The Most Misunderstood Thing About Jesus

Jesus’ first miracle was one that would have made alot of religious folk angry.

He was at a party, a 1st century Jewish wedding to be exact, an event where people party – for many days.  The wine had run out and Jesus’ mother pressed him to “do his thing” and fix this most heinous faux pas.

There are a million ways He could have done it, but He chose to make about 180 gallons of wine in 6 large containers used for a sacred Jewish cleansing ritual.

A modern analogue for this would be to walk into a Baptist church, fill the baptistry (a small swimming pool where folks are baptised) with wine and say, “Party on dudes.”

Jesus’ first miracle was to keep a party going.  Why is He almost always portrayed as such as buzz kill?

You don’t have to go far to find someone who’ll tell you that Jesus wants nothing more than for you to control yourself, avoid sinning, and get your act together.

I’ve been a pastor for many moons now and can tell you that most American Evangelicals live under this very misguided piece of theology.

When I first got into this whole Jesus thing I had recently witnessed the shooting death of a good friend (long long story, I’ll post it here in the near future).  I was torn up with PTSD, etc and didn’t see a way forward.  My uber religious, very frisky girlfriend, who had just dumped me, had previously dragged me to church enough for me to think that maybe there was something behind the Jesus door.  I had tried everything else, what the hell.  I had a very powerful experience and began attending church on a regular basis.  It was weird growing up Catholic then finding myself in the midst of this Evangelical wonderland.  My early experiences were especially interesting.

A girl took me to church one time, a very large Dallas church.  As we passed by the bookstore I asked if Jesus would be by to turn over the tables?  She didn’t laugh.  After the crackers and the tiny plastic cups of grape-juice were passed out, the offering plate came my way.  “What’s this, the bill for lunch?”  “Get it?  The bill for lunch?”  I thought it was hilarious, but obviously had a few things to learn about the culture.

At this new place, and within this new culture, the message was clear – we are all charged with spending our lives trying to get our act together.  The Bible studies, the sermons, the small groups, all were focused primarily on rule following.

So, I spent the majority of my adult years believing that God wanted obedience first and foremost.  He’s only happy when we’re doing what we’re supposed to.  When we’re not, he’s shinin’ up the lightening bolts.

A few years later I was accepted to grad school where I would spend the next 4 years working on my Master’s degree (it was a 120+ hour program – not bragging, just didn’t want anyone thinking I’m a slacker.  There’s other evidence for that).

A big chunk of my curriculum was focused on ancient Greek and Hebrew so that I could study the scriptures more in-depth.  Our professors encouraged us, over and again, to not let our biases, our emotions, or our culture do the translating/interpreting.

We were to try our best to let the texts speak for themselves.

I was once instructed that, if I didn’t agree with widely held beliefs, that was ok.  If I didn’t defend them well however, I’d get an F.  Not bad for a conservative Christian Seminary that many would consider to be the mecca of all close-mindedness.

Jesus’ Main Message

A couple of years after I graduated I read a passage in the New Testament that I had read a thousand times.  This time it hit me differently.  In our Greek manuscripts it reads:

ἐγὼ ἦλθον ἵνα ζωὴν ἔχωσιν καὶ περισσὸν ἔχωσιν
I came so that they might have life, and have (it) overflowing.

Note that He didn’t say

  • I came so that they would all get their act together
  • I came so that they would think right things about me
  • I came so that they might learn to defend themselves from the evils of this world
  • I came so that they might find some people to harass, belittle, and marginalize
  • vote a certain way
  • hate the gays
  • avoid alcohol

By “life,” He wasn’t referring to the next life.  There are plenty of scriptures where Jesus clearly refers to Heaven.  This particular statement gives no evidence that he’s referring to anything other than life in the here and now.

This is something that He wants for you and I – today.  Right now.

Jesus’ main message is life.

For me, in this moment, I decided to let this passage govern my thinking about God, Jesus, the Bible, and my life till the day I die.  Whenever I run into confusion, fear, apathy, or general stupidity, this passage gets me back on track.

What’s even more interesting is the fact that everyone on the planet is desperately looking for life.  Some of us are killing ourselves (and sometimes others) because we want LIFE.

What Jesus claimed to be devoted to giving to us, we’re all trying like hell to get.  More intimacy, more significance, more fun, more laughter, more pleasure, more more more more more.

