Thursday, July 16, 2015

What Jesus Said – and What He Didn’t

What’s the true measure of being famous? Is it having someone write your biography? I can think of some “famous only for being famous” people whose biographies weren’t worth writing, let alone reading. But what about a book consisting of your most notable quotations?

I own several quotation books, including volumes of statements by C.S. Lewis, Oswald Chambers, G.K. Chesterton and Abraham Lincoln. I also have several books with assorted quotes from various sources, but to have one’s own quotations book, that’s impressive.

Even Jesus is the focus for quotations books, such as The Complete Sayings of Jesus and Quotable Jesus. Of course, the best resources for what Jesus said are the four gospels, along with other New Testament statements. But compiling “the complete sayings of Jesus” seems a bit presumptuous. After all, John 21:25 states, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”

Although the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John provide a three-dimensional picture of Jesus Christ, it’s foolish to assume they contain everything of significance He said and did during His time on earth.

I mention this because Jesus is being quoted a lot these days, often to support a wide variety of viewpoints. Some people’s “Jesus Christ Quote Book,” however, would probably consist of only one or two pages, because they seem focused on two of Jesus’ declarations: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31), and “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1).

Both without doubt are profound, powerful statements. But like most thoughts that are expressed, they should be considered in proper context.

For instance, when Jesus said we’re to love our neighbors as ourselves, He was responding to someone who had asked which commandment He considered most important. Jesus replied, “The most important one is this…the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:29-30). He then added the admonition to love our neighbors.

For some reason, many people that cite Jesus’ exhortation about loving others “forget” the first part of His statement. Probably just a simple oversight.

When Jesus said we shouldn’t judge others, unless we want to be judged by the same standard, He wasn’t advocating a “live and let live,” laissez-faire, “do whatever you want to do” attitude. He was stating, “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:2). The Bible clearly states that, like it or not, God will judge us all. So when we’re tempted to judge others, we should first take an honest, serious appraisal of ourselves.

While citing some of Jesus’ statements, people often overlook many of His other unequivocal exhortations. For instance, many of us like to be in charge, and reject being under the authority of others. Yet Jesus said, "Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant" (Mark 10:43). Two verses later He declared, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Another of Jesus’ tough teachings we tend to overlook is Luke 9:23, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Whoa! Deny self? Take up our cross – die to self? Who wants that? Maybe that’s why this quote isn’t frequently mentioned.

Not only do people selectively tell us what Jesus said (or think He said), but they also assert what He didn’t say – at least based on the gospels. For instance, they claim Jesus never said anything about homosexuality or gay marriage. In a sense, that’s true – there are no direct statements attributed to Jesus in the four gospels on those and some other topics. But then again, He never talked about texting while driving, animal cruelty, leaving children in hot cars, or being addicted to drugs, but we can hardly conclude He was in favor of those.

As noted in that last verse of the gospel of John, Jesus did and said lots of things not recorded in the biblical accounts. We don’t have a moment-by-moment transcript of all His conversations and interactions with people. But what we have is very instructive and informative.

For instance, Jesus knew the Old Testament law, and those laws addressed many of the issues some people claim He spoke nothing about. He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17-18). And the Old Testament does address issues Jesus didn’t comment on directly.

And how did He know the law so well? We’re told in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is inspired by God….” And Jesus boldly announced, which the Jewish priests took as a blasphemous claim, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). In essence, He not only read and studied the Scriptures; He authored them.

Moral of the story? Be cautious when proclaiming what Jesus did and didn’t say.

No comments: