(Book Review of ‘The Jesus I Never Knew’)
I have been reading and writing alot about the written prophets found in the Old Testament, men like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Obadiah, and Zechariah to mention a few. Being that the prophets point to the mystery that was revealed through Jesus (plus our upcoming sermons at Blue Point Bible Church will be based on Jesus and the unveiling of the Old Testament prophecies), I found it a God-send to read through Philip Yancey’s, The Jesus I Never Knew.
I have read many other books of the same ilk as this one. Books that point out the failure of the Christian Church to properly inform others of and represent Jesus Christ to the world. I am convinced that many may find themselves a part of a “Christian community” and maybe even refer to themselves as a “Christian”, yet completely miss the purpose of Jesus’ ministry and message. Sadly, as this book, The Jesus I Never Knew, as well as others like Alan Hirsch’s book, ReJesus, point out that many even go as fail as to mis-identify the character of Jesus Christ.
Author Philip Yancey remarks, “I memorized the list of 34 specific miracles in the Gospels but missed the impact of just one miracle. I learned the Beatitudes yet never faced the fact that none of us – I above all – could make sense of those mysterious sayings, let alone live by them.”
It is exactly that quote from early on in the book that has stimulated my thoughts about Jesus Christ this whole week. Mr. Yancey is pointing out the purpose of Jesus’ ministry – establishing His righteousness- and thus giving us the knowledge of God’s will and through the working of the Spirit of God, with such an amazing grace – we can become that righteousness (cf. read through Galatians chapter 3 then Matthew 6:33-34). As Scripture says, “What the Law could not do because it was limited by the flesh, God did. He condemned sin in the flesh by sending His own Son in flesh like ours under sin’s domain, and as a sin offering, in order the the Law’s requirement would be accomplished in us who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:3-4)”.
That was the “hope of Israel” as revealed through the Old and New Testaments. Sadly, this “one hope” has been replaced, confounded, and dismissed by many who call themselves “Christians”, because of a lack of contextual Bible reading. Many are missing the “Good News” by settling for a story and a Jesus, that is not the story nor the Jesus of the Bible.
You see, the Christian Church is stuck behind the “battle of the ages” which is detailed in Galatians chapter 5. Simply put, the things desired by, aimed for, and established by man, verses the same things through a God’s eye-view. Jesus Himself promised that “the gates of hades will not prevail over the Church (), yet He also promised tribulation and persecution – so it is a battle, even within the Church, however through faith we know our Lord to be Faithful.
Mr. Yancey goes about an honest investigation regarding the birth, message, death, resurrection, mission of Jesus Christ as expounded upon in the Bible. He notes alot of the ‘common day confusion’ regarding these things, and provides alot to think about.
Again, I must mention Alan Hirsch’s book, ReJesus, beacause Mr. Yancey’s book is a great companion to Hirsch’s. Maybe it is ‘high time’ that the Church wakes up and realizes that it has by and large failed to properly embody the living reality of Jesus Christ. It is the Christian Church that is called to “make known the manifold wisdom of God”, in Word and Deed, yet it sometimes seems that we are suffering the fate of the “blind leading the blind”.
The world categorically rejects the Truth of Jesus Christ, as I just come out of a conversation myself wherein someone referred to me as a “brainwashed Christian”. If the Church has failed to make known the wisdom are we shocked that thge majority of society is left wondering- Does God even care about the misery that exists in our world? Do we really matter to God?
Ultimately, we know these were the cries of the Prophets. God had created a ‘covenant relationship’ with Israel, based on obedience, yet Israel failed time and time again to be obedient and thus suffered judgement- this judgement was usually invasion and exile by the hands of foreign armies (as the Lord refers to Assyria as “His rod” at one point in Scripture). The prophets would speak out either before the impending judgment regarding the wickedness of the people in going after other gods, or offering encouragement yet with discipline regarding the Faithfulness of God to His people. His people were dead to Him in exile, yet one day He would bring about Resurrection and the Kingdom would be restored. As Yancey remarks in the book:
“Every Hebrew prophet had taught that someday God would install His kingdom on Earth, and that is why rumors about the “Son of David” so inflamed Jewish hopes. God would prove in person that He had not forsaken them. He would, as Isaiah cried, “rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before You!…come down and cause the nations to quake before you.”
