The Life of Jesus (with Tom O’Toole)

Tom O'Toole is part of the team that leads Christ Church Manchester, a multi-site church that is part of the Catalyst Network in Newfrontiers. He also manages the Broadcast Network. In this hangout, Tom talks about the underestimated importance of the life of Jesus.


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The Missing 30 Years

  • Often when we talk about Jesus, we can emphasise his birth and his death and skip over everything that happened in between.
  • For example, in the Apostles' Creed, it says "Born of the Virgin Mary, Suffered under Pontius Pilate".
  •  A well-known contemporary church leader describes the life of Jesus as 'incidental'. 
“Jesus came to earth, of course, to reveal God to mankind. He came to teach truth. He came to fulfil the law. He came to offer his kingdom. He came to show us how to live. He came to reveal God's love. He came to bring peace. He came to heal the sick. He came to minister to the needy.

But all of those reasons are incidental to his ultimate purpose. He could have done them all without being born as a human. He could have simply appeared - like the angel of the Lord did in the Old Testament - and accomplished everything in the list above, without actually becoming a man. But he had one more reason for coming. He came to die. (John MacArthur)

A Means to an End?

  • The problem with emphasising Jesus' birth and his death and treating everything between as incidental is that it turns Jesus into a means to an end. 
  • We make the whole point of it what is in it for us (our salvation), and so everything else is incidental.
  • But Jesus isn't just the means - he is the whole point of everything (see Colossians 1:16-17, Ephesians 1:9-10 and John 17:24). Jesus is the image of the invisible God. All things were created for him and through him. His desire for us is that we will see his glory. 
  • When we do see his glory we will become like him (see 2 Corinthians 3:18).
  • Where is this glory seen? John claims to have seen it already - "And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14)
  • This brings us back to the person of Jesus and those 'incidental' 30 years.
  • The life of Jesus isn't a means to the end of us getting saved - us getting saved is a means to the end of knowing and enjoying him and seeing his glory. Jesus is the point and his life matters.
“He was born in an obscure village, this child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another obscure village where he worked in a carpenter's shop. Until he was thirty, when public opinions turned against him.

"He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never went to a college. He never visited a big city. He never travelled more than 200 miles from the place where he was born. He did none of the things usually associated with greateness. He had no credentials but himself.

"He was only thirty-three.

"His friends ran away. One of them denied him. He was turned over to his enemies and put through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two theives. While dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing. The only property he had on earth. 

"When he was dead he was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.

"Nineteen centuries have come and gone and today Jesus is the central figure of the human race and the leader of mankind's progress. All the armies that have ever marched, all the navies that have ever sailed, all the parliaments that have ever sat and all the kings that have ever reigned put  together have not affected the life of mankind on earth as powerfully as that one solitary life." (Dr. James Allan Francis - One Solitary Life)

Jesus Shows Us God

  • Jesus shows us God the Father (see for example John 1:18, 8:19, 12:45 and 14:19). Jesus is God's selfie.
  • In our age, 'God' is quite a vague word. When different people talk of 'God', we could assume that they are all talking about this same thing. By showing people the image of God in Jesus and asking if that is who they are talking about, we cane be clear. 
  • God is way more than the sum of all the 'omnis'. 
  • Jesus reveals to us God's character:
  • His Love - for example the way he extended grace and acceptance to the Samaritan woman at the well.
  • His Holiness - for example, when stood before a crowd of his enemies and asked 'can any of you prove me guilty of sin?' and nobody said a word.
  • His Wrath - for example in the way he addressed the Pharisees who were using religion to hurt and oppress other people.
  • His Compassion - for example, when he was moved to stop and show mercy on the blind men beside the road even though he was en route to Jerusalem to save the world.
  • His Power - for example when he healed the sick, raised the dead, cast out demons and calmed a storm.
  • His Wisdom - for example when he was asked whether the Jewish people should pay tax to Caesar.
  • If you want to know what God is like, take a look at Jesus. 
  • It isn't enough to speak about God in generalities, you need to zero in on the person of Jesus.
  • Sometimes stating propositions about God can lead to adversarial situations, whereas telling stories about Jesus can be much better received and lead people to see something of what God is like.

