Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Man Jesus - Part 9: If Jesus is the True Picture of God, then God is More Truly Human, More Thoroughly Humane, than Any Human Being

Chapter 19: "Faith in Jesus"

This is the final chapter of Jesus Before Christianity  and the climax to Albert Nolan's book. After concentrating on looking at Jesus' humanity in all of the preceding chapters (1-18), the author focuses his final chapter on Jesus' divinity and the implications of His being God.

There are two primary implications to Jesus being God that the author proposes:
1) We must allow Him to define what God is like (i.e., the way Jesus lived shows us exactly what God is like).
2) Acknowledgement that Jesus is God and Truth means to live like He lived, understanding the world and times that we live in just as He understood the world and times that He lived in.

Speaking of the early church's response to Jesus after his life and death and resurrection, Nolan says, "The movement was pluriform, indeed amorphous and haphazard. Its only unity or point of cohesion was the personality of Jesus himself...Everyone felt that despite his death Jesus was still leading, guiding and inspiring them...Jesus remained present and active through the presence and activity of his Spirit...Jesus was everything...Their admiration and veneration for him knew no bounds. He was in every way the ultimate, the only criterion of good and evil and of truth and falsehood, the only hope for the future, the only power which could transform the world...Jesus was experienced as the breakthrough in the history of humanity. He transcended everything that had ever been said and done before. He was in every way the ultimate, the last word. He was on a par with God. His word was God's word. His Spirit was God's Spirit. His feelings were God's feelings...

"To believe in Jesus today is to agree with this assessment of him...To believe that Jesus is divine is to choose to make him and what he stands for your God...By his words and his praxis, Jesus himself changed the content of the word 'God.' If we do not allow him to change our image of God, we will not be able to say that he is our Lord and our God. To choose him as our God is to make him the source of our information about divinity and to refuse to superimpose upon him our own ideas of divinity...Jesus reveals God to us, God does not reveal Jesus to us...if we accept Jesus as divine, we must reinterpret the Old Testament from Jesus' point of view and we must try to understand the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the way in which Jesus did..."

The author masterfully sums up the implications of Jesus being God: "We have seen what Jesus was like. If we now wish to treat him as our God, we would have to conclude that...

*our God does not want to be served by us, but wants to serve us; 
*God does not want to be given the highest possible rank and status in our society, but wants to take the lowest place and to be without any rank and status; 
*God does not want to be feared and obeyed, but wants to be recognized in the sufferings of the poor and the weak; 
*God is not supremely indifferent and detached, but is irrevocably committed to the liberation of humankind, for God has chosen to be identified with all people in a spirit of solidarity and compassion. 

If this is not a true picture of God, then Jesus is not divine. If this is a true picture of God, then God is more truly human, more thoroughly humane, than any human being...

"Jesus was immeasurably more human than other human beings, and that is what we value above all other things when we recognize him as divine, when we acknowledge him as our Lord and our God."

If we accept that Jesus is God then the way He lived His life on earth is how we must live ours: "In the last analysis faith is not a way of speaking or a way of thinking, it is a way of living and can only be adequately articulated in a living praxis...The beginning of faith in Jesus is the attempt to read the signs of our times as Jesus read the signs of his times...we can begin to analyze our times in the same spirit as he analyzed his times. We would have to begin, as Jesus did, with compassion - for the starving millions, for those who are humiliated and rejected, and for the billions of the future who will suffer because of the way we live today...

"Searching for the signs of the times in the spirit of Jesus, then, will mean recognizing all the forces that are working against humanity as the forces of evil...We shall have to try to understand the structures of evil in the world as it is today. How much have we been basing ourselves upon the worldly values of money, possessions, prestige, status, privilege, power and upon the group solidarities of family, race, class, party, religion and nationalism? To make these our supreme values is to have nothing in common with Jesus."

Nolan concludes his book with one final challenge: "There is an incentive that can mobilize the world, enable the 'haves' to lower their standard of living and make us only too willing to redistribute the world's wealth and its population. It is the same drive and incentive that motivated Jesus: compassion and faith...With this kind of approach to the problems of our time one will surely come to recognize the impending catastrophe as a unique opportunity for the coming of the 'kingdom.'...God is speaking to us in a new way today. Jesus can help us to understand the voice of Truth..."

