers:
"When Jesus was on His way to be crucified, He was made to carry His own cross. He had been so beaten down that He couldn't carry it all the way--He fell down under the weight of His cross." -- Joel Osteen
This is true. It is recorded in all three synoptic Gospel accounts, including the key verse today from Matthew. This of course would have been a great opportunity to discuss the viciousness of the beating Jesus had endured and how that was supposed to be our chastisement. A perfect way to launch into a true presentation of the Gospel, our sin and the need for a Savior. If you are getting the feeling that will not ensue, you have been paying attention:
"Sometimes in life, the cross we're carrying can get heavy. We think, "I can't raise this child. I can't stay in this marriage. I can't deal with this legal situation another day." Those accusing voices will come and try to convince you that if you've ever had a doubt, if you've ever gotten discouraged, if you've ever fallen then God is finished with you." -- Joel Osteen
What???????? Did Joel Osteen just narcigete the story of Jesus carrying the cross to His own crucifixion? Suddenly the cross is a metaphor for when we are going through tough times like a wayward child or a bad legal quandary? Seriously? Is he even aware that the issue was not merely the weight of the cross but that He had been beaten to within an inch of His life? That His skin had been torn away by the flogging? That the crown of thorns was shoved into His head until his own blood clouded His eyes? What a cheapening of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It's just like when I was fighting with my wife? Good night.
Accusing voices? Where are there accusing voices in this account of Simon from Cyrene? Where does it mention that at this point Jesus doubted God? Or that He felt that God had given up on Him? Discouraged? Really? It must have been real discouraging to be mocked, spat upon, whipped until His flesh came off and then forced to carry the very instrument of a death He knew was coming. Yes, I think discouragement sums it up well don't you? That must have been why he could no longer carry the cross. Too much discouragement. And all this time I thought it might have been the loss of blood. This is not how you divide the Word of Truth. The bible is not there for our amusement beloved. To try and relate the stories to our own lives. The Bible is not about us. It is about Him. The story Joel Osteen is referencing is part of the culmination of every story told in the Bible up until this point and Joel Osteen thinks it is a picture of when we are feeling a little down because our lives are not quite optimal. Joel apparently was not kidding when he said doctrine was not his gifting. Unfortunately, he was not quite done:
"But, look at what happened to Jesus. When He fell down, God didn't leave Him there. God didn't say, "Too bad, Jesus. You should have had more faith." No, God immediately sent Simon across His path to help him. Simon picked up the cross and carried it for Jesus." -- Joel Osteen
Did he even read the text??? God did not send Simon of Cyrene -- the Romans compelled him! He had not yet reached the place where they intended to crucify him and the Roman guards sure were not going to carry the cross. You are right Joel. God did not leave Him there. He made sure that He continued up to Golgotha, was nailed to that cross, had a spear shoved through His side, took on the sins of the world, and died a horrific death that we deserved. And you take that and try to leverage it to "encourage" people that God isn't done with them yet either? Do you even understand the inanity of that inference? How little do you think of the sacrifice of Christ, the spilling of His blood, and the work of the cross that you would dare compare it to anything in this carnal existence let alone something as banal as doubt and discouragement? Thankfully, Osteen concludes:
Here's the point: when you're down, when you have doubts, when you're discouraged, God will always send somebody to help you back up. It's okay to have doubts. Just don't stay there. It's okay to be disappointed. Just realize that disappointment is not the end. God still has something great in your future! -- Joel Osteen
How pathetically sad that Joel Osteen misses the entire point of this story? The point is not about our temporal lives Joel but rather the promise of eternal life. It is not about Simon from Cyrene bearing the cross of Christ but rather that Jesus bore Simon's sins. How on earth do you call yourself a pastor and miss that? It's ok to have doubts just don't stay there? Where in this story do you see that? Considering where Jesus is and where He knows He is going, Joel Osteen is teaching that Christ doubted the plan of redemption that Father had! What utter blasphemy! Also, do you seriously think for a moment the Romans would have let him just stay there? The Son of God in human form has led a sinless life, preached a ministry of repentance for three years, was betrayed by His own, falsely accused, beaten, flogged, crown of thorns, forced to carry His own instrument of death to where He already knows His human life will end and all Joel Osteen can do is compare it to being down and disappointed. Wow. Perhaps the most disconnected part of this ridiculous blog post is the ending however.
Always remember that because Jesus rose again, you can rise again, too! Help is on the way to lead you to victory! -- Joel Osteen
This is so close to truth but Joel Osteen cannot see it. He is too focused on this life, carnal encouragement and which photo of himself to use for his next book. Yes beloved. It is because Jesus rose from the dead that we too can survive the grave. That we too can overcome this world. That we may have the forgiveness of our sins. That we can be reconciled unto God. Is this what Joel Osteen means though? No. Not even close. Osteen has made it abundantly clear he is speaking about victory over discouragement, doubts, and feeling abandoned. His examples included dealing with problems with your kids, your spouse or law enforcement. It is all temporal. It is all carnal.
Jesus meanwhile, provides us a way to victory over sin. Triumph over Satan. A conquest over the grave. But Joel Osteen cannot see that because one needs spiritual eyes to see what is eternally offered. Joel is focused firmly on making this life your best life now. Beloved if that is the case then by definition you are going to hell. God did not include the brief story of Simon from Cyrene so we would be assured that help is on the way. How absurd. To see the picture of Christ collapsing in the street, bloodied to the point of being unrecognizable, with the worst still to come is the penultimate moment of our faith. It is moments away from the fulfillment of all Old Testament prophecy and the heart of the Gospel message. It should be preached every week and not just on Resurrection Sunday. But only if you know what is going on and clearly Joel Osteen does not. Now I am beginning to understand why he does not preach the cross. He simply does not understand it.