Did Jesus Believe the Bible?

Jesus epitomized the spirit of transformational revolution. He sought to revolutionize the religious system of his day which cared more about wearing the right clothes and eating the right foods than caring for the sick into system that valued the outcasts and that listened to the hurting. He replaced the ethic of persnickety self-righteousness with the ethic of love, asking us to do “whatever you wish that other would do to you (Matt 7:12).”

What Was Jesus Up To?

Though scholars, ethicists, and the average church goer all applaud Jesus for reinfusing kindness into religion, they still debate the nature and goal of his reformation. One popular idea that floats through the halls of academia and occasionally relaxes in the lounge of pop culture states that Jesus came to create a new religion. In stark contrast to the angry God of the Old Testament who huffed and puffed away whole civilizations, Jesus forgave the prostitutes and ate dinner with the tax collectors. In other words, Jesus came to unbox religion from the constraints of a tradition waylaid with sacred texts that had obscured the guiding star of divine love.

Other thinkers claim, Jesus that came to show humanity that religion was in a constant state of evolution. Jesus discovered that faith was not found in static texts but in the cultivation of one’s hidden eternal spark found. As souls developed their kernel of divinity, both humans and God would develop better and truer ideas of tolerance, kindness, justice, mercy, and love. In other words, Jesus came to help men and women evolve into Godhood. People like the apostles who tried to place both Jesus and faith within the Scriptures profoundly misunderstood the revolutionary ethic of Jesus.

When we confront the above ideas in literature, the classroom, and YouTube, we must return to the Scriptures and see what Jesus says about Jesus’s revolution Spirit.

Did Jesus Toss the Bible?

In Matthew 5:17-20, Jesus defines the radical nature of his ministry and teaching. He does not agree with the world’s assessment of him. He tells his disciples, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Jesus does not see himself at war with the God of the Old Testament. He does not find the stories of Adam and Eve, Jonah in the Wale, or Sodom and Gomorrah embarrassing or intolerant. He did not think the the Scriptures needed to evolve. In verse 18, Jesus says that until heaven and earth pass away, his word will stand. The expression “heaven and earth” was a colloquial phrase used to convey something similar to our phrase “when pigs fly.” Jesus’s point is rhetorical and clear. The Old Testament will never be outdated.

At this juncture, many theologians and friends will nominally shake their head in agreement before tossing out a, “but.” They assert that the Word of God is eternal but that not all doctrines our needed. For example when the waters of popular opinion become to shallow to sustain God’s view of sexuality or of race, many in the church will encourage us to toss those doctrines overboard so that we can reach the lost and dying with the love and mercy of Christ. Though perhaps well-intended, the impulse to jettison the less palatable parts of the Bible runs counter to Jesus’s understanding of his message. He declares that “not an iota or dot, will pass from the law (Matt 5:17).”

When Jesus tackles the teaching of the Pharisees and the scribes, he does not take issue with their text but with their misinterpretation of their text. He repeatedly says, “You have heard…but I say to you.” Jesus will not tolerate those who pull out sharpies and start crossing out lines for the purpose of restricting or loosening the laws of God.

When men and women do begin to edit God’s law, they invariably restrict its application and expand its exceptions, tolerating all kinds of evil. According to the pharisees and scribes, a righteous person could be consumed with anger and bitterness if they did not murder. He could sexually harass her neighbors if he did not sleep with them. Moreover, he could still sleep with her secretary if he went through the divorce courts first. The pure in heart could also lie if the lie was inconsequential. Lastly, the holy people could take out vengeance on her neighbor if she did so with moderation. Pharisees and scribes achieved righteousness but denying righteousness. Those who read through Matthew 5:21-48 can easily grasp why Jesus said in verse 20, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it.

The Fulfillment of the Law

Jesus fulfilled the law when he perfectly obeyed the law. Now, he stands between us and the law not to protect us from the law but to empower us to obey it. When Christians believe, Jesus writes his heart upon their hearts and gifts them the Holy Spirit, enabling to follow the law. Because he fulfilled the moral law, his people can be moral.

