I grew up in a fairly conservative evangelical Christian setting. It was during these formative years that I learned how to quote the Scripture from the King James Bible, came to know Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior (sixteen times), and fell asleep every night in utter fear of a pending apocalypse. I believe it is appropriate to say that I had a less-than-ideal introduction to the Christian faith, but it was all that I knew. As I grew older, I became convinced that following every word found in the Bible was the only way to really be a good Christian. This meant eating kosher, observing Jewish holidays, and trying to proselytize my friends. Interestingly, in my process of “following every word in the Bible” I was somehow missing this most important parts of the Bible, the words of Jesus. I suppose you could call me a Pharisee. In fact, if I had a page on Facebook at that time, the religious status could have said, “Pharisee.”
During my teenage years, I went through a phase of appreciation for eclectic electronic music (which I still listen to today.) It was during this time that I came across an interesting interview from the musician Moby:
In about 1985 I read the teachings of Christ and was instantly struck by the idea that Christ was somehow divine… When I say I love Christ and love the teachings of Christ, I mean that in the most simple and naïve and subjective way. (2003, BBC).
When I read this interview, I was awestruck by such a simple idea – reading the teachings of Jesus. I confess, up until that point in time, I really had never read the Gospels completely for the sake of reading. Instead, I had read the Gospels by random verse, all related to particular things I wanted to prove. So I had an idea… I would work through the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. My life was changed. I had a lot more questions than ever before, but I had begun a journey that would lead me to try to discover who Jesus was and how my life might be influenced by his teachings.
There was one verse in particular that shook my foundation and challenged everything I thought I knew about being a good Christian. In Luke 4, Jesus reads Scripture in a synagogue in his home town of Nazareth. He was given 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 the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (vv. 18-19, NRSV).
There are a lot of different interpretations of what these words mean. “Why did Jesus preach on this scroll?” This was the question that puzzled me for months. In verse 17 we can conclude that the scroll was randomly handed to him without choice on his part. And just when Jesus finishes reading the scroll, he returns it to the attendant and sits down. He then utters such a simple phrase:
Today this scripture is fulfilled your hearing (v. 21).
This was the proclamation of the gospel message, the center of Jesus’ ministry. He desired to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, to restore sight to the blind, and to set free the oppressed. This passage has challenged me for years and continues to challenge me every time I read or think about it.
I ask you this question, “Has your reading of the Gospels challenged you to live out this message of good news?” If we are really continuing the mission of Jesus, I believe that we need to be asking this question everyday. The message of Jesus was not one of laws and rules, instead it was a exuberant celebration of freedom. This message in Luke freed me from the oppression of meaningless religion.
You’ve heard my story – I’m interested to hear how the words of Jesus and the Gospels have impacted your life.