Such a God wins our hearts, our allegiance, our all!

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

The Man Jesus (Part 8): Jesus' Silence - the Truth that Judges Every Human Being

Chapter 18  "The Trial" (Jesus Before Christianity)

This chapter is about Jesus' trial by Rome and the collaboration of the Jewish leaders with Rome. Nolan looks at the charges "which they could have brought against Jesus, the charges which they actually did bring against him and the real motives for wanting to destroy him...Jesus could have been charged with deliberately breaking the Sabbath or practicing magic (casting out devils by the power of Satan); he was actually charged with claiming to be the Messiah-king; and the real motive, according to Mark followed by Matthew, was envy or jealousy..."

He points out that because these distinctions aren't maintained consistently by the gospel writers, there is confusion about this. The author also distinguishes between the part played by Rome and the part played by the Jewish leaders in Jesus' sentencing and death: "Jesus was tried, sentenced and executed by the Roman court. But the gospel writers, like all early Christians, endeavored to make it quite clear that, in spite of this, the Jewish leaders were more to blame for Jesus' death than the Romans."

In the confusing reports by the gospel writers, there is one thing certain, which is that Jesus' claim to be the Messiah or king of the Jews is the only thing that He was charged with by Rome and it was Rome that carried out the crucifixion. (The Jews had no authority to do this.)

Nolan describes how ruthless Pilate was and why he was eager to be rid of Jesus: Rome executed all "prophets and potential Messiahs" for fear of an uncontrollable uprising against the government. The Jewish high priest was appointed by the Romans for the purpose of helping to maintain the peace, especially during the festivals in Jerusalem. Though there are a couple of  different reasons why the Jewish leaders sided with Pilate, "...In either case the decision of the high priest and his council was to collaborate with Rome. Political expediency demanded that this man be handed over and allowed to die. To attempt to save his life would be national suicide...they betrayed Jesus."

A remarkable thing about Jesus' trial is that He never defended Himself. No matter what He was accused of or who accused Him, He remained silent. "Jesus stood there without a word, putting everyone else to the test. The truth of the matter is that it was not Jesus who was on trial. His betrayers and accusers were on trial before him. His silence puzzled, disturbed, questioned and tested them. Their words were turned back at them and they condemned themselves out of their own mouths."

The chapter ends with a summary of all those who were tested and judged by the killing of Jesus:
- first, the High Priest Caiaphas and his associates who collaborated with Rome to save their nation and their own skin and positions rather than defend Jesus;
- next, the scribes, Pharisees and others who knowingly rejected His 'kingdom' of the poor;
- then, the disciples of Jesus who betrayed, denied, and forsook Him;
- finally, Jesus Himself was tested and tried severely in the garden before His death...

"Jesus alone was able to accept the challenge of the hour. It set him above everyone else as the silent truth that judges every human being. Jesus died alone as the only person who had been able to survive the test. Everyone else failed and yet everyone else was given another chance..."

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Man Jesus (Part 7): Jesus Overcame all Forms of Authority-Thinking

Chapter 17 "The Man Who Emerges" (Jesus Before Christianity)

Continuing with the section on "Confrontation", we come to chapter 17, a powerful chapter on the uniqueness of Jesus. The opening paragraph reads,

"Jesus is a much underrated man - underrated not only by those who think of him as nothing more than a teacher of religious truth but also by those who go to the opposite extreme of emphasizing his divinity in such a way that he ceases to be fully human. When one allows Jesus to speak for himself and when one tries to understand him without any preconceived ideas and within the context of his own times, what begins to emerge is a man of extraordinary independence, immense courage and unparalleled authenticity - a man whose insight defies explanation. To deprive this man of his humanity is to deprive him of his greatness.

The author explores the meaning of the term "Son of man" that Jesus used for himself. Nolan argues that because of his teachings in general, Jesus would not have intended that term to be a title of any sort but to have more to do with his great esteem for humans as humans and his solidarity with all humans. He so identified with humans that he eventually acquired a 'bad reputation'..."even John the Baptist (was) scandalized by the way he mixed socially with sinners, by the way he seemed to enjoy their company, by his permissiveness with regard to the laws, by his apparent disregard for the seriousness of sin and by his free and easy way of treating God..."

