5) Jesus Shows Us the Path to Life
First-hand religion is what the Bible and Christian teaching point to, not second-hand or traditional. Jesus affirms this by teaching that the essence of the narrow way is “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, strength”; death is the path to life.
We can see this immediacy of relationship from the Old Testament in the stories of people talking with God: Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, Cain, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon, Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, and so on. These stories include direct relationship with God, the immediacy of a present God, not a God hidden behind or within creation or tradition.
Yet even tradition was set up to personalize relationship with God. The three big stories of the Bible below are those identified by Marcus Borg in Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time. He mentions there are others, such as illness to healing, becoming a disciple, and more.
Slavery to Freedom story
Deut 6:4-9 Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God is one Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. These words, which I command you this day, shall be in your heart, and you will teach them to your children, talk of them in your house and on the road, when you lie down and when you rise up, wear them on your hand and on your forehead, write them on your doorposts and on your gates.
Re Passover: And you will show your son in that day, saying, This is done because of what the Lord did to me in bringing me out of Egypt.
Deut. 6: 20-23 And if your son asks you, What is the meaning of the rituals, rules, and laws God gave us? you tell him: We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Before our eyes the Lord sent miraculous signs and wonders—great and terrible—upon Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household. But God brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land God promised to our ancestors. The Lord commanded us to obey these commands and to reverence the Lord our God so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today. And if we are careful to obey these commands before the Lord our God, who commanded us to do these things, that will be our righteousness.
Deut. 26:5-9 Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, putting us to hard labor. Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terrors and with miraculous signs and wonders. God brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, O Lord, have given me.
Jeremiah 31:31-34 Behold, the days come, says the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, with the house of Judah, not the same as the covenant I made with their ancestors I brought out of Egypt, leading them by the hand, which covenant they broke, though I was a husband to them; but this shall be the covenant I will make with the house of Israel; I will put my law in their guts, I will write it on their hearts, and they shall no longer teach their neighbors, saying “Know the Lord” for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity and I will remember their sin no more.
Do you have a part of your spiritual journey that relates to being freed from enslavement and brought into the promised land? Can you say these things aloud and put into the place of these nations the story of how God has brought you and your community out of slavery, whether literal or figurative, and into freedom? Try this and perhaps you will want to share the story with someone else.
Exile and Return Home story
Be comforted, my people, speak compassionately to Jerusalem; tell her that the battle is over, her sins are pardoned, for she has received double purification for her sins. The voice cries in the wilderness, prepare the way for the Lord, make a straight highway in the desert for our God. Raise the valleys, level the mountains, straighten the winding, smooth out the rough. God will reveal God’s glory, and all humanity shall see it at once. This is what the Lord says.
Behold your God; The Lord comes with strength to rule, bringing along wages and reward. The Lord shall feed his flock like a shepherd, gathering the lambs up and carrying them up close, and gently leading the pregnant ones.
What do you say, Jacob; what are you speaking, Israel? You say, My way is concealed from the Lord, and God passes by my judgment. Do you not know, have you not heard that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth never faints, never tires. No one can grasp God’s wisdom and understanding of human beings. God gives energy to the faint, strength to the weak. Even young folks are faint and weary, and fall to the ground, but those who expect, who look for the Lord shall renew strength, soar with wings like eagles, run without wearying, walk without fainting.
Isaiah 42:16 I will bring the blind by a way they do not know; I will lead them in unfamiliar paths; I will make darkness light for them and straighten out what is crooked. I will do these things, and I will not forsake them.
Isaiah 43: 1-20 This is what the Lord says, the Lord who created you, Jacob, and who shaped you, Israel. Fear not, for I have paid your ransom, I have called you by your name; you are mine. When you pass through deep water, I will be with you; rivers will not sweep you away; fire shall not burn you, nor shall flame kindle on you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy one of Israel, your Saviour…Fear not; for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and west, the north and south; I will say, Bring my sons from far and my daughters from the ends of the earth. You have not called upon me, Jacob, and you, Israel, have been weary of me; you have not worshiped me with offerings and sacrifices; instead you have made me part of your sins and wearied me with your iniquities. I, even I, am the one who blots out your transgressions, your rebellions, for my own sake; for my own sake I will not remember your sins. Remember me; let us converse; tell me your story and explain your side of things.
Isaiah 40:20-21 Leave Babylon, flee from the Chaldeans, and sing this song, tell this story even to the ends of the earth: The Lord has redeemed, has ransomed Jacob, and has led them through deserts where they did not thirst because water sprang from the rocks for them.
Isaiah 51:11 Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; everlasting joy shall be upon their head; they shall have gladness and joy; sorrow and mourning will flee away.
Do you have a part of your life that resonates with the exile and return home story? Can you witness to the faithfulness of God described above to rescue you from being strangers in a foreign land, whether literal or figurative, and bring you and your community back home? If so, you might consider sharing your story with someone else.
Sacrifice and Redemption story
This story describes human beings as marked by guilt, shame, experiential distance from God, and then through the intervention of Jesus’s death and resurrection, receiving forgiveness, grace, acceptance. The key is turning toward God and accepting what God has done independent of our own efforts to reconcile with us.
Psalm 51 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, and thee only have I sinned. Wash me, and I will be clean, purer than snow. Create in me a clean heart, O God…
Matt 9:13, 12:7 Why does your Master eat with publicans and sinners? Jesus heard this and said to them, Those who are well do not need a doctor, but those who are sick do. Go and learn what it means when God says, I will have mercy and not sacrifice; for I came to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.
Why do your disciples break the Sabbath law? Jesus said, But if you had known what this means—I will have mercy and not sacrifice—you would not have condemned the guiltless.
Eph 5:2 Walk in love, as Christ also has loved us, and has given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God.
Heb 7:27, 9:26, 10:12 Jesus was made the guarantee of a better testament…holy, guiltless, undefiled, separated from sinners, made higher than the heavens, who offered himself up once for all time.
Now he has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment; so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.
But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God…For by one offering he has perfected for ever those that are consecrated to God.
John 3:16, 17 For God so loved the world that God gave the only begotten Son, that all who believe in him will not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
Mark 10:45, Matthew 20:28
Whoever wants to be highly ranked among you shall wait on tables, and whoever wants to be the boss shall serve everyone. For even the Son of man came not to receive service, but to do service, to give his life to ransom many.
Do you have part of your life that resonates with the sacrifice and redemption story? Have you turned around from alienation and estrangement from God, guilt, and shame to an awareness of God’s redemptive action on your behalf, grace, and acceptance? If so, perhaps you will want to share this with another person.