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Intro to Jesus #2: WHAT DID JESUS TEACH?

Updated: Feb 24



The words I have spoken to you – they are full of the Spirit and life. ~ Jesus (John 6:63)

[Note: This study covers a lot of material. Really, it is its own four-part series within this four-part series. Consider covering this content over multiple sessions.]



SUMMARY: Read this and skip the rest (if you want)

  • Jesus wants to be our teacher and example as he is our savior.

  • The Christian Church has often failed to follow Jesus' ethical teachings while focussing on more theological/philosophical issues.

  • Jesus emphasizes how to be perfect in mercy, not perfect in morality. He does teach us how to live ethically upright lives, but this must include mercy and forgiveness for ourselves and others when we fail.

  • The four biblical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are our earliest sources for the teachings of Jesus.

  • Jesus taught via lecture (e.g., the Sermon on the Mount) and via parables (short symbolic stories) as well as through his example.

  • Jesus' teachings meet the needs of our world so perfectly and powerfully, they bear the marks of the miraculous, as though Jesus has supernatural insight into the human condition.

  • The main message of Jesus is called the Gospel, meaning the Good News, and it can be gathered into four themes:

    • LOVE: Jesus shows us how much God loves us, and invites us to love others the same way.

    • FREEDOM: Forgiveness, received from God and offered to others, is our road to true freedom.

    • KINGDOM: The Gospel is less about us going to heaven and more about heaven coming to earth as we allow God's will and God's way to hold sway in our lives.

    • GRACE: Grace is the most revolutionary and irreligious concept ever proclaimed - that everything religion is attempting but failing to accomplish, God wants to do for us as a gift.

  • No other religious philosopher, prophet, or guru offers the anything close to the revolutionary way of Jesus. Love him or leave him, the guy is a freakin' genius.



INTRODUCTION: An Overview


As we saw in our last study, one of the ways Jesus self-identified was as “the Teacher”. But the teaching of Jesus has often been underrepresented in the religion that bears his name. Exhibit A: The Apostles Creed, an early statement of faith dated around the fifth century...


In early Christian creeds , the life and teachings of Jesus are conspicuously absent.

See the section about Jesus? ... conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried?


Notice what’s missing – the whole life and teaching of Jesus, represented with nothing more than a comma (","). The focus of the Apostles Creed moves from Jesus’ virgin birth to his crucifixion, as does the Nicene Creed, dated to the fourth century. Over time, Church leaders became experts in theology, that is, at hammering out their beliefs on WHO Jesus is (which is great), but they simultaneously lost their emphasis on living out the love ethic Jesus taught (which is not so great). A theologically orthodox but ethically corrupt Church became the norm for much of Christian history, evidenced in their willingness to kill other people, believers and non-believers alike, if they disagreed with their theology. That’s bananas.


Depiction of the Council of Nicaea (325AD), with the Roman Emperor Constantine presiding.

Thankfully, more and more Christians are returning to the teachings of Jesus, and more and more non-Christians are discovering them for the first time. We are learning how to hold orthodoxy (right belief) together with orthopraxy (right behaviour).


So what did Jesus teach and how does it set him apart from all other religious leaders, spiritual gurus, and moral philosophers? We know that the teaching of Jesus drew large crowds of people who adored him and also stirred up the outrage of the religious establishment, who eventually plotted to have him killed. Jesus’ teaching was both inspiring and offensive to the extreme.


Something about Jesus' teaching so offended the religious leaders, they eventually called for his crucifixion.

Jesus proclaimed God’s love for, and the precious value of, all people. He also warned about the dangers of our sin and self-absorption. More shockingly, Jesus strongly rebuked religion, warning people of its tendency to make things worse rather than better by increasing and energizing our moral legalism, thoughtless traditionalism, angry judgementalism, and blinding hypocrisy. If Jesus ever had a catchy slogan for his messianic movement, it might be: More love, less religion.


Jesus taught that the human telos – that is, our end-goal, our way to become whole and perfectly human – is to focus on becoming, not perfectly moral, but perfectly merciful, toward imperfect people and ourselves. This is the way of compassion. (More on this below.)


For Jesus, our "telos" or end goal this side of heaven is not moral perfection but mercy perfection.

What really puts Jesus in a unique category as a spiritual educator is that, unlike Moses, Muhammed, Buddha, or any other philosopher or prophet, Jesus taught a lot about himself as God’s solution to our problems. Jesus wasn’t just a spiritual teacher pointing toward ultimate truth; Jesus was claiming to be ultimate truth itself, walking and talking among us. Jesus wasn’t pointing at reality and saying, “Look over there! Follow the truth!” Jesus was opening his arms and saying, “Follow me.”


Jesus didn't say "There is the truth, go follow it." He said, "I am the truth. Follow me."

The core message of Jesus is so powerful, it has its own name: the Gospel. The word gospel means “Good News” and the message and mission of Jesus is the best news of all. In its essence, the Gospel is the Good News about Jesus – who he is, what he has accomplished, and who he is helping us become. We have talked about who Jesus is, and in the next study we will discuss what Jesus has accomplished through his life and death and resurrection. In this study we’ll focus on how Jesus helps us become the best version of ourselves through his teaching.



GOING TO THE SOURCE


We find the teachings of Jesus throughout the four biblical Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These are four first-century Greco-Roman biographies of Jesus that highlight his life, teaching, death, and resurrection. Matthew and John were among Jesus' first disciples. Luke was a historian, commissioned to research and write about Jesus. And Mark is believed to have written the remembrances of the apostle Peter. All the gospels were written by the end of the first century, amazingly close to the original events.

