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Why Jesus’ Life and Teachings Really Should Matter

Jesus’ life and teachings didn’t matter very much.

At least that’s the idea one gets from those U.S. Christians who see his only earthly purpose in coming to die as a penalty for human sinfulness – and then rocketing off to heaven to fix up some cushy mansions for our afterlife while awaiting our arrival.

Lately, as part of the developing Jesus Worldview Initiative that seeks to counter so-called “biblical” and “Christian” worldviews that tend to ignore Jesus, I have set my default on asking the same question Mary, the mother of Jesus, asked when her young son stayed behind at the temple in Jerusalem: “Where’s Jesus?”

If one pays attention and keeps that question in the forefront, it can be striking to see how little Jesus shows up when Christianity becomes politicized, such as at the recent Values Voter Summit.

Oh, you hear a lot about keeping Christ in Christmas – just not much concern for keeping Christ in Christianity.

One of many examples comes from the Billy Graham Evangelism Association.

In my search for Jesus online, I found this troubling response (to “Where’s Jesus?”): “Jesus Christ came down from heaven for one reason: to do God’s will by giving His life as the final sacrifice for our sins. Once that was accomplished, His main work was done.”

Really? That’s it?

All those wasted days and nights, roaming Galilee mumbling meaningless stuff about the Kingdom of God, facing temptations that have no relevance to us and sparring with the religious elites.

Just killing time, waiting to be killed, I guess.

That’s the only logical conclusion if his “one reason” (as the Graham group affirms) for coming to earth was to be “the final sacrifice.”

Of course, that perspective makes it easy to have a Franklin Graham kind of Christianity of ignorance and exclusion. If the life and teachings of Jesus are irrelevant, it’s easy to justify all kinds of ugliness in the name of Christ.

Apparently, the way God was revealed through the earthly ministry of Jesus was just a stall tactic to get to the cross. Never mind its applicability for how we should live.

Sadly, many of our friends and fellow church members have embraced this understanding of the Christian faith, which allows for ignoring the hard stuff that Jesus showed and said over three remarkable years about the Kingdom of God.

With a ticket to heaven in hand – thanks to the “one reason” Jesus came to earth – many modern Christians feel free to embrace all kinds of attitudes and actions that Jesus never owned and to brand those self-serving perspectives as “biblical” or “Christian.”

But then again, those were just Jesus’ wasted days and wasted nights – telling vague stories, embracing no-good-doers, liberating the guilty, lifting up the poor, erasing lines of discrimination, condemning self-righteous religious legalists, healing the sick, saving and redirecting the lost, widening understandings of grace, embracing the outcasts and, in doing so, revealing the very face of God.

We have work to do! And it starts by asking again and again, “But where’s Jesus?”

If, to us, he was simply a pawn in a scripted sacrificial play, then we are not likely to find him – or to find his way costly but compelling.

John D. Pierce is executive editor of Nurturing Faith Journal & Bible Studies (formerly Baptists Today). A version of this column appeared previously on his blog and is used with permission.