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The Artisan Jesus

The Artisan Jesus

~ by John J. Thompson

Jesus was a carpenter (Mark 6:3) — or some kind of construction worker (the Greek word can also refer to a mason or smith). But long before He learned to work with wood, He was an artisan. With His hands, He brought order from chaos. The apostle John opens his account of the life and ministry of Jesus with a fascinating bit of narrative poetry.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. — John 1:1–5

Modern industrialized religion and polluted, watered-down, self-help pseudospirituality too often miss this. The Word wasn’t just from God; the Word was God. The Word wasn’t part of creation; it was the vehicle of creation. The Word is not just bright or one good source of light among many; the Word is the light, and it is life. It is so pure and true and good that no darkness can overcome it! The Word isn’t a proof text used to support a point; it isn’t a political system or a fund-raising mechanism. It is not a step-by-step guide to self-discovery or spiritual superiority. It is a beacon drawing us toward itself. This is amazing stuff.

  • This is the stuff of art.

This Word — logos in the Greek — is Jesus. Jesus has been creating thing with His hands since the very beginning. In complete and perfect community with the mysterious triune nature of God, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, Jesus brought light into darkness. God spoke, and Jesus was His Word. Through Him, all things were made. All things!

I’ve been scuba diving in sixty feet of water and seen tiny creatures that need not be as elaborately colored or intricately designed as they are. Everything on this planet screams, “Creation!” Jesus crafted the mountains, the seas, the deserts, the animals, the plants, and even human beings according to God’s perfectly wise plan. Then He gave us free will and the ability to imagine and dream. He created us “in His image” — a mysterious statement that at least partly points to our ability to be junior creators. We can’t speak something out of nothing, but He does invite us to participate in the ordering of our world.

  • He honors our attempts to create. Whether it’s bread, coffee, music, a painting, or a community, when we create, we follow in His steps.

In bodily form, Jesus kept on creating. He was a winemaker, a community builder, an architect, a healer, and a storyteller. He was a bread maker and a fishmonger. He drew pictures in the sand that saved a woman’s life. His creative power was so intense that the sick were healed with just a thought. He spit in the dust, made some holy mud, and opened a man’s eyes.

My favorite creative act of Jesus was gathering blue-collar workmen and marginalized women and crafting them into a force that would change the world. He built a church — and if you’ve had a bad experience with contemporary churches, I invite you to replace the word church with community — that subversively sought out, honored, and served the unlovely, the diseased, the broken, and the dead.

It breaks my heart to hear people say they love Jesus but have no use for the church. Yes, many of the corporate, industrialized aspects of the modern church bear more resemblance to the local megaplex or department store than they do to a countercultural group of ragged lovers and servants, but deep down, the church is something Jesus established. I believe today He longs to call out to her in her manufactured tomb, like He did to His friend Lazarus, “Come out!”

I have experienced dead church. I have felt queasy whenever harsh, ignorant, attention-starved charlatans make their way onto the TV screen and say all kinds of nonsense in God’s name. I’ve cringed as politicians cheapen the gospel, cherry-picking it for their petty purposes and ignoring the difficult bits. I’ve railed against hypocrisy, even as I regularly must repent of my own. I’ve tasted stale, hardened white bread when what I needed was the bread of life. I’ve sipped the vinegar of bitterness, hatred, and fear when what I needed was the rich wine of salvation. I realize many modern churches get more wrong than right.

But when I return to Scripture, I am reminded that when Jesus called me out of my tomb, He placed me in a family He calls church.

  • My deep need for belonging — I believe Jesus put it there as a homing beacon to call me to Him.

I’ve also noticed how deeply ingrained my identity as a consumer is. When I complain about the problems of the church — the manufactured nature, the corporate aftertaste — I do so as a consumer who wants his money back. The more I’ve worked to see my primary and highest calling in relation to other believers as a servant, the more my capacity for grace and patience has expanded.

Jesus invites me to be creative — to speak order into the chaos of community. To be the church by living a life that is deeply committed to other flawed and difficult people. I feel His hands sanding my rough edges and binding me irrevocably to His people.

  • Church is art, or at least it should be. If yours isn’t, maybe you should roll up your sleeves before heading for the exit.

After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, the Holy Spirit came to embolden, empower, and galvanize the tiny group of shaky disciples Jesus had left behind. The first chapters of the book of Acts describe the early church as a people transformed. They shared all they had, giving to any in need; they gathered in their homes and in the temple; they ate together, prayed together, and devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles. I realize this account is descriptive and not necessarily prescriptive, but I don’t think it takes much of a theological leap to see that the underlying values were communal, not individual. Truth was proclaimed and argued, and people were fed and healed. Ever the artisan, the Holy Spirit crafted a living, breathing body out of many disparate and damaged parts.

In Eden the Father spoke a word and made Adam from the dust and breathed the breath of life into his lungs. In Acts, the Father spoke a word and through His Spirit assembled many different people (members) into one new body, then breathed life into His church. That’s art!

Excerpted with permission from Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate by John J. Thompson, copyright John J. Thompson.

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Your Turn

When we create (no matter what it is), we follow in Jesus’ footsteps! When we dig into the community of believers and contribute, interact, build relationships, serve, fellowship, and eat and pray together, we follow Him as well. Come share your thoughts with us. We want to know what you think! ~ Devotionals Daily

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