The four biblical gospels are first-century Greco-Roman biographies of Jesus.

We will also get a better understanding of Jesus’ teachings by studying how the early Church interpreted and applied them, which we can learn about in the rest of the New Testament. And for an even better understanding of Jesus, we study the entire Old Testament (the Hebrew Bible written before Jesus), so we can grasp the Jewish context within which Jesus taught and which Jesus said was really all pointing prophetically to him.


Jesus sometimes teaches direct spiritual truths or moral guidance, like in the Sermon on the Mount (a focus of one series of 1820 studies on this site). Other times, Jesus teaches through symbolic stories, called Parables. Lastly, Jesus teaches us through his actions – his miracles, his interactions with outcasts, and his rebuke of the religious establishment. Jesus lived his teaching.



ARE YOU READY FOR A MIRACLE?


The teachings of Jesus are, in a word, miraculous.


Jesus’ teachings (sometimes called the Jesus “way” or “yoke”) were and are revolutionary to a degree that is unprecedented and unparalleled to this day. He introduced into the religious and philosophical landscape entirely new ways of thinking about God, humanity, what connects us all together, and how best to live in this world for maximum human flourishing.


The way of Jesus offers powerful solutions to the most core and crucial needs of our world. In fact, the Jesus Way meets the deepest needs of humankind so powerfully and practically, his teachings bear the marks of the miraculous. It is as though Jesus has supernatural insight, Designer knowledge, into what is best for the human psyche and human society. And we can see this for ourselves in real time, here and now, in our own lives.


Moses parted the waters to walk on dry land. Jesus went one better.

Jesus’ most loved miracle was turning water into wine. We like that one.


Jesus' most dramatic miracle was walking on water. Very cool.

Jesus’ most important miracle was the resurrection. That changes everything.

But Jesus’ most testable miracle are his teachings. They lead us into living and loving like we were always meant to.


We can apply the teachings of Jesus to our lives and see the miraculous difference they make. And when we see how much Jesus’ teachings bring about miraculous change in our own hearts and relationships, this will help us trust in his other miracles too. Although evidence abounds that the historical Jesus existed (see below), we have no direct evidence that Jesus actually walked on water or healed a leper. But when we experience the miraculous power of Jesus through his teachings in our own lives, we may be more inclined to believe the rest of the Jesus story.


Those of us who have walked in the Way of Jesus for some time have seen this miraculous effect of Jesus’ teachings in our own lives and in the lives of countless others around us. And, at the same time, we have witnessed the reverse as well – how quickly our lives can spiral downward or just fail to flourish when the Way of Jesus is rejected, abandoned, or merely ignored.



TWO KINDS OF BELIEVERS


When it comes to faith in God, there are two kinds of people: those for whom faith comes easily and naturally, and those for whom faith is a struggle, a process, and a deliberate choice. Both kinds of people can become thriving Christ-followers.


Starting from “above”. Some Christians start their spiritual journey by sensing that God is real. Faith feels natural and normal for them, as though belief in God is their psycho-spiritual base setting. These people have a simple child-like trust in God. They cannot not believe. For them, Jesus helps define and enhance their already existing faith in God.


Starting from “below”. Other Christians do not experience faith so easily and naturally. Their journey to believing in God began by studying the person and way of Jesus. As they learn about the compelling worldview of Jesus, and they experience the life-changing power of his teachings, faith begins to grow (a process alluded to in Romans 10:17). Eventually, these people may fall in love with Jesus, or at least become convinced that Jesus is trustworthy, and then when Jesus tells us there is a good God, they believe him. As the apostle Peter writes, “Through Jesus you believe in God” (1 Peter 1:21).


Whether you start with faith in God and then come to trust in Jesus, or the other way around, Jesus helps us understand and relate to God in a whole new light. And his teachings are the testable, evidential bread crumbs that Jesus has left us to follow.



TESTING THE TEACHING


Jesus gives us this challenge – try my teachings and experience the miracle:


My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. ~ Jesus (John 7:16-17)
If you abide in my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. ~ Jesus (John 8:31-32)

Yes, “the truth will set you free”. We like that statement and quote it often. But notice that “truth” here is the teaching of Jesus. And Jesus invites us, not just to learn his Way intellectually, but to abide in it experientially. The word for “abide” here means to dwell, remain, live in, and live out.


Are you willing to abide in the teachings of Jesus so you can experience your own miraculous freedom?


As you work through the rest of this study, why not try this experiment: Go slowly and ask God to help you apply what you learn. Then pay attention to the difference the teachings of Jesus are making in your life. You may begin to sense that you are a part of an unfolding miracle.



FOUR THEMES


We can categorize the teachings of Jesus into four themes:

  1. LOVE

  2. FREEDOM

  3. KINGDOM

  4. GRACE

Let’s look at each theme in a bit more detail:


LOVE. We were made by Love for love, by Relationship for relationship. Everything that really matters in life is about loving connection with others and ourselves. Everything else is backdrop or distraction.


FREEDOM. Forgiveness is freeing. True liberation is found through letting go of judgement of ourselves and others. Mercy, received and given, is our road to redemption.



KINGDOM. God’s new society begins here and now. We are invited to live as citizens of heaven on earth.


GRACE. We can become new people and have a fresh start... Sans religion! Everything religion tells us to do to get right with God, God does for us as a gift. We simply trust it is true and live lives of gratitude.



