Jesus (Letter 20)

Count Dangerous-ula of Dangerous-vania!

Thank you for your kind comment at the head of your last letter. In terms of politics, Jesus is neatly centre-ground, in that his teaching and message have strong strains of both left-wing and right-wing philosophy. This means that people from different political backgrounds can still access and hear him. I always think of his command to “give to Caesar what is due Caesar and to God what is due God.” This sums up his attitude: worship God and do your best to bear with the state. Paul writes similar instructions about praying for and submitting to rulers. When we had the last General Election in this country, we had ridiculous articles on Christian websites about how Jeremy Corbyn was the most Christ-like leader on the ballot etc. I’m all for Christians being politically engaged (I love my politics), but people need to get over themselves and realise that God has called them to something so much higher and deeper. Jesus himself said: “my kingdom is not of this world…”

I liked your idea of putting down ways in which Jesus has been re-purposed by the Church. Here’s one for you. I was in the epic, Gothic York Minster with my family this week, doing some sight-seeing. Although I am safely founded in a very informal, independent Evangelical Church, where we all show up on Sundays in our jeans and t-shirts, it struck me that we could learn a thing or two from the more formal churches about reverence for God. Has the church turned Jesus into a bit of a ‘boy-friend’ like character, who is just like our best mate although a slightly bit more powerful? Certainly some of our worship songs would suggest so (and I say that as someone who leads worship in church and enjoys the more intimate songs in my own walk with God). I always loved CS Lewis’ depiction of the Great Lion, ‘Aslan’ in the Narnia Chronicles (Aslan is a type of Christ). Lewis wrote that the Lion “isn’t at all safe…but he is good.” I would argue that when we approach the risen Jesus in worship, we should have reverence as well as love. And I wonder whether we in the church sometimes major on the latter at the expense of the former. I’m wondering whether we should rework that famous phrase: “be afraid…be (a little bit) afraid.” I don’t mean we should fear Jesus in the sense of being terrified of him. But I do think we should approach him with full respect and awe.

I do think that Jesus existed before his birth, although I respect and understand your viewpoint. Paul writes about him in Colossians 1 as having created the world (or at least that it was created through him) and John writes at the beginning of his Gospel that ‘in the beginning the Word was with God,’ and then he echoes Paul’s words about the world been made ‘through’ the Word. Now assuming John means Jesus by ‘the Word,’ these lines would suggest that Jesus was around before his earthly ministry. I do however think you are right in your assertion (in a previous letter) that I went too far by trying to identify ‘the angel of the Lord’ in the OT as Jesus. As you say, if the Bible says it was an angel who shut the lions’ mouths in the den, then it was an angel.

I’m sure we will cover the ‘Jesus defeated death’ idea in a later podcast/series of letters, but to have an initial stab, there is a fascinating piece of Scripture at the end of the Book of Revelation which talks about there being a ‘second death.’ Broadly speaking, I interpret this as meaning that we die once physically but that we die spiritually as well and it’s this spiritual death that Jesus ‘defeats’ in rescuing us from our mistakes, or sins. When mankind first sinned, we know that physical and spiritual death entered the world and that at least in some way, Jesus was the ‘second Adam’ sent to restore things. Paul in 1 Corinthians: ‘For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive…For Christ must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.’ Jesus in John: ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.’ Paul in Hebrews: ‘Christ too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.’ Sorry to quote so much Bible – it’s a sign that I’m dissatisfied with my own words. What I’m trying to say is that without Jesus we would die and stay dead: by rising from the dead – going into death and coming out the other side – Jesus ‘defeats’ this curse which hangs over us.

Love your line about Jesus no longer being simply ‘a vagrant teacher, but the one who already sits on the right-hand of God, the One in power, no longer in humility.’ That sums up perfectly what I was trying to say above!! I also agree with you about the ‘Golden rule’ and reading the OT through this. My problem comes more where you hear things like this. (I have intentional paraphrased this next bit, but I have actually read it in several places in notable Evangelical quarters and it greatly worries me): “Because Jesus never really spoke much about the Cross and Resurrection, we have obviously over-emphasised it in our own church teaching and need to re-examine whether Jesus needed to die for us to receive forgiveness.” Not only do I heartily disagree with this statement, but its main error (in my own view) is to fail to see that Jesus couldn’t teach about his death and resurrection because every time he tried, the disciples threw a wobbly (they weren’t ready to understand). So we need to read Paul, Peter, James and John to understand the deeper significance of the Cross. It’s this slavish idea that ‘all the NT must be subservient to the synoptic Gospels’ that gets my goat, because it fails to understand that Jesus had more to say to us (through the Spirit) after he had ascended. Sorry, rant over 😉


Sir Thomas