Tag Archives: Historical Jesus

Following Jesus, Ethics, Helicopter Easter Eggs, and HighMill Church

 

From where do we begin when seeking to follow Jesus? This is a legitimate question for any Christian seeking to break away from the label of “Christian” and wanting to resemble the very ethics of the One they long to follow after. But from where do we begin? Is it by seeking to copy what we see Jesus doing? Is it by measuring up the best we can to the level of perfection and holiness Jesus represented as told to us by Paul or Peter? Where do we begin in “following Jesus?”

These are valid questions. For some they do not make a difference. Others reduce all of Christianity to simply being a “great person.” But that isn’t right either. To be a Christian is to embody the ethics, life, and purpose of this radical 1stcentury reformer who was a poor, homeless, peasant. A wandering cynic perhaps or even millenarian prophet. The question still stands, where do we begin?

For many centuries the church’s launching point in seeking to emulate Jesus was through the study of the risen Christ and reflections of him post Easter. The ethics for many were confined to the teachings of Paul, Peter, James, and John. Of course, the Gospels have always played a large role, however even within those texts it was the aspects of Christ which were emphasized. The challenge is that all of these reflect the person of Jesus post-Easter. They reflect the collective consciousness which was being formed around the risen Christ and the church’s experience with Him.

Obviously, we cannot argue with the profound impact of the risen Christ and the resurrection. But when we speak of “ethics” we are speaking of the social constructs which govern our actions, thinking, and dispositions. The “risen Christ” tends to make this reality challenging. The “historical Jesus” however brings concrete action to this end. More than that, when studying the historical life of Jesus and how he interacted within the Judaism of his day we are given an image of what true Christian ethics are to look like. For example, Jesus dealt with various religious groups which compromised the ethics and truth of God’s original intent with Judaism. Might we still have same issue today with staunch fundamentalists and radical progressives within the Christian religion? Seeking to respond to this perhaps it would be wise to see how Jesus responded to the polar extremes of his day.

Christian ethicist and theologian Stanley Hauerwas rightly argues that the appropriate place to begin is with the man himself. living in 1stcentury Palestine. He says, “You cannot know who Jesus is after the resurrection unless you have learned to follow Jesus during his life. His life and crucifixion are necessary to purge us of false notions about what kind of Kingdom Jesus brings. In the same way his disciples and adversaries also had to be purged. Only by learning to follow him to Jerusalem, where he becomes subject to the powers of this world, do we learn what the kingdom entails, as well as what kind of messiah this Jesus is.” (The Hauerwas Reader, 120-21)

 The key point Hauerwas makes is actually revolutionary to much of modern Christendom: to follow Jesus is to look more so at his life pre-Easter life than post. The purging Hauerwas speaks of is essential if we are to actually become “followers of Jesus.”

For far too long in my own Christian life I have encountered many individuals who claim to follow Jesus and yet only cling to the risen Christ as hope for their salvation. This reduces their life to a mere label and cerebral declaration—which according to Matthew 25 means nothing.

But trust me. I get it. I too love the soteriological aspects of atonement theory and everything else that goes with the theological “hodge podge” of our Savior. But if following Jesus is what we are focused upon then we must shift our thinking.

The church is long overdue for a renaissance of complete ethical and organizational transformation. To be so transformed to the point where our ethics resemble not Christians following a risen savior but rather an ethical paradigm that reflects a revolutionary rabbi from the 1stcentury fit into the 21st. Given a healthy hermeneutic, passion for people, and steadfast focus upon emulating the life of Jesus—it can be done.

My wife and I have this radical idea that the church we are building/planting at the present moment could mature so much so that each member—each ministry—each action might resemble the person of Jesus. To do so we would have to buck the common trends of modern evangelicalism and its infatuation with “sexy” trends. We would have to say no to helicopters dropping Easter eggs. We would have to say no to franchising our church plants as though they were Jimmy John’s cookie cutouts with 8 ft high holograms of myself. Trust me, I am not the best preacher. We would have to say not to the attractional model where it’s all about us and lucky you! —you get to come and reap the benefits and consumption of our product. Below sample what I believe when happens when we follow the “its all about the risen Christ and not the Jewish man living in 1st century” model.

Now, no. None of that. Rather a church that takes seriously the human side of this man. A Church that is radical in its giving. Offensive with its mercy. Abundant in its grace. Intentional in its work with poverty. Messy in its love. Firm in its orthodoxy. A church that doesn’t just say, “We are the hands and feet of Christ” but rather demonstrates “Join us in doing, seeing, thinking, loving, lifting, forgiving, mending, healing—as Jesus does.”There’s a big difference. Below represents what I believe, priorities and focuses of a heart longing to emulate Jesus of Nazareth. There could of course be many more images to represent the cares and concerns of Jesus as seen in Scripture.

