A recent large survey done by the Barna Group asked Gen-Zers, young people 13 to 17 years-old, what they thought of Jesus. The results were somewhat encouraging for pastors like me. Gen-Z-ers show a real curiosity about the figure of Jesus. In fact, 77% said they were motivated to learn more about Jesus.
Teenagers might not care about the rest of church, but they do want to know about Jesus, it seems. That’s a great place to start.
about this, I began writing things down. And what I wrote down led to this week’s
Reflection, titled “By the way, who’s Jesus?” So, we’ll ponder who Jesus is
But first, let us pray:
O God, show us your truth in these moments. Let us learn of your way, and take that way into our hearts, and live that way out in the wake of our worship this morning. As for me, O God, may your spirit move my lips and my words. May the reflections of my heart be pleasing to you, loving God, and may your light working through me in turn enlighten your people. Amen.
Who is Jesus?
That is a huge question that could take forever to answer. I might take a couple Reflections for this question. But for this one, let me get down to the basics.
Jesus of Nazareth lived and taught some 2,000 years ago in Ancient Palestine. He was a wisdom teacher based in the Jewish tradition and based in the Torah, Judaism’s holy scripture.
But there were many others that fit that description. What made Jesus unique? Well, there’s his death and what it meant. There’s the circumstances surrounding his birth. Both are for another day. What about his life and his teaching was unique?
That’s what I’d like to discuss for the next few Reflections as we make our way into Lent.
First of all, Jesus offered a unique approach to the Torah, Judaism's holy scripture, highlighting the concept of godly love.
We find this focus on Love in just the name Jesus prefers for God, the name of Father. Now, "Father" is a name used for God in the Torah, but it is not frequently used. Its uncommon, in fact.
So, why does Jesus prefer Father as a name for God?
Well, for Jesus, a parent-like, unconditional love defines God. God is pictured as an all-loving parent
And for Jesus,
unconditional love, embodied in the love of a parent, is the point of godly wisdom.
As for us, we are called to Love like God loves. Matthew 22 says,
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
In other words, seek to Love God in the way the God loves you.
Seek to Love others as you love yourself and as God loves you
These commandments summarize the wisdom of the Torah, Jesus makes clear.
Here’s another unique thing about what Jesus taught: Jesus’ vision of God’s Kingdom.
There were many Jewish teachers preaching God’s kingdom. But what separated Jesus was how he envisioned the kingdom.
The Lord’s Prayer reveals Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God.
“Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
The kingdom of God is a realm, a reality where God’s ways in heaven are realized on earth. Heaven will be brought down to earth and all will equally experience perfect joy and contentment.
Here’s something else: The Kingdom of God for Jesus is not just a future reality. It is a past, present, and future reality all at the same time. Jesus states in Matthew 8 that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are present in the kingdom, so it is a reality found in the past.
In Luke 17, Jesus says, “the kingdom of God is within you,” or among you in other translations. So, it is a present reality.
Then Jesus tells us to pray for the kingdom to come, meaning the kingdom is yet to come, a future reality.
The kingdom is not about time, or about space. It is a condition, a way of being that transcends time and space.
If we are living the way of God, living in a Christ-like way, we are making the kingdom a reality in a way that transcends time and space. Indeed, compassion, love, grace, godly ways of being, transcends time and space.
The kingdom is indeed here and now for us. It is there for us to realize and actualize. It is akin to the sun. Even behind the clouds, the sun is there, its just covered over by the clouds.
Well, the kingdom of God, heaven brought to earth, is here and now, just behind the clouds of our humanness and wrong choices. Clearing the clouds of sin away, that is what Christ does in us if we let it happen.
The last uniqueness I’ll mention about Jesus as a teacher is what we might called the Jesus paradigm. A short parable that Jesus tells points to this paradigm. It is the Parable of the Mustard Seed. It goes like this:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
In other words, from small things big things come… That’s the paradigm Jesus teaches again and again.
Jesus points to the forgotten in society, those deemed the losers, the vulnerable ones, the last, the lost, the least, and he claims these, the least, will be lifted up, exalted, and made foundational to the kingdom.
The last will be first.
The lost are those I most seek
The least of these is the true measure of faith.
As for the first, the winners, the highest, they will be humbled and brought low.
This paradigm of the least giving way to highest heaven, we find it in Jesus’ resilient, inconquerable life itself.
It is Jesus of Nothing-town Nazareth, one discarded by his own people, criminalized by his oppressors, crucified as the lowest of men, it is this Jesus who rises, exalted, and anointed as the savior of humankind.
From small things big things come.
To close this Reflection and rather swiftly, this paradigm applies to us. No matter how small you see yourself, no matter how useless you worry you are, no matter how vulnerable or weak you feel, no matter how lost you fear you are, God is looking for you, to love you into being, to build the beloved community that transforms the world.
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