Do you know what Christ Jesus really teaches?

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

More precisely Jesus was a τέκτων/tékton, a “craftsman, artisan”—someone who made stuff. Sometimes in wood… and sometimes in stone. 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, so by Jesus’s day, not a lot of wood. Lots of stones though—good thing for archaeologists. So Jesus worked with wood, stone, whatever; in general he made stuff. Makes sense; he’s the Creator y’know. Jn 1.3

So he was what we’d nowadays call a contractor. Mk 6.3 Family business, apparently; he did it because his dad did it. Mt 13.55 But by the time we read his teachings in the gospels, that was Jesus’s previous job. He left that job and took up a new one: Jesus was a rabbi. A teacher. Jn 1.38

Yeah, most of you already knew Jesus was a rabbi. Even those of who who responded, “He’s a carpenter.”

So why is everyone’s first response typically, “Ooh! Ooh! Carpenter!” Because it’s kinda obvious he’s a teacher, but “carpenter” feels like more of a trivia question—“Okay, what was Jesus of Nazareth’s little-known vocation? What’d he do for a living? ’Cause the teaching didn’t pay.” Actually it did pay: Rabbis took donations. Usually of food; sometimes of money, sometimes free labor. Some of Jesus’s followers included the women who financially contributed to his teaching, Lk 8.2-3 and also did stuff for him… and got to stick around and listen to what he taught. They were functionally his students, same as his Twelve. (Or at least that’s how Jesus sees them. Lk 10.38-42 Sexists, not so much.)

But “Jesus was a carpenter” actually comes from the statement the folks of his hometown made to belittle him: “Hey, why’re we even listening to this guy? Isn’t he just the handyman?” It’s exactly the same as if the pastor of your church invites a guest speaker to preach, and instead of it being some famous bible scholar it’s the janitor… and the janitor presents you with a truth so challenging, so contrary to your beliefs (yet entirely biblical!), your knee-jerk response is to find any excuse at all to demean him, so you pick on his blue-collar job. “Who’s this guy? Who does he think he is?”

Subtly, a lot of antichrists still maintain this bad attitude about Jesus: He‘s “just” a carpenter. He wasn’t really Christ; that’s some hype his followers made up.

Regardless, “rabbi” is maybe the second thing we list on Jesus’s résumé. Sometimes we remember “king”—when we’ve not presumed that’s merely his future job, and doesn’t apply yet.

Well. I use this example of “Jesus was a carpenter” to point out how frequently we get Jesus wrong. Even on as something as simple as his job description. We think we know him. But we make lots of little slip-ups on very basic data, and repeat the common clichés instead of quoting bible. We trusted what other Christians told us, parrot it, and never bother to double-check it: “Wait, where does it say that in the bible?” Or “Is that what this 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.

Christians tend to think of rabbis as the Jewish equivalent of pastors or priests. Not so. They’re teachers. Their schools are called synagogues—although in Yiddish they’re still called shuls.

The Pharisees invented synagogues; it was their thing, so every time you read of Jesus in synagogue, he was among Pharisees. (It’s why he critiqued them so frequently.) In Jesus’s day, rabbis taught the adults in synagogue on Friday nights, when Sabbath began. The rest of the week, they taught kids. They’d teach young children their letters, and how to read; they’d teach the teenagers—which their culture considered young adults—the Law of Moses. One such student, or תַּלְמִיד/talmíyd, would memorize God’s commands, learn what they meant, and roughly how to apply them. I say “roughly” because the Pharisees had a lot of loopholes. Jesus taught no such loopholes, which meant his interpretation of the Law is significantly different from that of 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 KJV
17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. 18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. 19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Yeah, various Christians and churches claim “till all be fulfilled” happened when Jesus died for our sins. Again, not so. ’Cause Jesus ordered his followers to teach everything he commanded them, Mt 28.20 which includes this teaching on the Law. He expects us to be more moral than scribes—than experts at the Law.

Yes, God saves us by his grace through Jesus, despite our immorality. Ep 2.8-9 But grace is not a loophole which permits us to now 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, this isn’t what a lot of Christians teach either! 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 accept 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, regardless of quotation marks, mark Jesus’s words in red. Even though many of us go hogwild with the highlighters all 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 our LORD God in the Old Testament are just as relevant as direct quotes from our Lord Jesus 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. Just follow Jesus.)

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 an awful lot. Turns out it’s a massive priority for him. He is its king after all.)

On a frequent basis, I post articles about the gospels on TXAB. Usually weekly. Sometimes more often. In fact it’d be ridiculously easy to turn TXAB into gospel blog, where all I post is bible passages with commentary. Jesus’s teachings should be just that central to our lives. But there are a lot of other subjects meant to facilitate following Jesus, so I gotta get to them too. Bear with me.

But let’s start with those red letters. ’Cause it makes no sense to “follow” Jesus, yet know neither what he said nor meant.