A Third Way to Follow Jesus Week 3: Jesus is central to all else

People used to believe that the sun and all the planets revolved around the earth. From where the naked eye could view the universe, standing on this fragile planet, it seemed that Earth was huge and that all the stars, tiny points of light in the distance, were very small, inferior in fact to planet earth.

The sun was thought to be the largest star. It was thought to exist solely to give us heat and energy. It was understood that the sun must be very large, larger perhaps than Earth itself, but nevertheless, no matter how big the sun was, it revolved around us.

We have learned a lot through science. Galileo, a devout Christian, helped to bring us to a clearer understanding of things. All the planets revolve around the sun, in fact. The planet we call home is but one of a family of planets.

It was terribly humbling for people back in Galileo’s time to realize that their planet was not the center of the universe. People reacted violently. Galileo was thrown in jail. How dare he suggest that God had not made our home planet the exact center of everything created?

Webster Dictionary defines the word “Center as a place or point at which activity is concentrated or toward”. Well, it’s painful to realize that we are not the center of the universe, but it has to happen in order for us to mature. Although we would like to be the center of the universe, we are not. That’s terribly humbling. That something else - not us - might be the center of things, can be hard to swallow.

So, you see, the earth is not the center of the universe. Science has proven it. And we ourselves are not the center of existence. God’s Word let’s us in on that one.

So we have been looking at the idea of a third way of following Jesus the last 2 weeks or so.  Two weeks ago we looked at what a third way of faith might look like in regards to the Bible and interpreting it.  Last week we looked what a third way faith might look like in regards to emphasizing the New Testament.  And today we are talking about the concept and idea that a third way faith puts Jesus at the center.  That he is central to all else.  That all the prophets, law, narratives, words, and everything in the story of God points to Jesus.  Both the Old and New Testament are signposts that point to Jesus.  

So often however we lose this fact that Jesus is central to all else, not just in the Bible itself, but also in all of creation, which includes us.  We are not central to all else.  We are not the center of the universe, Jesus is.  So often in our faith we can even make other things central, instead of Jesus.  Sometimes we even make ourselves the center of the gospel.  We have all heard this statement, “Jesus died so that I could go to heaven when I die.”  Is that technically correct?  Yes.  But is it enough or is it all that there is to the gospel?  No.  In that statement it almost seems that we are the center of the gospel.  We are not the center of the gospel, Jesus is the center of the gospel.  

Sometime instead of ourselves being the center of the gospel, we want to make it about what Paul says about the gospel.  Let me put it this way, Paul and Jesus can sometimes be put on opposite sides, but they aren’t.  But do we read Jesus through Paul or do we read Paul through Jesus?  It reminds me of a story told by Scot McKnight while writing his book The King Jesus Gospel. Scot says, “At an airport, I bumped into a pastor I recognized… He asked me what I was writing, and I replied, “A book about the meaning of gospel.” “That’s easy,” he said, “justification by faith.” After hearing that quick-and-easy answer, I decided to push further, so I asked him Piper’s question: “Did Jesus preach the gospel?” His answer made me gulp. “Nope,” he said, “Jesus couldn’t have. No one understood the gospel until Paul. No one could understand the gospel until after the cross and resurrection and Pentecost.” “Not even Jesus?” I asked. “Nope. Not possible,” he affirmed. I wanted to add an old cheeky line I’ve often used: “Poor Jesus, born on the wrong side of the cross, didn’t get to preach the gospel.” My satire, if not sarcasm, would not have helped, so I held back. But I’ve heard others make similar claims about Jesus, Paul, and the gospel…”

Even our theological systems, theological heroes from the past or the present, while they can help us understand the gospel and the story of God, they are not the center of it all.  So go ahead and like Menno Simmons, Calvin, Wesley, NT Wright, Greg Boyd, Shane Claiborne, Rob Bell, Zwingli, Scot McKnight, etc… But realize it is not about them, or about a system of belief, it is about Jesus.  If you say I am a Calvinist, Arminian, Anabaptist, Methodist, etc… first instead of saying I am a follower of Jesus who happens to be an Anabaptist, Wesleyan, Calvinist, etc…then we have put something (or even someone) in the center instead of Jesus and the gospel of the Kingdom of God.  

So let’s turn to Scripture and see what it says about Jesus being central to all else.  

Let’s go to the beginning of John, John 1 and see how this text seeks to put the emphasis and turn our eyes to the author, perfecter, finisher and center of our faith, Jesus.  John 1:1-5 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[ it,”  This is the climax of the story.  The arrival of a human being, the Word made Flesh.  Jesus- the ultimate Word of God.  The Word was from the start.   The Word was at the beginning.  The Word is at the end.  It was through the Word that all things were made.  The one who conns all light and life.  The Word challenged and challenges the darkness.  The Word establishes the new creation- in us and in all the world around us.  The Word is Jesus himself.  This text says that Jesus was from the beginning.  That he existed before time and space.  That Jesus was.  That Jesus was with God at the beginning of all things.  That Jesus was with God when God the Father spoke all things into being.  And that Jesus- the Word was and is God.  That he is separate from God the Father but while separate from God the Father doesn’t mean that he isn’t God himself.  Everything that can be said about God the Father can be said about God the Son.  