For the remainder of this study we will unpack each theme, one at a time....






1. LOVE: We were made by Love for love.


According to Jesus’ philosophy, unconditional love (Greek, agapé) is our Source and our Goal. Love is the greatest good and our guiding path toward that greatest good.


Jesus defines true righteousness, not as mere moral do-good-ism, religious rule-adherence, or meticulous sin-avoidance, but as right-relatedness through the experience and expression of love. Loving Relationship is the highest reality and the meaning of life.


Jesus helps us move toward true righteousness (right-relatedness) through the practices of unconditional love, radical forgiveness, and non-judgemental peacemaking, turning enemies into friends and strangers into family. Love, according to Jesus, is wholistic and not just emotional. Love includes what we know and how we feel, but it ultimately manifests through what we choose. True love (agapé) is the choice, the decision, the act of the will to relate to someone with unconditional honour according to their infinite value.


Since God is love (1 John 4:8, 16) – that is, Community-in-Unity, Relationship-in-Harmony – whatever serves relationship is in tune with the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. And since we are created in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-27), whatever serves relationship is in tune with our true identity and purpose. When we love well, we are being maximally God-like, which is to say, maximally human.


Now, with God's help, I shall become myself. ~ Søren Kierkegaard (Journals)


If you apply the teachings of Jesus to your own life, pay attention to that feeling – the feeling of becoming yourself.


A. Jesus shows us God’s love. In our last study we learned that Jesus claimed that to get to know him was to get to know the heart of God. He was clear: to see Jesus in action is to see God in action. And what do we see when we look at Jesus? Pure love, especially for those people who are on the margins of what society considers loveable. We see a vision of a God who is willing to kneel down to wash the feet of his followers, including those who Jesus knew would abandon him, deny him, and betray him. Jesus shows us the full extent of God’s love for us.


[John 1:18; 5:19; 12:44-50; 13:1-7; 14:6-9]


No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. ~ The apostle John (John 1:18)
The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me. ~ JESUS (John 12:45)

B. The Prodigal Son. Jesus taught about God’s infinite unconditional love through stories like the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Even though a father is deeply disrespected and hurt by his youngest son, once that son comes home again, the father is ready not only to forgive him, but to lavish him with love and a large celebration. This is the heart of God toward us. Jesus is saying to all the seekers, sinners, and skeptics: it’s time to come home and let God lavish you with love.


[Luke 15]


The father runs to his son with welcoming embrace. This is God's heart toward us.

C. The Good Samaritan. Jesus also tells stories that teach and inspire us to love others as radically as the Father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. For instance, in his Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus tells his Jewish audience that they should be humble enough to learn from a non-Jew who takes the risk to love a stranger unconditionally, practically, thoroughly, and sacrificially.


[Luke 10:25-37]


The Samaritan risks all to help an enemy in need.

D. The Golden Rule. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches what has become known as the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated. This is a moral philosophy of ethical empathy: putting ourselves in another’s place to understand them and their situation, and then treat them sympathetically. Many world religions have tended to express a similar idea, but in the negative: Don’t treat people in ways you don’t want to be treated, or simply Do no harm, sometimes called the “silver rule”. However, simply not doing harmful, unwanted, or destructive things will never change the world – we need to do something creative and constructive. Jesus makes loving others a positive act of courageous initiative and other-centred service. And he says this was always the goal of God's good book.


[Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31]


So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. ~ JESUS (Matthew 7:12)


E. Enemy Love. One of the ethical teachings of Jesus that stands out as unprecedented and unparalleled in all religious or philosophical history is his radical concept of non-violent enemy love. Jesus teaches us to see infinite worth in every person, including even our enemies (and by “enemies” Jesus’ doesn’t just mean that person who irritates you or treats you rudely; he included the Romans, who were the real hardcore bad guys in his context). We honour all people as infinitely valuable image-bearers of God. This doesn’t mean that we don’t call people to change, since confrontation can be one way we love people who are off course, but this shift in our motivation and accompanying attitudes will influence how we confront. We no longer equate people with the bad things they do. People are not our real enemy, but victims of the Enemy. We want to help all people become better versions of themselves. When we do this, we are acting most like God, who loves everyone, good and bad, unconditionally. So… Love God. Love others. Love ourselves. Love our enemies. Who’s left not to love?


But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. ~ JESUS (Luke 6:27-28)

Notice the three aspects of enemy love Jesus addresses: doing good, saying good, and praying good. Enemy love begins when we are merely aware that someone or some group of people hates us. We initiate enemy love by serving them in practical ways. That first step is so counter-cultural and may change everything that follows. But if their hostility toward us escalates from emotional to verbal assault, we respond by blessing them. And if they finally become behaviourally unkind, then all we can do is pray for them. (This does not mean we should always passively endure physical or verbal assault, for instance, since sometimes the most loving thing we can do for someone is to hold them accountable for their actions. Sometimes exposing someone's sin or calling the police is precisely the way we need to serve them. But it is our desire for their wellbeing and not our need for revenge that motivates.)


Ultimately, the enemy-love ethic of Jesus offers our divided world the most hope to decrease division by giving enemies an opportunity to become friends.


And of course, Christ-followers are committed to enemy love because the Gospel is the message of God loving his enemies to death, and in the process, wooing our hearts and making us his friends.