 

Now, am I being unfairly broad? Perhaps. However, because of the top set of images, there are so many who loathe Christianity and Jesus. The least we can do as the church is reframe our efforts and work hard to establish an ethos that looks more like Jesus and less like American/ Western pop Christianity. To resmeble a group of people passionate about Jesus so that we can care more about the bottom set of images.  It can be done but it will be difficult. The world is dying for a true expression—not of Christianity—but of Jesus. There is a difference.

To be clear, does all of this indicate that I hold a low Christology? No. I affirm the creeds in their entirety. As much as the next believer. However, I live on this side of the veil. And while on this side of eternity my focus is to live the life Jesus lived. Michelle and I both seek to lead a  church  movement that will demonstrate to a tired and worn down population what it looks like to resemble Jesus; demonstrating the ethics and life of a 1stcentury radical reformer who didn’t give a crap about religious piety—only the justice, love, and compassion of the Father.

In conclusion, Matthew 5:48 Jesus instructs us to be “perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” The essence of this verse, as well as the Greek etymology of “perfect” does not mean “free of sin or unalloyed.” It refers to a maturity and growth that is uncanny in its state and fully developed. It is a perfection that comes by learning to follow and be like this man whom God has sent to be our forerunner in the kingdom. That is why Christian ethics as a whole is an ethical system of principles, laws, or values, but an ethic that demands we attend to the life of a particular individual: Jesus of Nazareth. It is only from him that we can learn perfection and maturity the way God intends.

And so when you sit down to ponder how you can best follow Jesus perhaps It would be best for you to begin with a gospel or two. After that move right into the theological Christ and the reflections of the Church. While of course the gospels themselves are a reflection of the church’s view on this man named Jesus—they are still our best attempt at understanding the historical person of Jesus.

More musings on this radical person in the near future. Until then—I encourage you: live like Jesus. If you don’t know how please allow me to break it down for you simply: read what Jesus does in Scripture and then “Go and Do Likewise.”

The Jesus of Nazareth and the Christ of Faith…

 

Jesus of Nazareth.

The most studied man in all of history. He is known throughout the world. His sayings are prevalent. His identity is debated constantly. And he still, after all these centuries, seems to be the most offensive individual to the masses. He both offends me with his love, comforts me with his encouragement, and disturbs me with his actions.

My journey of appreciation and admiration for this man began in April of 2002. I began to follow him with everything I had. I changed my entire life because of what I read in the pages of Scripture about his life. I saw that he lived a radical life of love and purpose and I knew that was the life for me. I knew that in the end it cost him everything and even still I would tell myself—there is no better way to leave this earth than to die for humanity. And so off I went.

I am currently a pastor of a church in Canton, OH. We are not a large church. We have faced an onslaught of challenges symptomatic of the state of Western Cultural Christianity. Where personalities are followed, commitment wanes, and when it gets tough—the church will bolt. It is extremely common with many of my seminary friends as well. In fact, this is the life of many Evangelical churches.

But through it all my wife and I have been obedient to the voice of God—even when it costs us. That has been what we are most proud of: our obedience. We like to remind ourselves that in the end we won’t stand before “people.” We will stand before Jesus. He desires us to create an environment with members, agendas, and leaders that reflect the core ethics of the Gospel. We aim to please him; not people. And so, we sleep very well at night. But through all these hard and trying years of ministry I/ we follow Jesus with the utmost passion. Michelle more so than myself. She outdoes me at every turn in her pursuit of living the “Jesus life.”

Like many, my beginning phase of following Jesus consisted of many shallow and immature understandings of what his sayings actually meant. I would use them as weapons against the “sinner” and I would stand with my nose down at many. I was the epitome of arrogance and pride. I continued like this for some time. My faith and religion were confined to a very legalistic and rigid approach to Christianity. Jesus for me was the strict judge who weighed my every thought and action. The problem was that my understanding of him as a whole was lopsided.

The lens in which I viewed Jesus for many years was confined to the theological Christ; not the historical Jesus. While yes, I am sure we could debate all day regarding the separation or unity of these two—it is extremely important we allow ourselves as Christians to look at Jesus as the Jewish reformer he was. It was when I began to understand this side of Jesus that the pretentious pharisaical part of me began to fall by the way side. And what I began to see with fresh eyes was a revolutionary man who inspired me more than any other.

