[Editor’s note: the following excerpt is taken from The Reckless Love of God by Alex Early, Bethany House, 2015, pages 151-156.]
Reckless love of God
Unfortunately, it is possible to read the Bible and miss Jesus. I know, because I did. The ancient rabbis did this in the first century, and many do it today in the 21st century. In his gospel, John portrays Jesus debating with a group of popular Jewish leaders and their followers on the Sabbath day. After having healed on the Sabbath (which was a big no-no for this crowd) and having made himself “equal with God” (John 5:18), things got hotter. John records Jesus saying:
You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they who bear witness to me, and yet you refuse to come to me to have life. I don’t get people’s fame. But I know you don’t have the love of God in you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive the glory of one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one God? Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, in whom you put your hope. For if you would believe Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you don’t believe his writings, how will you believe my words?
These men who doubted and accused Jesus had devoted their entire lives to mastering the Old Testament texts both in content and in practice. They had even invented rules to supplement the rules to ensure that the commandments of the Bible were kept. Yet here we have Jesus saying their scripture study is in vain, all for nothing, complete hogwash! He declares that the scriptures point to him, and his listeners cannot bear the thought of coming to him who appears to be mortal, a mere human being, for eternal life. Jesus expands by saying that Moses’ words will judge them because even Moses was doing more than giving laws to be kept. Rather, he intentionally directed his followers and readers to Christ, who would save his people by grace and faith. It is difficult to know which texts Jesus had in mind here.
However, Matthew, who writes to a very Jewish audience that was very concerned about Jesus’ relationship with the Old Testament, probably had a few in mind. In fact, when the time comes for him to write his gospel, he usefully provides many texts because he repeatedly emphasizes Jesus’ fulfillment of the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament (see Matthew 1:22; 2:15; 4:14; 8:17 am; 12:17; 13:35; 17:23; 21: 4; 26:56; and 27: 9). In addition, in Luke 24, after the resurrection of Jesus, he has a conversation both on the road to Emmaus with Cleopas and an unnamed disciple, then again while having breakfast with his disciples. Jesus makes this revolutionary statement:
Then he said to them: “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all that is written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled. Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures.
Consider the implications of these statements. Jesus says the whole Bible talks about him. He is not asking us to hijack the text and force it into the pages of the Old Testament. As a Jew he would never think of such a thing. On the contrary, he says simply, humbly and sincerely: “Look at me over there! No pressure required. You don’t have to read me in the text. Just read the text and I emerge. But even after meeting Jesus in the Bible and being converted, we are not done with his book. Instead, our conversion marks the beginning of a life of deeper and deeper understanding in the Word of God.
This Christ-centered way of reading the Bible has massive implications both for our discipleship and our mission as Christians, for the reckless love of God is central to who we are and to all that we do. let’s do. Each text is given so that we conform more to the image of Jesus (see 2 Timothy 3: 16-17; Romans 8:29). If we don’t see a text in terms of being planted at the feet of Jesus and his mission to the world, we have missed the point. Soon the Bible is reduced to a list of dos and don’ts. Heroes and villains. The good guys and the bad guys. Winners and losers. The good news of the gospel, seen in this light, boils down to good advice at best. And those who are supposed to know Jesus will relate to him in such a way that it is as if they do not know him. Like when Ned Flanders on The simpsonssaid to his boys, “Okay boys, when you meet Jesus, be sure to call him Mr. Christ. “
Jesus did not come to give good advice. He came to announce the coming wrath and call people to repentance, to extend the incomprehensible love of God to the world, to summon us to follow him at all costs and to enter into unspeakable joy. Jesus did not come to be our homeboy or our life coach. He assumed the role of God. Westminster theologian and author Michael Horton said: “You can lose weight, quit smoking, improve your marriage, and become a nicer person without Jesus. “6In other words, when we understand that the Bible is a list of good guys and bad guys, it can easily become a self-help book rather than the groundbreaking good news that changes hearts and turns lives. Therefore, the purpose of the Bible is certainly not to divide us into teams of winners and losers, successes and failures. He clearly says that we are allwicked, that Jesus is the only good one, and that the purpose of the Bible is to bring us to him.
Brennan Manning, author of The Gospel of Ragamuffin and Abba’s child, request,
How is it then that we come to imagine that Christianity is primarily what we do for God? How did this become the good news of Jesus? Is the kingdom he proclaimed nothing more than a community of men and women who go to church on Sundays, have an annual spiritual retreat, read their Bibles every now and then, vigorously oppose abortion, don’t watch X-rated movies, never use vulgar language, smile a lot, open doors for people, support their favorite team and get along with everyone? Is this why Jesus went through the dark and bloody horror of Calvary? Is this why he came out of the tomb in shattering glory? Is this why He poured out His Holy Spirit on the Church? To make nicer men and women with better morals?seven
Of course not. Resuscitation and resurrection are two different things. Human beings have died in sin and need more than moral improvement; we need to be overcome by the love of God and transformed by his resurrection power. Yes, resurrection. As the late Swiss Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar said,
Of course, it would make no sense to speak of the Cross without considering the other side, the Resurrection of the Crucified. “If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is nothing and also your faith is nothing; you are still in your sins and also those who have fallen asleep. . . Are lost. If we are just people who have put their hope in Christ in this life, then we are the most miserable of all men ”(1 Cor. 15:14, 17-19). If we remove the fact of the Resurrection, we also remove the Cross, for they stand and fall together, and then a new center would have to be found for the whole message of the Gospel. What would come to occupy this center is at best a gentle father-god who is unaffected by the terrible injustices of the world, or man in his immorality and his hope who must take care of his own redemption: ” atheism in Christianity ”.8
6. Michael Horton, Christianity without Christ: the Alternative Gospel of the American Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2008), 102.
7. Brennan Manning, theFurious longing for God (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2009), 125.
8. Hans Urs von Balthasar, A brief introduction for unstable laymen(San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985), 87.
Alex at the start(MDiv, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; MA, London School of Theology) is a pastor who planted a church in a bar, was a professor of theology, created the Acts 29 West Academy, a center for missionary and theological training, and initiated the Acts 29 Podcast. Alex lives with his wife and children in Atlanta, Georgia. He spends his free time cooking with and for his friends and family, and is pursuing a doctorate in intercultural studies at Western Seminary. Learn more about alxegesis.com.
Publication date: September 14, 2015