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The Jesus who shows up in a bold, fast-paced, Bible reading is remarkably demanding and incredibly delightful. He overwhelms us both in what he offers and in what he asks for.
The problem is that we’re not ready for it. So much so that there’s good reason to ask how many followers of Christ actually follow him. For all who truly meet him the world changes.
Let me offer just a tease of what I mean and then invite you to read for yourself—take any one of the Gospels and read it through in one sitting. Then see what you think.
First, what is it that we find Jesus offering us? In a word, everything. As God’s eternal Son, he has always been with the Father and shares the intimacy and full identity of deity. That means we have “God with us” in every sense possible and the Gospels offer that reality as the bedrock of existence. In Jesus we meet the source of life—our creator and sustainer.
But mostly he comes to us as revealer: he wants us to know his Father whom he loves and who loves him—and he sends his Spirit to communicate this to us in a Heart-to-heart whisper as we read.
How, in specifics, does this revealing take place? The Spirit shaped the composition and now uses the story of Jesus to draw us to the Son and to the Father. The Son’s life story includes his forgiving human sins—something only God does. His rule over the creation is expressed in his many miracles that show his power over weather, water, demons, food, diseases, and death. All of which is God-level ministry.
But his point in doing miracles wasn’t to show off his power—though that’s a byproduct—but to reassure his followers that he and the Father are one: Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in Jesus, so that when we see Jesus we see the Father. And this is all communicated by the Spirit to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. God is the source of everything and he gives himself to us in the Son in a marital bond that allows us to become family.
So far, so good. Many church people look to Jesus as the ultimate resource: the giver of good stuff. So we can read a gospel like a miner looking for diamonds amid lots of earth; and we can come away with an ability to ask Jesus to heal us, to help us, to comfort us, and to please us. We like what he seems to offer. But, to be honest, he seems not to be very accessible with his miracles these days. It’s a problem we don’t like to talk about.
And this is where the spiritual hill gets very steep. To know Jesus is to be converted by him, and not to convert him to be our servant and resource. The real problem with Jesus is that he expects to be treated as God and not the other way round!
Let’s recall that sin is any effort to replace God as the lead figure in life: our ambition to “be like God”. And to the degree that we treat Jesus as our personal resource but refuse to say, “not my will but your will be done”, we miss out on the conversion he wants us to experience.
This is where Gospel reading gets hard. The problem with Jesus is that he doesn’t care for what the world offers. He actually hates it. People who are successful in this world, for instance, are viewed by Jesus as failures—because the dream of being “like God” seems to be working for them when, in fact, their success usually reveals a relative independence from God.
Jesus’ work, by contrast, was mainly among those who were “un-like God”—whose lives were in a state of moral collapse. Jesus, with an ironic dig towards the “we’re-like-God” crowd, made the point clear: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).
So the problem with Jesus is that he’s not very attractive to people who look in the mirror each morning and find a very attractive person standing before them. But when we find the moral image of our lives to be unspeakable—something we can’t bear to look at—we start to find a much more attractive Jesus when we read. He loves us, calls us, and embraces us even when we’re unlovely.
And then he makes us lovely from the inside-out. What a Savior!