You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! ~ The apostle Paul (Romans 5:6-10)

[Matthew 5:38-48; 26:52; Luke 6:27-36; Romans 5:6-10; 12:17-21]


Jesus taught that if an enemy soldier forces us to carry his gear for one mile, we should go the second mile. The first mile is slavery. The second mile is freedom. The first mile is about oppressor and oppressed. The second mile is about humanity, brotherhood, and compassion.


F. Loving God AND Loving Others. When asked what the greatest commandment is in the entire Torah, Jesus responds by saying the greatest commandment is to love God with our whole selves. But he doesn’t stop there. Jesus then attaches a second command from another part of the Torah – to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. For Jesus, loving God and loving our neighbours as we love ourselves should be connected and inseparable. This is a bi-directional spirituality. If we want to love God, we need to learn how to love others around us. For Jesus, we love others as we love ourselves by paying attention to their needs and responding with loving care. When we are hungry we feed ourselves, when we are thirsty we get a drink, when we are cold we put on a sweater, etc. And we should be attentive to the needs of others in a similar way. The early Church continued this emphasis, making the second command (the practical caring of other people) the primary way they expressed their love and devotion to God. (More on this transition of emphasis below.)


[Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:35-40; Romans 13:8; 15:7; Galatians 5:13-14; 1 John 3:14-16; 4:7-21]


All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. ~ JESUS (Matthew 22:40)
For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” ~ The apostle Paul (Galatians 5:14)

G. Loving God BY Loving Others. Near the end of his time with his disciples Jesus gave them a “new command”. He is no longer discussing the importance of already given commands in the Torah (i.e., Love God and love your neighbour as yourself). And he is moving beyond the Golden Rule (i.e., Love others as you would like to be loved). Instead he is giving his followers a fresh revelation: Jesus says we are to love one another as he has loved us. This is a love upgrade from the Golden Rule (treat others the way you want to be treated) to what we could call the Platinum Rule (treat others the way Christ has treated us). First we receive Christ’s love (including his grace, mercy, and forgiveness), then we learn from that love and are nourished by that love, and finally we offer that same kind of love to others. Repeat. Jesus won't let us escape the telos of his spirituality: the vertical worship of God is expressed through the horizontal service of others. This New Covenant way goes beyond loving God AND loving others to loving God BY loving others. This concept alone could change the entire religious world and revolutionize our concept of worship.


{John 13:34-35; 15:12-13; Romans 15:7; 1 John 3:16]


A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. ~ JESUS (John 13:34-35)
Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. ~ The apostle Paul (Romans 15:7)
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. ~ The apostle John (1 John 3:16)

Notice: The expected flow of logic in the above verse would have been: Jesus laid down his life for you, so you ought to lay down your life for Jesus. But this flow of thought was interrupted by the "new command" of Jesus. Christ-followers pay it forward. (For more on this principle, see our Sermon on the Mount study #6: Mercy Me.)


Love is my religion. ~ Ziggy Marley









2. FREEDOM: Forgiveness, received and given, is our road to freedom.


Moving beyond justice to mercy and beyond judgement to forgiveness will save the world. True liberation is found through letting go of judgement of ourselves and others. Mercy, received and given, is our road to redemption.


One Sabbath when Jesus was visiting a synagogue, he read the following passage from the scroll of Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set free the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he added:

Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. ~ JESUS (Luke 4:16-20)

As we discussed in our last study, Jesus claimed that, as the Messiah, he had come to set Israel free – but not the way they expected. The freedom Jesus proclaimed and provided was not political or national or geographical freedom, but spiritual freedom from our real oppressor: our own sin. Jesus claimed that everyone, oppressed and oppressor alike, Jews and Romans and everyone else, were actually in slavery to their own cycles of sin and selfishness and shame and separation. Sin keeps pulling us apart, personally and relationally. Jesus came to undo the power of sin and to help put us back together.


Two thousand years later, modern psychology would confirm what Jesus made central to his message: our ability to receive and give forgiveness is crucial for our psychological, emotional, and social wellbeing. Holding on to bitter judgmentalism, toward ourselves or others, will erode our souls from the inside. Unforgiveness is bondage. Humans thrive personally and relationally when we lay down our right to judge and embrace grace toward others and ourselves.


Sin, guilt, shame, and secrecy can be a self-imposed prison.

A. Reconciliation is the Gospel. One of the main Greek words used in the Bible for “sin” is hamartia, which means to be separated (literally not-togetherness). Sin is a force that works to separate us from God, from others, and from our true selves. Sin is dis-integrating, always pulling us apart. So, a key focus in Jesus’ Good News message (the Gospel) is the theme of reconciliation, or reintegrating – putting broken people and broken relationships back together through the healing forces of mercy and forgiveness. In fact, Jesus says receiving and offering forgiveness in our relationships with others (horizontally) is more important than any religious ritual or worship of God (vertically). Whether we have offended someone else, or they have offended us, the first move toward reconciliation is always ours to make.


[Matthew 5:23-24; Mark 11:25; Acts 10; 2 Corinthians 5:17-20; Ephesians 2:11-22; Colossians 1:17-20]


Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. ~ JESUS (Matthew 5:23-24)
And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. ~ JESUS (Mark 11:25)

B. Centrality of Forgiveness. Forgiveness is so central to the message and mission of Jesus, that he sometimes front-end-loads forgiveness in his encounters with people in need. Even when they appear to have a more immediate need to be met, like poverty or physical disability, Jesus starts by offering forgiveness. Forgiveness is everyone’s most essential requirement, no matter how well we hide it. Jesus knows our hearts need healing, even more than our bodies.


