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by David Phelps

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa

March, 2013

In 1804, Thomas Jefferson compiled what is known as “The Jefferson Bible,” fully titled “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth Extracted Textually from the Gospels”. He originally stated that it was “. . . for, the Use of the Indians, Unembarrased with Matters of Fact or Faith beyond the Level of their Comprehensions.” However, he produced it mostly for his own reading. “Unembarrased” means that it wasn’t overly complicated. Jefferson’s idea of complication was any reference to the supernatural. He liked the “Christian System” of moral teaching but rejected the notion of Jesus’ divinity. Jefferson took a Bible and a razor, cut out the parts he wanted, and pasted them together. The result was a single narrative of about forty six pages. In the process, he eliminated any references to the divine and all miracles, including the resurrection. He believed that what was left was “. . . the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.” There were those who disputed Jefferson’s claim that he was a Christian. He responded that he was one but “. . . of a sect by myself, . . .”

For those of us who believe, the Bible is more than a “sublime and benevolent code of morals”. It’s the story of a God who loves us and a savior who died for us and rose again. In a sense, it’s true that each of us is “of a sect by [him or her]self,”—my personal beliefs probably aren’t quite the same as yours—but there are certain things that unite us. One of them is the belief that Christ was not simply a moral teacher but the Son of God.

In New Testament times, “Scripture” meant what we know today as the Old Testament, plus at least some of what we know as the New Testament. 2 Peter 3:16 refers to Paul’s letters as “scriptures” so we know that at least some New Testament writings had been accepted by that time. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians that the scriptures are “not . . . the word of men but . . . the word of God, which is at work in you believers.” (1 Thes. 2:13 ESV). In the scriptures, we find eternal life (John 5:39). We believe not only in a moral teacher but in the risen Son of God. Without the divine Christ, there is no Christianity. Without the resurrection, there is no hope. The cross represents our redemption (Eph. 1:7) but the empty tomb represents our hope of eternal life (1 Cor. 15:20-22). Paul also wrote about “a different gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4, Gal. 1:7), one in which salvation was earned instead of being a free gift from God. Thomas Jefferson’s “gospel” was a way of life, a set of moral teachings. But neither is the true gospel of Christ. The real gospel is, in Jefferson’s words, “embarrassed”. It’s complicated “with Matters of Fact [and] Faith”. And yet, it’s also simple: “. . . if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom. 10:9 ESV).

We normally say either “Jesus” or “Christ” or, more rarely, “Jesus Christ” or “Jesus the Christ.” But neither is truly sufficient without the other. “Jesus” represents his human aspect and “Christ” represents the divine. “Jesus” is derived from “Joshua,” the name of the man who led the Israelites after Moses died, and means “savior.” “Christ” means “anointed” or “consecrated” and is the Greek translation of the Hebrew “messiah.” This is what the angel said to the shepherds: “‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’” (Luke 2: 10b-11 ESV).

Our witness is to the reality of both Jesus and Christ, the man who was more than a man, who was both servant and Lord, teacher and savior, and the impact of the gospel on our lives. We have “good news of a great joy”, of Jesus, who informs our morals, and the risen Christ, who redeems our souls. This is the message of the gospel. This is the message of Easter.

“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Rom. 15:4-7 ESV.)

Copyright © 2013 by David Phelps