Much of the chapter focuses on how, unlike all others, Jesus insisted on not using any titles for Himself...Jesus wanted nothing to do with the whole idea of acting and speaking 'with authority' (the right to be obeyed by others): "...did Jesus claim authority, any kind of authority at all, even implicitly? Would it not be closer to the truth to say that what makes Jesus immeasurably greater than any other human being is precisely the fact that he spoke and acted without authority and that he regarded the 'exercise of authority' as a pagan characteristic. 

"Jesus was unique among the people of his time in his ability to overcome all forms of authority-thinking. The only authority which Jesus might be said to have appealed to was the authority of the truth itself. He did not make authority his truth, he made truth his authority...(He) did not expect others to obey him; he expected them to 'obey' the truth, to live truthfully. avoiding all authority-thinking, he released the power of truth itself - which is the power of God and indeed the power of faith.

"Somewhere at the heart of Jesus' mysterious personality there was a unique experience of intimate closeness to God - the Abba-experience...We know that the Abba-experience was an experience of God as a compassionate Father..."

The chapter ends saying, "The secret of Jesus' infallible insight and unshakeable convictions was his unfailing experience of solidarity with God, which revealed itself as an experience of solidarity with humanity and nature. This made him a uniquely liberated man, uniquely courageous, fearless, independent, hopeful and truthful. What would make anyone want to destroy such a man?..."

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Man Jesus (Part 6): Jesus Did Not Die for a Cause...

Chapters 15, 16 "Confrontation" (Jesus Before Christianity)

Continuing with the section on "Confrontation", we look now at chapters 15 and 16:

In chapter 15, the author proposes that there were two main temptations to violence for Jesus in the form of two particular incidents that Nolan views as attempts to get Jesus to take on the role of Messiah and lead an overthrow of Rome. (These would have been during the time of His hiding from and avoiding the authorities.) The first incident was the gathering of 4-5,000 men on the deserted hills near Bethsaida, which Nolan suggests may have likely been a gathering of men to persuade Him to lead them in a rebellion against Rome. (This gathering is typically known for the miracle of the loaves and fishes...)

The second incident was with Peter; a strong quarrel ensued over Jesus' talking about rejection and suffering while Peter saw the perfect opportunity for him to seize power and become Messiah.

Both incidents were real temptations and while there were likely practical reasons why Jesus knew such a revolution would never work, there was a greater reason for not yielding: "To have accepted the kingship over a people who had not transferred their allegiance to the 'kingdom' of God and to lead such people in battle was to play into the hands of Satan. It would have meant accepting power from Satan over a 'kingdom' which was itself without any loyalty to the 'kingdom' of God and encouraging them to use violence against another, albeit more godless kingdom. Nothing could be achieved for God's 'kingdom' in this way...Jesus would presumably have been willing to be Messiah-king if Israel had changed its ways and the 'kingdom' of God had come. Messiahship would then not have been a title of honor, prestige and power but a form of service, and the Gentiles would then have been brought into the 'kingdom' not by the power of the sword but by the power of faith and compassion."

In chapter 16 Nolan says that Jesus viewed suffering and death differently than the Jews: "The Jews had a long tradition of persecution and suffering. Theoretically the righteous person always suffered on account of his or her righteousness, and every faithful Jew was willing to die rather than disobey the law...The early Christians did not invent the idea of martyrdom nor the idea of an atoning and redemptive death; it was part of their Jewish heritage..."

Nolan speaks about the "paradox of compassion": "The one thing Jesus was determined to destroy was suffering...but the only way to destroy suffering is to give up all worldly values and suffer the consequences. Only the willingness to suffer can conquer suffering in the world...(Mk 8:35; Mt. 10:39; Jn 12:25; Lk 14:26)

The author goes on to say, "The Maccabean martyrs died for the law; the Zealots died to defend the sovereignty of Israel's God; other people have been willing to die for other causes. Jesus did not die for a cause. As he understood it, one should be willing to give up one's life for exactly the same reason as one gives up possessions, prestige, family and power, namely for others...Jesus was fully alive because he was willing to suffer and die not for a cause but for people...It is a willingness to die for all people. The willingness to die for some people would be an expression of group solidarity. The willingness to die for humankind is an expression of universal solidarity...(it) is a service rendered to all people."

