When it comes right down to the spiritual nitty gritty, there’s not a more important question a person must answer for themselves than “Who is Jesus?” The Scriptures tell us, “Once when Jesus was praying by himself, and his disciples were nearby, he asked them, ‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’ They answered, ‘John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others that one of the prophets of long ago has risen.’ Then he said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered, ‘The Christ of God.’” (Luke 9:18-20). Folks can dance around that poignant question till the cows come home but it won’t go away. And “I’ll pass” won’t cut it. The decision to not answer it at all is to reject the Son of God altogether. Nothing in the Bible indicates that a person can decide after they’ve left this mortal coil. It’s now or never.
It does take faith to respond as Peter did but it doesn’t have to be blind faith. No way. There are loads of good reasons for arriving at the same conclusion he did. The evidence for Jesus being the promised Messiah, “…the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29), has been laid out in the pages of the Bible for all to see. Nothing’s been held back. I like what Philip Yancey wrote in his thought-provoking book, The Jesus I Never Knew. He said, “It occurs to me that all the contorted theories about Jesus that have been spontaneously generating since the day of His death merely confirm the awesome risk God took when He stretched Himself out on the dissection table – a risk He seemed to welcome. Examine me. Test me. You decide.” There’s no excuse for not determining who Jesus is in the course of a lifetime. God doesn’t require anything from anyone except that they answer the question of “Who is Jesus?” before they die. As J. I. Packer commented, “We cannot evade responsibility for our reaction to God’s revelation. We live under His law. We must answer to Him for our lives. Man without Christ is a guilty sinner, answerable to God for breaking His law.”
Now, if Christ had burst onto the scene in a blinding blaze of glory, proceeded to miraculously run off the Romans, crowned Himself king of the planet and restored the nation of Israel to the impressive status it enjoyed in Solomon’s day the question would be moot. Everybody would be a Christian by default. But that’s not the case. Far from it. Without widespread fanfare of any sort, Jesus flew in under the establishment’s radar. As Dallas Willard noted, “He slipped into our world through the backroads and outlying districts of one of the least important places on earth and has allowed His program for human history to unfold ever so slowly through the centuries.” The truth is Jesus spent the first three decades of his life getting along as an everyman. He was indistinguishable from the average man-on-the-street. He was a lowly carpenter, for heaven’s sake. He built things out of wood. He hammered, sawed and nailed. He was a repairman. He was as “blue collar” as they come. After the death of His stepfather Joseph He stepped up to the plate, took on the role of patriarch in His family and dutifully helped His mother Mary raise His brothers and sisters. Just an ordinary guy doing what needed to be done. He certainly didn’t live the grand lifestyle one would expect the incarnated Creator of the Universe to live. But keep in mind that Jesus was Immanuel. That’s the Hebrew word meaning “God with us.” He came to save mankind from the consequences of sin but He also came to experience for Himself what it’s like to be “one of us.” What it’s like to laugh and how it feels to cry. To know what both pain and happiness feel like. All of it. Evidently making it possible for men and women to have eternal life was no easy feat and it was obviously not God’s will for it to unfold in the spectacular manner everyone in Israel was expecting.
Would it be different had Jesus waited till now to show up for the first time? I doubt it. His birth announcement would most likely be just another post on Mary’s Facebook page. His adolescent years would pass in an unremarkable fashion. Not long ago I watched the movie, The Young Messiah, a film based on Anne Rice’s novel, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, and it was excellent. I recommend it. However, there’s nothing in the Scriptures to indicate that our pre-teen Savior ever brought a dead bird or, much less, a neighborhood bully back to life. It’s no sin to speculate that Jesus might’ve, but the fact that jaw-dropping miracles such as that aren’t found in any of the gospel accounts about His youth only reinforces the authenticity of the New Testament. If the apostles were just “making things up” they surely would’ve embellished the story about our Lord’s childhood years by throwing in a plethora of supernatural deeds to add sizzle to their fictional tale. But we’re told nothing of the sort. Thus it’s no stretch to surmise that in today’s society Jesus (while waiting for “His time” to come) would wind up working as a bank teller, a computer tech, a farmer, a librarian, a waiter or a cashier at Walmart, etc. In other words, He’d be like most of us. He’d probably live in a modest house or apartment down the street. He’d have to deal with the same snarky people and gnarly traffic jams that we do. He’d have to pay income taxes and somehow make ends meet just like everybody else. Yet, as it was 2,000 years ago, none of those common place things would in any way degrade the unimpeachable truth that Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, was sent here by His Father to save us from our sins.
