Jesus: In Summary

Lying in a Manger by Randy OHC

Lying in a Manger by Randy OHC

I love the gospels (you may be glad to know). I also love Tom Wright (you may be indifferent to know). So I’m only being semi-serious here – putting the cat among the pigeons, but hoping the pigeons won’t get eaten – if you will…

You may well have heard Wright say things like the following:

For many Christians it wouldn’t matter if Jesus had been simply born of a virgin and died on a cross, doing more or less nothing in between. His ‘identity’ would be secure; he could still be our saviour and lord. But the four gospels would protest: you’ve missed out the heart of it! Many would-be ‘biblical’ Christians simply have no idea why ‘all that stuff in the middle’ is there.

Agreed. And I’m thankful for the work Wright has done to redress the balance. But it should be noted that there is a difference between what Christians actually believe, and the way in which they express it. In other words, the fact that many preachers simply summarise Jesus’ life in the kind of way Wright has sketched (virgin birth -> substitutionary death) doesn’t necessarily mean they disregard the details of his life.

It strikes me as interesting that if you look at the preaching of the gospel and the summary statements of Jesus’ ministry in the rest of the New Testament, they rarely give much more than a passing comment about the ‘stuff in between’ and tend instead to focus on the death and resurrection.

Acts regularly talks about Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension…

The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. (Acts 3:13-15)

The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. (Acts 5:30-31)

(Or even more starkly)

Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. (Acts 4:10)

…with only the occasional mention of doing good and performing miracles (Acts 2:22-24; 10:37-40).

One would hardly argue that this constitutes a disregard for the life and ministry of Jesus. 

Romans 1 opens by describing Jesus as the one ‘who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.’ (Rom 1:3-4) Not much ‘stuff in between’.

Or a slightly more cryptic example; Revelation 12 which, whatever you make of the identify of the ‘Woman’, is surely referring to the life of Christ, simply says: ‘The Woman gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne’ (Rev 12:5)

How about the poetic exposition of the gospel in 1 Timothy 3:

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:
He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory. (1 Tim 3:16)

All this is simply to say that summary statements don’t tell the whole story. Nor do they constitute a full picture of someone’s theology. Given an endless wordcount, I’d far rather my summaries resembled those of Spufford, or Wright, or the gospels for that matter! But in the pressured moment, knowing that I can only express a fraction of Christ’s inexpressible significance, I feel I’m in pretty good company with Luke, Paul and John.

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