The Love of Christ in Jesus: A Theography

Last time, I reviewed Jesus: A Theography. I wanted to give an overall impression of the book before I discussed how it fits with this month’s theme of love. The love of Christ isn’t the main topic of this book. Neither are the subjects I’m going to discuss today. But they were personally encouraging, and that’s why I’m highlighting them here.

In the chapter on the disciples, one section discusses the female disciples of Jesus and His high view of women. (This section is based on a message by Frank Viola. A transcript of “God’s View of a Woman” is available on his blog.) Viola demonstrates through Scripture how Jesus ministered to women in ways that were unheard of at the time. He points out the specific women who are named as following Jesus, funding Him, and caring for His needs (140–148). Women are one group He included that the other religious teachers and leaders excluded.

Viola and Sweet discuss how Jesus was likely a part of the working class—not wealthy but not totally poverty stricken. They surmise, as have others, that Joseph died sometime after Jesus was twelve and left Jesus to support His family. The authors imagine some likely frustrations Jesus would have experienced as he worked to provide for His family as a carpenter and mason. Yet we are told Jesus never gave in to temptation. He followed His father through all those years of preparation for His ministry, and He actually spent more years working a regular job than He spent healing, preaching, and training disciples. Yet when Jesus’ time came to begin this ministry, He loved His family enough to leave and expand His family to include all His followers. (See the chapter “Jesus’ Preparation for Ministry,” pp. 95–108).

Jesus followed His mission until He completed it. Even when He didn’t want to. His prayer the night before His death shows us His emotions about the ordeal ahead. He announced this mission by quoting from Isaiah 61: preach good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for the prisoners, recover sight for the blind, release the oppressed, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. And this is the mission He left to the Church. Americans tend to read the Bible (if at all) with an individualistic slant. “What does this mean for me? What does God want to say to me? What should I do?” These questions aren’t always wrong, but Sweet and Viola make the case that Jesus left His mission to the collective Church:

The Sermon on the Mount should not be viewed as a new law or rule to obey . . . . Instead, it is first and foremost a description of the character and nature of Jesus Christ . . . . That said, only Jesus can fulfill it. Look carefully at all the demands of that sermon and try living them without fail for a year. We’re confident that, after failing miserably, you’ll agree with us. Only Jesus can live out what He taught, and He does so in and through His people . . . . The Sermon on the Mount wasn’t given to an individual­. It was given to Jesus’ disciples as a whole. As such, it can only be fulfilled in a local ekklesia. The local ekklesia is the community of the kingdom. None of us can pull it off on our own . . . . The church is Christ on earth, carrying out His mission. It is something corporate, not individualistic; embodied in face-to-face, shared-life communities, though it certainly has individual dimensions (154–155).

The love of Christ is what motivated Him to minister to the overlooked and despised. It’s what motivated Him to care for His family, and at the same time, learn to deal with difficult people without losing His pure heart. Love propelled Him through suffering and heartache until He accomplished His mission. Love for His Father made Him love His Father’s mission. The things Jesus loved are all connected. And the love of Christ is what can connect you and me to His mission. The love of Christ can motivate us to reach out with compassion and grace to the overlooked. In many places today, women are still the overlooked and oppressed. In some places, it might be the children, single parents, unmarried, or minorities. This list could go on and on. The point is this: If Christ is going to live in us, His love must, too. In the NIV, 1 John 4:12 says, “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”