Now the real interesting part about this text is the word that is used for Word.  The greek word is Logos.  Logos is a word that was in use at the time.  Greek philosophy saw the logos as the power that puts sense into the world, making the world orderly instead of chaotic.  The logos was the power that set the world in perfect order and kept it going in perfect order.  They saw the logos as the Ultimate Reason that controlled all things.  

Jewish rabbis often referred to God in terms of His word.  They spoke of God himself as the word of God.  In the mind of the ancient Jews, the phrase the word of God could be used to refer to God himself.  

And so whether you were Greek or Jewish, John was saying, “For centuries you’ve been talking, thinking, and writing about the Word (the logos). Now I will tell you who He is.”  John met both Jews and Greeks where they were at, and explained Jesus in terms they already understood.  As an aside, this is a brilliant missiological move on Johns part, understanding the context in which we find ourselves, and using language and culture that people already use and understand to explain the Gospel of Jesus and the Kingdom.  

Jesus, the Logos, put sense into the world, made the world orderly from chaos, and keeps it and sustains it.  Jesus, the Logo, is truly the center of all things, and needs to be central in our life, our faith, our theology and the way we practice it.  

This week as I have been reading, studying, praying, and while writing the message one single song kept playing on repeat in my head.  The song is called Center by Charlie Hall.  So as different as it might be, and as something that I have never done, I feel lead to lead this worship song as part of the message, because it is part of the message, that we need to have Christ as the center of our lives (and so much more than just our lives, but our lives as a crucial starting point).  So let’s worship together in singing this song acapella.  

John 1:14, one of my favorite passages within all of Scripture points us to the fact that, as unimaginable as it sounds, that God himself took up flesh and blood, and became human.  John 1:14 says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”  Jesus came to earth to show us in the flesh what God is like.  If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus.  It’s like what John 14:9 says, “Anyone who has seen me, has seen the Father.”  Jesus came teaching, showing and living the Kingdom of God.  And as such, when we want to know what it means to live, show and understand the Kingdom of God we need to look to Jesus.  And to look to Jesus means putting him at the center of life.  Third way faith derives Christology directly from the Word and emphasizes a deep commitment to take Jesus seriously in all of life.  Such view runs counter to notions that the commands of Jesus are too difficult for ordinary believers or that Jesus’ significance lies almost entirely in providing heavenly salvation.  Rather salvation of the soul is part of a larger transformation.  In third way faith Jesus stands as the lens by which we read the entire Bible (as we talked about last week) and the example by which we engage all theology.  Jesus takes all precedence in matters of faith and life for us.  He is the exact representation of God and King of the Kingdom.  His example, teaching, and identity matter more than anything.  His values, example, and commands often put us at odds with the laws, values, and expectations of Christendom and state.  Responding to the ways of this world in a Jesus-like manner, third way communities operate as alternatives to the systems around them.  It is in the centrality of Jesus above all things that define every other particularity within third way faith.  

Jesus, the Word of God, the logos, God in the flesh is our example, teacher, friend, redeemer, savior and Lord.  He is the source of our life, the central reference point for our faith and lifestyle, for our understanding of church and our engagement with society.  We are committed to following Jesus as well as worshipping Him.  Placing Jesus at the center is about living a life of discipleship and following him.  It means making him Lord, and not just Savior.  All too often, in the Church, and in how we understand the gospel we are just making Vampire Christians, who want Jesus for his blood but nothing else.  It’s like we say to Him, “I’d like a little of your blood please.  But I don’t care to be your student or have your character.  In fact, won’t you excuse me while I get on with my life, and I’ll see you in heaven.”  Do we speak about the centrality of Jesus for salvation only or do we speak about his centrality in all of life and mission which includes salvation?  I found these two quotes this week that pretty much sums up what I am getting at.  The first one spoken by Justin Martyr, an early church father and he put it this way, “Those who are found not living as Christ taught should know that they are not really Christians even if his teachings are on their lips”  Ouch but oh so true.  The second is from Hans Denck and says, “No one can know Christ unless he (or she) follows Him in life.”  

Jesus is to be more than just our Savior.  He is to be our Lord.  And our response then is to follow Him.  To live as he lived. To love as he loved.  To act as he acted.  To speak as he spoke.  To have our heart break with the things that broke his heart. It is a tall order but Jesus walks with us as we put him central in our lives (which includes our life, our faith, our theology, etc…)

So let’s talk in some more concrete details together about what it looks like to live this third way faith in regards to the idea that Jesus is central to all else.  Let’s talk about the Scriptures, and the message and what questions, insights, applications, etc.. come to mind.  Let’s talk about what other things have been put as central over the years in regards to faith, the bible, Christianity, etc..  And let’s talk about what it looks like for each of us as individuals and as a community to put Jesus at the center. 

1.  What thoughts, comments, insights, application, push back, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message?

2.  What have you seen in the history of the Christian church that has taken centrality instead of Jesus?  

3.  What does it mean for you to make Jesus central to all else?  What does it mean for us as a community to make and keep Jesus central to all else?