THE AUTHENTIC JESUS

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[Compilation of a Typical Jewish Man at the Time of Jesus of Nazareth]

Recently some in our house church network felt the need for ‘church leaders’ and ‘members’ to re-focus on THE AUTHENTIC JESUS. This arose out of a desire to see Jesus reign in/over his body not merely as ceremonial head but as functional head. Leaders, i.e. servant-leaders rather than hierarchical leaders, are called to constantly submit themselves to Christ’s lordship together with their flocks.

You would surely agree that many false ‘Christ’s’ abound today: political ones, humanitarian ones, sentimental ones, traditional ones, Gnostic ones, Western blond/blue-eyed/pale-faced ones, plastic ones, prosperity ones, etc.

After some focused prayer our house church leaders, in tandem with a suburban inter-denominational fraternal (men & women) I have fellowshipped with for more than 30 years, invited a suitably qualified and traveled speaker to lead us in our meditations. In answer to prayer, he turned out an inspired choice, addressing the subject knowledgeably, empowered by colossal research on 2nd Temple Judaism, the Gospels, non-Christian sources and the best contemporary NT scholarship on the topic, etc [1]. He taught powerfully, humorously and humbly (rejecting his clerical titles). Our aim was to focus not on any church celebrity, guru or prominent person but on Jesus himself.

What follows are my personal and ‘organic church’ [2] observations, not necessarily reflecting those of our guest speaker, although there are many similarities. After careful consultation with our busy fraternal members as to the best format that would work for them, we went ahead with their blessing and implied support. Our conference goal was that of personal intimacy and face-to-face fellowship, with a target of between 30-50 people. We’ve learned over the years that in these days of mega-churches and mega-everything, smaller is often better (cf. Jesus and his 12 disciples). In the end our session attendances averaged about 40 folk with a group of 60 on the Sunday evening when some of the local church youth joined us (they were back for more on Monday!). As to the fraternal, out of approximately 20 invited, only two women-pastors and the local youth pastor turned up (does that sound familiar? women last at the cross and first at the tomb), with a good representation of their leadership and committed members. With the exception of two pastors who offered apologies beforehand because of prior denominational commitments, most did not even bother to send their apologies. (note, 10 days before the conference we had also advertised the event at our city fraternal, attended by 100 plus, and on local Christian radio). Of course I should have known better, having become convinced over 38 years of leadership within denominational churches and 12 years outside, that it is virtually impossible to change the ‘system’ from within, in fact it tends to change you! But then I’ll always be an optimist. I am also aware of the danger of an ‘us and them’ syndrome and an isolation mentality like Elijah’s in 1 Kings 19. One of our house church leaders captured the experience well by referring to Jesus’ ‘Parable of the King’s Wedding Banquet for His Son’ in Mt. 22:1-14. V. 3/NRSV, “He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves saying: ‘Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business… Then he said to his slaves, ‘Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests…” And so the ‘hoi polloi,’ God’s ragamuffins came to the conference and feasted at the King’s table! (btw, we concluded the conference with an intimate and inspiring ‘breaking of bread’ at our coffee tables, the proverbial ‘cherry on the cake’) Am I being too critical and judgmental? Perhaps. Changing metaphors, I do know that excellent seed was sown in our gatherings which, under God, will bring a certain harvest!

Image result for free pics of jesus parable of the great banquet

Let me now briefly share some of the teaching high-lights concerning the real Jesus

Firstly his humanity.

  • When Jesus was born of Mary, while he came into our world as the God-Man, he came as one fully human. We have been brain-washed into thinking that when, e.g., Jesus was tested in his earthly life, he had some secret advantage over us mere humans because of his deity. A careful study of the Gospels makes perfectly clear his humanity at all times. It took time, for example, for Jesus to become aware of his ‘different’ mission on earth: remember when, as a 12-year-old, he got so caught up in discussions with the temple leaders in Jerusalem that he forgot to inform his family as to his where-abouts. ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s (not Joseph’s) house?’ (Lk. 2:41ff/NRSV) (cf. v. 51, his mother ‘treasured’ these things in her heart, perhaps more so than Joseph?)
  • His humanity is underlined from the very beginning in his cave-crib birth (Lk. 2).
  • In his childhood escape to Egypt for safety reasons (Mt. 2:13ff). Do we even begin to understand the plight of refugees in Europe, the Middle East, the USA, and in my own country?
  • In his societal ‘illegitimacy’ (Mt. 2:18ff) as ‘an out of wedlock child.’ He was often shunned as ‘that bastard’ child of Joseph and Mary. And so we could go on.