The entire world – dead, alive, and yet-to-be-born will always have at the core of it’s life the quest for life.

And here’s this not-so-attractive, unassuming, friend-to-whores-and-sinners, so-called Rabbi, claiming that the purpose for His very existence is the very thing we’re all clamoring for.  He’s not going to give us a jet, or a mansion, or a hot wife.  It’s not that these things are bad, they’re simply not what we’re looking for – they’re merely symptoms of deeper wants.

It’s a hell of a lot easier to be a rule-follower than it is to trust that Jesus has my best interest at heart, that He actually wants what I want (not the corrupted, selfish version of what I want, the good stuff that hangs out underneath all that).

Sadly, for most religious folk, everything revolves around the rules, which drives so much “death.”  Jesus’ main message gets lost. It’s a truly miserable way to view God, yourself, other people, and the world you live in.

I dare you, place at the center of your understanding of God the fact that He wants you to suck the marrow out of your life (His way, not your way by the way) and read one of the Gospels (the book of John is my favorite).  It’ll change your life.

59 Replies to “The Most Misunderstood Thing About Jesus”

  1. I have so much to say about this article, Mark. I tried to find in on your blog, but it doesn’t show up! What gives? Well, I will look for it later, but check it out… maybe you forgot some setting. Anyway, your take on Jesus is very akin to mine. Do not think I am a follower of any religion, but I have studied most of them, especially the more mystical elements of each, and agree with you so much about what Jesus may have said and what he didn’t. I think the words that might have actually come from his mouth could fit into a small pamphlet. I love Jesus like I love other prophets and teachers. And I do believe that if Christians just followed the Gospel of Jesus to the letter and forgot about the rest of the Old and New Testament, life would be a lot nicer. I am more fearful of Evangelicals than I am of ISIL!! )

    Let me know if I have done something wrong in that I can’t access your new post.

    1. Sorry man. I accidentally published it before I had a chance to edit… Sure do appreciate your thoughts on this. I hear you re Evangelicals (I’m one by the way, but not offended, it’s totally understandable). There’s alot going on that scares conservative folk, so it’s understandable, although patently unBiblical that so many would be on the warpath. Really makes me sad.

    2. ‘Love’ isn’t intellectual respect.
      “I am more fearful of Evangelicals than I am of ISIL” – Yikes where do you live? ‘Cause where I live 60% of the universities and hospitals are all ‘Saint’ something or other’, thus broadening my horizons, not blowing them up.

      1. I left the parties and went to church. Left with many dollars less in exchange for newly acquired PTSD. These religious clubbers have little understanding of their Jesus.

        I know Him well, love Him to bits. Don’t go anywhere near those soul shops selling His baseball caps & T-shirts. Mammon rules in Babylon.

      2. Interesting. I have a similar disdain for some expressions of Christianity, and the way some churches attempt to follow Him, and I’ve caused some trouble in my day. I do think however that it’s important to try to see these places as God sees them – broken but valuable – and try to serve them as we’ve been called to do. Curious as to more of your thoughts about “going to church?”

    1. Thanx for the read – Agree in part, but it would take more than giftedness to turn the religious world forever on it’s head, not to mention start a “new” religion in a place where you can’t start new religions, yeah?

          1. It is the way you interpret the book! i for one should really be saying that we have conflict of interest!

            You see to me! There is no god’s period…

            Not in any faith…

            There were unexplainable events in the past, which deemed spiritual or godlike…

            i see man made “god”…

            Not “god” making man!

            Man or i should say the human-race was held back, with christian and other faiths lending a helping hand..

            hugs chris

          2. That’s cool. I’d definitely agree that history has xian folk holding humanity back, but non xian folk as well yeah. Also, what about the xian folk who helped humanity move forward? Tons of that happened as well…

          3. To name a few, hospitals, rescue missions, and orphanages all have hordes of xian folk to “blame” for their genesis. I’d accuse Pope Frances of being xian too, tons of good shit going on there. I feel you though. It’s the folks who don’t act like Jesus that get all the press…

          4. No! i am afraid not! i’ve research enough about your man made god…

            hugs chris


            i double dare you…

            Tag your it!

            And with that i give each of you, two winks, a half of a blink and a small quick kiss on the forehead!