[Matthew 9:1-8: Mark 2:1-12; Luke 6:36-50; John 8:2-11]


C. What we freely receive, we freely give. Some critics claim that they wouldn’t want to be part of a movement that always reminds us of our need for forgiveness. Doesn’t this way of thinking make us feel bad about ourselves and belittle our self-esteem? The opposite is true. Most of us live with some sense of our own “impostor syndrome”, our own hypocrisy, and our own failure to live up to even our own high standards. An ongoing awareness of God’s forgiveness toward us frees us from guilt and shame, both conscious and unconscious. We no longer have to "fake till we make it", playing pretend about our own moral competence. This can be both humbling and energizing. Now we can be our real, imperfect, vulnerable selves, and move into the world around us ready to offer the compassion that we have received. Forgiven people will more naturally become forgiving people. We remind ourselves of this every day we pray the Lord’s Prayer (or the Our Father): forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. As we acknowledge our own sin and receive God’s mercy every day, we are training ourselves in being merciful toward others. If someone's religion is just making them more judgemental, they haven't really let the Gospel of Jesus impact their hearts. In fact, Jesus says when we realize how much we have been forgiven, we will become more loving toward all people.


Jesus said this about a woman who loved extravagantly because she had been forgiven significantly:


Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little. ~ JESUS (Luke 7:47)

[Matthew 5:7; 6:12-15; 10:8; 18:21-35; Luke 6:37-38; Romans 15:7]


Freely you have received; freely give. ~ JESUS (Matthew 10:8)
Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. ~ JESUS (Luke 6:37-38)
Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. ~ The apostle Paul (Romans 15:7)

D. The Plank-eye Process. When we become aware of others sinning (whether against us, others, or just harming their own selves), Jesus teaches us to care enough to confront, yet with humility and kindness rather than judgement and condemnation. Before we judge, criticize, or marginalize someone else, we first pause to consider two things: 1) Our own failure as a fellow sinner, and 2) God’s forgiveness toward us for our failure. Now, as an imperfect and forgiven dearly loved child of God, we are in the right headspace and heart-space to go to a sinning sister or brother and confront them in kindness. When we remove the plank from our own eye, we can see more clearly to help remove the splinter in their eye. Rather than come over them as a judge, we come alongside them as a fellow-struggler and sympathetic helper.


[Matthew 7:1-5]

Before helping a sister or brother with a splinter in their eye, remove the plank in yours.

E. Facets of Forgiveness. Forgiveness has three aspects:


i. Firstly, forgiveness is an internal letting go of our right to judge, a refusal to keep a record of their wrongs in our own minds, and a subjective freeing of the other person from our heart so they have no emotional control over us any longer. A forgiving disposition is cultivated through the spiritual practice of daily prayer that asks for and receives forgiveness, preparing our heart to offer forgiveness before any attempts of confrontation or reconciliation are made. (In some cases, the person we need to forgive may refuse to communicate with us or may have died. In these cases, this first aspect of forgiveness will still be healing for us.)

ii. Secondly, forgiveness is an external communication of that letting go to a person with the hope of freedom for them and possible restoration of the relationship. This expression of forgiveness happens after humble confrontation of the sinner and their response of apology and repentance. (While all genuine forgiveness should lead to the reconciliation of our spiritual bonds of fellowship, not all other forms of earthly relationships can or should be restored. Some kinds of relationships, like employment or marriage, rely on more than forgiveness to move forward. Trust, for instance, may need to be rebuilt. Forgiveness may not renew all forms of relationship, but it is a crucial step if reconciliation and restoration is to have a chance.)

iii. Lastly, forgiveness is a continuing and ongoing choice to live on the other side of that letting go, keeping no record of wrongs. We refuse to raise the issues again as a tool to belittle someone else, imprison them in our judgement, or to aggrandize our egos.


So, someone might ask: is forgiveness a one-time decision or an ongoing process? And the answer is: yes! Forgiveness is both a wedding and a marriage. It is both a one-time decision we make AND a life-long commitment to lean into that choice and live it out every day. So, if you choose to forgive someone and later find yourself struggling with bitterness, pain, or bad memories, don't torture yourself with the drama of "Oh no, maybe I never forgave them!" We wouldn't do that with marriage: on hard days we don't think, "Oh no, maybe I'm not really married!" To be married is to be committed to the good and the bad (remember the "for better, for worse" bit?), and that means being committed to both the blessing AND the struggle of marriage. The same is true for forgiveness. When we forgive, we are committing to a life of blessing, and sometimes struggle. If you struggle with bitterness, good. At least you're struggling and not giving in to it. Keep up the fight. That is forgiveness.


Ultimately, forgiveness is indispensable in a broken world populated by broken people who are constantly breaking relationships.


[Matthew 6:12; 18:15-35; Mark 11:25; Luke 17:3-4; 1 Corinthians 13:5; 1 Peter 4:8]


F. And what happens to judgement? Where does judgement go? We trust it to God. Because God knows everything and loves everyone perfectly, his judgements are always righteous. So whenever we are tempted to judge someone harshly, we should remember… i) We are not omniscient, so we don’t have all the information.

ii) We are not objective, so our self-interests affect us. iii) We are not perfect, so our judgements are hypocritical.

Jesus reminds us to stop playing God, because we are not good at it and the position is taken. Jesus assures us that God will take care of the judging, so we can focus on the forgiving.


