In my last post I talked about how we begin moving beyond seeing the Bible as our “handbook for life” by looking at some times in Jesus’ own life when he seemed to intentionally disobey the laws found in Scripture in order to obey them. Jesus’ explanation was that “he only did what he saw the Father doing.” Following the Father was how the Son knew how to fulfill the law by breaking the law. One of the challenges for me of reading the four Gospels (the books recounting the events of Jesus’ life) is knowing what things Jesus did that I am to do as his follower and what things he did simply because, well, he’s Jesus. Sometimes we jump too quickly to something Jesus did and assume that as his followers, living two thousand years later, we’re to do the exact same thing. Or conversely, we read something Jesus did and quickly assume, “Well of course he did that – he’s Jesus! That doesn’t mean we’re able or supposed to do the same thing!” This is where some context begins to help.
One of the first and most helpful principles you learn when studying the Bible is that context determines meaning. You can’t just rip a verse out of context and expect it to make any sense. The same is true for the things Jesus said and did. He said those things to a specific group of people, in a specific place, at a specific time, for a specific reason. To make those things generally applicable is an error. Likewise to assume that they’re not generally applicable is also unwise. Instead we zoom out and read the surrounding verses to understand how that verse makes sense within the story of which it is a part. We read those verses within the chapter or section of the book of which it is a part. We understand that section as a part of the whole book, which has its own place both in history and within the overall story of Scripture.
So applying that to Jesus breaking the laws in order to fulfill them, we need to look at what he taught his followers. Then what did they in turn teach their followers? Then, how have followers of Jesus understood this for two thousand years? Then, with those things in mind, we still have the work of deciding what that means for us, here, now.
What I have described is a fairly linear, rational, intellectual approach to understanding how to live as a follower of Jesus. This is good. At least it is a good place to start. But as I’ve been describing in this series, it is not enough. You cannot simply live by the rules and principles found in Scripture forever. At some point that approach begins to break down.
So Jesus knew how to truly fulfill the law (even if it meant breaking the rules) by, in his words, only doing what he saw the Father doing. Apparently Jesus was so intimately connected with the Father that this informed what he did. So when you watched what Jesus did – how he lived, how he treated people, all that he did and didn’t do – you were watching what God would do if he were walking around as a human being. Because that’s who Jesus is, God with skin on. So what about us? This isn’t something we can do…is it? Well, Jesus seemed to think that it was.
Toward the end of his life, Jesus made a promise. His promise was that it was now part of the plan that he go away – he would no longer be physically present with his followers to show them how to live. But he was sending someone who would show them how to live:
“7 But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you…12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” (John 16:7, 12-15)
Jesus promises to send the Spirit of God to guide his followers in his absence. The Spirit will receive from Jesus what he will make known to Jesus’ followers. In his last words to his followers, Jesus gave them this command:
“18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20
Jesus calls his followers to go and to make disciples (literally, “followers”) and to baptize them into this reality of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He doesn’t invite them to follow a rule book or to live according to a set of precepts or principles. He calls his followers to make more followers who will all live in a dynamic, living connected relationship to the Father by the Son through the Spirit.
In my next post we’ll take a look at how Paul describes this life – learning to walk with the Spirit. I’ll share some of my own struggles to understand what that means and how God is teaching me to do this more and more.
**Images from Flickr user loop_oh used under Creative Commons license