Is Jesus just a story?
If we’re honest, some of us live like that’s true.
We grew up hearing the old, familiar stories of Adam and Eve, Jonah and the big fish, David and Goliath, and Jesus and the disciples. Aged leather Bibles sit on our bookshelves, old ink and thin sheets smelling like the ancient past.
Many have held on to those stories, the landmark teachings of a Christian faith rooted in the pages of Scripture. But some of us have fallen away from the neat and tidy belief system that once satisfied us in childhood. The stories haven’t changed, but we did.
Were those stories simply fables—mere concoctions to keep kids well-behaved?
Is this story and this Jesus so different from the rest of history’s mythologies?
Do they even matter?
The Story Gets Lost
It’s easy to dismiss modern Christianity as a thinly veiled merchandising campaign, from flashy televangelists to overindulgent Christian bookstores featuring cliche-riddled trinkets and bestselling fiction about disappearing people and the end of the world.
Perhaps profit margins looked too appetizing to pass up when the Christian subculture has been cultivated into an easy, bountiful harvest ripe for the picking. Giving people positive, feel-good self-help advice on their way to a sunshine-and-gold-paved afterlife is an easier story to sell than the darker, subversive, more dangerous roots of Christianity’s origin story.
Selling Jesus as a character is more marketable than living like him. But marketing can’t change lives like he can.
The dollar sign has been superimposed upon the cross in ways that would horrify first century Christ-followers, the original countercultural radicals.
To them, following the way of Jesus meant diving into a story of life-threatening revolution against the powerful Roman state and the traditionalist Jewish elite. To identify with Jesus was to reject the prevailing wisdom of the day that said Caesar was lord, deserving to be worshiped and feared. Claiming Jesus as God also incurred the indignation of the self-righteous, religious fanatics who couldn’t entertain the idea that God existed outside their predictable, boxed-in framework.
Finding the Story Again
The truth is often more complex than we like to admit—especially when the truth is a living, breathing, relating person.
In more ways than one, Jesus called people to see a story bigger than themselves, bigger than their preconceived notions. He offered a new allegiance to disenchanted Roman soldiers. He gave second and third and fourth chances to prideful religious scholars, and taught them that obedience doesn’t always look so rigid. He welcomed and elevated society’s throwaways: the poor and the sick, the young and the female, the foreigner and the slave.
Today, Jesus calls us into a story showing the grandeur of God: the depth of love—even toward one’s enemies—and the fervor of forgiveness—even for those who don’t realize they need it—and the power of the raw truth—especially stark for those who think they have everything figured out.
The Story Gets Real
Jesus is just a story. But his story is true and he is real. His teachings were not simply well wishes or pleasant suggestions, but an invitation to complete transformation. Today his words speak to billions worldwide, and they speak to you and me.
The powerful thing about words is that they work their way, outside in, from our ears to our minds to our hearts.
Stories well told get past our defenses and hold up a truth for our taking.
The story of Jesus gets past the religion and the cultural norms as he offers us himself—the truth intimate and personal.
I hope the story continues to impact me, as I dig into further chapters with the sense there’s so much more ahead. And I hope the story resonates with you, too, so you find yourself in the midst of a narrative larger than you dreamed, connected to a purpose richer than you hoped. I hope you embrace the variables of your life with quiet confidence and grace. We are all meant to play a role in the story; that is the invitation of Jesus.
And like every good story, there’s always room for us to find our place.