What Does Jesus Say?
It is true that today many young people struggle with living the life of abandoned discipleship largely because they have not paid adequate attention to the very words that Jesus commanded.
Do you remember the slogan “What Would Jesus Do?” It was in the mid to late 1990’s that I began to read of youth groups in the US who popularized the thinking that as Christians we need to act in ways that are in conformity with how Jesus would act in every given situation we face. Eventually, the movement spread to some parts of Africa with young people wearing a wrist bracelet labeled ‘WWJD’. I fully subscribe to the fact that we need to live the life of Jesus before a watching world, not for show, but because we are “Christians” (Christ-like). It is not just what we do, but primarily who we are. Our behavior should stem from our identity. The main problem I began to see with young people trying to “do” like Jesus is that many of those wearing the WWJD T-shirt and bracelet in my part of the world had no idea what Jesus said to do so how can you “do” when you don’t know what He has said?
The same is true today. Many youth struggle with living the life of abandoned discipleship largely because they have not paid adequate attention to the very words that Jesus commanded. In Kenya where I live, for example, most young people were raised in “Christian” families and had a religious upbringing in church. However, quite a number from such backgrounds are ignorant of what the Bible says. This is similar to the Jews of Jesus’s day. They were religiously brought up in the temple every Sabbath but God was never interested in religion. They lived by certain moral codes contained in the law, which helped for a season. But when Jesus came, He changed all that. In Matthew chapter 5, Six time Jesus said ‘You have heard that it was said… But now I say…’. What was He doing? Disrupting their religious security and introducing the real essence of what God had in mind when He gave the law through Moses.
Jesus redefined (or better still, revealed) the kingdom meaning of committing murder and adultery, taking an oath, and how to relate with all kinds of people including enemies. In the Kingdom, it goes beyond an outward profession of faith or carefully observing a set of doctrines. He shifted the whole realm of spiritual uprightness to being rather than doing. When He said ‘But now I say…’ He was disrupting their sense of holiness that emanated from observing the law. He was raising the standard to a new level that makes it impossible for anyone to truly abide by without a spiritual rebirth. For example, it is possible to be a good person without killing someone but how do you deal with resentment (which nobody can see) against another person. One can be a good person and not commit the act of adultery but how do you control those leering eyes and lustful thoughts (which no one can see). I hope you get the point…
Jesus started the greatest change ever in human history by rearranging the way life on earth is lived. He introduced a Kingdom that is not built on outward forms that deny inward reality. In other words, His hearers had been keeping the law but they themselves remained unchanged. God is not looking for people who want to wear a T-shirt or bracelet to profess or announce their religious inclinations. He is after those who acknowledge they cannot live up to the standards of the Kingdom by themselves then turn to Him in helpless plea for a total rebirth. As they begin to pay attention to Jesus’ ‘But now I say…’, they find themselves empowered to do what Jesus would do because now, He becomes the life within their empty vessels who have given up their own religious activities and embraced a radical new way of living.