As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I am examining the Jewish nature of Jesus’ ministry, and what it should mean to those who fashion themselves to be His disciples. I’m going to begin this post by asking a question, and then following it up into a rabbit trail that actually is quite relevant to this series of posts. Here is the question:
Who has NOT heard the statement “Jesus was born to die”?
No one, right? This is a commonly-used statement that people make to say that the purpose of Christ’s birth was to get Him to Calvary, to die as God’s sacrificial lamb to atone for the sins of the world.
If this statement expresses your belief about the reason for the Incarnation, I have a challenge for you. How much of the gospels do you really need if your theology is reduced to “Jesus came to earth to die on the cross?” How much smaller your gospels would be if you simply removed all chapters not devoted to either the Incarnation or the Passion story.
• Matthew would be six chapters long, as you would have to remove chapters 4 through 25.
• Mark’s gospel would consist of three chapters, ch. 14-16, as he does not discuss the Incarnation.
• Luke’s gospel would be five chapters, with chapters 1-2 telling of the Incarnation, and 22-24 telling of the Passion.
• John’s gospel, like Mark’s, would only be three chapters long, as the first seventeen chapters would have to be removed.
The result of this exercise is that if you ignore everything in the gospels not related to the birth, crucifixion, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, you would excise 71 of 89 chapters from the Gospels.
Putting Jesus Back In The Gospels
As much as I revere and venerate The Apostles’ Creed (after all, I did a whole series on it!), it does have a minor flaw. See if you can spot it:
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
Philip Yancey saw it. In his The Jesus I Never Knew, he wrote: “The creeds repeated in churches tell about Christ’s eternal preexistence and glorious afterlife, but largely ignore his earthly career.” You see it, now, don’t you? The Creed jumps from Incarnation to Crucifixion. It’s as if our creeds call us to focus so much on the God in the God-man that we lose sight of the Man in the God-man.
In my last post, I presented the not-so-original idea that the Old Testament was an on-going self-revelation of God, and that Jesus continued and completed this revelation. I believe that the hard part for those of us on this side of the ascension is seeing that the crucifixion and resurrection, while God’s ultimate act of reconciliation, weren’t acts of self-revelation .
On the Mount of Transfiguration, after Peter’s rush to worship (“let us build three tabernacles”), God interrupted him, saying, “This is My Son, with whom I am pleased; listen to Him.” (Mt. 17, Mk. 9, Lk. 8) It’s hard to “listen to him” if we ignore His teaching in order to adore His salvific deeds.
When we focus on supernatural experiences to the detriment of learning to follow Jesus, we get lost in the weeds of our own theology. It is critical for us to understand that Jesus’ life is as important and revelatory to us as his crucifixion.
During the Passover supper, Jesus brought down the spirits of the disciples by telling them that He is going to His Father to prepare a place for them. In the discussion that followed, Phillip, wanting reassurances, said, “Show us the Father and it will suffice.” Jesus’ reply is key to seeing the revelatory nature of His life and teaching; He tells Phillip, “I have been with you all this time, and still you do not know Me? Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father.”
Do we want to see God? Don’t look to the cross; look to Jesus the Teacher.
Hear Him/Obey Him
Let’s look again at that moment on the Mount of Transfiguration. In God’s response to Peter, He ends His brief statement with “Listen to him” (or “Hear him”, depending on which translation you use). While the gospel accounts were written in Greek, we know that Christ’s sermons, teachings and conversations were actually delivered in Hebrew/Aramaic. This means that Peter, James and John heard God tell them “Shema”, which is the Hebrew word meaning to listen, and which carries with it the deeper connotation, to obey.
Shema is an important word to the Jews. Just as we have our Creed, so does Judaism; it is called the Shema Yisrael, which consists of three passages from the Torah (Deut. 6:4-9, 11:13-21; Num 15:37-41). The Shema is recited/prayed twice a day by observant Jews. In fact, when Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment, He responded with the first words of the Shema:
Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel:*** The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
~ Mark 12:29-30
To the Jewish ear, the call to hear is the call to obey. God’s statement at the Transfiguration is not a call to look forward to the cross, but to hear and obey the teachings that Jesus gives to us and lives before us. Jesus’ life and teachings are the culmination of God’s self-revelation that had been on-going since Abraham.
“Show us the Father”? That’s about all God has been doing for thousands of years. Look to Jesus. Then obey.
*** Shema Yisrael, in Hebrew.