In a couple weeks I’ll begin teaching a six-week class called The Forgotten Message of Jesus. I’m very excited about it and have been trying for months to nail down an outline or plan on how to work through it all. Studying to teach about Jesus is incredibly humbling – there is so much I don’t have time to say and so much more I don’t know. Anyhow, I finally put together my plan for the six weeks, so I figured I’d share it here. If you’re planning to come (or listen online), this’ll give you an idea about what we’re going to talk about. I am sure there is too much here and I’ll have to pare it down, but this is what I’m working with for now.
Week 1 – Jesus and the Story of God … I want to set things up by introducing the kingdom of God as the essence of Jesus’ message, and by talking about how what Jesus said and did will never make sense apart from the Old Testament. To show this I’ll point to the genealogies especially, as well as the word “fulfilled” in Luke 1.1, treating all these things as clues that we need the rest of the story to understand the main event. (By way of illustration, I’ll talk about how punch lines mean nothing apart from the build up, and I’ll probably find a great climactic scene from a movie and ask whether it makes sense on its own). Then I’ll break the basic OT narrative (a la NTW). I’m not sure if I’ll say anything about how Jesus actually fulfills every bit of it yet; I may end with that in week six to sort of bookend the whole deal.
Week 2 – Great Expectations … Here I want to talk about the expectations of first century Jews for what God was going to do to (centered around ushering in “the age to come”). So I’ll pick up where I left off the story yesterday, filling out the picture of Jewish history in the centuries before Jesus, and talking about the general unrest in Jesus’ day. I’ll fill out the picture of what life was like under the Romans, and the different responses to that by various Jewish groups. I’ll probably split the last bit into three sections:  What did they expect to happen? (Priests and Sadducees: nothing much; Pharisees, Essenes, and zealots: take down the Romans, fix (cleanse or destroy) the Temple, re-gather Israel from exile, etc).  How did they perceive/symbolize/enact their expectations? (Passover and Second Exodus; a king like David, etc).  What must happen for God to act? [Essenes: separate; Pharisees: purify; zealots: fight]
Week 3 – Jesus, Judgment, Repentance, and Restoration … Here I want to begin unfolding Jesus’ vision of the kingdom of God by talking about Jesus’ message of God’s judgment coming upon Israel for her unfaithfulness, and his parallel restoration or re-constitution of Israel around himself. These are of course the twin themes of the prophets (and John the Baptist, whom I’ll discuss here) – judgment for Israel’s sin, followed by the hope of restoration. That Jesus has come to establish God’s kingdom means he has come to restore God’s community. Jesus’ message to other Jewish groups was basically, “Repent of your kingdom dreams (or lack thereof) and step in line with me and mine.” Here is where I’ll talk about Jesus’ radical call to total and exclusive allegiance. (Not sure on the laborious title; I might call it “Jesus is Right, the Rest of Us are Wrong” just for fun 🙂 )
Week 4 – The Gospel (or Kingdom) According to Jesus … Here I want to paint the picture of Jesus’ vision of God’s kingdom and what life is like within it. This is a positive or constructive presentation – not just what he was against but what he was for. I intend to touch on the following elements: (1) The presence of God to bless, provide, and forgive. This is the backbone and something sometimes missed in purely “historical” studies; God was present in Jesus and that made all the difference in the world. (2) Welcome and healing for all. Here I’ll hit again on table fellowship and talk about the miracles as snapshots or previews of coming attractions, both as physical and social restoration. (3) Obeying Torah from the heart and to the full. Major chunk of the SM; perhaps the “other side” of the welcome to all and sundry. All are called to leave lives of sin and life obediently. (4) Defeat of Satan/evil. I’ll only touch on this because I’m dealing with it more later, but I’ll do the “strong man” passage. (5) Justice for the poor (and reconciliation for the rich). I’ll focus especially on the rich young ruler story probably. (6) Love for enemies – not fighting back but making peace. I’ll deal with the last bit of Matthew 5 as well as Jesus’ conversation with Pilate. (7) Conflict reconciliation and forgiveness. Some more of Matthew 5 and especially Matthew 18. This is the kind of stuff we miss sometimes – the wisdom Jesus left behind for “doing church” with real people (even if the words are a bit anachronistic and the context different). [Hmm, I think I may have just stumbled upon a chiasm. :)]
Week 5 – Jesus’ Oxymoronic Death … It makes no sense for Jesus to die, at least not if we consider him to be the Messiah. Right now I’m planning on talking about Jesus’ death in three ways, each answers to the question of why Jesus died or what were the purposes of his death:  Challenging Roman sovereignty and exposing Roman injustice (and Jewish complicity therewith).  Defeating Satan by refusing to shrink back from death or fight back with worldly weapons.  Taking upon himself the punishment Israel deserved and would experience unless they repented. I know this is not all that needs to be said, but I’m trying to look at the Gospel accounts (obviously with the rest of the NT in mind – I can’t and wouldn’t want to separate that out) and asking what they seem to be trying to say in the way they tell the story. I will present all of this within the rubric of Jesus accomplishing a New Exodus / New Covenant; it seems to me that all of these are aspects of the Exodus story that the Gospel writers see as being fulfilled in an ultimate sense in Jesus.
Week 6 – Surprise! Resurrection and the Arrival (or Timing) of God’s Kingdom … Here I’m going to talk about how the resurrection seals Jesus’ victory over evil and his sacrifice for sin, and more emphatically is the moment of the kingdom’s arrival into this world. (Or was it the incarnation?!?!) I’ll tie this all back to some of the expectations for what God was expected to do. Jesus did provide forgiveness of sins, defeat evil, etc, but he did so not by frontal attack or once-for-all transition from this age to the age to come, but by calling together a community to manifest God’s new world – his kingdom – within the shell of the old. I’ll end with the call to advance and witness to Jesus’ Lordship / God’s kingdom as our essential mission (great commission, Acts 1, etc), and I’ll talk some about what this looks like for us in practice.