This should come as no surprise, really. We find God to be most evident in the “ordinary.” The things we so often take for granted. His marvelous handiwork is all around us. Huston Smith opined, “Just as science has found the power of the sun itself to be locked in the atom, so religion proclaims the glory of the eternal to be reflected in the simplest elements of time: a leaf, a door, an unturned stone.” Yes, God is present in the unfathomable depths of the cosmos we’re spinning through and He’s deeply imbedded in the complexities of higher mathematics but He’s also just as present in the gorgeous bluebonnets blooming on the side of the highway in April. Thus God can be located in both the stupendous and the plain in His creation.
However, no human being was ever intended to be considered “ordinary.” That’s why we all, from childhood on and to one degree or another, harbor a nagging ache to be deemed “special.” To live and die without ever being singled out/recognized for making a particularly admirable contribution to the culture or for doing something of substance that benefits mankind as a whole is a fate to be avoided at all costs. Contrary to some beliefs, our inborn “ambition to be significant” is not, in and of itself, a sinful trait. It’s not necessarily runaway pride at work. Egomaniacs are a different breed. They view everything that happens as being strictly and exclusively “all about them.” They’re pathologically self-obsessed individuals whose unhealthy affliction can only be cured by professional counseling, divine intervention and a massive influx of agape love and compassion from the body of Christ. That’s not what I’m talking about.
In a normal person, the burning desire to be “special” is a fundamental extension of God’s creative impulse that designed us to be the unique entities we truly are. You may say it’s a product of our realizing there’s a pressing need for good deeds to be done in this world and that we’re the ones who should be doing those good deeds. When we become followers of Christ that realization grows exponentially as we strive daily to get to know God better. We’re made increasingly aware by the indwelling Holy Spirit that we’re entrusted to make a noticeable difference while we’re here on terra firma. As Willard wrote, “We are placed in a specific context to count in ways no one else does. That is our destiny.” Our “ambition to be significant” confirms that God created us with a purpose in mind; a specific job only we can do. It also explains why so many of us find the personality of Jesus Christ to be so appealing. He made everyone He came into contact with feel important and special – irreplaceable – no matter how spiritually poor they gauged themselves to be. While society in general may label me and you relatively worthless (and maybe even “deplorable” at times) the God of the Universe will never see us in that light. In His eyes we are irresistibly beautiful creatures whom He adores beyond our fathoming. We are, literally, to die for.
But let’s get back to Jesus (always a great idea). Being God, He knew when the time would be right to step away from His workbench and start changing the world. He went from being an ordinary man to being an extraordinary minister in short order. After being baptized by John and then enduring 40 long days and nights resisting Satan’s temptations alone, Jesus went into the rural areas of Galilee. His direct, undiluted message was“…The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the gospel!” (Mark 1:15). This wasn’t a call aimed at only the sinners of that age; it was a resounding shout out to all the yet-to-be-born sinners who’d populate the ages still to come. Jesus was publicly announcing that there was, from that pivotal moment going forward, a new and vastly better way to live. His cousin John had efficiently set things up just right. Thus the timing, like Jesus Himself, was perfect. But did Jesus boldly go strolling into Jerusalem? Not on your life. He began His preaching tour far out in the “boonies.” He went from Capernaum to Bethsaida, hand-picking His disciples along the way. From there He traveled by foot into what nowadays is southern Lebanon, the Golan Heights, Syria and Jordan. Being an educated rabbi, Jesus was qualified to deliver His sermons in the local synagogues, the “town halls” and “media outlets” of the day. He took His message of hope right to the ears of the people who most longed to hear it. It’s fair to say He methodically (and wisely) built up a highly-effective “grass roots” movement, knowing the word-of-mouth “buzz” He generated would begin to fan out ahead of Him. And He wasn’t just preachin’. He was working incredible miracles and changing lives.
