Saturday, August 8, 2009

Understanding, learning to know Jesus Christ

Few things make me happier, in the moment, than teaching people about the true nature of Jesus Christ and if not actually teaching, then just conversing about him. Thinking about Jesus and talking about Jesus is like a rest after back breaking work, or having a drink of cold water after going without anything for an entire hot day. I'd like it if someday my blog could be less in proportion of the dire warnings about all the wrongs in the world, and more of this respite in the discussion of Jesus. Well, so here is the beginning of a number of blog postings I would like to compose about Jesus.

As always I have my young readers most particularly in mind. For many of you, Jesus was not introduced to you properly, and so he has had to compete in your minds with modern day figures of good or often notorious reputation, and also when you do hear about Jesus, it is like entering a movie theater when the film is already two thirds gone. You have little idea of what has actually happened, nor the context. This series will be an attempt to help you to learn to know the true Jesus and also, even if you already know about him, and have him in your heart, to understand him even better.

The first topic I'd like to discuss with you is one of the most amazing things that Jesus did in his life, which not only demonstrate his authority to speak for God to humans, but also the groundwork that he laid for expanding "up close and personal" knowledge of God from the Jewish people (the Israelites) to the rest of the world.

Most of you know that God has had an ongoing relationship with humans starting with Adam and Eve and, through their descendants, all who are faithful to him. The Israelites, however, were the section of the descendants who were chosen by God (that is why they are called the Chosen People) to not only know about God, but also to have an ongoing, daily "working relationship" with God. That is what is called the Old Covenant and also, in Bible speak, The Law. You've read in my blog posts how Moses, who was the leader and the intermediary between the Israelite people and God, actually was able to stand with God, face him, speak with him, meet with him, and receive "dictation" from him. The most well known and important of the gifts of God's knowledge that God gave to Moses is the Ten Commandments.

Here is what is really awesome about Jesus Christ.... He gave to not only the Jews, but to all people, a new Commandment, an additional one to God's list. Can you imagine that! To do so would never have occurred to the thoughts of any person who ever lived. Not even the most inflated ego king or dictator would have thought of adding a Commandment to the "list" given to the Jews. And yet this wise man, this rabboni (wise in the Law) who seemed to come from absolutely nowhere, had such obvious authority given to him by God that not only could he raise the dead and cure even the worst of illnesses, but he was empowered to add a New Commandment to God's list.

Furthermore, this New Commandment did not fall into the categories of the Ten Commandments, which are either how to worship God or what sins not to commit. This New Commandment was orders by God about how humans should treat one another.

John 13:34-5 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

Jesus used the word commandment in John 13, but he repeats this same exhortation in other places in scripture, in the context of being asked questions. For example, when asked by a lawyer who approached him in order to test Jesus who is one's "neighbor" who should be loved, per God's command, Jesus tells the parable of the good Samaritan who has mercy on and rescues a Jew who had been robbed, beaten and left for dead. This would have been quite an astonishing parable to any Jewish listeners, because as most of you know, Jews and Samaritans were something of religious "rivals" and most certainly did not get along or mingle.

So even though Jesus focused his entire ministry only on the Jews (and thus added a Commandment to the "Jewish" Ten Commandments), notice that Jesus is placing the groundwork for Jesus speaking to "all men" (all people) and calling all to be his "disciples."

Now, young people especially, let me use some modern terms to help you to better understand. Jesus did not do an "edit" on the Ten Commandments, to add an Eleventh, in the sense that he went into the Temple and the local synagogues and added onto each scroll of God's Law his "insert New Commandment." This is because even though Jesus continually affirmed that all the Ten Commandments remain valid, Jesus was not there to "improve on" or "edit" the Jewish faith. Even though Jesus preached to Jews exclusively (although of course any and all people did follow him, approach him and listen to him), Jesus was not seeking to "fix up" the problems with the Jewish faith. Jesus was, instead, bringing a new contract with the boss, God, to the people. The new contract has, of course, retained much and one could even say most of what the old contract had, since obviously God is still God, humans are still humans, and God has the constancy of being eternal, never changing, and having the same expectations of all generations of humans. But here is what is remarkable: Jesus was not only purifying human relationships with God (to eliminate the error, hypocrisy, greed and fraud that had entered into that relationship) by bringing God's "face," through him, directly to the people, but Jesus was also "hands on" improving human-to-human sanctity.

