Scot McKnight is Professor of New Testament studies at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Illinois, author or editor of 50 books and well-known speaker and blogger. During New Horizon 2016, he is leading the morning Bible Teaching (10am Monday – Friday). Here, the NH Media Team brings you a summary of what he had to say on Thursday 11 August.
The question that we want to address this morning was a question asked of John the Baptist, when he was baptising at the Jordan river. The people asked, “What should we do then?” How do we respond to this message of the kingdom of God.
We want to answer this question with three words that Jesus used.
We have to have a king – God! This God rules and He rules by governing and he rules by redemption. The kingdom is the rule of God over a people. In the Bible, those people are Israel, expanded into the church in the New Testament. Fourthly is the idea of law – how does God ask His people to live? The Torah was the legislation given to Moses to help the people know how to live in the promised lands. The Sermon on the Mount becomes in the New Testament the first grand exposition of how Kingdom people are to live. The fifth thing is how this kingdom is expressed in land and how that promise is expanded in the New Testament.
How do kingdom people live? What does Jesus expect of His followers? Jesus expects a lot. Sometimes when you read the Gospels, you can become positively uncomfortable. No one reads the Sermon on the Mount for comfort. Jesus ends Matthew 5, “Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” Jesus has the capacity to say over-the-top things to us that are oh so true. He calls us to surrender ourselves to Him completely.
Routinely Jesus calls His disciples to surrender themselves completely to Him and to let Him guide them. I want to narrow it down to three terms that express the most important themes for how followers of Jesus are to walk.
There is a great passage in Mark 12. One of the teachers of the law can and heard them debating. He noticed that Jesus had given them a good answer. He asked Jesus, “Of all the commandments, which is the greatest of them all.” Jesus answered with the words from Deuteronomy… “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” and He added, “Love your neighbour as yourself.”
Jesus said, “There is no commandment greater than these.” In the Jewish world, people were debating, which were the greatest commandments. The Torah included 365 positive admonitions and 258 prohibitions. Jesus responds into that very discussion. Jesus is willing to reduce Torah to “Love” so that all the commandments are simply illustrations of either loving God or loving others.
Jesus grew up in a world that many of the Pharisees who saw loving God as so paramount that they were not being loving to others. They observed laws about purity and holiness but could walk around someone who was “semi-dead” (the story of the Good Samaritan). They would have walked far enough away that not even their shadow could touch the body.
Jesus told them, “You don’t love God if you don’t love others.” I call this the Jesus Creed. In the Jewish world, every devout Jew would say (every morning and evening) – “Hear oh Israel… love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength.”
The Scribe was shocked when Jesus added a second commandment from Leviticus 19:18. I have never seen anyone in Jewish literature (from the time of Moses to the time of Jesus) quote this verse.
Every morning and evening, I say the Jesus Creed and I say it in Hebrew. And I made this promise that I would say it any time I was prompted to say it throughout the day. I found it very disturbing because it had the capacity to remind me that I had to respond to people in a loving way. It was much easier to be irritated with people. This changed my relationship with people who I didn’t like!
Jesus had irritants in his life. How would you like to teach Peter – saying the wrong thing at the wrong time? And what about Judas?
I want to warn you that this could revolutionise your life. When I first began to teach this, one of my students began to say this every day as he walked to campus. As he said this, he began to notice homeless people in his neighbourhood that he had never noticed before. They decided to invite homeless people for a pizza party. They then decided that they would spend the night outside as a sign of identification with the homeless.
He came to me in his graduation year for advice. He said, “I have two options. I’m thinking of doing a PhD and I’ve been accepted in Duke University to study under a famous professor. But I’ve also been opportunity to work in Chicago to work with the homeless.” Eventually he made his decision to work with the homeless.
This will prompt little moments when we consider how we drive, how we treat other people and how we treat out children or our spouse. It could be a radical change in your life.
I’ve already defined love as a rugged commitment to be with, for and unto people. A spiritually formed person, according to Jesus, is someone who loves God and loves others. It is not someone who prays every day and reads the Bible every day. It is not someone who goes to church every Sunday. It is not somebody who comes to every single New Horizon meeting. We need to repeat this because love does not naturally grow on our trees. We struggle with loving people we don’t like. The Jesus Creed will show to us the people we don’t like. You naturally have your own enemies. A spiritually formed person loves their neighbour as themselves and jesus goes further to say, “love your enemies.”
I believe the word righteousness is one of the most important words that Jesus uses. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” (Matthew 5:6). The only word praised twice in the beatitudes is righteousness. In Matthew 5:20, He says, “Unless your righteousness greatly surpasses the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never ever enter the kingdom of God.”
Your righteousness will be conformity to Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. Matthew 6:1 says, “Be careful not the practice your righteousness before others to be seen by them.” He adds, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.” The Sermon on the Mount is an exposition of the meaning of the word righteousness. Joseph is called in Matthew 1:19 a “righteous” man.
The word righteousness means, on the basis of a relationships, one conforms one’s behaviour to God’s rules. In the New Testament to be righteous is to be person whose life is to be transformed by the teaching of Jesus. A disciple of Jesus is someone who follows Jesus. It means knowing what Jesus says and doing it. It involves good deeds. (Let your light shine). It means listening attentively to the teaching of Jesus. It is also a relationship with God – when you fast and pray and give, engage with God not to be seen but in response to the Father. Seek first the kingdom of God. We are called to be righteous.
In Mark 8:34, we have one of the most profound statements in all moral literature throughout the history of the world. Jesus calls the crowd and says, “Whoever wants to be my disciples must deny himself and take up his cross (daily) and follow me.”
Jesus says that the essential requirement to follow Him is to “die”. To use the cross as an image, is to use a brutal instrument of torture. Human beings were stripped naked and publicly exposed and hung on the cross. Their bodies decayed on the cross. Jesus chose that for what discipleship is all about. To be a disciple of Jesus we must die to self – to give our life to Him, no matter what it entails. I like the Christian practice of making the sign of the cross upon ourselves because it reminds us that our lives are marked by the cross.
I can see this worked out in Paul’s literature (died to self). In Peter, who said that Christ has left us an example to follow.
I have been reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer – he is a deep reminder to me of the way of the cross. Those who enter into discipleship, enter into jesus death. They turn their living into dying. Such has been the case from the very beginning. The cross is not the terrible end of a pious life. It stands at the beginning of communion with Christ. Whenever Christ calls us, he calls us to death.
Whether we must leave everything to follow Him, the result is death in Jesus Christ caused by the call of Jesus. It was central idea of Bonhoeffer’s book the “Cost of Discipleship”.