What did Jesus teach?
What was his actual “good news”? What did he actually mean by that?
Was it really “believe these facts and pray this prayer and you get to go to heaven when you die?” Is that it?
Here’s his first recorded “sermon”, documented in Luke chapter 4:
Then Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. As usual he went into the synagogue on the day of worship. He stood up to read the lesson. 17 The attendant gave him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened it and found the place where it read:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is with me.
He has anointed me to tell the Good News to the poor. He has sent me to announce forgiveness to the prisoners of sin and the restoring of sight to the blind, to forgive those who have been shattered by sin, 19 to announce the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 Jesus closed the book, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. Everyone in the synagogue watched him closely. 21 Then he said to them, “This passage came true today when you heard me read it.”
Good news to the poor. Forgiveness to prisoners of sin. Restoring sight to the blind. Forgiveness to those shattered by sin.
So then Jesus went out and built himself a church building, hired a staff, and began weekly services with a rock band, multi-colored stage lights, giant video screens, and comfortable seating…?
No. You know what he did…exactly what he said. The poor heard good news that they were no longer marginalized in God’s “society” (despite how they were treated in the Roman Empire). Addicts were forgiven and encouraged. Blind people saw once again. He announced that it was the “year” (not the day) of the Lord’s favor – God was wanting to draw people back to him, eliminating any perceived obstacles or boundaries. God was restoring, delivering, rescuing, healing, saving people from themselves and the consequences of their poor, foolish past choices. God was welcoming, not condemning. Loving, not judging. God was to be viewed as our “heavenly father” – and there is much to be gleaned from considering that.
Those of us who have had horrible experiences with earthly parents know what we wish would have happened instead. I think the kind of parents each of us wished we had reflects an innate understanding of the kind of parent God actually is. And I think Jesus was opening the door to that understanding, reminding us that though we have wandered off and wasted our resources like the younger brother in the tale of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), God lovingly, patiently, compassionately waits for us to return, ready to cover our shame, restore us, heal us, encourage us, and let us know we never stopped being his children.
If you know that tale, you also know that the older brother in the story – the one who stayed at home supposedly faithful, loyal, and well-mannered – was hateful and spiteful and condemning of his younger brother. And when Jesus told that tale, it was directed at the Pharisees – the self-assured, self-righteous, judgmental religious establishment of his day. These were the conservatives who had all the “right” teachings and “moral” practices, yet were the ones Jesus reserved his very harshest words for.
But for those of us who have experienced heartache, shame, guilt, and consequence for our foolish and obsessive choices – for those of us like the younger brother who squandered our gifts, resources, and so many precious years – the good news of Jesus is that Father God is patiently waiting for us to give up, to surrender, to return to the family. He waits for us to enjoy the love that was always there and to heal the shame and pain that could never come between us and our father. And he longs to see us become all that we can be for his sake and for the sake of this spinning globe we inhabit. But not merely for ourselves. No. Because everyone is part of this family. All are welcomed. And all have a special place and special gifts/abilities that enhance everyone else’s life.
You see, I’m put here for you. I am your keeper. Your encourager. Your helper. We are family. So we need to live as family. We need to stop treating others as tools, enemies, inferiors and instead treat one another with patience, respect, and a love willing to sacrifice our own comfort so that none of us lack what we really need – physically, emotionally, spiritually. When you read Jesus’ “sermon on the mount” in Matthew 5-7, you see that kind of society proclaimed; some call it his “Kingdom Manifesto”. And when you read about people entering into “life” in this passage, it’s not about getting into the afterlife (“heaven”), but rather real living – vibrant, purposeful, love-filled joy that never gets old when compared to the fleeting pleasures many of us have wasted our time, money, and efforts to experience.
In other words, Jesus was concerned about the quality of our lives in the here and now, not in the “Sweet Bye and Bye”. He’s micro-focused on our relationships with others here as we cultivate his kind of society by our actions and character, not by legislating our morality and forcing others to capitulate. It is a society without borders where we all have a unique role to play for the sake of everyone else. Everyone is valued. Everyone is loved. Everyone is forgiven. And everyone is welcome. It doesn’t require a building, a non-profit corporate charter, and board-certified college-trained staff. It’s just humble people who think his way of living, his plan for peace, is the best path and hope for this planet. You come, too.