In their 2021 study, “The Open Generation,” Barna surveyed nearly 25,000 teens (ages 13-17) from 26 countries, asking them their thoughts on Jesus, the Bible and justice. Much of the findings reveal the uniqueness of this generation, but there were also a few similarities between their perspectives and those of previous generations, especially Millennials. One being the relevancy of Jesus.*
As someone who lived 2,000+ years ago, is Jesus relevant to today’s society and individuals’ lives?
People who identify as Christians would most likely say, “Of course, Jesus is relevant,” but why do they think that? Do they truly think and live as if it’s true, or do they just say they do because they know they should or their church leaders tell them to do it?
Just look at how America has changed within the last 30, 40, 50 years, and it’s understandable why so many people wonder if what was said 2,000+ years ago can speak into what we face today. Our world has nearly flipped the script on what was the norm just a couple decades before. Dating, marriage, family dynamics, gender, race, sex, education, the list goes on. Some of these changes have been positive, while others negative. Regardless of what any of us think on each subject, surely we all can agree on one thing: our world, especially in the US, has changed over the past few decades.
What used to apply then, no longer does today. What metrics we used then are not used today. What was seen as foundational then has been replaced today. Consider the Declaration of Independence. Some groups claim this document, along with others crafted during our country’s formation, is either partially or entirely irrelevant to America in 2022. Keep in mind the Declaration is less than 250 years old. If it’s irrelevant, what are we to think of the words spoken by Jesus and His followers from 2,000 years ago? And what about the teachings that came before Jesus’ earthly life, those recorded in the Christian Old Testament and the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh)? These were written down some 1,500 years before Jesus and recount events from as far back as the Creation of the world. Abraham, a pillar in Christianity and Judaism, is said to have been born around 1991 B.C., and he had 19 generations who lived before him. With such an extensive passage of time, how could anything recorded in the Bible be relevant to our lives today?
It’s a question many have contemplated, both within and outside the Christian and Jewish beliefs, and as the recent Barna study reveals, it’s one many young people are asking today, again both within and outside of Christianity and Judaism.
Young people—Millennials (born 1981-1996) and Gen Zers (1997-2015)—are known for their activism and passion for social justice, so it only makes sense they’d seriously consider such a question. They want to know how Jesus’ life can help improve their lives today—both individually and communally.
Even those who consider themselves Christians (both committed and in name only) wonder what, if any weight Jesus’ life and teachings bear on today’s culture. After all, there was not same-sex marriage back then, nor did women have the rights they do today. Guns hadn’t been invented and only a few pursued what we would call “higher education.” Given our society is so different today than it was when Jesus was alive, how can we apply what He taught to our world now?
What Jesus proclaimed 2,000+ years ago is more relevant to today than anything we could ever conceive.
It’s an age-old question; different people are asking it now than before, but the answer remains the same. What Jesus proclaimed 2,000+ years ago is more relevant to today than anything we could ever conceive.
Yes, much time has passed and our world has changed dramatically (for the most part), but Jesus is the same. What we deem acceptable, cool or woke has no bearing on Him, and He cannot be persuaded or manipulated. He may have used analogies from the time and culture in which He lived as a man, but the essence—the true meaning—of what He said transcends time. The packaging may be from 2,000 years ago, but the gift, the inside, remains timeless. Jesus has always been, currently is and always will be after the heart, not the constantly fluctuating tides of society. He doesn’t care about which hashtags are trending or what the media deems breaking news. His truth doesn’t hinge on human discoveries or changes in opinion. Everything He said, did and taught during His earthly life speaks directly into our lives now and the problems we face.
Just look at His life as it’s recorded in the Biblical books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (the first 4 books of the Christian New Testament, also known as the Gospels, “gospel” meaning “good news”). We don’t have the time or space to examine all of Jesus’ teachings from these 4 books, but we can look at a few. Hopefully, you will take the time to study the others on your own, as well as more of His teachings recorded throughout the New Testament.
Many of Jesus’ key teachings are recorded in what’s called the Sermon on the Mount (one of Jesus’ longest recorded teachings); it can be found in Matthew 5-7. In it, Jesus instructs His disciples (followers) on what it means to truly live for Him, a.k.a. be His disciples.
According to Jesus, they are to be merciful, for the kindness they bestow will be returned to them (Matthew 5:7). They are also to be peacemakers, spreading God’s pure, absolute peace to the world around them (v. 9). Jesus also spoke challenging words in equating anger with murder (vv. 21-26), as well as lustful desire with adultery (vv. 27-30), condemning both. He went on to encourage His followers to stay true to their word (vv. 33-37), return hate with love (vv. 43-48), give to those in need (6:1-4), not be anxious about trivialities (6:25-34) and treat others as they want to be treated (7:12).
