Practicing the Better: Jesus–Instruction

Just as there is too much in Jesus’ incarnation for us to explore in this series, the same holds true for his instruction.  Light, life, and love run through the length and breadth of Jesus’ teaching. It all comes together in his teaching about the Kingdom of God.

Often, we begin our look at Jesus’ teaching by studying the Sermon on the Mount.  But that is not where Jesus began his instruction about the Kingdom of God. Picking up where John the Baptist left off (as a sign of his connectedness with John’s prophesy), Jesus first words were, “Repent for the Kingdom has come near” (Matthew 4:17).  Before pointing toward a new world, he sought to create a new humanity. [1]

By equating repentance with sin we have narrowed the word and diminished its meaning.  Repentance is ‘metanoia’ in the original Greek : meta=larger, noua=mind/outlook.  Jesus’ instruction about the Kingdom of God can only be accepted by those who have expanded their outlook on life.  When Jesus told people to repent, he was saying, “Look at life in a new way.”

By making this invitation he was asking, “Do you believe I can show you this new kind of life?” To those who responded, “Yes, ” he then said, “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19, 25). At that point he began to teach them through instruction (e.g. the Sermon on the Mount, parables, etc) and by his actions (e.g. healing, forgiveness). For Jesus, practicing the better was divine show-and-tell.  Every word…every deed…was aimed to make all things new, beginning with people. A new world is only possible by grace, and there will be no world without a new humanity who sees, hears, and lives differently. 

[1] I am indebted to E. Stanley Jones for this insight in his book, ‘The Christ of the Mount’ (Abingdon Press, 1931).

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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