Jesus did not come start a new Religion. He didn’t come to start Christianity. In fact, the Christianity that exists today is not His idea at all. That is the reason that so many people across this country and around the world are trying to reform it to bring it more into conformity with God’s Word.
Jesus didn’t come to move people beyond the Mosaic Law because it was wrong, or “legal” (which every law, including the Royal Law of Liberty that James mentions, by nature must be!), or inapplicable today. He came, according to His own explicit testimony, to lead people back to God. If our contemporary concepts were used to describe Jesus’ first advent, we would say that He came as a revivalist, not as an evangelist. He came to revitalize peoples’ faith in the one, true God; He did not come as an evangelist intent on starting a new religion and then converting people to it. And He taught His apostles to do exactly what He had come to do and nothing different from it.
So when Paul was called to preach the gospel, the good news, the goal of that preaching was to draw people to God the Father. All of Paul’s personal testimonies are clear on this point, but the one in Acts 26 is very poignant. It says,
“Consequently, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they [both Jews and Gentiles] should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.” (Acts 26:19-20)
We ought to be struck with the fact that Jesus is not even mentioned in the message that Paul is proclaiming to the King after his own encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. Oh, I’m sure Jesus was a part of the message, but, if we take Paul’s thoughts seriously here, his focus, which ought to be ours, was upon turning all those who would listen to him back to the Father. That is done, to be sure, through Jesus Christ. But that makes Jesus the channel through which the travel is undertaken back to the Father. It does not make Jesus the object of faith in the sense of leading people away from believing in the Father as their God or in His revelations of old. Jesus never presented Himself as the end goal. Jesus’ message always pointed to the Father as Paul’s did here in his defense before King Agrippa.
This is exactly what Jesus Himself labored to convince His audience in the first century to receive: He didn’t come to begin a new faith with Himself at the center (much less with the Holy Spirit at the center); He came to enhance the faith that people already had in the one, true God, which faith God Himself had revealed to them personally. So, Jesus could summarize the intent of His message and His ministry in these words:
“… He who believes in Me does not believe in Me, but rather in Him who sent Me.” (John 12:44)
Jesus explicitly told His audience here that He didn’t come for anyone to put Him above the Father. He had not come to move past the faith that had already been revealed. He came to reinforce that faith in the Father that they already possessed.
Jesus didn’t come to start a new religion; He came to give additional revelation from the Father to those who were responding to Him already. Now it was also His practice to keep further revelation from those who were not responding positively to the new revelation. As He said,
“ ‘To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. For whoever has, to him shall more be given, and he shall have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. Therefore, I speak to them in parables because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.’” (Matt. 13:11-13)
Whether they were Jews or Gentiles, Jesus came to enhance their relationship with the one, true God, who is the Father of all. No one, then, should be led to think that by trusting in Jesus, he is somehow turning from the one, true God to Some Other Deity. Nor should anyone have any concern about those who have never heard the name of Jesus relative to the possibility of them having a relationship with the Father apart from a knowledge of Jesus. They could be having just that apart from faith in Jesus.
But we must understand that by trusting in the new revelation that Jesus gave during His life and ministry, a person is deepening his faith in the God who has already been disclosing Himself to him. And in that maturing process, resources are given to the one who trusts in Jesus as the Messiah to aid him in living a righteous life in a world that is buffeted by principalities and powers in the heavenly places.
I can’t tell you how many books and articles that I’ve seen with the title, The Conversion of the Apostle Paul. Yet when we look at the man Saul (who later became the apostle Paul), he did not leave his old faith to join a new one. In fact, when he believed in Jesus, he didn’t change anything that he had already believed. As Paul stood before Felix to defend his faith in Jesus, he admitted to this truth when he said,
“But this I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect, I am serving the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law, and that is written in the Prophets ….” (Acts 24:14)
And when he stood before King Agrippa as he defended his faith once again, he reiterated his testimony with these words:
“… I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place; that the Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He should be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.” (Acts 26:22-23)
Saul, by his own admission, was not converted; he was illumined! Saul never described himself as a convert! Saul had rejected this new information about the identity of the promised Messiah, whom he had been waiting for as he served as a Pharisee. But God’s goading opened him up to the fact that Jesus was indeed the long awaited Messiah. Jesus did not come to convert him because he already believed all the truth that God had previously revealed. Rather, Jesus came to Saul to further illumine him.
And what was true of Saul was true of all the others Jesus ministered to in the Gospel accounts. The people to whom He came were already the Father’s. In fact, all of the Jews that He spoke to had been specifically chosen to serve the one, true God uniquely. That is the reason He gave them His Law. With it they would know how to walk in a way that would best serve Him. They would have the guidelines to know how He wanted them to display their relationship with Him to the other nations. The Law was never given as a way of salvation, or as a way of justification in the traditional sense of Christian orthodoxy that we are familiar with, but as a way of living. To pit Christianity against the Jewish faith is to miss the message that Jesus preached.
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