There has been no more important teacher in human history than Jesus of Nazareth. Not only was Western civilization (the civilization that eliminated slavery, spawned science and unleashed production) based upon his teachings, but more than two billion people still look to him as the most crucial man ever to have lived.
And yet, this must be said…
Over the years, the theology of Jesus… the actual beliefs of Jesus himself… has been lost. I’m not talking about anything secret, by the way; all of this is wide open in the New Testament. The point I’m making is simply this:
Christianity has become a religion about Jesus, not the religion of Jesus.
That’s a very blunt statement, and for it I apologize to the good and sincere Christians of the world. But at the same time it’s true, and it needs to be said. It needs to be faced.
The fact is that most Christians have been almost wholly immersed in “about” Jesus; they are endlessly focused on who he was and what that signifies. This has made anything else seem foreign to them, and threatening.
But have you ever noticed how many times Jesus tells his students “believe me,” rather than “believe in me”?
What Jesus actually taught – what he purposely taught to people in the towns of Israel – was not doctrine; in fact he never mentioned the doctrines that stand at the center of most statements of faith. (Look ‘em up.)
Rather, Jesus taught in parables. Christians know this line from the gospel of Mark, but they tend to pay it little mind:
He did not speak to them without a parable.
And so today I’m going to list the teachings of Jesus to the people in those towns, and I will ask believers to accept that these are the things Jesus taught on purpose. These were not side conversations: they were the main course. In other words,
The things Jesus taught in the towns were the things he thought were most important.
If we treat Jesus’ teachings as secondary to later doctrines, we’re adopting some rather unlovely opinions about his teaching and judgment. (I’ll leave you to decide what those opinions may be.)
Yes, I know I’m throwing hard thoughts at a large number of good people; if I knew a better way to do this, I would. But smooth words are not always the best words, and I’m trusting you to be conscious adults.
So, here is my list of what Jesus thought were his most important sayings. They are all literally translated, save for the first one, which I think is closer to his actual meaning. (The original is Mark 1:15. You can look it up. And I encourage you to parse it with a Greek lexicon.).
The time has arrived and the way of the higher realm has come to you. Change your thinking and take in this good news.
A sower went out to plant: as he planted, some seed fell by the way side, and the birds came and devoured it. And other seeds fell on the rocky ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no deepness of earth: and when the sun was risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. And others fell among the thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it produced no fruit. And others fell into good ground, and produced fruit, growing up and increasing; and produced thirtyfold, and sixtyfold, and a hundredfold.
The the way of the better realm (the kingdom of God), is as if a man should cast seed upon the earth; and should sleep and rise, night and day, and the seed should spring up and grow, he knows not how. The earth produces fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.
The kingdom of the heavens is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and planted in his field. This is the smallest of seeds, but when it is grown, it is greater than the herbs, and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in its branches.
The kingdom of the heavens is like yeast, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till it was all leavened.
Is a lamp brought to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not to be put on a stand? For there is nothing hidden that shall not be made known; neither is anything made secret, but that it will come to light. If any man has ears to hear, let him hear.
The kingdom of the heavens is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found, and hid. And in his joy he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field.
The kingdom of the heavens is like a man that is a merchant, seeking fine pearls: and having found one very precious pearl, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it.
The kingdom of the heavens is like a net that was cast into the sea, gathering fish of every kind. When it was filled, they drew it up on the beach, sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but the bad they cast away.
Every one that hears these words of mine, and does them, will be like a wise man who built his house upon rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and if did not fall: for it was founded upon rock. And every one that hears these words of mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was its fall.
You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? In like manner, every good tree produces good fruit; but a corrupt tree produces corrupt fruit.
Come in through the narrow entry, because wide is the entrance, and broad is the path that leads to destruction, and there are many that go though it. But narrow is the entrance and difficult is the path that leads to life, and there are few that find it.
No man sews a piece of new cloth into an old garment, because that new cloth will shrink and pull away from the garment, and the tear will become worse. Neither do men put new wine into old wine-skins, or else the skins will burst, the wine will be spilled, and the skins will be ruined. Men put new wine into new wine-skins, and both are preserved.
First cleanse the inside of the cup, that the outside may become clean also.
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you: for every one that asks, receives, and he that seeks, finds, and to him that knocks, it will be opened.
I suggest that you take this set of teachings as a challenge:
Place everything else aside, especially your doctrines, and focus on these passages alone, and for at least a month. Read them slowly and repeatedly, meditate upon them and grasp their meanings.
You may be surprised at what comes out of this challenge, if you dare to take it. The prospect of cloistering yourself with Jesus shouldn’t be repellent to a Christian, but it often is.