And Jesus knew that in order to be in solidarity with suffering people, He would have to suffer, meaning He would have to come out of hiding and face those who were seeking to get rid of Him.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

The Man Jesus (Part 5): Jesus Was Not Busy with a Religious Revival but with a Revolution

Chapters 13, 14  "Confrontation" (Jesus Before Christianity)

The next section of the book is comprised of seven chapters about the climax of Jesus' life and why he became such a target for both the Jewish leaders and for Rome. Nolan is attempting to peer into how the people in Jesus' day would have understood him and how he himself understood things before his followers later interpreted his life and words through an "end-of-the-world" lens. In this post we will look at chapters 13 and 14.

Chapter 13 looks at "politics and religion". The fact that Jesus of Nazareth was killed for high treason by Rome did not make him unique, because many thousands of Jewish revolutionaries were crucified by the Roman rulers of that day. Although the revolution that Jesus wanted certainly involved liberation of the Jews from oppressive rulers, his greater concern was that Israel have a change of heart. "...This is not a matter of resigning oneself to Roman oppression; nor is it a matter of trying to kill them with kindness. It is a matter of reaching down to the root cause of all oppression and domination: humanity's lack of compassion. If the people of Israel were to continue to lack compassion, would the overthrowing of the Romans make Israel any more liberated than before? If the Jews continued to live off the worldly values of money, prestige, group solidarity and power, would the Roman oppression not be replaced by an equally loveless Jewish oppression?..."

Unlike what many of us have been led to believe about the man Jesus, the men of his day would not have "thought of him as an eminently religious man who steered clear of politics and revolution. They would have seen him as a blasphemously irreligious man who under the cloak of religion was undermining all the values upon which religion, politics, economics and society were based...

He disapproved of (Rome's) way of 'making their authority felt' and their way of 'lording it over their subjects'. But he envisaged changing this by changing Israel so that Israel could present the Romans with a living example of the values and ideals of the 'kingdom.'"

"Jesus' social mixing with sinners in the name of God and his confidence that they (sinners) had God's approval while the virtuous did not were a violation of all that God and religion and virtue and justice had ever meant. But then Jesus was not busy with a religious revival; he was busy with a revolution - a revolution in religion and politics and everything else."

Chapter 14 deals with the dramatic confrontation between Jesus and the Jewish leaders which was the turning point in Jesus' life: the Temple incident. Up till this point he was confronting the men of religion but now confronts the men of affairs, the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem who were exploiting the poor.

This chapter tries to answer questions such as how did Jesus and his intentions become sufficiently well known to be of national concern so that the authorities wanted to arrest him while the people wanted to make him king? Why did he have to withdraw and become a fugitive? The timing of the temple confrontation has much to do with the answers to these questions.

The gospels are confusing concerning when this temple incident took place, but Nolan cites sources and proposes that it took place early in Jesus' public ministry as told in the gospel of John (rather than just before his death as Mark, Luke and Matthew tell it). This confrontation propelled Jesus into the national limelight. Because of this angry demonstration by Jesus towards the economic exploitation of the people's devotion and piety by the Temple system (for example, the widow giving her last penny), Jesus and his disciples were forced to change their whole way of life because of the danger they were in.

Jesus had been preaching about the need for Israel's change of heart in order to escape the coming catastrophic destruction of Jerusalem, but it was this confrontation in the Temple that made him a figure of national importance and forced the leaders to make a decision about taking action concerning him. They were further worried about the fact that he seemed to have great influence over the people. All of this caused Jesus to avoid going to Jerusalem and also to Galilee (where Herod was after him too) and when he did go to Jerusalem, it was under cover.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Man Jesus (Part 4): Good News about a Reversal of Fortunes in the New Kingdom-Society

A personal comment to start this section - as I considered afresh the implications of the "reversal of fortunes" that Jesus' kingdom society brings, I saw in a new way that this "good news" isn't necessarily heard as "good" news by those in power in earthly kingdoms (which is why Jesus was put to death). Ultimately all people are blessed by living according to the values of God's kingdom but fear of scarcity hinders the powerful from seeing this.

Chapters 6-12 "Good News" (Jesus Before Christianity)

The third section is comprised of seven chapters (chapters 6 through 12) about "Good News" in which the author focuses on the "kingdom of God" and how utterly different it is from all of the kingdoms of this world.

