Honestly, this is one of those things that seriously drives me batty. Christians who major on Moses, or study Nehemiah, or focus on Paul’s epistles and hardly ever talk about Jesus [except on Good Friday, Easter or Christmas], are very curious to me.
I really just don’t understand it. They call themselves “Christians” but don’t know what Jesus taught. They wear t-shirts with his picture on it, but can’t tell you what the Sermon on the Mount was about. They sing songs about Jesus on Sunday morning with tears in their eyes and then sit down to hear the pastor preach through his series on the life of Abraham, or Moses, or some other Old Testament character.
Why are Christians so fired up about keeping the Ten Commandments in the court house but never even consider displaying the Beatitudes in their own Church building?
Why are Christians so focused on “an eye for an eye” when Jesus specifically told us not to follow that rule anymore?
Why are Christians so well-versed in the writings of the Apostle Paul but so uninterested in the teachings of Jesus?
It’s like meeting a Muslim who says, “I don’t really follow this Mohammed guy.” Or hearing a Buddhist say, “I have no real interest in what Buddha taught.” Or visiting a Jewish synagogue where they never taught anything from the Torah.
But, somehow, it’s totally one-hundred-percent normal for a Christian to attend a church where the words of Jesus are almost never spoken, taught or followed.
How can this be?
Well, I think part of how this has happened is that Jesus was all about how we live our lives on a daily basis. He’s mostly concerned with ethics: how we care for the poor, how we treat other people, how we love our neighbors, how we respond to our enemies, how we handle our pride, how we handle our money, etc.
Most Christians are not very comfortable with anyone messing with this part of our lives. We’d much rather listen to a sermon about how to obtain God’s blessing, how to have a happy marriage, how to raise godly children, how to prove we’re right and everyone else is wrong, etc.
So, simply put, I think it’s a matter of supply and demand. People won’t keep their butts in the seats if we preach what Jesus said, so we keep everyone happy by crafting sermons that avoid the teachings of Jesus and focus more on the promotion of our own religion. Problem solved.
The ironic thing is that these same churches will loudly proclaim that they “only teach what the Bible says and not what people want to hear,” and then they proceed to preach what people want to hear and avoid what Jesus says as much as possible.
Now, not every pastor does this. I’m happy to say I know several pastors and Bible teachers who are quite fascinated by Jesus and who focus almost exclusively on following Jesus and making disciples of Jesus [by first becoming disciples of Jesus themselves].
I’d love to see more of that, please.
But, unfortunately, I tend to see a lot more Christians focused on the Old Testament scriptures, the Law, and the teachings of Paul [as they understand them].
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love the Bible. I also see a lot of value in studying the Old Testament scriptures, if what you do is to point out when and how these scriptures illuminate Jesus. That’s sort of why they’re still relevant for us today: because they point us to Christ.
What the Old Testament scriptures never do? They never point us to the scriptures. They always point us to Christ.
What is a Christian’s foundation? It’s not the Old Testament, or the Bible. It’s Jesus.
What is a Christian’s ultimate source of authority? It’s not the Bible. It’s Jesus.
Where can Christian’s look to see the exact representation of the Father? Not the Old Testament. Only Jesus.
What is the Christian’s final source for truth? Not the Bible. Jesus.
See, the revelation of Jesus was simply this: “No one had ever seen God at any time, except for the son who came to make Him known to us.” [John 1:18]
This means that no one [not Moses, not Abraham, not David, etc.] had ever seen God. No one. Only Jesus knows the Father. And the reason Jesus came? To make God known to us and to clear up the confusion left by those guys who thought they saw God, but clearly did not.
This is why the New Testament can boldly proclaim that Jesus was “the exact representation of the Father” [Heb. 1:3], and that Jesus was “the image of the invisible God” [Col. 1:15], and that “to this day the same veil remains when the Old Covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away” [2 Cor. 3:14].
Yet, fast-forward a few thousand years and the religion we’ve made in the name of Jesus relegates him to a minor character who hardly ever gets referenced except to remind everyone that he was born, he died, he rose again and he’s coming back to slaughter his enemies.
How is this possible? Well, I think it’s partly because we’ve suffered under sermons that reverse the polarity of what Jesus actually accomplished. Rather than focus on how Jesus corrected the misconceptions of the Old Testament prophets about God, we’ve been told that Jesus is the God of the Old Testament. Therefore, it’s not that Jesus corrected that blurry image, it’s that the blurry image is who Jesus was all along.
So, instead of understanding that Jesus removes the veil over our eyes when we read the Old Testament, we’re told that Jesus affirms that veil and doesn’t want us to remove it.
Rather than teach us that Jesus reveals who the Father actually is, we’re told that God has always been exactly what we assumed he was; vengeful, wrathful and very disappointed in us.
This leads us to believe that Jesus ordered the slaughter of infants and toddlers in the Old Testament. Jesus wanted us to commit genocide. Jesus commanded people to take young girls as sex slaves.
But, this is not what Jesus means when he says, “If you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father.”
In fact, if that’s what Jesus meant, he would have said, “If you’ve seen the God of the Old Testament you’ve seen me,” but that’s not what he said. Not at all. He pointed to his example as a loving, kind, patient, merciful, compassionate soul who genuinely loved the company of sinners and forgave people immediately, and healed people who were suffering, and blessed those who cursed and rejected him.
THAT is who God is. God is like Jesus.
But, frankly, some of us just cannot handle that. We need God to be the fearsome wielder of mighty thunderbolts who rains down fire on his enemies.
To that, Jesus says, “You know not what Spirit you are of.” [Luke 9:55]
I guess I just can’t help but wish that our gatherings be focused more on Jesus and less on the Law he came to fulfill. I wish that our churches were more focused on the words of Jesus than on the stories about people who were longing for someone like Jesus to arrive on the scene. I wish the people who called themselves “Christians” actually knew, loved and followed the words of Jesus.
We’ve become what my friend Dallas Willard once called “Vampire Christians” who only want enough of Jesus’s blood to get into heaven, but have no intention or desire to follow anything Jesus said or did.
Honestly, I really don’t care how we ended up with a Christless Christianity. I just want us to put Jesus back in the center again and start taking him seriously.
Frankly, not only would our churches be better off for it, so would our Christians and the world we live in.
So, can we get back to following this Jesus guy, please?
If not, I don’t think I can continue to associate myself with a belief system that takes the image of Jesus like some corporate mascot but isn’t interested in anything he actually stood for.
How about you?
Keith Giles was formerly a licensed and ordained minister who walked away from organized church 11 years ago, to start a home fellowship that gave away 100% of the offering to the poor in the community. Today, He and his wife have returned to El Paso, TX after 25 years, as part of their next adventure. They hope to start a new house church very soon.
Want Keith to come speak at your church or in your home town? Send an invitation HERE