[Matthew 7:1-2, 21-23; 25:31-46; Romans 12:14-21]



G. Becoming Perfect. Jesus equates human perfection this side of heaven, not with the absence of failure, but with the presence of mercy in the face of failure. A significant amount of Jesus’ teaching about his then future Church is not about their moral superiority, but about their mercy superiority. For Jesus, the human telos, or end goal, is not about avoiding mistakes, but about responding to failure with lovingkindness, forgiveness, and grace. This is the unique thing that the Church, the Jesus Movement, can bring to the world. Not a morally perfect organization, but a community that models to the world how to keep relationships tethered together through truckloads of grace, mercy, and peace. How desperately our world needs to see the Church model this teaching of Jesus today. In the words of Christian theologian Tim Keller:


The main way Christians can be a resource to the broader culture is by restoring the church to being a well-known community of forgiveness and reconciliation. ~ Timothy Keller (The Fading of Forgiveness - a highly recommended article)


[Matthew 5:48 // Luke 6:36]


Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. ~ JESUS (Matthew 5:48)
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. ~ JESUS (Luke 6:36)

When imperfect people become close – and Jesus pulls us together as a family – mercy and forgiveness will always be the indispensable oil needed to smooth out the friction. It is significant how much of Jesus’ teaching addresses the role of forgiveness between fellow Christians. Jesus had no utopian vision of the perfect sinlessness of his future movement. He knew there would be moral failure, frustration, and the potential for division wherever and wherever imperfect humans come closer together. So Jesus repeatedly emphasises the key role of mercy and forgiveness within his own Church, for the wellbeing of our souls and our relationships.


Grace, mercy, and forgiveness are the road to life, love, and liberty.









3. KINGDOM: God’s new society begins here and now.


God is inviting us all to live as citizens of heaven on earth. Sometimes this new society is called “the kingdom of God” and other times “the kingdom of heaven” (a literal translation would be “the kingdom of the heavens”) but they both refer to a way of living in loyalty, unity, and harmony here and now.


A. The Gospel of the Kingdom. Jesus regularly frames his Good News message as an announcement of the Kingdom of God or Kingdom of Heaven coming to earth, rather than just a message about us going to the Kingdom of Heaven after we die. We should seek out what it means to live as citizens of this kingdom here and now.


[Matthew 4:17; 6:10; 9:35; 10:7; Mark 1:15; Luke 4:43]


The time has been fulfilled! The kingdom of God has come near! Repent and believe the Gospel! ~ JESUS (Mark 1:15)

B. What is the Kingdom? The “kingdom of God” is Jesus’ way of talking about God’s will and God’s way holding sway within a community of God’s people. When we live in line with the flow of God’s Spirit, we are living as citizens of God’s kingdom on earth. The kingdom of heaven on earth is not a specific place, but a way of being, a way of living in relationship with our King and with other citizens of that kingdom, and together, with people beyond the kingdom. The Kingdom of Christ is not institutional or political or geographical, says Jesus, because the Kingdom of God is within us and among us.


[Luke 17:20-21]


The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you. ~ JESUS (Luke 17:20-21)

C. The Kingdom Constitution. If the Kingdom of heaven on earth has a constitution or founding document, most theologians would consider that to be the Sermon on the Mount, which references God’s kingdom numerous times. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus begins with a preamble (the Beatitudes) which frames God’s blessing in terms of citizenship in God’s kingdom, teaches us to pray daily for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, and tells us plainly to make God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness our priority pursuit in life.


[Matthew 5-7]


D. Not of this World. When asked if he was indeed a king, Jesus responded “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” Jesus is not saying his kingdom is IN another place, but his kingdom is FROM another place. The kingdom of Christ is God’s will and way invading our earthly systems and relationships to bring about an alternative society on earth. This kingdom is other-worldly in its inclusivity, gentleness, and non-violent advancement. Notice the one distinguishing mark of his other-worldly kingdom that Jesus mentions in the above passage is that his followers do not fight violently for their king or their cause. Yes, the kingdom of Christ is other-worldly its origin, ethos, and approach, but it is also this-worldly in that it manifests here and now through the non-violent, enemy-loving, peacemaking of its citizens. Jesus taught that ultimately it is the gentle (or meek) who will inherit the earth, not the powerful and violent.


[Isaiah 9:6; Matthew 5:5, 9; Mark 10:42-45; John 17:11, 16; 18:36]


My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place. ~ JESUS (John 18:36)
Jesus is king of a kingdom that conquers through sacrificial love.

E. Kingdom Unity. Being a citizen in this spiritual kingdom on earth redefines our loyalties and our loves. Regardless of the cultural values of our earthly kingdom, followers of Jesus pledge allegiance to a different King and a different way of being in this world, alongside fellow citizens from all cultural and national backgrounds. The early Church grasped this concept and forged a new way of being human, populated with former enemies whose earthly kingdoms told them to fight one another. Instead, they saw each other as one nation, one family, one flock with one Shepherd. Enemies separated by longstanding national and ethnic hostility became friends, in fact, family. The Good News of the Kingdom is ultimately the Good News of reconciliation and peace.


[John 10:16; Romans 10:9; 1 Corinthians 12:13; 2 Corinthians 5:17-20; Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 2:11-22; Colossians 1:17-20; 3:11]


I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. ~ JESUS (John 10:16)
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. ~ The apostle Paul (Galatians 3:28)

F. Kingdom Culture. Every society has a way of being, an ethos, a collection of attitudes and customs that create its culture. In a pure monarchy, the ethos and attitudes and ethics of the king or queen effect the ethos and attitudes and ethics of the entire kingdom. The Jesus Nation has a kingdom culture of trust, hope, love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control, humility, grace, mercy, peace-loving and peace-making. The Bible calls this way of being “righteousness”, which means right-relatedness. The biblical word for righteousness is related to justice, but different. Real righteousness goes beyond justice to mercy, beyond judgement to forgiveness, and beyond law to love.


