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Wednesday, 01 October 2014 15:25

Jesus as Genius?

Written by  Matthew Jordan
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In last month’s column, I pointed out that Jesus is rarely thought of today as a particularly intelligent person. I don’t mean that we think he’s foolish, of course; it’s just that people—both within and without the church—often think of Jesus being nice rather than smart. A moment’s reflection is sufficient to show that this must be a mistake. Jesus is Immanuel, “God with us.” He is the divine Logos, the Word, who was and is and ever will be; “by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible… all things were created through him and for him” (Col. 1:16). Jesus is the incarnate second person of the divine Trinity, God the Son. Jesus must be brilliant. He could not be otherwise.

 

Why, then, are so many of us so prone to overlook this fact? Why don’t we think of Jesus as the smartest man who ever lived? A recently deceased pastor, author, and philosophy professor named Dallas Willard suggested the following answer. For the last five hundred years, ever since the Reformation, pretty much everyone has assumed that the central question of Christian theology is this: how can we get into heaven when we die? Now, this is a fantastically important question. If we are, in fact, immortal beings, then questions about what happens after death have tremendous significance. Neither Willard nor I would ever want to minimize how important this aspect of the gospel message is. Eternal life in Christ is available by grace, through faith, thanks (in every sense of the word!) to the atoning work of Our Lord on Calvary. But when the gospel message is presented as being about life after death and nothing else, we miss quite a bit. Here’s an interesting experiment: try reading through the New Testament, especially the Gospels, while setting aside what you already know about salvation. Try to read those familiar words through fresh eyes, and ask yourself, “What is the main message these authors are trying to convey?”

 

If I may be so bold, I suspect that you will not conclude that the authors are—above all else—trying to explain how you can make sure that you eventually go to heaven rather than hell. Life after death is part of the story, and a very important part at that. But it’s not the whole thing. In the Gospels, Jesus invites those who will follow him into a new way of life. He offers the people of first-century Palestine an opportunity to live as citizens of the Kingdom of God, to live under the “now but not yet” reign of the Lord Jesus Christ—and he makes the same offer to us, today, in central Alabama in the year 2014.

 

Now consider this. If the One who makes this offer is also the most brilliant person who ever lived, what might we infer about the nature of that offer? If Jesus extends to us a new way of life, ought we not assume that he knows what he is talking about? Ought we not assume that “the Jesus way” to live is also the best way to live? American Christians are accustomed to thinking of Jesus as our savior and lord. Thanks be to God, he is both of those things. Let us not forget that he is also, or can be, our teacher. Obedience to his commands is right, so we must obey. But obedience to his commands is also wise; it’s the smart thing to do. He offers us the “life which is life indeed” (1 Tim. 6:19)—let’s not wait until we’re dead to take him up on it.

 

 

Last modified on Tuesday, 07 October 2014 15:32
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