Jesus Shows Us Eternity

  • There is an evangelistic course put together by Steve Timmis and Tim Chester called 'The World We All Want'. The course starts at the end of the story and invites participants to think about what they would like the world to be like, before showing the promises of Revelation 21 and 22 that God is bringing about just such a world. 
  • The course then claims that there was a time in history that such a world existed, and rather than heading back into Genesis, it goes to Mark 5 - right in the middle of Jesus' ministry.
  • In the ministry of Jesus is a glimpse of the eternity, the world we all want. Jesus healed the woman with a severe bleeding problem and also welcomed her into community. He raised a dead girl to life. He calmed the vicious storm waters. He cast out evil spirits that tormented people. he satisfied the hungry. He overcame sickness and death. This is all a picture of what the world will be like. 
  • This is also what Jesus means in his teaching about the kingdom of God. Life under God's rule, done God's way breaking in now and coming finally and conclusively in the future. 

Jesus Shows Us Humanity

  • Jesus is the Second Adam - the head of the human race. He is the perfect embodiment of what God created the human race to be. 
  • The life of Jesus is the ultimate example for us.
  • ​Jesus shows us true humanity in two ways - through his actions and through his words. 
  • His actions - Jesus was the perfect model for us in how he fought against temptation, how he embraced the lonely and rejected, how he suffered for doing right, how he prayed and how he ministered in power (most of the miracles Jesus did we done as spirit-empowered man and serve as a pattern for us to follow).
  • His words - all of his teaching, but particularly the Sermon on the Mount is a true manifesto for what humanity is created to be.

Q&A

1. What is the difference between righteous anger and other anger?
  • Jesus shows anger in the gospels - for example when  he turns the tables in the Temple and the way he speaks to the Pharisees in Matthew 23.
  • This shows the wrath of God.
  • One distinctive of righteous anger is what has caused the anger - there are some things for which anger is absolutely the appropriate response.
  • Another distinctive is what we do with that anger - because Jesus is the judge, he could act in a certain way. For us prayer and crying out to God is a more appropriate response. 
2. How can you develop the skill of telling stories about Jesus?
  • Tell stories more widely.
  • It depends who you are talking to - some people do respond well to propositions, but in a lot of situations people who are looking for an argument will end up being able to emphasise with Jesus and being on the same side of the conversation with you rather than as adversaries.
  • Also tell stories about your testimony.
3. Why does Jesus say that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven?
  • I don't know off the top of my head but I will look into it and write it up as a blog.

Note - This blog post has now been written and can be accessed here

4. If you were introducing a non-Christian to who God is, what characteristics or stories of Jesus would you introduce them to first?
  • It depends on the person - get to know them first and build a relationship with them.
  • The parable of the Father and the two sons is a good one - there are people who could identify with either of the sons.
  • If someone has a chaotic life, perhaps the way Jesus brought peace as he calmed the storm.
  • If someone has material need and is worried about provision, perhaps Jesus feeding the five thousand.
5. How do the Father and the Son differ?
  • Both are God.
  • There is no difference in their character.
  • There is a difference in role. The Father initiates, the Son accomplishes.
  • The way they relate to each other is different - the Father relates to the Son as his Son and the Son relates to his Father as Father.
  • This is the pattern that we see in creation, in revelation and in salvation.
6. What is Jesus' relationship with the world now?
  • It is through the church
  • He has indwelled us by his Spirit and sent us out into the world so by his power we can do signs and wonders and spread the gospel.
  • The day will come when he returns in person.
7. If we aren't being persecuted like Jesus, is it because we aren't doing enough?
  • Not necessarily - there were times in Jesus' ministry when he was widely acclaimed.
  • There seem to be seasons where the church is well received in society and other times where it is reviled.
  • If we aren't being persecuted, be thankful and praise God for it. 
  • But look in our conscience and ask if we are backing off doing something God would have us do.

Recommended Resources

The following articles have been written to accompany this hangout:

  • The Working Boy Done Good
  • What if God Was One of Us?

We also recommend the following books to go deeper into this topic:

Note - If you buy a book using the affiliate links above, Broadcast will receive a commission from Amazon to help more churches get planted, at no additional cost to you.