But fulfillment consists not simply of obedience. When Jesus speaks of fulfillment, he is also declaring himself to be the zenith of the Old Testament. He is the savior that was promised to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. He is the prophet that Moses was never able to be. He is the shepherd king that David aspired to be. He is the perfect high priest. He is the culmination of the Old Testament. All the stories about exile and redemption were pointing to him. For example, the Passover was pointing to the day when he would be the perfect sacrifice on the cross. Jesus came to fulfill the law. He loves even the odd rules about fabrics and eating shrimp for it points to the saving work of Jesus. He is the fulfillment of all that came before. He abolished nothing.

Final Thoughts

Jesus did not take issues with the Jewish Scriptures. He founded his ministry upon them. Rather, he took issue with how the Pharisees and the scribes interpreted the Scriptures. He was revolutionary because he rightly interpreted the Word of God through the Christological lens. Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. May we too be found faithful in our pursuit of holiness!

Salt and Light: Evangelism +

Once Christians recognize that the ooze flowing from towards the world’s reservoir is one of hostility, they tend to build sandbag forts around their communities. In the days of old, men and women retreated into the deserts or set up monasteries behind large brick walls to keep the sins and sorrows of this world at bay. In the modern era, Christians construct walls around exclusive social groups centered upon everything from denominational structures to youth sports in an effort to keep out the displeasure of the world.

Though this impulse arises naturally, it contradicts to the commands of Jesus. After finishing up the beatitudes, Jesus tells his disciples to be salt and light (Matt 5:13-16). In other words, Jesus is declaring that his followers have been redeemed in part for the purpose of preserving the world from decay and for the purpose of saving it from darkness. In short, the followers of Christ should not retreat but engage this dying and dark world.

The Need for Salt

When Jesus employs the analogy of salt, he implies that the world is in a state of decay. Though the modern soul gravitates towards notions of evolutionary progress, Jesus shares no such hope. He located evil not in earthly systems but in the hearts of those who create those cultural systems. From the center of the soul comes the evil that “defiles a person (Matt 5:18).” Technology alone cannot change our disposition towards destruction. The great physicist Albert Einstein famously noted,

The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.

The technology of this century has also failed to change our thinking. The arrival of the internet has opened new worlds of information to millions of souls and has allowed families on opposite sides of the world to converse through live video chats. Though the internet can facilitate great good, it can also be used to bully teenagers, to steal hospital data, and to traffic in sexually explicit images. Even the medical sciences which enable doctors to create new drugs that can destroy cancer cells can also be used to create the poisons stuffed into missile warhead. Technology and education cannot keep the world from social decay. We need a new way of thinking.

Christ alone can change human thinking. He can turn our hearts of hatred into hearts of love. He died to free us from the paralyzing shame of sin and rose from the dead to demonstrate that all who believe on him for salvation can think and act according to the ethic of love through his power. Christians are to share this good news with their decaying world. They are to be salt and light.

The Benefits of Salt

When Christians encounter sin and brokenness in this world, they cannot close their eyes to their neighbor’s suffering. Rather, they are to address it, rubbing salt into this world’s decaying flesh. For example when a Christian sees a city councilwoman misusing the food pantry funds, he should speak up and vote her out of office. When a believer sees her classmate being bullied, she should counter her school’s culture and extend love to the harassed soul. And when a family is wrecked by strife, the saved family member should speak well of all involved and refuse to engage in the gossip. Though such actions may expose the Christian to false accusations, slander, and criticisms of being “too good for the rest of us,” society always benefits from the presence of the Christian. The poor receive better care. The bullied student is pulled back from the edge of suicide. And the entire extended family has Christmas at grandma’s house for the first time in decades. Martin Luther rightfully concluded,

Salting has to bite…If you want to…help people, you must be sharp and rub salt into their wounds…denouncing what is not right.

Christians possess the new way of thinking, the salt the preserves society from decay.

