As a young adult trying to make my way in the real world, nothing frustrates me as much as evangelicals harping on about the world getting worse. “The world is going mad.” “It wasn’t like that when I was growing up.” “Those days were simpler…”
We have somehow allowed ourselves to believe that we are victims of history, as if any point before the present was an easier time to be alive. The psychological term for such a way to view the world is ‘declinism’, whereby we are simply predisposed to look to the past with favour in our rose-tinted Raybans.
It causes us to foolishly throw around words such as liberal, intolerant, fundamentalist, commercialist, selfishness, as if they never caused problems for people of faith before, ever.
Yet it is so important for us to understand that Jesus Christ lived in one of the most socially and economically unstable periods in history. Jesus didn’t live in ‘simpler times’. Nor was He exempt from the forces of liberalism or conservatism. His life was not stress-free.
We know this because history tells us that in an agrarian culture, like that of Jesus’, the rich were getting richer and the poor were getting poorer. By the time Jesus would have been a young toddler, the Romans had swept in and after just a short time they went from collectivising native surplus to simply taking their lands – a most scared treasure to the Jewish people – and with that came agitation from the peasantry of the day, causing their foreign occupiers trouble.
We know from history that the Jews had lived relatively peacefully under foreign occupation for some time, however such resistance against the Roman Empire continued to grow and grow. There is no doubt that Jesus grew up in an uncertain world. Jesus lived among the division of His Jewish counterparts, and thus hostility was a very real discourse for the historical Jesus. More than a shift in culture, Jesus’ world was literally changing before His eyes. Aristocrats had come from the west and began building large villas on the mountainsides (commodities) and ports (commercialism and consumerism).
The context in which Jesus lived was complex, it was spinning out of control and no doubt caused confusion to the people of the day.
If there was ever a context so ripe for a revolution, that was it.
However, when we look at the text, Jesus did something massively different than what you may have expected. In the perfect context for a revolution, Jesus lived not necessarily a counter-cultural life, but rather a more creative one. Being both fully man and fully God, there stood before Him a mountain of corruption, instability, division, consumerism, collectivisation and an array of evil kings on earthly thrones.
But rather than a revolution, Jesus brought something more indispensable and more lasting than a season; He brought something relevant to all contexts until the end of time – a revelation.
This revelation is made known and passed down to us through scripture, displaying a Jesus full of love and compassion; full of restraint and good timing; the personification of wholeness and One whose omnipotence didn’t fracture His ability to have the perfect inter-personal relationship with mankind.
Author and historian John Dominic Crossan claims that the timing of the historical Jesus’ life on earth is of no coincidence. Knowing this context, coupled with scripture, we see a Jesus who very purposely carried out His ministry the way He did.
Not because His ministry fitted with the context, or because no other challenges existed for Him to need to do it differently, but because He set a precedent for us: that in all circumstances we should love and live like He did.
Let’s not be so arrogant as to think that we should do ministry differently to Jesus. Nor too ignorant to see the value of His revelation for the world today. The revelation brought by Jesus lies at the intersection of our faith. It is all we have, and everything else must flow from it. We must come back to it time and time again.
Let’s be fixated by it and find our hope in it. No changing discourse can ever devalue it and no uncertain times can ever destabilise it.