However I really love how Mr. Yancey followed the prophetic fulfillment, and the way he causes us to honestly look at it:
“But let us be honest. When the one John pointed to arrived on the scene, neither the mountains trembled nor the nations quaked. Jesus did not come close to satisfying the lavish hopes of the Jews. The opposite happened: within a generation Roman soldiers razed Jerusalem to the ground. The young Christian church accepted the destruction of the Temple as a sign of the end of the covenant between God and Israel…”
Jesus Christ causes us to see the world a bit different. You see….it wasn’t that God did not fulfill the promises to the Jews- but He did so in a mysterious way- through Jesus Christ, as the book of Ephesians details. Sadly, just like Simon Peter in Matthew chapter 16, many have the thoughts of man (carnally-minded), rather than thinking and seeing the world through the things of God (see, Philippians 4:8).
Having a carnal mind, set on the fulfillment of the things of God in a physical carnal way, is a sure way to miss the purpose of the ministry and message of Jesus Christ. No matter how much we try to avoid the realities that were brought about through Christ, it is in and through God in the flesh, that we find the “Life” this world longs for- having a renewed mind and a new heart is the solution to the issues we face. If we don’t see nor understand the Gospel as a reality today, again its ‘high time’ for the Christian Church to begin embodying the reality that Christ has given us.
Much of the confusion regarding the Biblical reality we currently live in is due to a lack of understanding Biblical context. Many are utilizing foreign concepts, and misappropriating Bible verses, in an effort that creates a hope foreign to what we call “audience relevance”. For example, take note how the Gospel according to Matthew does not start out saying, “Here is the Good News that will change your life”. Instead, Matthew gives the story in a way his audience, his generation, would understand. The Book of Matthew starts out with a geneology establishing Christ as a son of Adam, and a Son of David- proving he was of the “flesh and blood” of Israel. This is importance since the “hope of Israel”, as well as the challenge happening in the New Covenant has everything to do with – how the Gentiles would come to share in the promises of God (two favorite passages of mine on this topic are Ephesians 2-3 and Romans 9-15).
It was John the Baptist, the forerunning to Christ’s ministry, who declared to the Jews of that generation that “flesh and blood” would have no part in what the Messiah would establish. For God could raise up children to Abraham out of the stones- and in many senses that is what He was doing.
I must say, Philip Yancey wrote a really good read. It’s a simple book yet causes us to challenge our assumptions about Christ and his ministry. I love some of the “preterist” aspects that Mr. Yancey brings up, in very light ways- pointing to the events of A.D. 70.
I found it ironic that Mr. Yancey mentioned “supersessionism”, which is also sometimes referred to as ‘replacement theology’ in his book. The confusion in the Church surely has alot to do with this and a failure to keep our theology in its proper context. Rather than holding to a sort of “supersessionism”, I would assert a “remant theology”. It wasn’t that the New Covenant superceded the ‘Old Covenant’, or that Christians replace Israel- it was a remant of Jew & Gentile that formed one body in the first century, and now that reality has eternal results. That is the FULFILLED hope of Israel!
To end, let me make something clear. This is not simply a “theological matter” that we can dismiss. No no no. Our failure to properly know Jesus Christ in Biblical context leads us astray not only mentally, but also in the ways Christianity is lived out.
The safe, no beard or mustache Jesus, that Philip Yancey speaks about in his book, is not the Jesus of the Bible. Christians are called to “incarnate the Gospel” and make it real to a world that needs it, just like God did in the flesh in A.D. 70. Since we are talking a bit about “supersessionism” the opposite of that is the disgusting doctrine of Dispensationalism that has crept into the Christian Church. I could go on and on- yet I will simply refer you to look up some or my articles or Youtube videos on Israel, Zionism, and Dispensationalism.
Yancey mentions a quote from Malcolm Muggeridge, “The role of the Roman legionnaires has been taken over by the Israeli army. Now it is the Arabs who are in the position of a subjected people, entlitled like the Jews in Jesus’ lifetime, to attend their mosques and practice their religion, but otherwise are treated life second class citizens.”
The false doctrine of Dispensationalism has not only allowed for lies to be made out of Scripture, but also a ‘new hope’ (which is no hope at all) and has calloused Christians to doing the work of Jesus in the Middle East.
As a conclusion to this report on the book, I would simply challenge us a bit further. What was Jesus’ mission? How does that translate in our context today? And, once we begin to understand Jesus and His message, what is the healing that it brings to our lives and the world today?
Take time to read through the Gospels this week and understand what Jesus was saying- would we “see” the blessings through physical eyes or nah? 🙂
In His Service,
Pastor Mike Miano