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To begin this chapter, Scot McKnight quotes Thomas a Kempis. “Many are wowed by his miracles; few are wooed by his cross.” And yet the cross remains a central symbol for the Christian faith. 

Crucifixion is ugly and grotesque. Why did God chose such a means for his son? McKnight writes, “God erects a grotesque cross on Golgotha to reveal his physical sympathy for our earthly pain, his offer of spiritual freedom from our sin, and his graphic image of moral transformation.”
Somehow, through the cross, our relationship with God is put right. We are a new creation and are given a fresh start.

McKnight observes, “Our memory awakens our past. To keep its past as part of its present, God gives Israel a series of rituals, routines, and rhythms. God bestows such gifts so Israel does not succumb to spiritual dementia, spiritual memory loss.”

There are passages like the Shema (Hear, O Israel) and the Ten Commandments. There are various celebrations throughout the Jewish calendar. Chief among the celebrations is the Passover.

McKnight writes, “The Israelites reenacts the original Passover and, in so doing, awakens the memory of what made Israel what she is: people liberated from bondage.”

Every year they share the meal. They remind one another “Our Father was a wandering Aramean.” They remember that God redeemed “us from our slavery.”

The church also remembers. Each week we share the Lord’s Supper. Jesus took the Passover of Israel and transformed it.

McKnight shares several shifts. “Instead of an altar and a priest, Christians have a table and Jesus. Instead of sacrificing a lamb, Christians remember Jesus’ death. Instead of eating a lamb, Christians drink the wine and eat the bread. Instead of slaying the firstborn of Egypt, Abba slays his own firstborn. And instead of protecting the Israelite babies with blood-smeared doors, Abba protects those who drink from the Firstborn’s cup.”

What do you remember as we share Communion?

McKnight comments, “Death bewilders all of us. Tragic death pound the core of our being, forcing upon us the deep question ‘Why?’ Tragedies mock shallow answers, driving us deeper into the mysteries of life. We are led to one of two possible alternatives: either we face the wild winds of tragedy with our hearts anchored in hope, or we turn our backs to hope to be blown by the wild winds into the shoals of despair.”

Jesus helps us in dealing with tragedy. Jesus leads us through the maze. McKnight writes, “He helps us to know that there is more to life than this world and this mortal body, that there is an eternity with Abba. Knowing that ‘all is elsewhere’ leads us not to minimize our pain, but to endure it, to embrace it, and to carry it with us as we walk on in hope.”

McKnight points us to the transfiguration. In the midst of describing his death to his disciples, in the midst of their incomprehension, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up on the mountain to pray. There he is transfigured. He is changed. His face and clothes become as lightning. Moses and Elijah appear. God’s voice is heard from heaven, “This is my beloved son. Listen to him.”

What do we learn from the transfiguration? What do we take away from this experience? McKnight argues that it is not what we typically assume. Instead, “What we see in Jesus’ transfiguration is not so much his deity, but the glorification of his humanity–what all humans really and potentially are.”

Jesus shows us what it means to be truly human. Jesus leads us to be what we were always meant to be.

In the wilderness. The wilderness is a place of testing. The wilderness is frequently an uncomfortable, unfamiliar place. The people of Israel wandered forty years in the wilderness.

McKnight writes, “This was her vocation: to dwell in the Land the obey the Torah as God’s people. But following the deliverance and before she entered the Land, she needed to be tested. YHWH tested Israel in three central issues of life: Would Israel trust God for provisions? Would Israel obey God patiently through trials? And, would Israel worship YHWH alone? Three tests for Israel. Israel failed each test.”

Trial and testing. Just as Israel was tested, Jesus is sent into the wilderness soon after his baptism. McKnight observes, “Jesus, too, is tested along the same three lines and in the wilderness: Will he trust Abba to provide for his physical needs? Will he wait for Abba’s time to make him public? Will he worship Abba alone? Three tests for Jesus. Jesus passes each test.”

Israel failed. Jesus passed. We, too, are tested. We experience times, in our walk of faith, when we’re uncertain about the future. There are times when faith doesn’t seem to make sense. There are times when we wonder, question, even doubt. McKnight writes, “Trusting is another one of those great ideas until we have to do it. In fact, trusting God never gets easy.”

But why? Why would we doubt God? McKnight believes, “We generally become aware of our need to trust only when we’ve reached the edge of what is familiar. Looking over that edge into uncharted wilderness, we wonder what will happen just over the border.”

Will we pass our trial in the wilderness? Will we learn to trust God more and more and lean into faith? Jesus has shown us the way.

In Part Five of the Jesus Creed, McKnight focuses more closely on associating with Jesus. In this first chapter, McKnight examines how Jesus represents us. He first looks at Jesus’ baptism by John. You remember the exchange. John doesn’t want to baptize Jesus. He believes he needs to be baptized by Jesus. Jesus replies that this needs to be done to “fulfill all righteousness.”

McKnight observes, “But Jesus is baptized anyway. John’s baptism is for repentance and Jesus doesn’t need to repent. Clearly, then, if Jesus doesn’t need to repent, then he must be repenting for others, for us.”

Jesus does the things that we’re intended to do. However, we can’t do them on our own. At various points Jesus needs to act for us. “To follow Jesus means to participate in his life, to let his life be ours.” We need the righteousness of Jesus because ours is inadequate.

