Jesus has been called a lot of things. I think one of the most important things he has been called is what he called himself and what was echoed by the writer of Hebrews.
“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” And “I and the Father are one.” Both from John’s Gospel. Both are Jesus asserting more than a similarity with God the Father, more than a familiar connection. Hebrews 1 says it like this, “Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. 2 And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe. 3 The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God…” (NLT)
A couple Sundays ago, I was wrapping up my morning message about the image of God and the idols we replace Him with. Jesus, I was trying to say, is the best revelation of God that we have. One practical application of that truth, I was asserting, was that Jesus should be the lens through which we read the whole rest of the Bible.
Here’s part of what I said, “If we look at any other parts of the Bible to determine what God is like we have to look at it through the lens of Jesus so that when it doesn't look like Jesus we have to go hmmmm I'm going to have to set that aside because that doesn't look like Jesus I can't ascribe that to God just because it says it because it doesn't look like Jesus. I need a greater understanding that I don't have right now because this is what Jesus said “have I been with you all this time Philip and yet you still don't know who I am. Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father so why are you asking me to show him to you. Jesus reveals the Father.”
I know this was confusing for some. You can give the whole thing a listen here, and let me know what you think.
What I wasn’t trying to say was that we should all go “Thomas Jefferson” on the Bible and cut out all the bits that we don’t like. I wasn’t trying to say that we should toss out some of the hard passages that ascribe horrible violence to God. I wasn’t trying to say that Jesus replaces YHWH of the Old Testament. What I meant by “set that aside…” was simply this, my understanding of the Bible is undoubtedly fallible and my capacity for interpreting its meaning pales in comparison to Jesus’ ability to accurately image what God is really like. Therefore, when my understanding of a passage paints a picture of God that doesn’t look like Jesus, I need to “set it aside,” ie. don’t build a doctrine around it, don’t change my worship because of it and don’t tell other people my “word of wisdom” because I’m clearly missing something. If Jesus and the Father are one (and I think they are) and Jesus is the exact representation of God’s character (and He is) then the flaw is in my understanding, not in Jesus’ revelation.
So how does that come up practically?
When I read that women are to remain silent in the church, and I read that through the lens of Jesus, something doesn’t make sense. Jesus elevated women, included them and encouraged them to speak up. He sent the woman at the well back to town with a story to tell, he sent the women back to be the first to declare the good news, “Jesus isn’t in the grave!” So, while the plain reading of the text is quite obvious, its actual meaning must not be. Because it doesn’t look like Jesus.
When I read the Old Testament and the picture of a war-like tribal God is painted for me, it has to give way to the revelation of Jesus in arriving at the best understanding of what God is really like. At least that is what Hebrews seems to be saying. I’m not saying that those passages should be ignored or cut out or tossed in the bin. I’m saying that we need to “set it aside” until we can come to an understanding about their meaning that maintains the integrity of the revelation of Jesus as the exact representation of God’s character. Don’t make big decisions, don’t develop theology, don’t change your worship, don't feel justified in doing violence to your enemies - if it doesn’t look like Jesus in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
In some ways, what I’m advocating is that we use the same hermeneutic that Jesus seems to be using in the Gospels when he says things like, “You have heard that it was said…but I tell you…”
There’s a worship song that’s currently popular that says, “I’ve heard a thousand stories / Of what they think You’re like.” Well, God’s only told one story, Hebrews seems to be saying, that tells us what God is precisely like and that story is Jesus.
I hope this hasn’t added to the confusion, I know that’s one of my spiritual gifts, adding to the confusion. Leave comments or questions below and I’ll do my best to sharpen the clarity on what I’m trying to say. Or offer apologies if I’m somehow missing what the Bible says.