In chapter 6 Nolan writes of how Jesus understood the kingdom of God; the most common ways Jesus talked about the kingdom of God was through the pictures of a household or a walled city: "The fact that his way of speaking about the 'kingdom' is based upon a pictorial image of a house, a city or a community leaves no doubt about what he had in mind: a politically structured society of people here on earth. A 'kingdom' is a thoroughly political notion...The difference is between a community of humankind in which evil reigns supreme and a community of humankind in which goodness reigns supreme...Jesus was convinced that the 'kingdom' of God would eventually triumph over the 'kingdom' of Satan and replace that 'kingdom' here on earth."

The next four chapters are chapters dealing with the value system of God's kingdom and how radically different God views these matters; the author presents all of this in light of the world Jesus lived in and gives insights to what Jesus' words and actions meant in His day: 

Chapter 7: The "Kingdom" and Money: "(Acts 2; 4:32, 34,35) This then is what selling all one's possessions means: giving up the surplus and treating nothing as your own...Jesus did not idealize poverty. On the contrary his concern was to ensure that no one should be in want, and it was to this end that he fought possessiveness and encouraged people to be unconcerned about wealth and to share their material possessions...Jesus dared to hope for a 'kingdom' or world-wide community which would be so structured that there would be no poor and no rich."

Chapter 8: The "Kingdom" and Prestige: In Jesus' world prestige was even more important than money. "Status and prestige were based on ancestry, wealth, authority, education and virtue..."
In Mark 10:14 Jesus says his kingdom will be one of "children" or "of those who are like children because in society they are insignificant; they lack status and prestige."

Chapter 9: The "Kingdom" and Solidarity: Group solidarity - loyalty to those in our group - is something that all societies understand, even our western individualistic society. "Jesus extended one's neighbor to include one's enemies. He could not have found a more effective way of shocking his audience into the realization that he wished to include all people in this solidarity of love. The saying is almost unbearably paradoxical: the natural contradiction between neighbor and enemy, between outsiders and insiders must be overlooked and overcome so that enemies become kin and all outsiders become insiders!"

Chapter 10: The "Kingdom" and Power: "Society and power are inseparable. A society must have a structure and that structure will have something to do with power. The issue of power and the structures of what we today call politics." Jesus' words in Lk. 6:20; 14:11; 12:32; 22:29,30 all indicate that "there is going to be a reversal in fortunes...The power of this new society is not a power which has to be served...It is a power which has an enormous influence in the lives of people by being of service to them."

Chapter 11 deals with the idea of "time". This is a fascinating chapter in which Nolan contrasts the way Westerners view time (more quantitative) with the way a Hebrew views time (qualitative). "For the Hebrew, to know the time was not a matter of knowing the date, it was a matter of what kind of time it might be...Time was the quality or mood of events...When individuals reach a fixed point, for example, the Passover festival or a time of famine, they become in a sense contemporaneous with their ancestors and their successors who have passed or will pass through the same qualitative time. The individual's ancestors and successors share the same kind of time, no matter how many intervening years there happen to be between them."

Jesus was announcing that there was coming a time qualitatively different from anything that went before. "It will be a qualitatively new time, not a new measurement of time" (as we westerners would assume)...The newness of Jesus' time can hardly be exaggerated." We are not to confuse John the Baptist's message (of doom) with Jesus message (of good news). "Goodness is triumphing over evil." This can be seen in all that Jesus did and said: "God has come down from the heavenly throne, the highest position of prestige in the world, to be intimately close to men, women and children, who may now address God as abba...The success of the cures and of all Jesus' liberating activity showed him that God felt with those who suffer, that God wanted to live in solidarity with humanity and to use the godly power to serve them and protect them."

In chapter 12 Nolan concludes this long section on "good news" by talking about the coming of the 'kingdom' as miraculous: "In view of the extraordinarily high values that are supposed to reign supreme in this 'kingdom', it should not be difficult to appreciate that its coming would be a miracle...This kind of 'kingdom' can only come, it cannot be built...The 'kingdom' itself cannot be achieved, it must be received - as a gift."