When society goes bad and politics devolve, Christians should not point fingers at the decaying world. It is doing what it has always done: decay. Instead, they should examine their own lives. The famed British pastor John Stott noted,

No one reproaches the meat for going bad! It cannot do anything else. The real question to ask is where is the salt?

Why Light

The next logical question that comes from Jesus’s discourse is: “Must the salt be recognizable?” Can Christians quietly vote for noble political candidates, donate to good causes, and encourage the hurting apart from the gospel of Christ? In other words, can Christians advocate for good in the public square apart from their faith?
Jesus says no. He says his followers are, “the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden (Matt 5:14).” When Christians interact with the world around them, they do so as little lights. Just as Christ came into the world containing life, “and the life was the light of men (Jn 1:4),” the followers of Jesus bring truth to bear on their world because the light of Christ has shown in their hearts (2 Cor 4:6). They do not hide Christ for he is the foundation of their convictions. They share Jesus with the world for the light of the gospel is the only power that can reorient human thinking to the ethic of love. Just as no one would turn on a flashlight and hide it under their covers, no Christians will experience the love of Christ and then hide Jesus from society. She shares Jesus with her family, coworkers, and neighbors.

Moreover, she should do so confidential for Jesus promises to go with the Christian as she shines the light. In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus proclaims,

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Though the world will hate us and persecute us, we have nothing to fear for God is with us. The light will not snuffed out. It will push back the darkness.

Equipped with this knowledge, the people of God should set out to bring the truth and grace of God to bear on this world. They shine the light of Christ when sitting down to lunch with the unlovables, when taking the sick to the doctor, and when visiting the elderly. And as they do so, they explain who their God is and how his love has lead them to a new way of thinking. They bring the gospel to bear on all of life so that the world may “give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matt 5:16).”

Do We Have To?

If a soul can comfortably hide the light of Christ within the confines of private religion and avoid salting this decaying world, that soul possess a worthless faith. Moreover, it is destined for destruction. In verses 13 and 14 of Matthew 5, Jesus bluntly tells his disciples “You are” the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Salting and lighting are essential qualities of the faith. If our faith does not preserve and enlighten the world around us, we prove ourselves to have no faith at all. In Jesus day, salt was contained in the rocks around the Dead Sea. As rain fell and evaporated back into the sky, the salt would evaporate from the rocks. The rocks would still have the white hew of salt but would no longer contain salt. Such rocks were good for nothing. They could not keep even a small piece of meat from decay. A professional faith which benefits neither one’s soul nor his neighbor’s is in the words of Jesus, “no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet (Matt 5:13-16).” Faith that lacks salt and light proves to be no faith at all. Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted,

Either we are the salt of the earth, or else we are annihilated; either we follow the call or we are crushed beneath it.

May God help us all to be salt and light.

Blessed Are the Persecuted

Despite the prayers of some overzealous, first-year seminary students, most Christians do not long for suffering. They do not grab their morning cup of coffee hoping their day ends with their home on fire, their fingers broken, or their heads chopped off. We prefer peace.

Still, persecution finds us. Jesus declared persecution to be the inevitable outcome of the Christian life. He closed out the beatitudes with these words: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Mt. 5:10). Those who mourn their sin, pursue purity, and facilitate peace receive both God’s blessings and their neighbor’s hatred.

We should not be surprised by such an outcome for Jesus experienced the same fate. Jesus loved those around him with an intentional level of perfection, sharing truth, casting out demons, and healing the sick. Despite earning the pleasure of his heavenly father, Jesus still ended his life very much nailed to a cross. He followers should expect the same fate. Jesus noted in Matthew 10:25

If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.

Christians will be persecuted for righteousness sake.

What is Persecution?

The term persecution conveys the military idea of total annihilation. A persecutor would be one who commands his troops to hunt down and annihilate all his opponents. Prior to his conversion, the apostle Paul did this. He testifies that,

I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished (Acts 22:4-5).

Paul looked far and wide for Christians so that he could crush them out of existence through physiological manipulation and physical force (Acts 26:9-11).

