Despite the talk about the biblical gospel of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection, we rarely stop to take in, reflect, or meditate on the life, character, words, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Christianity is nothing without Christ, yet we often rely on second or third hand descriptions of Jesus from books, blogs, preachers, movies, and music. All of these things are helpful and involved people using their gifts to make Jesus clear. However, at some point, to get to know Jesus and understand his message, you have to go to the source and read a Gospel account. Why? Because Jesus is God manifest in human form (Col 1). The fullness of God dwelt in him. He is the Conqueror of Sin, Author of Salvation, Giver of Life, Rescuer from Darkness, and Initiator and Sustainer of All Creation. Jesus is not an idea but a person. A person who lived, spoke, acted, befriended, rebuked, and made the intentions of God’s love clear. What did he do, what did he say, how did he teach us to be restored humans, and how do you worship and follow him? The answers to those questions are scandalous because he is not a contestant in the competition to be your best friend, but he is claiming and proving himself to be fully God. He is not simply the center of a worldview but God. He is not the example for effective discipleship only, but he is the Savior of the World who descended from heaven into the world.
Making Jesus in Our Own Image
For many years I was content with my favorite stories of Jesus: walking on water and the feeding the thousands. I also had a choice selection of teachings: the beatitudes, the great commission, loving your enemies, and the cost of discipleship. Lastly, I had my favorite parables he told: the prodigal son, the soils, the good Samaritan, and the wedding feast. These weren’t just my favorites; they were my entire playlist.
In the end, I chose to make Jesus into who I wanted him to be. I didn’t take in the whole of his life or his teaching, but the bits and parts that appealed to me most. To me Jesus was the collision of my preferences. He oddly, approved of my political, economic, ministerial, and personal preferences. Jesus had my personality even. Journeying through life proved my Jesus wasn’t enough for me or the world I inhabit. The Jesus I had fashioned was too small.
Making Jesus Our Method
Then, I began to read the Gospels to discover the best way to be a Christian and make other Christians—which is a noble task but not the primary task of reading a Gospel. I wanted the best practices, techniques, and tools for making disciples. I didn’t read them to follow Jesus myself. Stop reading the Gospels to figure out how to “make disciples for Jesus” read it to “be a disciple of Jesus.” That’s when you will make disciple of Jesus.
I realized I was quoting Jesus as a proof for my model of ministry and not worshiping and wondering at God incarnate. The Gospels are theology and story—not pragmatics. It is the most captivating true story about what God is like, what he does, and what he wants for us. The story of Jesus unfolds in our mind as our story. We long to be reminded of our God’s most visible moment. This story changes what we believe, who we are, and the world we live in. The Gospels are not “how-to manuals.” They are theology and story.
You can’t use Jesus to perfect a method. The only effective discipleship models come first from beholding Christ and only then walking humbly in stride with him and the way he loved the Father, submitted to the Spirit, and loved neighbor. The point of the Gospels is not that Jesus chose twelve guys and spent a lot time with them. The point is the Kingdom of God breaking into the kingdoms of this world through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Jesus is the point of the Gospels.
I didn’t know Jesus because I hadn’t tried. I tried to find myself in Jesus (as the hero playing his role), instead of finding God in Jesus. I tried to use Jesus for my purposes, not to glorify him in wonder and worship. I had avoided confrontation with Jesus and it had left me the same. I yearned for transformation in the midst of the holy God who was pleased to dwell as a man on earth.
This month GCD is committing the majority of our articles to the endeavor of knowing Jesus through the Gospel of Mathew. We hope you will join us in the wonder, bewilderment, conflict, and challenge of knowing Jesus.
How to Join Us in This Journey
Read the Gospel of Matthew. One of the reasons Jesus’ life ends up feeling like a random collection of anecdotes and one liners is we rarely read through it all together. We may have done so in our early days of faith but have since neglected it. We invite you to spend August reading the Gospel of Matthew. Read a chapter a day. As you read, contemplate the passage. Here are some helpful questions:
- What is Jesus saying or doing?
- What does that say about his character?
- How are people reacting to him? How does that expose your reaction to Jesus? How would your friend who doesn’t believe in Jesus respond to this?
- How is Jesus proving to be the true humanity? The true Prophet? The true Priest? The true King?
- What is most challenging about Jesus?
Pray the Gospel of Mathew. Practice Lectio Divina, Read, Reflect, Respond, and Rest.
What We Pray and Anticipate Will Happen
You will encounter the scandal of Jesus not being who you want him to be. You will find that Jesus is not a warm cuddly lovable loser. Instead you will discover he is the Prophet who says: This is the truth. You will find that Jesus is not an all accepting cuddly bear. Instead you will discover that he’s the King who says: This is true humanity. You will find that Jesus is not just a philosopher of good ideas on the ideals of life but someone who says: Love looks like and does this. You will find Jesus as the Priest who says: Access to God is closed, but I will make a way to usher you into unity with God. Lastly, there’s the scandal that Jesus is God. You will find a holy, completely other, Jesus.
Brad Watson (@bradawatson) serves as a pastor of Bread&Wine Communities where he develops and teaches leaders how to form communities that love God and serve the city. Brad is the author of Raised? and Called Together: A Guide to Forming Missional Communities. He lives in southeast Portland with his wife and their two daughters. You can read more from Brad at www.bradawatson.com