My family has been attending a new church recently which has been a really great experience so far. Last Sunday the pastor started his sermon by talking about Evel Knievel’s failed attempt to jump the Snake River canyon. The sermon then progressed into a fairly standard discussion about the “canyon” of separation between man and God caused by our own sin and selfishness. While we will often try to jump over the canyon (ala Evel Knievel) we will ultimately fail. The point of the sermon was that Jesus, standing in the gap (so to speak) as the High Priest, acted as bridge builder who helped span the canyon between humanity and God. Our calling, as a kingdom of priests is to follow Jesus, stand in the gap, and help people cross to the other side and stand in the gap as well (see Revelation 1:6). If I’m honest, I’m a little tired of the canyon image. I guess it feels too trite to me, kind of like the classic “Four Spiritual Laws” tracts. But, this message (which I generally thought was great) got me thinking about another popular way to understand Jesus.
Sometimes I think we see Jesus like Evel Knievel. A daredevil of sorts who impressed us with his tricks and did things that none of us could ever do. It’s almost like some read the Gospels as if there is a, “Do not try this at home” disclaimer at the bottom of the page. We may feel that Jesus “jumped the canyon” because no one else could and we worship him simply because he did what no one else could do. Most of the things he said and did are not possible for the rest of us simply because of who Jesus is.
If you haven’t already guessed from the title of this post, I think that is a horrible way to see Jesus. While I’m tired of the canyon image, I was a fan of understanding Jesus as someone who stands in the gap and invites his followers to stand in the gap as well. Jesus did not see himself as setting an unattainable goal. Instead, Jesus was very clear that his followers would be empowered as he was and were encouraged to make disciples like he did.
“I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”
Matthew 28:17-20 (CEB)
Beyond that, Jesus told Peter to get out of the boat. He did not say, “Don’t bother Peter, this is Son of God stuff. You wouldn’t understand.” Jesus invited Peter out on the water and Peter accepted the invitation because he knew that following Jesus meant more than assenting to his teachings. Following Jesus meant doing whatever Jesus did.
Walking on water.
Healing the sick.
Feeding the multitudes.
Rising from the dead.
This is eventually what turned the disciples from simple fishermen, tax collectors, rebels and bickering brothers into men and women who stared power and death in the face for the sake of the Gospel.
“Leaders of the people and elders, are we being examined today because something good was done for a sick person, a good deed that healed him? If so, then you and all the people of Israel need to know that this man stands healthy before you because of the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is the stone you builders rejected; he has become the cornerstone! Salvation can be found in no one else. Throughout the whole world, no other name has been given among humans through which we must be saved.”
Acts 4:8-12 (CEB)
Peter did not tell the man, “Sorry, Jesus is gone…everything will get better when he comes back.” No, Peter healed the man because that’s what Jesus did. God fulfilled his promise to Israel (and the world) through Jesus and now Peter and the rest of the disciples were faithfully embodying that fulfillment.
Jesus is not Evel Knievel, jumping over canyons we would never be able to jump.
Jesus bridges the gap between God and man so that everyone can cross. Jesus stands in the gap so that we, standing on his shoulders, might stand in the gap to bring others across as well. What Jesus has done, he invites the Church to do as well.