Throughout church history, groups of Christians have experienced such physical persecution. The seventeen-year-old girl Margaret Wilson was drowned for her faith off the coast of Nova Scotia in 1685. Graham Staines was burned to death in his car in India in 1999. All over the world, Christians are harassed, imprisoned, and murdered for their faith.

Though countless groups and governments still pursue Christians as Paul did thousands of years ago, millions of Christians are blessed to live in nations with stable borders. They do not wake up contemplating whether they will be imprisoned because they attended church. This reality brings us back to those over eager seminary students. Do we need to pray for and seek out physical persecution to achieve the kingdom of God? Do we have to be flogged to be blessed?

Jesus says no. In Matthew 5:11, Jesus expands upon the concept of persecution with his disciples associating the term with reviling and lying. Our savior teaches that much of the persecution that we will endure will be verbal. As the famed reformer, Martin Luther, noted, persecution often consists of “bitter slander and poisonous defamation.” Even if a Christian never kneels to prepare for the executioner’s sword, he can still be certain that his good name will be assaulted by the world. To be slandered for righteousness sake is to be persecuted for Christ.

Not All Persecution is Equal

But not all slander and lies constitute biblical persecution. Once while walking in a rough part of Louisville, KY and sporting a University of Louisville jersey, I was verbally accosted by a slow-moving station wagon jammed full of kids and one loudmouth dad. Those insults brought God no glory. Similarly, the insults we receive after we post about our favorite political candidate, share our ideas on nutrition, or discuss our views on fashion do not constitute righteous persecution. God still uses those moments to shape and model our hearts, but they do not prove our membership in the kingdom of heaven (Jm 1).

Similarly, persecution associated with our sins brings God no glory. A pastor in Alabama has been excoriated on twitter and elsewhere for plagiarizing sermons. Though I believe the Alabama pastor meant well, seeking to grow the body of Christ, he still bore false and presented the intellectual property of another as his own to grow his brand. He has suffered much but not for righteousness sake. He suffered because he sinned. The twitter attacks should not lead him to rejoicing but to repentance.

To suffer for righteousness sake, one must be criticized for being like Christ. The deacon who was asked to step down because he regularly mocks people’s Instagram posts has not suffered for Jesus. The deacon who builds a ramp for a widow in the church and then is wrongfully accused of coveting the widow’s inheritance has been persecuted for righteousness sake. The woman who was fired from her job because she said such and such a political candidate deserves to be removed from office (if not shot) has not suffered for Jesus. However, the woman who is fired because she shared Jesus with a grieving coworker at lunch has suffered. And when we do suffer for loving God and others well, we should rejoice.

Rejoice in Suffering

When we find ourselves attacked for helping the poor, visiting the sick, and evangelizing the poor, we can be tempted to respond in bewilderment and anger. We should do neither. Rather we should rejoice for the displeasure of the world reveals we have attained the pleasure of God. Those who are persecuted may lose out on jobs, friends, and a host of earthly amenities. But they get so much more than the trinkets of today. The get Christ. When Stephen who shared Christ and cared for widows was executed after being falsely accused, he did not stumble into sorrow. He was raised to glory. When the stones reigned down upon his head, he got Jesus. Acts 7:25 reports, “And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” Rejoice when people dislike you because you are like Jesus for you like Jesus will too be in heaven.

But we do not have to wait for heavenly vindication. Throughout history, God’s people have been persecuted. Isaiah was thrown in jail. Jeremiah was thrown into a mud pit. Daniel was tossed into a lion’s den. The prophet Uriah was hunted down and executed because he declared the message of God. As Jesus noted in his parable on the unjust tenants, the world has taken God’s servants, “and beat one, killed another, and stoned another (Matt 12:35-26).” To suffer for righteousness sake is to be on the right side of history. Instead of bemoaning their hardships, Christians should rejoice when persecution comes for they walk in the footsteps of giants.

Blessed are those who persecuted for righteousness sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.