Some say He was an outlaw, that He roamed across the land
With a band of unschooled ruffians and a few old fishermen
No one knew just where he came from or exactly what he’d done
But they said it must be something bad that kept him on the run
from “The Outlaw” by Larry Norman
Why was it called the Jesus movement of the 1970s featuring Jesus people and Jesus freaks, and why was the music played considered Jesus music? Because in 1970, it was all about Jesus. Nobody officially designated any of these labels; they just came about through natural use because everybody was talking about Jesus. Everybody preached Jesus, talked about Jesus, and sang about Jesus. It was not about Christianity. It was not about even becoming a Christian. It was not about the church. Jesus was actually what made the movement popular. People — especially young people — were not interested in any of these other things, but they were interested in Jesus. It was as if Jesus somehow stepped out of the pages of history unscathed, without religious bias or prior baggage, and no one had considered that kind of Jesus before.
It didn’t hurt that Jesus was controversial, even in His own day. It helped. Larry Norman sang about Jesus being an outlaw, and other songs like, “He’s the rock that doesn’t roll,” and “Jesus is the rock and He rolled my blues away.” Bob Marlowe sang about Jesus clearing the temple of money-changers: “Jesus, He came on through here today and asked everyone to leave.” This was a Jesus that made people who were already rebellious when it came to the status quo wonder if maybe Jesus was on the same page as them when it came to upsetting the norm — even upsetting religion.
As many encountered the Jesus of the New Testament, they soon began to realize that if this figure were to return today to many of the churches and institutions that should be championing Him, He would at best be considered suspect, and at worst, He would be kicked out. Suddenly the new thought was, “Let’s at least hear this guy out. Who is He? Let’s see what He has to say.” And when they heard His words it wasn’t the sweet conforming message they’d been hearing in church all their lives about being good and keeping your nose clean. It was a radical call to love — love your enemies, love the poor, love those who persecute you, love those of other races and backgrounds, love those who are different — love everyone as you love yourself.
How does that message sound today? Does it sound fresh and radical? Does it sound like something few, including yourself, are able to do all the time? Does it sound like a challenge — something that you can’t do without help from the One who loves you and gave Himself for you?
Is it always like this? Is it always radical? Is it always hard? Yes. And yet it seems like we get it for a while, and then we fall back to the institutional, or the cultural, or other versions of spirituality that let us measure ourselves by each other, or by standards we can measure up to like the Pharisees, and suddenly there we are again, needing a visit from the radical Jesus to call us to come forward and be vulnerable to what we cannot do.
What God wants us to be is what we cannot be without Him. Yet, sadly, we keep trying.