WHAT WOULD JESUS DO? The question is often asked, "What would Jesus Do?" At least it was back when I was in a High School youth group and the market value on wristbands was high. In spite of that cynical remark, I do believe that this is a healthy question to ask, especially considering the fact that Jesus is always right here in every moment. What decisions would Jesus make if he stood in our shoes at this particular place and time? It's worth thinking about.
There have also been many attempts made to tell the story of Jesus in a modern day, western setting. But these attempts to make Jesus more relevant to our current culture have largely fallen flat on their faces and with good reason. Taking Jesus out of His proper historical context does great violence to the image of Jesus. Invariably, it cannot be down without changing who Jesus is in the process. Jesus is not a timeless figure who could have appeared in any culture at any time in history. The apostle Paul said that "when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Torah..." Galatians 4:4
"The fulness of time" is a particular historical and cultural context in which Jesus can only truly be understood. If you want to see an example of what happens when we remove Jesus from His historical context, the bizarre film from the 1970s called "Godspell" is a pretty good, if somewhat extreme, example. I am not suggesting that the authors of that particular film were trying to accurately portray a modern day Jesus. I only saw the movie once and I cannot say that I could discern the precise motivation behind it but I would say it is the equivalent of The Muppets retelling of the Gospel narratives. I do think, however, that there was some seriousness to the film. Films don't just appear out of nowhere. Someone had to sit and think about how to appropriate the actions and words of Jesus into the modern day setting of the 1960s and 70s even if the sole motivation was to mock (though I doubt it was as single-minded and cynical as that. I would be interested to meet the writer if said person is still alive.) Attempts by Christians to put Jesus into a modern day setting also forces us to try to appropriate the words and deeds of Jesus. What did they mean? What was it all about? I think the only way to get the answer to these questions is for us to try to put ourselves in Jesus' historical setting, not the other way around. And only then can we understand what Jesus would do today.
IN AMERICA TODAY? So what would Jesus do if He were placed in our modern day, American, setting? That question is actually easy to answer because Jesus has already done it. At the end of John's Gospel, at Jesus' ascension (which I should remind you did not mean that Jesus was "going away" but that He was ascending to His throne.) Jesus says to His disciples: "As the father has sent Me, I also send you...receive the Holy Spirit." John 20:21-22 In other words, what Jesus would do in our modern day, Western, cultural setting, would be exactly what He did following the resurrection, and what He is doing right now, in fact, since He is still with us: Jesus would commission you to appropriate what He has already accomplished. This is what He wants and this is why understanding what it is that He has accomplished within time and space (history) is so vitally important for us to carry out our responsibilities well. We cannot appropriate actions and words we don't understand. If we don't know the fullness of the truth of whom Jesus is and what His work has accomplished, and if we do not know what the Gospel really is, there is freedom yet to be gained. For Jesus said, "The truth shall set you free." I ALREADY KNOW JESUS! "Humph." You might be thinking to yourself, "I know who Jesus really is and I know what the Gospel really is. What is he talking about? Is he going to try to invent a new liberal Jesus who doesn't believe in Hell and all that?" Well, I can't blame you for being skeptical or for mistrusting someone who is suggesting that the Jesus you have come to believe and trust and whom you have devoted your life too, may have a message that you have never fully heard; but I believe that the scriptures bear me out on this so I hope you will hang with me and wait and see what there is something more here and it is worthy of your attention. WHAT EXACTLY IS THE GOSPEL? I asked this question on Google and I found this answer through Bible.org: "When Christians refer to 'the Gospel' they are referring to the 'good news' that Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sin so that we might become the children of God through faith alone in Christ alone." The trouble with this definition is that, according to Luke 9, the disciples were preaching "the Gospel" devoid of any knowledge of the crucifixion or resurrection of Jesus. If the Gospel is as defined above, it is not a Gospel that the disciples knew or had ever heard when they were out preaching it! This is not logical. There must be a better definition. And Jesus Himself, according to Mark 1:15 was "preaching the Gospel" before anyone had suspected or heard that Jesus was going to die for their sins. The Gospel must be something more than that. Here is another definition from Crossway.org: "What exactly do Christian mean when they talk about the 'gospel of Jesus Christ'? Since the word 'gospel' means 'good news,' when Christians talk about the gospel, they are simply telling the good news about Jesus! It's a message from God saying "Good news! Here is how you can be saved from my judgment!" This definition assumes that we already know that we are under God's judgment. It assumes a narrative in which people are trying to earn their way to Heaven and are finding themselves deeply frustrated by their failed attempts. I don't know about you, but this is not a thing that I see much of in our culture. People don't give two shakes about heaven unless they are old and near death or have come