Although Jesus didn't know the time of the coming kingdom, the urgency in His preaching was because He understood that if there was no repentance, for sure a catastrophe would come; and the catastrophe did come with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 CE, to be followed with a merciless massacre in 135 CE when the Romans completely destroyed the nation of Israel and expelled the Jews from Palestine.

Nolan ends the chapter by saying that in order for us to recover what Jesus meant to the people of His day (before Christianity), we need to read the gospels without the "apocalyptized" process being applied to them. He attempts to do this in the following chapters.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

The Man Jesus (Part 3): The Company of Jesus was Sheer Joy for Anyone Not Too Hung up on Respectability

Chapters 3,4,5 "Praxis" (Jesus Before Christianity)

Following up from the previous post (Jesus Identifies with John Baptist), we'll look at the second section of Albert Nolan's book which deals with the activity of Jesus in light of the conditions of humanity in His world. There are three chapters in this section.

In chapter three Nolan tells about the sort of people that Jesus gave most of His attention to. Scripture uses the following descriptors for them: "the poor, the blind, the lame, the crippled, the lepers, the hungry, the miserable (those who weep), sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors, demoniacs, the persecuted, the downtrodden, the captives, all who labor and are overburdened, the rabble who know nothing of the law, the crowds, the little ones, the least, the last and the babes or the lost sheep of the house of Israel."

The author gives a description of the different classes in society in that day and says that Jesus was from the middle class (not to be mistaken for what we call "middle class" in our day). "The remarkable thing about Jesus was that, although he came from the middle class and had no appreciable disadvantages himself, he mixed socially with the lowest of the low and identified himself with them. He became an outcast by choice."

Nolan's main point in chapter 3 is that "what made Jesus different was the unrestrained compassion he felt for the poor and the oppressed."

In chapters 4 and 5 Nolan continues to explore Jesus' actions towards the disenfranchised by looking at healing and forgiveness. Chapter 4 contains some very interesting insights on His healing work, pointing out how different Jesus' approach to healing was from other healers of His time.

Chapter 5 is about forgiveness and how Oriental people of the first century looked at sin and its link with sickness and trouble. This is a beautiful chapter about Jesus' friendship with "sinners" and how He enjoyed being with them and they with Him. 

"It would be impossible to overestimate the impact these (festive) meals must have had upon the poor and the sinners. By accepting them as friends and equals Jesus had taken away their shame, humiliation and guilt. By showing them that they mattered to him as people, he gave them a sense of dignity and released them from their captivity...Moreover, because Jesus was looked upon as a man of God and a prophet, they would have interpreted his gesture of friendship as God's approval of them. They were now acceptable to God. Their sinfulness, ignorance and uncleanness had been overlooked and were no longer held against them....There can be no doubt that Jesus was a remarkably cheerful person and that his joy, like his faith and hope, was infectious...The poor and the oppressed and anyone else who was not too hung up on 'respectability' found the company of Jesus a liberating experience of sheer joy...He made them feel safe and secure...His very presence had liberated them."
In healing and forgiving and befriending the disenfranchised, Jesus had no motivation to prove anything but was simply moved by deep compassion.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Man Jesus (Part 2): Jesus Identifies with John Baptist, Not the Religious Groups

Chapters 1,2 "Catastrophe" (Jesus Before Christianity)

In the first chapter Nolan paints a word picture of the world we live in today and of the world that Jesus was born into; he proposes that the times we live in now bear similarities to the days of Jesus, although what we face is on a much larger scale. Both then and now there is an awareness and sense that the world is on the brink of disaster, headed toward a hell on earth.

The following is a summary statement by Nolan about the world we live in:"...What we are up against is not people but the impersonal forces of a system which has its own momentum and its own dynamics...We have built up an all-inclusive political and economic system based upon certain assumptions and values and now we are beginning to realize that this system is not only counter-productive - it has brought us to the brink of disaster - but it has also become our master. Nobody seems to be able to change it or control it. The most frightening discovery of all is that there is nobody at the helm and that the impersonal machine that we have so carefully designed will drag us along inexorably to our destruction."
The author's concern is that we look at how Jesus lived in His difficult world in order to understand how we must be with Him in our world.