My journey in studying the Historical Jesus began in Seminary and hasn’t stopped since. I have grown to be both passionate and obsessive in understanding who he was so that I might live his life even more. In fact, donating half of my liver is 100% because of this man and how he inspires me to live. Through the Spirit of God, I have been able to do a descent job in emulating his life. I am still a ragamuffin—full of sin, missteps, and brokenness. But each day is closer to living his life.

In the coming weeks I will blog a few posts regarding Jesus as the radical reformer he was. Of course, we could go on and on regarding the divinity side of Jesus as we understand in our faith. It is however the historical part of this man that I believe the church would be wise in revisiting. For in the discovery of Jesus as the 1stcentury reformer we find the rule of life he beckons all of us to follow. A life that is conformed to the ethics and standards of the heart of Yahweh. More on this in the future. For this post however, I want to bring to the forefront an aspect of his life which is similar to many others of his day. An aspect that can be alarming to some and comforting to others. That yes Jesus was truly one of a kind—however he also hailed from a long line of similar reformers with the same agenda—reform Judaism!

John the Baptist and Jesus both are only the beginning of a series of prophets who bring about eschatological hope. They bring attention to the reign of God and his impending judgment and kingdom. Thus Jesus preaches, “Repent for the Kingdom is near.” As a rule, these reformers were regarded by political authorities as a threat to the status quo as well as a danger to society. They were continually sought after to be executed and tortured. Following John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth there were many other “sign prophets” like them.

For instance:

  1. In 36CE there was a “Samaritan prophet” who promised a crowd of people that he would point on Gerizim the missing vessels of the temple that Moses had buried. He brought his disciples. Unfortunately, Pilate was also there and massacred all of them. (Antt. 18, 85-87)
  2. There was a man named Theudas who persuaded a crowd to follow him with their possessions to the Jordan River. It was there that he said he would part the waters and they would cross with dry feet. Again, there was a blood bath and it ended bad. (Antt. 20, 97-99)
  3. In 52-60CE there were also numerous “anonymous” prophets who called on their followers to come with them into the desert. It was there they would see many signs and wonders. You guessed it… blood bath. (Antt. 20, 167)
  4. During this same era there was an Egyptian prophet who came and called individuals to follow him and he took them to the Mt of Olives. It was here that he promised the walls of Jerusalem would come crumbling down just as it happened in the Old Testament. (Antt. 20, 169-172; BJ 2, 261-263)
  5. In 60-62 CE there was a prophet who came on the scene and promised redemption and an end to the evils if people followed him into the wilderness. The romans put down this movement violently. (Antt. 20, 188)
  6. In 62-64 CE there was a man named Jesus son of Ananias who came from the country to Jerusalem with the message of judgment upon Jerusalem, the temple, and the people. This is very similar to the prophecy of Jesus who had said not one stone would be left standing in regard to the temple in Mark 14.

Josephus, the Jewish historian, gives us great detail regarding these individuals and the manner in which they lived. Even before the time of Jesus we see individuals similar to both John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth. What was their aim? To radically reform Judaism from within. With Rome coming in and occupying the territory, it brought serious challenges to the uniqueness of the Jewish people. While some wanted to make peace and accommodate this new culture pouring in (Hellenization) there were many others who wanted to stand against this cultural wave.

There were others (the sign prophets) who wanted neither. Their effort was to radically reform Judaism to an entirely new standard. They longed to see it realign with the true intents of the heart of God as they understood.  While of course this is an extremely simplified version of how this plays out; I believe it still hits it on the head. Jesus was a Jewish man ministering within Judaism longing to see Israel return to its place of being a light to the nations. In order to do so, both Jesus and John the Baptist understood radical reformations within the Second Temple era needed to take place. The parables, aphorisms, and actions of Jesus fall right in line with many others from his era—before and after. And so as we can see, the human side of Jesus is full of many unique aspects we do not often hear about.

Let us remember that as Christians what matters most is not what we know or can recite about this man. What matters most is the degree in which we appropriate the ethics and passions of this 1stcentury reformer into our modern day living. Because I can promise you this… the church and Christianity as a whole needs desperate reform. It is time to return to the dangerous and volatile ethics of this Jewish Rabbi. As we continue down this path we will see there really is a difference of the two. We have the Historical Jesus and the Theological Christ. A difference that, for me, has nurtured true joy and inexpressible freedom in faith like I never thought was possible.

More on this and the Historicity of Jesus next time.