close to death in a car accident or some other tragedy. This is why an attempt to make "the gospel" relevant to our current culture often includes the question "if you died tonight, do you know where you would go?" Some denominations are fond of using particular scare tactics to heighten this fear of death and thus to heighten the relevance of this supposed "gospel". It should not surprise us Christians that our relevance has been severely limited since the "gospel" message we are preaching appears to be most relevant only when death is close at hand. Many kids who have grown up in the Church has seen past the scare tactics and manipulation and are now dedicated to never be taken in or manipulated again. To them, they feel like they have grown up and seen through all the smoke and discovered that the is no fire really there. Furthermore, many of them perceive that it is the oddest use of the phrase "good news" which must first included the convincing of a culture of the very bad news of God's wrath. Think about it. Our presentation of "good news" above is only good news if you first believe the news that God is very, very, angry. The first impression of Christian God for many people is that of a manic/depressive personality! He is so very very angry that death and torture await you, but He is so very very loving that He tortured and killed His own son instead of you! That is hardly the nature of someone we would usually love and trust! A MISSING ELEMENT As I read the different descriptions of "the gospel" I am struck by how often the narrative framework for the context of "the gospel" feels forced and imposed upon us rather than readily evident. We are always required to set the scene by saying things like "We were meant to live with God forever, but sin entered the world and now there is a gulf between us and God that cannot be crossed without the help of God's one and only Son." THIS is a timeless tale that suggests that Jesus could have died at any point in history and it would have been just as well. In this narrative, all God needed was a sacrifice to absorb His wrath before we were allowed to go free. This does not fit with Paul's statement that Jesus came "at the fullness of time." Time is apparently irrelevant in this narrative. Virtually no use is made of the Old Testament to provide the framework for this supposed "gospel." This narrative is presented to us with virtually no hint of the story of Israel (I.e. The Old Testament) other than the fact that Israel serves as an illustration of fallen mankind and Genesis apparently "proves" how the world got started and how things went wrong. In short, the Biblical narrative is not used at all. We simply pick and choose verses from the Old Testament that fit our narrative as "proof texts" for the things that we want to say, or believe that we are required to say. And thus we have turned Jesus into a timeless figure who could have come at any time to make the ultimate sacrifice, rather than a historical character who came "at the fullness of time". We have distorted the Gospel itself and the meaning of Jesus by ignoring the natural narrative that Jesus Himself belongs in. SO WHAT IS THE GOSPEL?
I believe that the Gospel seems to be irrelevant to our culture because we have allowed ourselves to wander from historically rooted Christianity. History is always relevant because it has to do with the world we live in. Theories of atonement are only relevant to those who have particular fears about death and the afterlife or maybe unfortunate incidents in this life. (I.e. The fear of bad things happening because God is not pleased with you.) But the Gospel of Jesus is far more all-encompassing than merely delivering us from a few specific fears or consequences, though that is VERY significant to those who possess such fears. The Gospel is all encompassing whether we want it to be or not and whether we think it is or not, because it is the good news that God is now in charge on earth as it is in heaven in and through Jesus. This is not advice to be taken or left, this is news about something that has happened within time, space and history, period. The fact that Jesus has passed through death and out the other side and has thus been vindicated as God's anointed King means that the world is a different place where death does not have the final word (i.e. resurrection), where the slavery of sin can be broken, where paralyzing fear can be banished, where anger can turn to forgiveness, where cruelty can turn to compassion, where broken limbs can be healed, and where nations can be fed. And this happens when the people of God who have heard and received the Gospel becoming living announcements of this good news. When we become evangelists (Heralds of the good news) in word and in deed, the already existing good news of the Gospel suddenly becomes visible. This isn't a message about Hell and wrath but about good news. Yes, there is judgment, yes, their is guilt and accountability. But the world already knows that! The human race already feels unworthy, guilty, and fearful of rejection. The world needs to know that there is a way out here and now, not just when we die. They need to know that God's puprose for them is not to take them away from this world, but to teach them how to live within it! God's passion is not to demean them but to transform them into the fullness of true humanity. There is a new way to be human and there is hope for the world that God created, said was "good" and loved so much that He gave His only begotten Son to rescue it. The world needs God's people to announce the good news to them, not only in word, but also in deeds that evidence the message we are preaching. When Jesus breathed on His disciples and gave the gift of the Holy Spirit, He was commissioning us to do just that.This is what Jesus would do if He were here today. THIS IS WHAT JESUS IS DOING! Are ready to take up your cross and follow?