“No one who meets Jesus ever stays the same.” — Philip Yancey The gospel of Luke is a demanding book. My friend, Steven Hunter, blogged about it on Start2Finish just last week. Luke challenges us with a radical view of Jesus and of discipleship. The book is pockmarked with remarkable images of grace, such as the Good Samaritan, and the father of the Prodigal Son. But there are also those times when Jesus said something difficult for us to hear and accept. It is in Luke that we are told to “count the cost” before we follow him. It is in Luke that we are told to take up our cross daily. It is in Luke that we are warned about expecting applause and pats on the back for acts of service. In Luke, those closest to Jesus seemed to be the least like him, and those whose morality more closely resembled godliness are pitted as enemies of the Lord—those we would expect to be Jesus’ friends aren’t Jesus’ friends.
When I preached through Luke’s gospel about 18 months ago, it was not well-received by some in my congregation. There could be any number of reasons why, but some of it, I believe, was our unfamiliarity with the true Jesus recorded for us in the four gospels. In his book The Jesus I Never Knew, Philip Yancey talks about how some perceive Jesus as a hybrid Mister Rogers/Captain Kangaroo. (Incidentally, that book is the very best I’ve read about Jesus outside of Scripture). Yancey says that he was taken aback by the Jesus he discovered in the gospels, one that was different from the Jesus he thought he had known all of his life. Quoting Walter Wink, Yancey says, “If Jesus had never lived, we would not have been able to invent him.”
We read the Gospels through the flash-forward lenses of church councils like Nicea and Chalcedon, through the church’s studied attempts to make sense of him.
Earlier, Yancey cited Dorothy Sayers as claiming the church had “very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified Him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.”
Whether from Paul (1 Cor. 15:1-4) or John (1 John 1:1-4), the New Testament emphasizes the importance of preaching and teaching the life of Jesus. All of it. His appearance in history quite literally separated it in two. But an even better reason to always be studying and proclaiming the gospels is that it will continually correct our faulty vision as to who Jesus was. We may think we know what Jesus would say or do, but a study of the gospels can remove all doubt as to what he said and did.
I will warn you; studying and teaching the gospels will disturb you. Your preconceived ideas of who Jesus was, and is, and what he stood for will be challenged and (at least in my case) blown to bits. You will learn that he is far from the big brother who lets you get away with anything. You will also learn that he is not the community traffic cop, ready to squash you like a bug every time you sin. Rather, he is a holy God-in-the-flesh Lord who demands radical obedience so that you may be shaped into a person who glorifies the Father with everything you say and do. He is also a remarkably merciful Savior who wants to use his love to transform your heart completely. Heart surgery by the Great Physician is necessary but also deeply rewarding. Coming to know Jesus is difficult, but it leads to Life!
Father, thank you for Jesus’ life and ministry. Thank you for his death and resurrection. Help us to never shy away from the written accounts of his life, no matter how difficult, challenging, or unpopular they become in our world. Help us to see that the high demands of discipleship are a pathway to endless fellowship with you. Keep before us the fact that your grace is supremely free, yet will cost us everything we have. Empower us to glorify you in all things. In Jesus’ name.