No one can truly know Christ unless they follow him daily in life. — Hans Denck
You know those people in your life who you respect but find hard to be around? Sometimes it seems the church feels that way about Jesus. For sure, we talk about him frequently. But we don’t hang out in his world or with his words.
Sermons that are supposedly teaching a Gospel text will quickly veer off into a Pauline letter or jettison back into the Old Testament somewhere.
Too often an opinion or belief is attributed to Jesus but backed up by a verse in Psalms or Romans.
Of the many Bible studies generated by a hugely popular Bible teacher, only one covers a Gospel. Of 132 Bible study groups registered on this teacher’s website, only one group of women in Odessa, Fla., opted for Luke.
Why does Jesus’ bride love but discreetly avoid her groom? Perhaps the groom’s personality would be a good place to start.
Today’s Christian generally visualizes Jesus with peace and love radiating out of him. He is the person you would want to tuck you into bed at night.
If we believe the four Gospel writers, a full rendering of Jesus has to include a man who was sometimes exasperated, angry, painfully direct and offensive. In his encounter with the Syrophoenician woman he seems almost cruel.
Jesus is painfully earnest most of the time. He tells no jokes; his stories are not funny.
And he’s so intense. Ever insistent and yet maddeningly vague, he tells us over and over that we are to give everything for the kingdom of God. Everything.
What does that mean exactly? What is enough if we need to give all?
To read Jesus is to be convicted. When have I last visited someone in prison or clothed the naked? (Does dropping off bags of cast-off clothes at Goodwill count)?
Worse yet, I am reminded that I’ve convinced myself that ferrying my kids to piano lessons and serving on a church committee is “laying down my life” and “taking up my cross.” I don’t appreciate being told, “what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that.”
No one enjoys being warned about our love of and dependency on money. How unfortunate that it is a favorite trope of Jesus.
And what of those family values that we hold so dear? Jesus doesn’t seem to have the same veneration for the biological bonds.
In general, Jesus trends towards the dramatic, which makes practical application problematic at times. What is hyperbole, and what should be taken literally? “No” to plucking out eyeballs but “yes” to giving your shirt and walking about half naked? “No” to selling all you have but “yes” to dying for a friend?
There are plenty of theological traditions, past and present, that truncate Jesus. He is Savior and Lord but not teacher.
I suppose on one level this is adequate. A sacrifice is needed, Jesus fulfills, and judgment is removed.
But God didn’t give the world a body to be beaten and killed. He gave his Word. Jesus’ life and teachings are every bit as vital as the blood in his veins.
Before his ultimate sacrifice, God had three years’ worth of new information to pass along. He had a kingdom to establish — right then and right now.
We can choose his kingdom if we’re willing to walk the narrow road.
It runs straight through Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Sarah Kehrberg lives in Asheville, N.C.
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