McKnight continues, “There is only one reason for Jesus to repent for us: We can’t repent adequately. An adequate repentance has four elements: a true perception of sin (conviction), telling the truth to God about sin (confession), the decision to change (commitment), and its demonstratable behaviors (consequences).” We need to repent, but can’t repent properly. So Jesus repents for us, so that we are then able to repent.

McKnight concludes, “Jesus paved the way for us–with his entire life of active obedience. The baptism is one of those events where Jesus underwent an act for us. Unfortunately, we tend to limit Jesus’ actions for us to his death and his resurrection. When we do, we fail to see what he has done for us, and we are not as grateful as we ought to be.”

From the earliest time of Jesus, when he said to the disciples, “Come, follow me and I will send you out to fish for people,” Christianity has been a missionary movement; a movement that reaches out to others.

McKnight writes, “This missionary task is the inevitable manifestation of the Jesus Creed: those who love others reach out with the Good News of God’s love, just as a medical person always reaches out to those in need.”

We are to be reaching new people. The church does not exist for its own benefit. The church exists for the benefit of others. How do we focus on ourselves more than we should? What can we be doing to reach out to others?

“Because many are so accustomed to hearing about the importance of forgiveness, it surprises to hear that forgiveness gets a new shape with Jesus. Forgiveness doesn’t appear in any of Moses’ lists of commandments. In all the prayers of David, we don’t find the prayers concerned with forgiving one another. And, the prophets don’t call Israelites to forgive one another.” While I think McKnight is correct in his observation, I can’t help but notice how patient, loving, tolerant God was with Israel. He didn’t wipe them out when they deserved it. Perhaps we’re influence by reading the Old Testament with Christian eyes.

McKnight writes, “Judaism overall is more concerned with guaranteeing justice than with forgiving incorrigible sinners, whereas Christianity, at least in its foundational prayer and creeds, is not in its actions, talks more of forgiveness as an act of grace, given even to the undeserving and not-yet-repentant, than of justice.” Judaism is much more about “punish the sinners.” This is not to deny forgiveness in the Old Testament.

As McKnight observes, “Forgiveness is a ‘God thing.'” He shares, “Forgiveness begins with God’s loving act of forgiving. It suspends any system of justice: Instead of sinful humans getting what they deserve (a system of justice), they are granted forgiveness (a system of forgiveness).”

Can you think of forgiveness stories in the Old Testament? (McKnight focuses on Joseph.) Is justice ignored in the New Testament? (I don’t believe so.) How does God offer forgiveness and preserve his justice?

“Failure is an element of being a disciple.” As McKnight observes, disciples mess up. Although God calls us to “Be perfect, as I am perfect,” we don’t actually live up to this.

McKnight continues, “When we fall, Jesus picks us up. He’s busy. A disciple is called to love God and to love others, and this means: trust completely, abide constantly, and surrender totally.” As we’ve already said, we don’t measure up to this. Our trust is incomplete. Our abidance is inconstant. Our surrender is only partial. Yet, when we fail, Jesus extends his hand.

McKnight offers a series of restoration: “Failure is followed by rebuke, and rebuke by repentance, and repentance by restoration.” Jesus does not leave his disciples in their failure. He corrects those he loves. If we respond to his rebuke in repentance, restoration is offered. We can’t necessarily return to the way things were, but Jesus offers forgiveness (which we’ll discuss tomorrow).

“May your will be done;” McKnight calls this the “white-flag prayer” that followers of Jesus pray daily. He writes, “The Jesus Creed teaches us that a disciple’s responsibility is to love God by following Jesus. You only follow someone else when your own lights or sense of direction are not good enough. When a disciple of Jesus utters that white-flag prayer and begins to let Jesus show the way, the disciple admits that he or she has lost the way and needs direction. This disciple is living a life of surrender. Sometimes it hurts, but disciples will tell you right away that surrendering to Jesus is a good kind of hurt.”

What does it mean to wave the white-flag? What does it mean for us to surrender? McKnight explains, “Contrary to reports, surrendering our hearts and inner selves to God does not mean God will make us wear itchy wool garments in one-hundred-degree humid conditions, while holed up in some godforsaken hut without air conditioning where the major sport is swatting man-sized diseased mosquitoes. This bizarre image fueling our fears is the opposite of what surrender is. Surrendering is the secret to every genuine love, and surrendering our hearts and souls to God (by following Jesus) unleashes our personalities to become what they are really meant to be. Surrendering the heart is really about our identities being transformed.”

It is only through surrender that we find our true selves. Ironically, we don’t actually know who or what we’re meant to be. When we try to run our own lives, we typically make a mess of it. McKnight concludes, “Surrendering ourselves to love God is not giving up things for God so much as giving ourselves to God.”

Scot McKnight gives us a picture of a proper posture before Jesus. Martha hurries about preparing the meal, with her mind mostly on herself. Mary sits at Jesus’ feet with her mind on him. McKnight asserts, “Humans, Jesus says, are defined not by their labor for him, as Martha thinks, but be their relationship to him, as Mary learns.”

This relationship derives from our attending to Jesus as Mary did. McKnight offers three areas in which we can best attend to Jesus: by “listening to the Word, participating physically in worship and the sacraments, and engaging in Christian fellowship.”

Finally, McKnight asserts, “Abiding in Jesus is a discipline of prayer and receiving life from Jesus; it is a way of life. We don’t stumble onto it accidentally; we have to make it a conscious pattern of life. Abiding in Jesus as constant prayer takes practice if it is to become a constant mode of life.”