Editor's Note: This is Part 4 of 4 in a series on the Jesus of history.
Have you ever tried to run with your shoes tied together? As I see it, this can only be the result of two scenarios: 1.) You have chosen to participate in some type of race that might include a wooden spoon, or, 2.) Some self-proclaimed comedian has affixed your shoelaces without your knowledge. Either way, having your shoes tied together is not the optimum way to go on foot. Your shoes are still functional and movement is still possible, just not at what could be considered peak performance.
This same idea applies to our consideration of the historical Jesus. Too often, I have been guilty of shackling the vitality of Jesus' life, mission, and message. Jesus came to change this entire planet, not just to support my preexisting opinions.
This four-part journey has delved into the issues of historical data concerning Jesus, his radical claims about himself, and the real content of his message. Nearly two millennia have passed since those days, so what now?
How should Jesus affect us today? My simple answer is: change. If we encounter Jesus through history, his teaching, or his presence and remain unmovable, then we have certainly missed him. During this final selection, let us consider Jesus own explanation of his purpose on earth.
The scene begins with Jesus in his hometown of Nazareth. He went into one of the synagogues, like usual, and decided to read some scripture publicly. He chose the scroll of Isaiah and read a familiar passage (we call it Isaiah 61:1-2):
"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."
As he closed the scroll and sat down, he had the full attention of all who were present. As they leaned in to listen to Jesus' next words, he said: "Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." (Luke 4:18-21, TNIV)
In other words, the word from God that Isaiah had reported some 700 years before had come true. It had come true precisely because Jesus had arrived -- and his arrival was good news.
Jesus was good news to the poor: the economic poor, emotional poor and spiritual poor.
Jesus was good news to those who were suffering. He taught others how to emulate the healing nature of his voice and touch.
Jesus was good news to those in captivity. His message and actions provided freedom for all who were imprisoned by the oppression of evil.
Jesus was good news to those who would never experience first place. The advent of his life on earth was accompanied by the Lord's favor.
The phrase, "the year of the Lord's favor," refers to a new period of history. Jesus, therefore, was not just a part of history. He changed history in an indelible way. He made the world better, and his followers should do the same.
If following Jesus makes me miserable to be around, perhaps I am not truly following Jesus at all. Perhaps I have fashioned a Jesus that makes the world worse. If that is the case, the "greatest story every told" becomes a tragedy. This is the equivalent of running with one's shoes tied together. It is possible. But anyone who has experienced the full stride of the unfastened life that Jesus offers is certain to leave you in the dust. Jesus is good news. He came to bring a new quality to life that is meant to last beyond death.
The unfastened life is not safe. It was not safe for Jesus, or his followers. Tradition tells us that 10 of his 12 closest disciples were also put to death. But there's a reason that they lived recklessly and did not try to avert their impending executions. Their encounter with Jesus began a never-ending process of change.
How do you describe this perpetual change? As I follow Jesus, I become a better version of me each day. My laces aren't tied to anyone else's. Pretenses become irrelevant. I am free to be me; and as I follow Jesus I am in a constant condition of improvement. Version 1.0 becomes 2.0, 3.0, ad infinitum. That's how Jesus affects me today.
Let my conclusion be unambiguous and without equivocation. I believe Jesus was a historical person. But he is not just historical; He lives. If Jesus remains in history, the most essential part of his existence is missing.
I am convinced that Jesus lived in history so that he might reclaim and redeem history.
Eric Costanzo is Minister of Community Ministries and a teaching pastor at First Baptist Church in downtown Tulsa.
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