Secondly, his obedience. The Hebrews Letter describes Jesus’ physical and spiritual growth, ‘In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered…’ (Heb. 5:7ff). I.o.w. throughout his earthly life Jesus learned obedience through hard daily choices, in the light of his Scripture memorization, and through his daily submission to his earthly and heavenly Father. So much more to be said…

Thirdly, his beauty. As our speaker filled in the gaps in the story of Jesus, I was intellectually and emotionally overwhelmed by the over-all beauty of Jesus! It was a ‘rainbow moment’ for me, as I thought of his firm but gentle interaction with all kinds of people at all times in all kinds of places, especially in his dealings with the broken and rejected.

  • Think of the social mix of his first chosen disciples, which included a ‘terrorist’ like Simon the Zealot, a big mouth like Simon Peter and a somewhat spineless Judas Iscariot (Mk. 3:13ff).
  • His gracious kingdom invitation to the crooked and hated tax-collector Levi (Mk. 2:13ff).
  • The calling of the ‘small man syndrome’ Zacchaeus (Lk. 19).
  • His treatment of the ‘bastardized’ and broken Samaritan woman of Sychar (Jn. 4).
  • The woman caught in adultery (Jn. 8), etc. I’m reminded of Isaiah’s prophetic Servant Song, ‘Look at my servant, whom I strengthen… He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle. He will bring justice to all who have been wronged. He will not falter or lose heart until justice prevails throughout the earth’ (Is. 42:1-4/ NLT). How maimed and scarred is our Saviour, yet how beautiful beyond description! [3]

I conclude with the inspiring words of Pedro Arrupe [4], ‘Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings, what you will do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything!’ [5]

Footnotes:

[1] References included J.P. Meier, JDG Dunn, NT Wright, Craig Keener, et al.

[2] I see Francis Chan speaks of ‘missional micro-churches.’

[3] See N. American Brian Zahnd’s excellent Beauty Will Save The World: Rediscovering The Allure & Mystery Of Christianity. (imho, Christ would have served better than Christianity, simply because the latter carries so much baggage!)

[4] Pedro Arrupe (1907-1991) was a Basque priest who served in Japan during WW2, was sentenced to solitary confinement on false espionage charges, survived the Hiroshima bombing and then served the poor in Latin America until a debilitating stroke took his life. He inspired the world by his personal suffering and commitment to justice.

[5] In light of our topic, I decided to re-read an old copy of Malcolm Muggeridge’s (1903-1990) Jesus Rediscovered.’ It came alive to me more than ever before. Muggeridge was a Cambridge graduate, renowned journalist and satirist, and BBC presenter. He famously converted from Communism to Christ. He was critical of institutional Christianity. He was one of the first to promote Mother Theresa of Calcutta. If you can find an old copy, you’ll find it interesting though perhaps not agreeing with everything he said and wrote!

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9 thoughts on “THE AUTHENTIC JESUS

  1. I really enjoyed this Erroll, especially the points about Jesus’ humanity. Thankyou also for sharing the process your fellowship went through in an attempt to be inclusive for this event. Wish I could have joined you!

    However, may I suggest some deeper research into the John 4 account of the Samaritan woman, described as “‘promiscuous”‘? As you have so accurately observed, so much of what we have been traditionally taught has left us somewhat brainwashed concerning certain Bible passages. I think this has also happened with the traditional western assumption that this woman was either promiscuous or a prostitute, when in fact the Bible does not say this or even hint at it. There are a number of reasons why the woman may have been at the well. For instance Pastor Paule Patterson observes:

