So… what does Jesus really teach?

Makes no sense to “follow” Jesus, yet know neither what he said nor meant.

Ask anybody what Christ Jesus did for a living, and nearly all of us will say, “He was a carpenter.”

Yeah, he did do that for a living. Mk 6.3 Family business, apparently. Mt 13.55 More accurately Jesus was a tékton/“artisan”—what nowadays we’d call a contractor. Just to digress into history just a tad: Téktons didn’t just work with wood. Nowadays Israel has a lot of trees, but that’s because of a serious reforestation campaign the nation started decades ago. Thousands of years before that, the trees had been cleared to turn most of the land into farmland. By Jesus’s day, not a lot of wood. Lots of stones, though. (Good thing for archaeologists.) So Jesus worked with wood, stone, whatever—he made stuff, period. Makes sense; he’s the Creator y’know.

My point is construction was Jesus’s previous job. By the time we read of him in the gospels, he left that job and took up a new one: Jesus was a rabbi. A teacher. Jn 1.38 You already knew that—even those of you who thought, “He’s a carpenter.”

So why is everyone’s first response, “Ooh! Ooh! Carpenter!” Because it’s what we were told. It’s the common cliché. And it actually comes from a statement the folks of Jesus’s hometown made to demean him: “Hey, why’re we even listening to this guy? Isn’t he nothing more than a handyman?” Not that being a handyman isn’t an honorable job, but snobs throughout history have assumed handymen lack an education, so why listen to them? And subtly, a lot of people develop the very same idea of Jesus: He was “just” a carpenter. Makes it much more impressive how wise he was, considering.

Hence “teacher” is maybe the second thing we list on his résumé. Sometimes we remember “king.” (When we’ve not assumed that’s only his future job, and doesn’t apply yet.)

I use this example to point out how often we get Jesus wrong. Even on as simple a level as a job description. We think we know him. But we slip up on lots of little things like this. ’Cause we were raised hearing otherwise. We trusted what we heard, and never bothered to double-check any of this stuff: “Wait, where does it say that in the bible?” Or “Is that what that verse means?”

Ironically, this is exactly what a rabbi does for a living: Train students to ask such questions. And we, Jesus’s present-day students, need to ask these questions.

Jesus our rabbi.

Nowadays we think of rabbis as the Jewish equivalent of pastors. Not so. They’re still teachers. Their schools are the synagogues. In Yiddish they’re still called shuls.

In Jesus’s day, rabbis taught the adults at synagogue on Friday nights. (The Jewish day begins at sundown, so Friday night is Sabbath.) The rest of the week, they taught what our culture would consider kids: Young men, ages 13 through 20, who in that culture were considered young-adult members of the community. Rabbis taught ’em how to follow the Law of Moses. The talmidím/“students” would memorize God’s commands, and learn what they meant and how to practically apply them. Jesus’s interpretations are significantly different than those of the Pharisees, Mt 7.28-29 which is why our religion is way different from the Jewish one.

Hold the phone: Didn’t Jesus get rid of the Law?

No. If you think so, you’re kinda proving the point of this article. Here’s what Jesus himself says.

Matthew 5.17-20 KWL
17 “Don’t any of you assume I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets.
I didn’t come to destroy, but complete them.
18 Amen! I promise you all: As long as the heavens and earth exist,
not one yodh nor one penstroke will ever be taken out of the Law till it’s completed.
19 Whoever relaxes one of the smallest of these commands, and teaches people to do likewise,
will be called the lowest in the heavenly kingdom.
Whoever does and teaches them
will be called great in the heavenly kingdom.
20 For I tell you all: If morality isn’t overabundant among you, more so than scribes and Pharisees,
you’ll never enter the heavenly kingdom.”

Yeah, various Christians and churches claim “complete them” is just another way of saying “did away with them.” Again, not so. ’Cause Jesus ordered his followers to do and teach this Law. He expects us to be more moral than the self-described experts at the Law, the scribes and Pharisees.

Yeah, through Jesus, God grants us his grace and saves us despite our immorality. Ep 2.8-9 But grace is not a loophole which permits us to be Law-breakers. Ro 6.1-2 Grace forgives us when we break it—and now go and sin no more. 1Jn 2.1-2

No, that’s not what a lot of Christians teach. Again, that’s the problem. People don’t know what Jesus teaches. Nor do they care. They just wanna do their own thing and slap a Christian label on it. As a result they’re gonna be lowest in the heavenly kingdom—if God even graciously lets ’em in. He may. And he may not. The scriptures do say those who indulge in works of the flesh, don’t inherit his kingdom. Ga 5.21 God abundantly grants his grace to those who accepted him Jn 1.12 and make the effort to follow him. But those who clearly don’t accept him, who take his forgiveness for granted, have no such guarantee.

If we’re gonna call ourselves Jesus’s followers, if we’re gonna deem ourselves his current students, we need to know this sort of stuff. We need to know what Jesus really teaches. Not assume we know it ’cause we grew up Christian. Or ’cause we read the gospels once. We gotta look at his teachings. Study ’em. Study ’em again. And again and again and again. We’ve gotta let him correct our thinking. ’Cause we’re wrong and he’s right.

Read the gospels.

In 1900, editor Louis Klopsch published an edition of the bible where Jesus’s every direct quote was in red ink. Since the King James Version doesn’t have quotation marks—people didn’t widely use them back in 1611—red ink really helps Jesus’s words stand out. The idea caught on, and in the United States many bibles, regardless of translation, mark Jesus’s words in red. (Even though many of us go wild with the highlighters just the same.)

We Christians need to get particularly familiar with these “red letters.”

Not that the rest of the bible is unimportant. It is; direct quotes from the LORD in the Old Testament are just as relevant as direct quotes from Christ in the New. And Jesus’s actions regularly teach as much as his words. I’m just saying if we claim to follow Jesus, we particularly oughta study Jesus. We need to become “red-letter Christians,” as the term goes.

(Yeah, there’s a Christian Left group with that title. You don’t have to join them if you’d rather not.)

There are a lot of things Christians claim are Jesus’s priorities. But if we wanna learn his true priorities, we’re gonna have to read the gospels. And follow them. (Spoiler: Jesus talks about God’s kingdom a whole lot.)

Every week I’m gonna post an article about the gospels. But don’t be surprised if I post them more often. I’d be ridiculously easy to turn Christ Almighty! into a blog on the gospels, because Jesus’s teachings should be so very central to our lives. However, there are a lot of other subjects meant to facilitate obeying Jesus, and I gotta get to them too. Bear with me.