I've pointed out the term "sanctity" a number of times recently, since I've seen that it's in modern times a poorly understood word. Sanctity is not the same as holy, consecrated, "initiated" or "extra super duper 'spiritual.'" Sanctity means that a person strives to maintain their primary focus, in their normal life, on God foremost and serving God in all ways of normal life.

So here is another example of where Jesus is using logic, showing the cascading, mutual and interlocking relationship between not only God and humans, but also how humans, through mutual sanctity, role modeled through Jesus, improve their own human-to-human relationship. Here is the chain of logic that Jesus is presenting to them:

1. Jesus says, observe how I love you, not only in general but in the details of role modeling.
2. Then apply how I am with you to how you are with each other.
3. If you do that, then you are truly my disciple.
4. All people will be able to see this for themselves (since this is not hidden ritual, etc but outward, genuine behavior).
5. Thus all people will identify each person that they see living like this as being my disciple.
6. And because "all" people will know, this is an invitation to "all" to likewise become my disciple.

Now, remember that any time that Jesus spoke, many people were around him. He was rarely alone and often mobbed by crowds eager to hear him. He stayed in individual homes, and thus when he spoke to the Apostles or disciples who traveled with him, entire families, neighbors, and other villagers would also be staying in that home and hear what he said also. So even though Jesus in a given conversation that is recorded in the scriptures might be speaking to a group of the Apostles, or a mixture of Apostles and disciples, these were not "status meetings" where the information only applied to certain "departments." All who believe in the New Covenant with God that Jesus brought AND who followed this New Commandment could be considered a disciple of Jesus, AND would be visible as such to the eyes of all the world.

Further, to better understand exactly what Jesus was saying, consider how, exactly, Jesus demonstrated his love for the disciples. It is not, as anyone who reads ANY bit of the Gospel would understand, by being affectionate, considerate, remembering their birthdays, throwing nice parties for them, giving them lots of money, and feeling groovy. How did Jesus demonstrate his love for the disciples as the scripture shows? Here are just a few ways off the top of my head:

1. He chose them, even though they were not "special" and had anything to give to him in return.
2. He introduced them, through him, to God, God as he really is, and not the way the religion had become corrupted.
3. He wanted to see them saved, their souls in heaven, in places that he promised that he would go ahead and prepare for them.
4. He patiently, and sometimes impatiently, explained to them all they could understand. As Jesus said, he didn't treat them like slaves who are just ordered to come and go, but as friends who understand what he is trying to achieve.
5. He scolded them and rebuked them on the spot when they erred.
6. He gave them many opportunities to serve God and to witness to God.
7. He gave the Apostles the ability to perform miracles in his name.
8. He gave the Apostles and disciples the right to invoke his most holy Name.

So you see, this is how Jesus loved them, so ardently that he called to them, even from less than promising backgrounds and circumstances, and brought them along to not only better know the true God that has been constantly there from the very beginning, but also to prepare in advance for them their places in heaven and to TELL them that, to PROMISE them that. How awesome is that?

So the New Commandment is the "formula" for being a disciple, a true disciple, of Jesus. This means that to be a genuine disciple of Jesus one must treat other disciples of Jesus as Jesus treated them, with the love that I describe above.

Unfortunately, the word "love" has become misunderstood in the context of what Jesus gave to his disciples, which is not surprising because one cannot understand the Bible if one does not read the Bible. You can only really understand what 1) love, as Jesus gave it, means and 2) what genuine discipleship of Jesus means, if you read the Bible, understand and accept it, ALL of it. You cannot substitute in your own mind a sound byte of Jesus hanging around, washing their feet, and being fond of them as being the template for what "love" and "disciple" means! Jesus promptly kicked them out and made them proclaim God from town to town without even a second change of clothing, no money, and no food. That kind of love few understand today but, believe you me, the previous generations, who were not so wealthy as the past several generations, understood Jesus' love (with one exception, which I will mention in a minute.)

