Jesus, redeemer or reformer?

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Stained glass at St John the Baptist’s Anglican Church, Ashfield, New South Wales. Illustrates Jesus’ description of himself “I am the Good Shepherd” (from the Gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 11).

We live in a world where the dangers of religious fundamentalism of all kinds surround us. Whether it be a “holy warrior” blowing himself up in market place, a madman shooting people in a temple or school, or a “Baptist” church that pickets funerals of fallen heroes and other victims of violence. Religions in and of themselves are harmless, it’s when people cross the line from rationalism into radicalism that makes them dangerous.

Centuries before Jesus lived, according to the book of Isaiah, “I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior” (Isaiah 43:11). “I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25). By this account, one can conclude that our Creator keeps no record of our “sins” and that all is forgiven and that we were “saved” long before Jesus ever lived. That being the case, blood atonement whether animal, man, or God himself was not necessary. Yet the temple cult continued ritual sacrifices because they believed it to be required for atonement. The Christian Church adopted the belief that when Jesus was crucified the blood requirement was satisfied, but as the verse above states it was not even necessary. For example, Hebrews 10:5 of the New Testament in quoting Psalm 40, claims that God replaced animal sacrifices with the death of the Jesus by stating, “sacrifices and offerings You have not desired, but a body You have prepared for Me.” However, the actual text of Psalm 40:6 does not even say this; it says, “sacrifices and meal offerings You have not desired, my ears You have opened.” This refers to God’s desire that we listen to Him, as we also read in Samuel, “Samuel said, “Does God take as much pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying what God says? Surely obeying is better than sacrifice, and heeding orders than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22)

Fundamentalist Christians insist that the Bible is the inspired and “inerrant” word of God and readily accept the Jewish Scriptures (aka Old Testament) as the foundation for the New Testament. If they were to be logically consistent, it would follow that wherever the “Old” and “New” Testaments contradict each other, the New Testament must be admitted to be obviously the one which is in error. If that were adhered to, Jesus would be relegated to what he really is – a great teacher (Rabboni or Rebbe) who spoke of actions over words and sacrifices. He was martyred for his teachings and his followers’ followers then committed the apostasy of elevating him to being God.

The Jewish Scriptures DO NOT revolve around God becoming man to sacrifice himself to appease himself. That is invented mythology. Jewish Scripture outlines how to act (albeit some of these rules are arcane for our time and a bit extreme – thus the reason the Jews never sealed the canon until it was hijacked by Constantine for the church). Jewish Scripture also shows how when the people disobeyed the rules, they suffered and when they obeyed they prospered. After a while this cycle cost them the temple and the “land of milk and honey.” It could be that in order for the Messianic Age to come, that Jews should listen to what Jeremiah said: “Learn not the way of the nations, nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens because the nations are dismayed at them, for the customs of the peoples are false.” (this is a slight paraphrasing of the opening verses of Jeremiah 10 – which also explicitly exposes the “Christmas tree” to be a pagan practice – over 2 thousand years before it became as common as it is now)

So what was Jesus’ purpose?

I believe Jesus was trying to be a reformer, not a redeemer/savior and his focus was on freeing us from religious doctrines and dogmas that had become overbearing and burdensome. Perhaps what he was teaching was that we could focus on simply “Loving one another”.

“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:33)

Here is the real New Covenant. Less outward ritual observances and more heart-driven loving kindness towards each other. The entire yoke of Torah needed to be simplified to the original summation that was contained within it.

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

Here the Teacher (Jesus) spliced together Deuteronomy 6:5 with Leviticus 19:18 to give us the summation of the Torah and the 2 rules that if all of us followed, would bring on an age where no nation raises a sword against another nation and we can all finally be at peace. This would be the fulfillment of hope and bring the Kingdom of Heaven here, on earth.

Got Jesus?

Corcovado jesus

Corcovado jesus (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

When people say Jesus, there is an abundance of views as to who he was.  Some say he was just a man, some say a prophet, some say a messiah, some say the son of God, some say God the Son, some say he is an idea, and there are many people who no idea who he is.   I grew up a Christian and up until my late 20s, I still believed in the deity of Jesus, the infallibility of the Bible, and the various doctrines of the church.  However, I became somewhat skeptical in my early 30s and started to reject things that, to me, just didn’t make sense.  To me, the entire concept of “original sin” does not present our Creator as a loving and merciful God at all.  Then to further complicate it with the concept that God himself would have to become man and die to reconcile everyone of this curse at birth, just pushed me over the edge.  I have a hard time believing that one person can suffer in my place.  It all seems like a cop-out.  When you read about the personage of the man named Jesus and strip away the dogmas and the fabulous tales of miracles you will actually find something far different then what your pastor (who is paid to preach) will tell you.

Thomas Jefferson said it best when he said, “To the corruptions of Christianity I am, indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense in which he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others.” I share Jefferson’s beliefs that the gospels had been corrupted with words that Jesus never uttered and miracles that never really happened.  I also believe that Jesus really existed and that his original teachings can be found in the gospels if you look closely.  The teachings of Jesus were pure and true.  He taught of universal love, morality, and charity.  He surrounded himself with hookers, tax collectors, and other social undesirables.  He tried to get people to find their faults, confront them, overcome them, and try to be better people.  He spoke of love for your enemies and while this is tough to grasp it is the earliest occurrence of the idea to “kill them with kindness”.

Jesus taught that it was a person’s actions, both external and internal, that mattered.  He rejected the notion that a person would be unclean if they ate certain foods and instead said that it was what came out of someone’s mouth that made them unclean.  Words of anger, hate, and deceit were in Jesus’s view worse than eating pork.  The Parables of Jesus were geared for both the intelligent and the ignorant in that there was an obvious message and a subliminal one that invoked deep personal reflection.  Of all of the teachings of Jesus there is nothing more significant than the Sermon on the Mount.  This is found in Matthew Chapters 5-7 and there is no greater discourse on life and how to live it then what is written there.  How wonderful and amazing would the world be if we all read those 3 chapters every day and tried to live by them?

Jesus taught of the Kingdom of Heaven he did not teach of salvation by grace, that was an invention of Paul.  Jesus gave clear instructions about feeding the poor, helping the destitute, aiding widows and orphans, and made it clear that it required action to enter the kingdom of heaven – not faith.  “Go and do likewise” was the charge given at the conclusion of the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  For me to think that a man who gives to the poor and needy all that he has, is doomed to go to hell because he is not a Christian defies all Reason and is un-Christian.  To make the matter worse and say that a man who commits mass murder only needs to accept Jesus into his heart and go to heaven – over the other guy who gave with all is heart – is just plain detestable and not inline with the fairness and benevolence of our Creator.

Jesus was a man.  A man of profound moral teachings and the author of a doctrine of morals that is beyond comparison.  His teachings of love and morality over dogma and despotism eventually cost him his life.  If all mankind were to adhere to what he taught and the doctrines he so eloquently inculcated, the world would be a more beautiful place.   Over the course of the next few blog postings I am going to peel back the dogma and fantasy and cover each parable and then cover the Sermon on the Mount.  It is within the teachings of this man, Jesus of Nazareth, that we can find some of the most sublime truths.  He will be our guide on this next leg of the quest.