      1. I respect where you’re coming from but give us more – how do you know? Say more about the research you’ve done. How does a merely evolved man walk into a place where it’s impossible to start a new religion, claim to be the very God the Jews follow, and not only start a “new religion” there, but turn the religious and otherwise world on it’s ear? Glad you’re back 🙂

  2. The entire world – dead, alive, and
    yet-to-be-born will always have at the core of
    it’s life the quest for life.

    I think that carries a lit of volume my friend. Also if more pastors were like you, politicians will have a hard time making a living.

    Side Note: Interesting article, flows well, is funny and entertaining, gets the point across and makes the reader think. Now, that’s the kind of Math Joey likes to do.

  3. Very happy I found you. I am a Charismatic Catholic, an agnostic most of my life. You bring up the point of Jesus and wine and tax collectors and in Luke he said (paraphrasing) “those who are well do not need a physician but rather those who are sick”. Jesus found the sick in the fringe – what we would be today.

    John 15:15 “It was not you who chose Me but I who chose you.” John is the book to start on. I am SO happy I found your page. God bless!

  4. You made me cry. This is the Truth, life abundant, life overflowing, life to the full. Life full of joy knowing we are loved. Life full of peace because He’s got it. Life as He intended it forever and ever. Not struggling to be good enough, not worried He’s going to smite us but loved and beloved and loving right back at Him.

    I’ve read a few of your blogs now, I think I’ll have to read some more.

  5. I agree to the point of this: God gives us the grace and “Spirit of Overcoming” which we had not before we walked with him, when we were either carnal or religious. One undershoots the mark and the other overshoots the mark: but grace gives us his righteous target-hitting (over time, as the Israelites conquered the wilderness “in God’s time”). I just read the tempting of Jesus today in my One Year Bible (I read ahead) and I noticed how Satan tempted him twice to be in a place where he could “look down” on others, either from a height of risk or a height of ownership. When this is our attitude, whether we are primarily carnal OR religious in our appetites, we are not living the life Jesus came to give us. We are, then, not on a narrow path that only following Jesus and his grace allows us to follow. But to guilt people because they quit drinking when drinking is what ruined their lives and made them wife or child beaters–just be careful about what is you defending “your rights” to party or whatever else. Don’t guilt people for having the grace to obey what GOD IS TELLING THEM to do (or not do) on a personal level. Only God knows what that is for each Child of God. It’s when we lord our drinking or NOT drinking over others as if we “are good” without God’s grace as the basis for obedience–that is when we are being the “rich young ruler,” whom Jesus loved but could not inspire to follow him (in that moment, anyway). There is one LORD and it’s not us. As for turning water into wine: I always see that as Jesus showing how he would fill “earthen urns,” a perfect representation of mankind who are made of clay, with more than just water, but with the divine Holy Spirit. Only he can do that!

  6. Mark, thanks for stopping by my site,

    I really enjoyed this post! Thanks for looking for the heart of Jesus – that radical God who lived to die so that we might all live. If we could just put our religiousness on the back burner and focus on Him, we might actually become who He wants us to be, and we might even do what He wants us to do.

    Oh, and I share your affinity for Greek and Hebrew! I love that amazing moment when
    the familiar Word becomes something bigger and crisper, and it just makes sense in a way it never did in English. It’s almost as if the effort of translating puts us in the moment in a way that reading in our native language never can.

    I look forward to reading more of your work!


    1. Hey – great to hear from you, thanx for your thoughts. One correction though – While I have an affinity for Hebrew, I totally suck at it. I figured with my limited on earth I’d focus on one or the other 🙂

      1. Me, too! Is anyone really good at Hebrew? I use Bible Works software daily, which helps me to see the original languages and hundreds of translations. It’s an amazing resource, and I highly suggest it to anyone interested in learning more about the Bible.

      2. I don’t think a knowledge of Hebrew is still important. Eminent scholars have produced uber reliable translations, and its all written upon our hearts if you peel back the callous.

  7. Now this part of Christian I agree with 100%. Living in a largely religious country, my lack of accepting ‘their’ way of Christianity is often frowned upon. This language right here, I understand completely.

  8. Hi Mark,
    Thanks so much for following my blog!
    You’re so right so many Christians are busy focusing on the rules and judging others instead of focusing on Jesus and how he wants us to get to know him and get closer to him.

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