Two weeks ago we began some thinking about the life of Jesus and I suggested that our task today in our time, is to see and experience Him in light of our contemporary world. Today I would like to paint a picture of Jesus as He was and is within the context of the human experience.
The concept of God becoming human in Jesus is one of the core teachings of the Christian faith. Christianity says that the invisible God took the form and shape of a human man; that God became specific in the person of Jesus; that God became Jesus of Nazareth—this is the heart of the Christian religion. And this heart of the gospel puts before us the mysterious God who in the fullness of time became the incomparable carpenter of Nazareth. A mystery? Absolutely!!
So let’s look at the man, Jesus—the touchable, visible and specific person of God, as though we were seeing him for the first time.
To begin with, he lived almost two thousand years ago and that separates him from us by a good many things other than time. He lived in a very different world from ours—different in its way of living and thinking. We need to be cautious not to make him into our model of the successful, modern religious guru, or even a successful modern social leader.
Jesus was a Jew. It was the Jews who had a long acquaintance with God and their spiritual leaders. It was Amos, Hosea, Isaiah and Jeremiah who paved the way for Jesus.
He was born into a poor family. He was trained as a carpenter, but when he was about thirty he left home and started out on an itinerant ministry. He walked from village to village telling people that the Kingdom of God was about to come and they should get ready for it. He told them what this kingdom was going to be like.
Jesus had an extraordinary power to make sick people well—all kinds of sick people—the physically disabled as well as the mentally ill. He did this over and over again, but he insisted that his ability to heal was simply one of the signs of the Kingdom
He took from his Jewish religion the words and phrases that had made a lasting impression upon him and he used them to carry more meaning than they had ever carried before.
Religion to Jesus was something so real—but so natural—that it could never be just a matter of rules and regulations, nor of ritual practices. He saw people all around him, highly respectable people, going through all the motions of their religion and yet never letting the disturbing motions of religion go through them. He watched people keeping the letter of the law and at the same time breaking the spirit of the law. He went to the synagogue regularly and he saw things at the synagogue that made him question the religious officials of the time.
Jesus had a large popular following from the beginning. People loved him because he loved them. He treated others as though they mattered and as though their lives really counted. His disciples often did not understand him, but at the deepest points of their lives they were able to respond to him and they followed him wherever he went.
The rest of the story is one that will be played out for us during Holy Week. He challenged the political and religious leaders of the day. And he paid for that challenge with his life.
Jesus was killed on a cross, according to Roman custom. His popular following didn’t stick it out to the end. Yet what they saw, they never forgot. In him the love of God had come so near to them that they could feel is as they never had felt it before.
This is the story of the man whom we believe to be likened unto God. In Jesus something was revealed and released—something of the very nature of God—something of the power of God’s love—God was let loose in the world.
But we need to be careful—we have two warnings that are in order. Listen to me.
The first is this: beware of those who think that this story of Jesus can be completely put into words or into a simple and single statement of philosophy or theology. Any one of us who has a deep and powerful experience are bound to express it in words—but the words can only approximate the experience and different people may likely use different words to express a similar experience.
No two New Testament writers used exactly the same words to describe either Jesus’ life or what happened to him at the end of his life. A couple of the gospel writers call him the “Son of God”. John calls him the “Word of God”. Some think of him as the “Messiah”, others call him the “Great High Priest”. Paul thought of Him as the one who became the Son of God.
But in spite of these differences in who they thought he was, everyone who knew him absolutely agreed that in Jesus, God was winning back the world. And that in Jesus, the love of God became an explicit reality—nearer, more real to them than hands and feet.
Unfortunately, many of us today who call ourselves Christians consider the words about Jesus to be more important than our faith in Jesus. But it’s helpful if we remember that what lies under the words is more important than the words themselves.
The other warning is an important reminder. Remember that Jesus was a real man. He had extraordinary powers—nevertheless he was a real man. When he wanted to reach a conclusion, he had to think things out. When he wanted to reach a destination, he had to walk to get there. When he had a problem, he had to work at resolving it just as you and I do. And when he had temptations, he had to come to an understanding of how to resist those temptations. He wasn’t omniscient! He had a mind limited as every human mind is limited—even the greatest of human minds. He rose above those of his time—and many of us would say—above anyone since—but his life was firmly fixed in this human, faulty world.
We sometimes make an easy mistake—we like to think of Jesus as God in such a way as to make him unreal. It’s easy to think of him this way, because it places his humanness outside the realm of your life and mine. Some have adored him so greatly as to lift him completely out of the context of ordinary human life. Others have tried to enshrine Jesus in the heavens when what God was trying to do the entire time of Jesus’ life was to come down out of the heavens into the ways of the world. We won’t make that mistake if we keep close to the New Testament records of the life of Jesus, because the authors who wrote it had no doubt that Jesus was a real man.
Lent is a good time to think about Jesus--to rethink the question of how in the world we know Jesus to be God. What evidence is there of this fact. Others of us need to rethink the evidence that we might look for in the miracles that Jesus performed; still others of us need to look, once again, at the particular way in which he was born. All of these ways may point us to one important thing—they won’t mean much to us if we don’t grasp the meaning of Jesus in the first place.
The way we see Jesus is critical to our faith. There he is!! Simple, yet profound; gentle, yet strong; Jewish, yet universal; young, yet eternal; man, yet God.
Look at him….keep looking at him. Live with him. Let your mind dwell on him and your heart be open to him. Get into his life and let him get into yours. See—then—if more and more of you isn’t captured by the power and love of God brought near to you. See if you can capture the vast mysteries and wonders of God which are brought ever so close to you in Jesus, called the Christ.