To try to summarize it, Jesus taught them how to understand and love God even more deeply and authentically, which then raised their capacity for love. That type of love expands beyond noble love of family, love of the goodness of life, etc to sanctity, where the service of God is more important than anything and thus expands and elevates even the normal tasks, chores, challenges and disappointments of life.

Now, here is where I am sad that previous generations lost some of their deep connectivity with understanding the love that Jesus brought to his disciples, and exhorted them to have for each other. And, even more grievous, this loss has never been worse than today, the past several years, and now. Those who have been called to be disciples of Jesus have become "competitors," through churches, through sects, denominations, and through vicious misunderstandings and attacks on other disciples. There is one hell of a difference between "calling out" a fellow Christian disciple who you think is in doctrinal error, and declaring war and demonizing entire congregations, say nothing of the individual people within them. Pray tell, what part of that sounds like "That ye shall love on another as I have loved you?"

God and the Church have never left the people: the people have left God and the Church and appointed themselves their own masters, able to declare other disciples "wrong" and themselves "true."

If that was OK to do, as has, grievously happened for the past several hundred years, and is gut wrenchingly commonplace today, would not that be in scripture? Surely God, who is perfect, and Jesus, who brought the presence of God to earth, would have foreseen that and shown it was "OK" to splinter, to attack each other, rather than, as the scriptures truly show, warn most urgently against that?

Would we not have seen, for example, while Jesus lived, or at least in the time of Acts, several of the Apostles fight among each other and establish rival "denominations?" If God is so good, so all knowing, so all powerful, and includes all that people need to know in the scripture, would he have not allowed that to happen, to give it his spiritual endorsement? Would we not be reading that Phillip argued with James and so they established separate denominations and God, through Jesus or divine revelation, say that "They established separate denominations, and it was 'good.'" You ought to shudder, as I do in typing this.

(Young people, I'm not yelling at you all, LOL! I deviated in order to yell at your parents and their parents, and also to kick certain skeletons from the past who got people into this mess with their many errors from their lack of understanding and humility.)

Jesus, through the New Commandment, defined a group, a SINGLE group, of people, which are his true disciples. He stated that true disciples would be so obvious that "all" would know them. How, then, is it that we not only have denominations, but warring and scornful denominations?

I got into this rant because it is essential to understanding the scripture as it is set forth, not as people have come to imagine it to be. The two great concerns regarding imagination and hence error are 1) misunderstanding that Jesus "love" means hanging around and feeling groovy, and 2) that discipleship requires that Jesus be the role model, and Jesus role models not socially acceptable "humanitarian" endeavors but closeness to God.

So I think, to wrap this segment up, you can see how one of the ways to understand the awesome love and wonder of Jesus Christ is to comprehend both his God given authority to give humans the New Commandment, but also to understand what it really means. I've used the "time sheet" analogy before, but for new readers, here it is again. When you read the Gospels, think of what Jesus is doing as a worker recording hours on different projects on a timesheet. How much of what Jesus is doing is donating to art galleries, hanging around feeling the 'love,' encouraging believers to form separate and even warring denominations? Um, not so much, huh? Rather, Jesus' timesheet is filled with prayer, fasting, moderation, teaching, preaching and witnessing to God, punctuated by tasks such as performing miracles. Look back at the list I started above and you can see what I mean (the list of ways Jesus demonstrated his love). That's kind of like a timesheet!

Jesus demonstrated his love for his disciples, and for all men, not by encouraging them to be superior to each other and draw farther apart from each other, but by drawing closer, following his role model, to God, through each other, not in competition with each other.

No one has ever gotten closer to God, or salvation, by stepping on the back or the neck of another person, either a believer or a non-believer.

Jesus was the ultimate gift from God, not only because he went to the cross, but because he told people what to do and how to do it, demonstrating it every day of his life, and then guiding even after his death and resurrection (the calling of Saul to Paul, for example, and all that was revealed to John in the Book of Revelation).

It really is as simple as the New Commandment explains, but it is also difficult to understand, because of the clouded vision of humans, and to implement, because of the many prideful temptations of humans. I hope that this has helped to restore some of the understanding of what Jesus said (the red) and how he demonstrated with the disciples how to truly follow him (the black).