We have just come out of Advent, the Christmas season, thinking about the birth of Jesus and the great blessings that truth brings to the world. This past Tuesday, in a staff meeting, we took a look at the calendar and began to think about how, in just a few short weeks, we will begin talking about the 40-Day Adventure of Lent and Jesus’s journey to the cross. I don’t mean to disparage our time and attention given to these very important bookends of the life of Jesus, but sometimes I wonder, “When do we take time to think about all the stuff in the middle?”
All the teaching, and ministry, and miracles that Jesus did between the cradle and the cross, what did that mean to us? This is truly the stuff that the Gospels are made of. They do not simply tell the stories surrounding his birth and then jump to the death, burial, and resurrection. There must be some reason that reading about the middle years of Jesus’ life is meaningful.
Pay close attention and you will see that Matthew writes to make it clear that Jesus has fulfilled all that the ancient prophets of Israel had pointed to, longing for the Messiah. Mark writes a fast-paced tale showing Jesus to be a miracle worker, demon slayer, and unexpected Messiah whose mission was to give his life as a ransom for many. He was a very unexpected Messiah indeed! Read Luke’s narrative closely and you will see that Jesus is a compassionate Lord, who seeks to bring everyone into a loving relationship with God who deserves to be praised and adored. In the process, Jesus accepts the “unlovely,” brings healing to the broken, and breaks down the walls of social injustice. He shows that God raises up the lowly and accepts the outcast. The author of the Gospel of John makes it clear that Jesus is God in the flesh. He tells us that Jesus did many other things that were not recorded on the pages of his narrative, but he has written these things “so that we may believe that Jesus is the son of God, and by believing, have life in his name” (John 20:31). John is also the one who pens Jesus saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
Clearly the stuff in the middle matters. Later on in the New Testament writings, the Apostle Paul makes the memorable statement, “imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). This would be impossible without all the stuff in the middle. None of us can imitate Christ if that means coming into the world through a virgin birth or dying on a cross for the world’s sins and raising up again! The part in the middle is where all the stuff worthy of imitating comes from. That is why Jesus said “I am the way” and “Go into all the world…teaching them all that I have commanded you.” Jesus intended his disciples to follow his example, he intends for us to do the same. We’d best first of all get busy learning all the stuff in the middle so we will know exactly what it is we are here to do!