Jesus Christ is without a doubt the most compelling and confusing person in human history.
He is compelling because of the sheer magnitude of his life. His teaching, his actions, his miracles, his compassion for the marginalized and his sacrifice make him loved by those of all ages around the globe. Even those who claim to be atheist have a sincere appreciation for the historical Jesus, and value him as one to be esteemed, respected, heard, and modeled.
But at the same time, Jesus is the most confusing person who ever lived. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus fed 5,000 and then later fed another 4,000. A paragraph later, the disciples began to bicker over not having any bread to eat. Jesus asked them, “How many baskets of leftovers did you gather when I fed the 5,000?” “Twelve,” they replied. “And how many baskets when I fed the 4,000?” “Seven,” they responded. Jesus then asked, “Do you get it?” The disciples looked at Jesus, shrugged, and said, “No, we really don’t.” Two thousand years have passed and if we’re honest we would confess, we don’t get it either.
Jesus was a counter cultural revolutionary. He spoke of turning cheeks, going the second mile, and descending into greatness. He ate with sinners and condemned religious leaders. His teaching makes us nervous. He said that if we don’t hate our mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters we cannot be his disciple. If we put our hand to the plow and look back we are not worthy of his kingdom. So what do we do about that? Explain it away by saying, “that was then, this is now?”
So what do we do with Jesus? We’re pretty good with the spring weekend that describes his death and resurrection, but what about the rest? Ever since the Protestant Reformation we’ve relied on Paul to help us understand Jesus. That statement alone should send signals flashing and alarms ringing. But that’s what we do. Go to any local bookstore and pick up a gospel tract. Take three minutes and read it and count the number of verses that quote the words of Jesus and how many verses cite the writings of Paul. We use Paul to understand Jesus when the opposite should be true. We should be examining Paul through the lens of Jesus. One wonders how we would even read Jesus if Paul’s writings were not available. What then?
Until we get Jesus right, he will be nothing more that one who forgives our sins and solves our problems. If the only time we turn to Jesus is when we need our problem solved, we use him. And when you use someone in any relationship, all you can ever hope for is approval. You’ll never enjoy the benefits of acceptance.
What do we do with Jesus? Is his story just a story about a weekend 2,000 years ago? What about his three year ministry? Does that matter? What about the 33 or so years he lived on earth? Is there significance that he was born a Jew in Israel? Does that context matter in light of the previous 4,000 years of Old Testament history? Does that stuff matter? Or shall we be content to limit our understand of Jesus to one spring weekend? In order to understand Jesus we need to see him as the resolution of the story of Israel.
What was the gospel that Jesus preached? The only way for us to learn the answer to that question we need to examine what he said.