Recently, I was chatting with one of my professors from college. He shared with me how he was preaching through 1 Peter. I responded by saying that I had been doing a fair amount of guest preaching as of late, at various churches in the area. I told him that, since I was a guest preacher, speaking at a different church each Sunday, I had the freedom to preach from the Gospels every single week, and no one became suspicious of why I wasn’t spending time in Paul’s letters, or the prophets, or Old Testament narrative. We both laughed.
Certainly, if I am ever called to pastor a specific congregation, I will diversify my preaching texts outside of the Gospels because the whole of Scripture is the whole story of God–and we need each part of it to understand who God is, who we are, and where we are going together. But for now, my preaching pattern caused me to wonder: “Why am I so rooted in the Gospels right now? Why is this where I sense the Holy Spirit leading me to preach?”
A simple, Sunday-school worthy answer: Jesus.
I find Jesus incredibly compelling.
Sometimes, we think we know all about Jesus–a baby born in a manger in Bethlehem, the innocent God-man hanging on the cross, the victorious and risen Lord who emerged from the tomb on the third day and changed everything forever. And certainly, these images of Jesus are true, important, and beautiful. But sometimes, we skip over the life of Jesus, all that happened in between the cross and the manger.
And it is these skipped-over bits that compel me these days…
Jesus the Bold
The images of Jesus that dominated my childhood were of him in a white and blue robe with children on his knee. Certainly, this is a trustworthy Jesus, and one consistent with what we see in the Gospels, as Jesus invites the children to come to him, takes time to be with and heal those stricken by disease, comforting and caring along the way.
And at other times, Jesus is downright bold. He has no problem calling out the powers of his day, telling his disciples to watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod (Mark 8:14-21). Matthew’s gospel in particular is scathing toward the Pharisees, whom Jesus calls hypocrites and white-washed tombs, those who “have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23).
Such comments put him at odds with those who held the cards, with those who thought they were the chosen ones, with those who couldn’t believe that their long-awaited Messiah would come in the form of a lowly carpenter from no-good Nazareth.
This compelling Jesus boldly speaks to those who thought they were above reproach.
Jesus the Questioner
Jesus also asks the best, and the strangest, and the most timely questions. When he meets a blind man named Bartimaeus on the road to Jerusalem, he asks “what is it you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51). Jesus doesn’t assume the need, but takes time for the person, giving space to Bartimaeus to express the deep desires of his heart.
Another time, Jesus is talking with a rich young ruler, who has just asked: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ response: “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Jesus is pushing this man closer to the real question. The question of main importance here isn’t necessarily how to gain eternal life, but rather who this rich, young ruler is talking to. Jesus’ question hints at his true identity, inviting the rich, young ruler to discover who he really is.
And again, Jesus is with his disciples, trying to help these confused and at times misguided pupils of his to come to terms with who is and what he is asking of them. I can imagine the question coming up almost casually. Jesus asks the Twelve: “Who do people say that I am?” and then “Who do YOU say that I am?” (Mark 8:27, 29). These questions drip with possibility. Are they getting it? Can they perceive it? Or are their eyes failing to see and their ears failing to hear? (Mark 8:18)
Be ready for when this compelling Jesus asks you a question that cuts straight to the heart of things.
Jesus the Teller of Baffling Stories
Scattered throughout the Gospels, we have these baffling stories called parables. The parables are many and varied, speaking of mustard seeds and great banquets and shrewd managers and persistent widows. The parables are bubbling, subversive, veiled.
Parables are a story Jesus uses to try to say something important. Often, I wish that Jesus would just speak plainly and tell us the point of the parable. But rather, the point of parables is for Jesus’ disciples to have the right kind of ears to hear these words. There’s nothing easy about the parables. They are meant to prod, to compel, to spiral. All for the sake of this bubbling, subversive, and veiled kingdom of God they so often refer to.
If you have ears, listen up to this compelling Jesus.
Jesus the Unexpected
I imagine that the leaders of the Jews would have liked to hand Jesus a script to follow in his day-to-day ministry and teaching, if he was REALLY going to live into this whole Messiah thing. The script likely would have included a lot of denouncing the Romans, a lot of liberating Israel, a lot of defeating God’s/Israel’s enemies, and a lot of lines drawn about who is in and who is out.
Jesus goes off script CONSTANTLY. He welcomes the anointing from a sinful woman at the home of Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36-38). He talks with a woman by a well in Samaria, defying racial and gender norms (John 4). He dines at the home of Zacchaeus the tax collector, the lowest of the low (Luke 19:1-10). He touches a man with leprosy, ignoring the rules of clean and unclean (Matthew 8:1-4).
This compelling Jesus; you never know what he’ll do next.
Jesus the Asker of (what seems to be) Too Much
And there’s all the times he pushes farther than we think we can go, farther than we should go. Look no farther than the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).
Blessed are the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers. You’ve heard it said but now I say to you. Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, turn the other cheek. Aren’t even the tax collectors loving those who love them? Go and be reconciled to your brother.
Jesus asks what seems to be way too much. He doesn’t hand his disciples a list of things to avoid: don’t swear, don’t steal, don’t drink. Rather, he asks us to be on guard, in each and every moment of each and every day, for his leading. And then he will show us what to do to follow him, at work, at home, at the grocery store. And often, it will seem too much.
This compelling Jesus does not offer an easy road, but rather his presence and guidance along a road that will seem too heavy, too dangerous, too much.
This Compelling Jesus
This compelling Jesus continues to surprise me.
When I think I have strayed too far this time, he pulls me back, embraces and forgives, and sets me on my feet.
When I think I have it all together, he reminds me of the idols of self-reliance and pride.
When I think it’s all too much, he asks me where I’ve put my hope.
When I think the world is hopeless, he tells me to take heart, for he has overcome the world.
There are many compelling people in the world, living and passed on. But there is no one else so compelling, so trustworthy, so surprising, so liberating, so humbling, so present, so beautiful as Jesus. And there is no one else I could throw my lot in with, not while he is beckoning me “further up and further in” (CS Lewis).
Author: Stephanie Christianson
Stephanie Christianson lives in Saskatchewan, Canada with her husband Austin. She serves as a Faculty Assistant at Horizon College and Seminary. She holds a MA in Theological Studies (Briercrest Seminary). Her research interests including Anabaptist-Mennonite Studies, nonviolence, divine violence, and the work of Miroslav Volf.