Does any of this sound familiar? Are these not the same problems we face today?
People in need and rampant greed, sexual assaults and a sex-obsessed culture, hate speech and violence, lies, selfishness and anxiety. Our clothes may be different and our technology more advanced, but the same problems people in Jesus’ time faced are the same ones we’re facing now. In the words of the author of the Biblical Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (1:9). Our exteriors are different, but our interiors are the same.
Through all of human history, we have been exactly that: human. Whether it was those who lived in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago or those who live in America in 2022, we are all equally human and have the same sinful tendencies. Our sins may look different, but they are all sins nonetheless, and they all have one solution: Jesus Christ.
Our sins may look different, but they are still all sins nonetheless, and they all have one solution: Jesus Christ.
Only Jesus can break the chains of sin that hold us hostage in doing things that hurt others, thinking things that hurt ourselves and pursuing things that leave us empty and damaged. To realize your inability to change on your own and your need for a Savior is the first step to becoming who God intended you to be. It’s the only way any of us can be who God intended us to be—individually and collectively.
Sin was not part of God’s plan, but it arose because of our choices. God didn’t (and still doesn’t) want to force Himself on anyone, instead, He wants us to choose Him. That is why He gave us a free will, because a forced love is not love at all.
Unfortunately, the first humans, Adam and Eve, misused their free will and chose to go against God and live a life contradictory to Him. God gave them a choice, and they chose sin over Him. They decided they knew better than Him and blatantly disobeyed Him, even though He had given them everything they would ever need, and in abundance (see Genesis 3).
Sadly, we have followed in their footsteps. Rather than help those in need, we spend more money on ourselves. Instead of extending love and mercy, we are quick to show anger and seek retaliation against those who hurt us or are different from us. In place of peace, we stir up anxiety and disdain. We say one thing and do another. We make promises, only to break them. We long for what is not ours and fail to appreciate what we have. We all sin in our own ways, and we all fall short of God’s design.
That is where Jesus comes in. Right when it seems like all hope is lost and there’s no apparent solution, Jesus ascends the mountain. Because He desperately loves us, He took on the penalty we deserve for our sins, even though He knew no sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). He willingly bore our punishment so that we can live forever right with God (Colossians 2:13-15). He shed His blood on the Cross, dying a violent, gruesome death, to rectify the separation our sin caused between us and God (Isaiah 53:5). Sin requires a sacrifice, so Jesus became the one and only sacrifice. He is the Sacrifice of Sacrifices, so that we can be the children of God (1 Corinthians 5:7b, Hebrews 9:26b).
Sin is what separated people from Jesus in His day, and it’s what separates us from Him today. “There is nothing new under the sun.”
But Jesus! Exactly as Jesus taught 2,000+ years ago, those of us who turn from our sins and hand over our lives to Jesus, our sins are forgiven (Colossians 1:14-15, 1 John 1:9). Forgiven and forgotten. Forever. We are born again spiritually, this time into God’s righteous family, not Adam and Eve’s family of sin (John 1:12-13).
That is what Jesus taught His followers in Jerusalem 2,000+ years ago, and that is what He teaches all of us in 2022. It was the plan God put in place long before Abraham, right after Adam and Eve committed the first sin (Genesis 3:15). All of this we learn by listening to and obeying Jesus’ teachings, which are recorded for us in the Christian Bible. When we do, we quickly understand just how relevant Jesus is to our world and lives today. His teachings were recorded 2,000 years ago, but they shape our tomorrow. What we choose to do with them determines not just our life now, but our life after death.
To say Jesus is irrelevant to us today is to say oxygen is irrelevant to breathing. Without Jesus, we are nothing.
Jesus is indeed relevant, and unlike the culture, He does not change and He is not going anywhere (Hebrews 7:21-25). He is God, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, and it is in His power that everything resides (John 1:3). He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End and everything in between (Revelation 1:8, 21:6, 22:13). To say Jesus is irrelevant to us today is to say oxygen is irrelevant to breathing. Without Jesus, we are nothing. He is the One who created us and holds all things together (Colossians 1:16-17). He is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6).
Will you follow in His first followers’ footsteps and give Him your everything, or like Adam and Eve, will you choose a life forever separated from Him? The relevancy of Jesus is absolute fact, the question is how you will choose to respond.
*According to Barna’s study, 72% of Committed Christian teens ages 13-17 agreed with the statement, “Jesus speaks to me in a way that is relevant to my life.”
English Standard Version Bible. (2001). Crossway Bibles.
The Open Generation. Barna Research, 2022.
Rose Book of Bible Charts, Maps & Time Lines. 10th Anniversary Ed., Rose Publishing, 2015.