"I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly."
- John 10:10
The story is told of a blind golfer whose scores were so impressive that the local pro thought he might gain a few pointers if the two of them played a round together. The pro was delighted when the blind man agreed to the match.
"Good!" he exclaimed. "When can we play?"
"Any night you choose," the sightless man replied.
Like the startled golfer, we're also surprised by an unexpected answer to our questions. But when it comes to surprising responses, no one ever delivered the unexpected more often than Jesus did.
Though my daily Bible reading is often limited to a few verses and a brief commentary, I prefer to set aside enough time to read several chapters or an entire book of the Bible at one sitting. At no time does this type of study seem more fitting than the time leading up to Easter. Concentrating on the life of Jesus, and not just one event, gives a new perspective on who Jesus is and why he came to earth.
If you've never done this before, may I recommend reading the Gospel of Mark? With only 16 chapters - or about 25 pages in most Bibles - you get something like the Reader's Digest condensed version of Jesus' life and ministry in a short period of time.
Having just re-read Mark myself, I was struck again by the difference between the real Jesus and what the people he lived among expected him to be. Here are a few of the "un-expectations" I found:
In the first chapter it's apparent that, for all his gifts and powers, Jesus meant what he told Satan during their encounter in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11): He did not come to earth to draw attention to himself or to become a public sensation. How different from other self-styled preachers they had known, whose skills were far inferior to his but who reveled in the limelight.
We have no record that Jesus refused to feed or heal anyone, but we are surprised when he tells the man he has just healed from leprosy not to tell anyone else about it (Mark 1:44). We're not surprised when the excited, now healthy man disregards this command or, as Jesus had tried to avoid, that his fame spread so quickly he was besieged with crowds of sick people wherever he went.
While visiting his hometown of Nazareth (Mark 6:1-6), Jesus uttered the now familiar phrase, "A prophet is without honor in his own country." Though people were amazed when he preached, they also were filled with suspicion.
"Isn't this the carpenter Mary's son?" they sneered. They didn't expect their Messiah to be a hometown boy.
No one was more shocked by Jesus' behavior than the Pharisees (religious leaders) who had their own ideas about how their faith should be practiced. One of their many laws, which they followed to the letter, concerned their hand-washing ritual before each meal. When Jesus allowed his disciples to eat with "unclean hands" (Mark 7:1-8), they were appalled. When they asked why his disciples failed to live by their rules, he surprised them by turning the criticism toward them.
"You Pharisees have let go of the commands of God, while you hold to the traditions of men," Jesus replied. Later he reminded them it's not what goes into a man that's unclean, but what comes out, as in evil thoughts, arrogance, and greed (Mark 7:15-23).
Finally, in chapters 8 and beyond, the one they thought had come to set up his kingdom on earth surprised the people again by telling them what they must do to follow him: "Deny yourself take up your cross be willing to go beyond obeying a set of rules, and become a servant to others." This was a tall order for those who expected to occupy the high places in their Messiah's kingdom, not be reduced to the role of a servant.
Though Jesus came to offer forgiveness and eternal life to all who believed in him, he wasn't anything like the first-century world expected him to be.
I wonder, what would have happened to God's plan to redeem the world if Jesus had lived down to those expectations?
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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