What's the Point?
Rather, who's the point?
I don't believe in this day and age the Church can stress enough that the "point" of Christianity is Jesus himself. The point of Scripture, the point of prayer, the point of faith -- all Jesus.
We have not done a great job at making Jesus the point of the enterprise of faith. We take the Gospel notion of "faith alone," a belief many Reformers died contending for, and make it about us. We turn perseverance into personal empowerment and sanctification into self-improvement. We've made religion a bad word by turning Law into legalism and grace into license. We make Jesus our buddy, our co-pilot, our sidekick. We don't have sin -- we have "issues." We say we have bad habits rather than admit we have sinful hearts. We look to Scripture in general as a toolbox of pick-me-up quotable quotes and to the Gospels specifically as a chronicle of warm-fuzzy behavioral aspirations.
But if the point of any of it is not Jesus, it will not, cannot, and does not work.
Let's look at a few highlights from the Gospels, how 'bout?
Last week at BCC is Broken, someone critiqued my understanding of the story of the woman caught in adultery. (Doing so is fine, of course. I make no claims to be the end-all, be-all of biblical interpretation. I'm just a dude trying to do my best to make heads or tails of stuff that convicts and challenges me daily.) My understanding of that story is that "don't be a hypocrite" is not the main point. It is an application and implication of what Jesus said, but I don't see it as the point. If you want to know what I think the point of that story is, it is this: Jesus forgives adultery.
Here is my guiding principle for reading the Gospels: The point is Jesus. Every saying, every story -- Jesus. If the main point you're getting out of the story doesn't center squarely on Jesus, I respectfully suggest your aim is off.
Lots of people look at the story of Jesus throwing the moneychangers out of the temple and think this is about how it's wrong to sell stuff at church (or some variation of such). As I've pointed out in an earlier post, that cannot be the main point, as at that time, foreign Jews needed to exchange currency to be able to make the required sacrifices in the temple, and they probably needed to buy the objects of sacrifice, since very few packed animals for travel. So the point of that story is not "commerce and temple don't mix," because up until that point, commerce and temple had to mix for the temple system to work. No, the point of that story is that Jesus replaces the temple system.
Similarly, people look at the Beatitudes and see a list of behaviors to aspire to. That's all well and good, but Jesus didn't come to show you how to be a better person. He came because you can't be. The point of the Beatitudes is that that list is what the kingdom of Jesus looks like. Those are the promises of Jesus to those who will enter his kingdom.
The point of the parable of the man who built his house on the sand is not "be prepared" or "have a solid foundation" or "think ahead." The point is that building your life on anything but Jesus is making rubbish of your life.
The point of the parable of the lost son is not some generic "God allows u-turns" sentimentalism; the point is that Jesus brings reconciliation to sinners.
The point should and must be Jesus. In all we say and do. In our churches we can have the best quality presentation, the most dynamic speakers, the greatest list of helpful tips for successful living (in convenient alliterative format), the most talented musicians and worship leaders, the nicest greeters, the most enthusiastic congregation, and the best coffee in the fellowship hall -- but if the point is anything other than Jesus, we've all missed the point.
Jesus cannot be periperhal. He cannot be merely included. He has to be at the forefront of our message and ministry. It's not everything and Jesus; it's Jesus, and everything else will be added unto us.
Look, provided you are far enough south, you can be charting a measly 2 degrees off due north and still end up a thousand miles from your destination.
N.T. Wright, who has revolutionized my exploration of Jesus more than anyone, says this:
But since orthodox Christianity has always held firm to the basic belief that it is by looking at Jesus himself that we discover who God is, it seems to me indisputable that we should expect always to be continuing in the quest for Jesus precisely as part of, indeed perhaps as the sharp edge of, our exploration into God himself.
As individuals and as the Church, we have to commit ourselves to "continuing in the quest for Jesus as the sharp edge of our exploration into God himself."
It's Jesus + nothing, folks. It really is.