I know a good Christian friend who has lived out a profound gift for connecting by love and wisdom with secular people today in one of modern culture’s most atheistic arenas. He once remarked, “The church is out – but Jesus is in!” What could he mean by this observation? And why could this point actually be revolutionary for Jesus’ followers and all people alike today?
A Simple Reality
In trying to say anything true about Jesus, a simple reality must first be acknowledged. Anyone interested to learn more about Jesus needs to get to know the original Jesus1 – because this is the only Jesus there is. Most to the point, it is this original Jesus who truly and fully offers us God’s love, life, and hope. For those who believe Jesus, this also means following the original Jesus, because it is this Jesus who is our first love and ultimate joy.
This is a truism beyond our control, established without consulting us, and a fact of the universe whether we embrace it or run from it. This depends not on our feelings at all, is not daunted by our doubts in the least, and renders our opinions entirely impotent in this matter. There is only one true Jesus.
This one and only real Jesus is the Jesus who breathed the dust and walked the paths of this earth in the first century (AD/CE). As I heard one scholar put it, we speak of the Jesus who cut his toenails, and upon this everything hangs. The Jesus who is resurrected and glorified now into an even greater existence is also the original Jesus who acted and taught in history on earth to reveal God to humanity.
Jesus Is Still In
A related contemporary phenomenon is of fascinating significance. The original Jesus still matters to many types of people. Actually, I find he is of interest at least to most people. As my colleague observed: “The church is out, but Jesus is in.”
“The church is out” in that most secular people of modern cultures today care less for “the church,” that is, for what people think of as organized religion, than any time in recent centuries. To put it bluntly, contemporary secular culture generally considers religious institutions, theological systems, and external rituals to be among the most outdated and irrelevant factors in modern civilization. We do, in this sense, live in the post-“Christendom” age.
Still, curiously, shockingly, in places where you would not expect this, “Jesus is in.” Many people who would not darken a “church” door even with their shadow seem intrigued somehow with Jesus. In my college courses on faith and ethics, students from many backgrounds – including Muslims and atheists – have engaged with interest discussion of this Jesus. In what is now the most secular time of Western history, it seems people of all kinds and everywhere are yet interested in the original Jesus.
The people living in darkness
have seen a great light.
On those living in… the shadow of death,
a light has dawned!
Matthew 4 (NIV)
Why Jesus Matters
Why is Jesus so intriguing? Why does Jesus matter, possibly to anyone, potentially to everyone?
Jesus was a remarkable person – the most ever if you study him all through. Jesus was the most amazing leader, if you follow his approach to its most profound effects. Jesus treated people in the most thoroughly compassionate way demonstrated in any society. In the face of one of the most vicious political regimes in history, Jesus enacted a different kingdom: God’s new reality coming into this world to change it all, forever, into a new world of love, life, peace, joy, justice, hope. Jesus made the most astounding claims possible, including for his own identity and mission – as one of the most lucid and brilliant minds,2 and with the most selfless character – among any people. The first eye-witnesses to Jesus testify in the New Testament scriptures that this Jesus is the fullest revelation of God.
In practical, profound, and dynamic ways, Jesus embodied, lived, taught, affirmed, and gave his life for, all the greatest ideals, virtues, hopes, and joys which have characterized the longings of human hearts and minds and lives universally throughout all cultures in all periods of history. Jesus did so in ways as relevant and needed now as ever. It is no wonder that what Jesus was and is about, did and wants to do, taught and invites us to live, is still “in” today…
The Call of the Original Jesus
For Jesus’ followers, Christian faith, living, and renewal is all about a personal passion for Jesus. We are enabled and called to be always and totally living in and following Jesus. And his original followers had no doubt that this living Jesus is the Jesus who lived among them in the flesh in the first century – alive then, still alive again now. So, embracing a renewed quest to know the original, real, and true Jesus ever more fully is the soul of our faith, the passion of our heart, the joy of our living, the integrity of our discipleship, and the essential key to our witness for Jesus in the world.
For anyone willing to embrace an adventure of learning more of the original Jesus, this still today offers life-changing potential. In this Jesus, you will discover that God loves you. You will be filled with a new surpassing love to share with others. You will discover the hope that this love can truly change the world around you. In sum, this original, real Jesus does and will lead us into God’s best fulfillment for our greatest longings and joys.
1 I draw the phrase and concept, “the original Jesus,” in part from several important studies of Jesus by N. T. Wright.
2 Also see C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.
Readers are also encouraged to explore other posts in this series: Waves of Renewal for Our Time.
God so loved the world… God is love!
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth…
and the tree of life…
at the middle of the great street of the city…
and the leaves of the tree
are for the healing of the cultures.
John 3; 1 John 4; Revelation 21, 22