    “‘Concerning her identity, it has often been assumed that she led a promiscuous life. This is presumed based on her five marriages, her living with a man not her husband, and her coming to the well alone mid-day. To begin, it’s important to remember that women in that time and culture did not have the ability to divorce except in cases of abuse. It is also doubtful that she would have had so many adulterous relationships in the town of Sychar, which would have only had one to two hundred residences. Don’t forget that adultery was considered criminal and worthy of capital punishment. What is more likely is that she either was shut out because her husband grew tired of her, was widowed, or was in an obviously abusive relationship. In all probability, it was a combination of some of these since it is unlikely that all five marriages ended the same way.”
    https://ishshahsstory.com/2016/11/02/finding-photini-light-on-the-woman-at-the-well/

    (In a similar way Mary of Magdala has traditionally been painted as a prostitute, starting with the Catholic Church in early Christian history and carried on to this day both in religious circles, books and film. However, there is no Biblical or historical evidence at all for this assumption, which seems to have been the concoction of a religious system controlled by men with a warped attitude towards women).

    There are also several other resources available challenging the traditional viewpoint for anyone interested in looking deeper into this famous woman of Samaria.

    I have no desire to distract from the point of your wonderful blog post which is to draw attention to the humanity and beauty of Jesus, and hope my comments will not do so. I simply make these secondary observations in the hope that one day the myth of the ‘woman of low morals’ concerning both the Samaritan woman and Mary Magdalene will be discarded along with other erroneous Biblical teachings many of us have been taught by traditional Christianity.

    Love and best wishes from across the miles as always Erroll!

  2. Thanks so much Cheryl for your insightful comments. I stand rebuked, and will have to re-think my reading of Jn. 4. It just shows how easily we succumb to more recent (i.e. since the first century) interpretations of well-known passages. I should have known better.

    I have re-written the unfortunate wording with regard to that lady of Sychar. I must thank you for giving me some homework to do! I have to say that in general I stand in awe of women and the gifts they have brought to the Church of Jesus Christ, in the OT and NT and throughout human history.

  3. Thankyou for your gracious response Erroll. I certainly did not comment with the intention of rebuking, only to introduce another viewpoint. But thankyou for rewording. I have always found you supportive of women as co-heirs with Christ. Blessings!

    • I had a look at Paule Patterson’s take on Jn. 4 and found it very enlightening. I also came across some notes by an African scholar, who although taking the orthodox view, has some interesting applications for our continent: “Because Jesus treated this stigmatized woman as someone worth talking to, she became a witness to Jesus, and all of Sychar was brought to him. Who knows what potential could be found within the many women Africa dismisses. Maybe they are the instruments Jesus could use to bring all Africa to him. And how many women in our cities and towns have been labeled ‘women of evil ways’ and dismissed by the church, leaving them at the mercy of the pleasure-seeking men who are their only source of income. Many such women are doomed to die from AIDS. Unless we follow Jesus’ example, we are not being good disciples.” Dr. Samuel Ngewa, Professor of NT Studies at Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology, Kenya. (I think Patrick and Virginia may proudly say of their scholar, ‘produced in Kenya of course!?’)

  4. Great post, Erroll. It is so good that your local body sensed your need to refocus upon Jesus and you acted upon it. It sounds like he has pointed you in the right direction… Then again, the lack of cooperation that you saw is not surprising. It is the same here where we live. We are fractured and distracted. We need a vision of how we can function together in our different communities when and as we are properly focused upon Jesus. The distraction of maintaining and growing our own ministries or our denominational kingdoms would be set aside so we could focus on being his building/dwelling place, that reveals the Kingdom and the glory of Jesus. We need to return to our first love and willingness to be obedient to do whatever He would guide us to do.
    As Pedro said, “What you are in love with, what [governs] your imagination will affect everything. … Fall in love [with Jesus], stay in love [with Him], and [He will guide] everything!” Please Jesus, may that be my heart…

  5. Thanks for your encouraging words as always, Rob. ‘Fractured and distracted,’ that’s for sure. And safeguarding our little kingdoms while failing to commit to the King and his greater kingdom. Interestingly enough, the same fraternal I wrote about is contemplating another joint-venture during Pentecost Week, pitching a sixty seater tent on open ground and ministering to whosoever passes by or pops in. It will be interesting to see if it gets off the ground and see where that one goes… Hopefully this time round, should they decide to go ahead, we can brutally honest with one another right up-front!

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