Over the past 30 plus years I have spent a great deal of time working to understand the life, teachings and movement of the Jesus that took place between 6 BCE and 27 CE in Galilee, Judea and Samaria. Over the years I have met a lot of people that tell me they really want to accurately understand what Jesus taught when we first met. However, as they began to learn what he taught, it became clear that they left something out of their statement when we first met:
I really want to know what Jesus taught -- as long as it supports what I believe!
It’s probably pretty safe to say that what most Christians believe about Jesus and what he taught differ significantly. So, why is it such a big deal when people discover that they differ? The reason is that in modern Christianity people are told that going to heaven when they die is based on “believing in Jesus.” When I ask people what that means, their answers are usually one of these:
● believe that Jesus existed
● believe that Jesus is the Son of God
● believe that Jesus is God
But when we look at who will enter eternal life in the teachings of Jesus, we discover some very different requirements:
● giving food to the hungry
● giving drink to the thirsty
● giving a stranger a place to stay
● giving clothes to the naked
● visiting the sick
● going to see those in prison
Jesus wasn’t giving a “do the above and go to heaven check list.” This question will help you understand what he was actually teaching:
If you had been in the situations above – hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick, imprisoned – what would you want others to do for you?
Jesus uses two terms to describe the acts above -- “acts of righteousness” & “acts of love.” This wasn’t a program for organizations to do or a religious ritual. Jesus was instructing his followers about how to interact with the people they meet in the normal course of their lives. You may encounter people with very different needs in the normal course of your life. They may be lonely, afraid, unskilled, addicted, confused, oppressed, etc. When Jesus taught “love your neighbor as yourself” he understood that some neighbors will be easier to love than others. We can choose to love -- but most of us can’t choose who our neighbors are.
This is the bottom line. The focus of Jesus was on life before death, while my church focused on life after death. It is easy for others to see how lives are affected when people do what Jesus taught – people are helped and lives are changed right here one earth. On the other hand, it is impossible for anyone to check out what my church taught until they die – and then it will be great or too late!
So, do you really want to know what Jesus taught?
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