[Matthew 5:3-10; Romans 14:7; 1 Corinthians 13:1-8; Galatians 5:22-26; James 3:17-18; 2 Peter 1:5-7]


G. The Real War. Earthly kingdoms are always attached to a plot of land. And because of that they often go to war with other kingdoms to obtain or defend the land they claim as their own. In the kingdom of heaven on earth, the territory we fight for is the space between you and me that separates us. We want to conquer our divisions and hostilities through love and mercy and forgiveness and reconciliation. We no longer see people as the enemy, but as victims of the true enemy, the Deceiver. Jesus framed his mission as conquering the dark kingdom of the Devil and freeing all those held captive to Satan’s sinful ways.


[Matthew 5:5, 9, 41; 43-47; 12:28-29; John 12:31-33; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5; Ephesians 6:10-18; Colossians 2:14-16; 2 Timothy 2:3-4]


For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. ~ The apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

H. Citizens, Soldiers, Ambassadors. Since Jesus has inaugurated the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, we now have new roles to play in our lives. As citizens, we live out kingdom principles with one another. As soldiers, we fight against the bad ideas that come against the truth of God's love. And as ambassadors, we represent our King to other kingdoms by taking his Good News message to the world.


[Ephesians 2:19; 2 Corinthians 5:17-20; 10:3-5; 2 Timothy 2:3-4]


I. Thy Kingdom Come. So Christ-followers no longer think of “heaven” as merely the place we go to when we die (though it includes that). This kingdom of heaven is the communal life of God and his people that we can begin to live right here and right now. Do you want to live an eternity of love? Start living a loving life right here and right now. Do you want to live an eternity of peace? Start walking in the way of peace right here and right now. Pray and live the words of Jesus in the Lord’s Prayer (or the “Our Father”): “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”


[Matthew 6:10; Colossians 1:12-14]










4. GRACE: We can become new people and have a fresh start. (Sans religion!)


We’re now talking about the most revolutionary concept ever to be introduced into the matrix of religious thought: grace. Grace means that everything religion is trying but failing to accomplish, God wants to give us as a gift.


Grace puts classical religion out of a job.


A. Understanding Grace. The word “grace” means gift, and it refers to the power of God that purifies and energizes our spiritual lives, apart from us having to earn it through good deeds or religious rituals. Grace is pure unmerited, unearned, undeserved, unconditional kindness, and it is amazing. Even though Jesus never uses the word “grace” during his earthly ministry, the Gospel writers and other biblical authors use the word to sum up the message and mission of Jesus and Jesus teaches the idea of grace in a variety of ways.


[John 1:14-17; Romans 3:23-24; Ephesians 2:4-5, 8-10]


For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. ~ The apostle John (John 1:17)
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. ~ The apostle Paul (Ephesians 2:8)


B. The Beatitudes and Beyond. Jesus begins his Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes (or Blessings), saying that his kingdom is not for the spiritually accomplished but for the “poor in spirit”, who mourn their own sin, know their own lack of righteousness, and show mercy because they know they need mercy. Jesus pronounces God’s blessing upon those of us who are far from perfect and know we need help, not for those of us who (think we) have it all together. That’s grace.


[Matthew 5:3-7; 9:10-13; 18:12-35]


C. The Parables. Jesus teaches about God’s grace toward us through parables. In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, a son rebels against his loving father, demands his inheritance early (as good as saying I wish you were dead), and runs away to spend his money on selfish living. Eventually the son realizes his sin and returns home in repentance, and he is not only welcomed home but celebrated by the father. In another parable, a landowner hires dayworkers to work his fields, some who work the full day and some who are hired late and only work one hour. Yet everyone is paid for a full day’s work. Sure, maybe some people live their entire lives as morally upstanding and religiously zealous workers for God, and Jesus does not exclude them. But we are meant to see ourselves among the latecomers, who receive equal blessing because of grace. It’s never too late to receive the fulness of God’s blessing. God is throwing a Come-As-You-Are party, and we’re all invited.


[Luke 15:11-32; Matthew 20:1-16]


D. Resistance to Grace. In both of the above parables, those who have worked harder and longer complain that grace is unfair. And they are right: grace is unfair. Grace means that we get more than we can earn through moral do-gooding and religious ritualizing, and that can make religious legalists upset. In fact, it was the religious leaders who called for the death of Jesus.


[Matthew 16:21; 20:17-19; Mark 8:31; 10:33-34; Luke 9:22; 23:20-25; John 5:18; 19:6-16]


Jesus was tortured then crucified by the Romans under the insistence of the religious leaders. When religion and politics come together, the results are usually deadly.

E. The Pressure’s Off. Grace frees us from the pressure of having to earn our salvation. It also frees us from the worry of wondering if we are living good enough lives to make it into heaven. Instead, salvation is front-end-loaded as a gift that we simply receive by faith. According to Jesus, people no longer have to walk the narrow path of goodness in order to enter the gates of heaven. Instead, having been given salvation as a gift here and now, we walk the path of goodness as an expression of our gratitude. We enter the gate first, then we walk the path. Grace removes the pressure to perform in order to gain God’s approval. Instead, having received God’s gift of salvation, we live lives of joyful gratitude, because gratitude is the only appropriate response to grace.


