This will be the 2nd of 3 blogs relating to the question of personal stories. If it’s true that each person has a story to tell, then who should do the telling? Should the world around us define us, tell our story, narrate who we are? Or should we have a voice in our own narrative?
Last time I suggested that if others get it wrong, we really can get our own story straight and make it right for a change. If you have ever experienced having others misunderstand you before, hopefully you will respect the notion that our own voice of correction should be heard with AUTHORity when it comes to our own story.
Are you following me here?
So what, then, do we do with the story of Jesus? You know, the old, old story that you probably heard in Sunday School or elsewhere in Church growing up? Or maybe even recently in some worship songs or sermons? As this story goes, Jesus came to earth to die for our sins so we will not go to hell when we die. Oh, and P.S., we will go to heaven when we die if we confess our sins and ask for God’s forgiveness. But then P.P.S., we have to believe all the above and have “faith” that this will all happen only by God’s grace and not by our own works. Yes, but, isn’t it true that Jesus can only save us if we are born again and say publicly that we have accepted him as our personal savior? And don’t we at minimum have to first say the sinner’s prayer?
Is that the story of Jesus????????
Well, it is if the world around us tells the story. Especially that part of the world we call the evangelical protestant church in the United States of America and through its foreign missionaries in the last 150 or so years.
But what if Jesus is telling his own story? Should he at least have the right to do that? Should his own voice as repeated during the first century until finally placed on paper carry any weight when it comes to getting his story straight? Should it matter what he said about himself?
The Bible’s New Covenant or New Testament is a very complex document despite all arguments to the contrary by those who claim to have exclusive rights of interpretation. Where Jesus is concerned in the New Testament Gospels, he spoke mostly in metaphors, allegories, parables with much symbolism. Apparently this frustrated his own followers who asked him why he did this instead of coming right to the point and spelling everything out in simple black and white. Even then, as we read in Matthew 13, Jesus gives a rather vague answer referring to an obscure verse, Isaiah 6:10, implying most likely that he has come to fulfill prophecy: “‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, And seeing you will see and not perceive; For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.’”
Jesus further spoke of his story as prophetic fulfillment when, in his hometown synagogue, he then quoted Isaiah 61:1-2, “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives And freedom to prisoners; 2To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD
And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn,…” Notice the strike through there in verse 2? That was his, not mine. Jesus left out the second part of v. 2 and stopped after “proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” — Luke 4:18-19
In John’s Gospel, we have Jesus using multiple different metaphors to define himself in relation to Yahweh, I AM, as we understand him in the Old Testament. One of these was “I AM the Good Shepherd” and another “I AM the Gate” as each noted in John 10. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” — John 10:10. Here the issue is not fulfillment of prophesy but rather embodiment of God, the Father. Which then carries forward in John 13 where we read of Jesus saying, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” — John 13:15-17
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is quoted in still other contexts we don’t read about elsewhere, such as the time he tells the tax collector named Zacchaeus, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” — Luke 19:10
So what do you think? This seems to me a reliable sampling of the Jesus Story as he spoke of it himself to those who were then passing the story on to the writers of the four New Testament Gospels. Yet, none of these points about himself referenced dying for sinners who ask for forgiveness by his blood so they could go to heaven when they die instead of going to hell, which is the default position into which we are born according to the church from the time of Augustine’s own theory or theology. Go ahead and throw in John 3:3, John 3:16, etc etc etc. Still no story when it comes to our being saved by his blood. Nothing about heaven and hell in his own story.
Mostly Jesus came, if I understand him correctly, to teach by example how we are to love God and neighbor as self. Where the cross is concerned, I don’t read where Jesus died there and then to save us from our sins. Only that we are saved when we take up our own crosses here and now, follow him, and willingly surrender to God’s will for our lives instead of our own. Using all four Gospels, we note Jesus saying “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” in Matthew 16:24-25, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it” in Mark 8:34-35, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it” in Luke 9:23-24, and “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there my servant will be also” in John 12:25-26.
So what’s the story here? Whose story do we believe? The one the churches have mostly been telling these last 150 years or so? Or the one the Biblical Gospels themselves tell? For my part, I’ll go with the old, old, old and in fact oldest story of all going back to the voice of Jesus himself. And I’ll hope I have his own story straight before I try to pass it on to others. Because in so doing I’ll have done unto Jesus what I would want others to do unto me.