In chapter two the author shows why it was significant that Jesus identified with John the Baptist rather than with any of the Jewish religious groups that existed in His day. The religious groups of his day were the Zealots (open rebels against Rome), Pharisees (moralistic group whose interest was in reforming Israel), Sadducees (chief priests/ruling upper class who collaborated with the Romans endeavoring to maintain the status quo), the Essenes (who believed they were the only faithful remnant of Israel and separated themselves from society in response to the belief that the end of the world was near), scribes and scholars (most of whom were Pharisees but not priests), and apocalyptic writers (anonymous seers/visionaries who believed that the secrets of God's plans for humanity and the end of the world had been revealed to them).

Nolan says the following about John the Baptist and Jesus:
"In the midst of all these religio-political movements and speculations there was one man who stood out as a sign of contradiction. John the Baptist was different precisely because he was a prophet...a prophet of doom and destruction...There had been no prophet in Israel for a very long  time. The spirit of prophecy had been quenched. God was silent...This silence was broken by the voice of John the Baptist in the wilderness...God's fiery judgment upon Israel would be executed, according to John, by a human being. John spoke of him as 'the one who is to come'...

"John the Baptist was the only person in that society who impressed Jesus...the very fact of his baptism by John is conclusive proof of his acceptance of John's basic prophecy: Israel was heading for an unprecedented catastrophe. And in choosing to believe this prophecy, Jesus immediately shows himself to be in basic disagreement with all those who reject John and his baptism: the Zealots, Pharisees, Essenes, Sadducees, scribes and apocalyptic writers. None of these groups would have been willing to believe a prophet who...prophesied against all Israel...Jesus (himself) repeated this prophecy again and again throughout his life...

"There can be no doubt that Jesus did prophesy the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans...The very thought of it made Jesus weep (Lk. 19:41)...But what was he to do about it?"

The following chapters deal with what Jesus did about it in practice.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Man Jesus (Part 1): Jesus Belongs to all Humanity

As stated in my previous post, I will be doing a series of posts with quotes from the book, Jesus Before Christianity, by Albert Nolan. I will only give "teasers"; some of the quotes will be controversial to some readers and won't be fully understandable without reading the full text, but perhaps it may whet the appetite for more.

Nolan says the following in speaking about this book in particular:

"...Nothing about Jesus will be presupposed or assumed. The reader is invited to take a serious and honest look at a man who lived in first-century Palestine and to try to see him through the eyes of his contemporaries. My interest is in the man as he was before he became the object of Christian faith...

"...the book was (not) written for the apologetic purpose of defending the Christian faith. No attempt has been made to save Jesus or the Christian faith. Jesus does not need me or anyone else to save him...If our search for the truth leads us to faith in Jesus, then it will not be because we have tried to save this faith at all costs, but because we have discovered it as the only way in which we can be 'saved' or liberated..."

The following is a quote from the opening chapter:

"Jesus cannot be fully identified with that great religious phenomenon of the Western world known as Christianity. He was much more than the founder of one of the world's great religions. He stands above Christianity as the judge of all it has done in his name. Nor can historical Christianity claim him as its exclusive possession. Jesus belongs to all humanity."

The Man Jesus

My greatest joy since retiring has been further pursuit of God in Jesus. While this has been at the forefront of most of my life, in the years since I retired, I've had the opportunity to step away from the confines of "Christendom" and discover a wide and boundless ocean of love and goodness in God as manifested in Christ Jesus beyond that which I had ever known before.

1255827I continue to be awestruck by this Person, Jesus of Nazareth, in ever-increasing measure! It's like opening a door into the wonder of such a person only to find another door to walk through into more of His beauty, and that door opening into another door into another and another...

A few years ago I did a series of blog posts with quotes from Albert Nolan's book, Jesus Before Christianity. This book remains one of my favorite books about Jesus. For the next few posts I will be re-looking at this book with the prayer that others will be freshly struck by how utterly human and good Jesus was in His walk on earth and why humans could not tolerate the goodness and grace of such a Man.

I remember as a young adult having a dream in which I was part of a Christian church congregation that was deliberating over Jesus, and in the end we voted against Him. That was perhaps my first peek into the antagonism between Jesus and religious systems. Nolan shows that Jesus reveals what God is really like and explains why religious and political systems of Jesus' day could not allow Him to live. It's important that we understand this in order to understand how each generation of Jesus followers faces the same realities. I hope you will be blessed by the summary of the book and encourage you to read the book for yourself.