[Matthew 7:13-14; 1 Corinthians 1:4; Romans 3:23-24; Ephesians 2:8-10; Colossians 1:12-14; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; Hebrews 12:28]


For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. ~ The apostle Paul (Ephesians 2:8-10)

F. Gift VS Wage. While we may earn God’s judgement through our sin, we do not have to earn God’s salvation through our own self-righteousness. Salvation is a gift we simply receive by faith. Yes, Christ-followers may still participate in many spiritual practices, moral behaviour, and charitable activity, but we do this because we want to, not because we have to. Christ-followers are those unusual people who gather weekly at church to celebrate that they don’t have to gather weekly at church! We read our Bibles regularly to be reminded that we don’t have to read our Bibles regularly to find God’s favour. We pray whenever we can, not to earn bonus points with God, but because we want to stay close to our best friend and heavenly Father. And we live loving lives toward others, not to be good enough to earn our way into heaven, but because we are grateful for God’s love and we want to share that with others in our words and our deeds. The Way of Jesus is the way of “want to” not “have to”. Now all spiritual activity is something we do, not for salvation, but for celebration.


[Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-10]


For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. ~ The apostle Paul (Romans 6:23)

G. Grace is Risky. Jesus took a risk. He believed that a human heart that is so filled with gratitude for God’s grace, softened by the personal and powerful presence of the Holy Spirit, would want to grow more loving and Christ-like. Sure, people can abuse grace like it is a license to sin. But frankly the harsh carrot-and-stick approach of religion has proven that legalistic zeal lacks the power to change hearts. Grace can soften our heart hearts and help us make better choices because it always offers another chance, and God knows this is what fragile, broken, and struggling people like us need.


[2 Timothy 1:9-10; Titus 2:11-14]


For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives. ~ The apostle Paul (Titus 2:11-12)

H. The End of Religion. Jesus’ message of salvation as a free gift from God puts classical religion out of a job. If religion is viewed as any system of salvation, any program to help us get right with God, any system of rules and rituals that try to earn or achieve God’s approval and embrace, well then, grace makes religion redundant. Jesus said he hadn’t come to abolish the law and the prophets, but he had come to fulfill them. So, Jesus replaces the religion of his day with himself, overriding religious rules and absorbing the whole religious system into his own life, death, and resurrection. Jesus becomes the sacrifice lamb that takes away our sin, the priest offering the sacrifice, and the temple where the sacrifice is offered. (More about this in our next study on the death of Jesus.)


Jesus brought about a new spirituality that ended the Old Covenant religion in five ways:

  1. TRIBE. No longer would God work through one specific ethnicity, culture, or language to spread his love and light to the world.

  2. TERRITORY. No longer would God build his kingdom on earth through a geographical holy land. Now his relational kingdom would be universal in geography, ethnicity, inclusion, and expression.

  3. TRADITION. No longer would the religious traditions or cultural customs of any one people group become the way of God's people. Instead, all people and all cultural expressions would be welcomed into and informed by the multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-ethnic kingdom of God.

  4. TORAH. No longer would religious law rule our ethical decisions. Instead the the way of other-centred love would guide our steps.

  5. TEMPLE. No longer would the sacrificial system (animal sacrifice or other deeds of penance) be necessary to receive God's forgiveness and favour. Now Jesus would be the last sacrifice, absorbing and ending the entire system, and God would grant us salvation, forgiveness, and blessing as a gift of grace.

[Matthew 5:17-48; 8:3; 19:8-9; Mark 7:18-29; John 1:29; 2:21; 1 Corinthians 5:7;

Hebrews 2:17; 4:14-15; 7:18-19, 22, 27; 8:6-7, 13; 1 Peter 1:18-19; Revelation 21:22-23]


Behold! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! ~ John the Baptist (John 1:29)

I. Buried Treasure. Grace is free, and it will cost you everything. That sentence isn’t as silly as it may sound at first. Jesus tells the short parable of a man who discovers a priceless treasure buried in a field. Jesus says that “in his joy” the man sells all he has so he can purchase the field to obtain the treasure. Notice, the man could never afford to purchase the treasure directly, but he can give up everything to purchase the field and gain the treasure buried there as a bonus. When we realize how priceless God’s grace is toward us, any sacrifice we make in this life will be pure joy for us. We are willing to drop everything our hands cling to in order to reach out and gladly receive God’s gift of grace.


[Matthew 13:44]


In his joy, a man sold everything he had so he could buy a field that contained a treasure.


CONCLUSION: Rest from Religion


To those who are tired from the performance-based-approval approach of religion, Jesus offers a way of rest. He says:


Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is kind and my burden is light. ~ JESUS (Matthew 11:28-30)

The “yoke” Jesus refers to is his teaching. Notice Jesus says to take my yoke upon you, not take my comfy couch underneath you. There is still work to be done. But this work is purposeful not performative, motivated by a desire to create beautiful things together with the God who already accepts us unconditionally.


Are you ready to respond to this invitation from Jesus?




QUESTIONS FOR CONVERSATION


  1. Does anything in this study stand out as something new to you?

  2. Try to summarize in your own words the key points of Jesus’ teaching around the themes of Love, Freedom, Kingdom, and Grace.

  3. Imagine how Christian history and our world today would be different if more people followed the Way of Jesus. Talk about examples.

  4. How open or eager are you to follow the way of Jesus? (Scale of 1-10.)

  5. How do you feel toward Jesus now, the more you learn about him? How do you think Jesus feels toward you?



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