“Jesus went throughout all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of disease and sickness among the people. So a report about him spread throughout Syria. People brought to him all who suffered with various illnesses and afflictions, those who had seizures, paralytics, and those possessed by demons, and he healed them. And large crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan River” (Matthew 4:23-25). Jesus knew what He was doing. The early verses in Luke chapter 8 give us the impression He systematically touched base in all the small to medium-sized towns, emphasizing at each stop that the “kingdom” of God was accessible in the here and now. His dedicated entourage of close associates included not only the Twelve Apostles but more than a few intelligent women He’d welcomed into His fold. Due to keeping overhead expenses low and the generous nature of the common folk, outside (and potentially influential) “contributions to the cause” weren’t needed or even solicited. Jesus owed no “favors.” He answered to no one except His Heavenly Father. Little wonder Christ became a sensation; a “superstar” if you will. It was standing room only everywhere He went because He was proving Himself to be the “real deal.” Those He healed stayed healed. He wasn’t just broadcasting the Good News, He was the Good News! Still is, by the way.
I like the way Albert Nolan expressed why he thinks Jesus became such a phenomenon. He wrote, “The early Christians’ admiration and veneration for Jesus knew no bounds. He was in every way the ultimate, the only criterion for good and evil, of truth and falsehood, the only hope for the future, the only power which could transform the world. Jesus was experienced as the definitive breakthrough in the history of man. He transcended everything that had ever been said and done before. He was in every way the ultimate, the last word. He was on a par with God. His word was God’s Word. His Spirit was God’s Spirit. His feelings were God’s feelings. What He stood for was exactly the same as what God stood for. No higher esteem was conceivable.” Yancey took it even further, opining, “Jesus reveals a God who comes in search of us, a God who makes room for our freedom even when it costs the Son’s life, a God who is vulnerable. Above all, Jesus reveals a God who is love. On our own, would any of us come up with the notion of a God who loves and yearns to be loved?” Unlikely.
It’s important to note that John the Baptist, whom our Lord said was as great a human being as there’d ever been up to that point in history, had no doubts about how to answer the question, “Who is Jesus?” He told His skeptical followers, “I have both seen and testified that this man is the Chosen One of God” (John 1:34). John was also destined to be the last of the true prophets who were somewhat restricted to coloring inside the prescribed and well-defined lines of long-standing Jewish traditions and rituals. But Jesus, He was a bona fide rebel. He was the ultimate game-changer, the genuine Son of God whose physical presence on earth turned everything upside down. The “rules” didn’t apply to the Messiah and that suited the oppressed masses just fine. They were ready to hear some honest-to-God “good news” for a change. They were primed to receive relevant words of hope. I suspect they could tell nothing was ever going to be the same again because of Jesus. Our Lord announced to the crowds that civilization had entered a new phase wherein the dirtiest, poorest, most downtrodden member of society, “…the one who is least in the kingdom of God” (Matthew 11:11), would hereafter be considered greater than the greatest man or woman of the previous phase. It was mind-blowing news then and it’s still mind-blowing news today. Jesus said, “The law and the prophets were in force until John; since then, the good news of the kingdom of God has been proclaimed, and everyone is urged to enter it” (Luke 16:16). So I must ask you, dear reader, if you can yet answer with certainty the most profound question of all – “Who is Jesus?” If not, get to it. There’s a lot riding on your response. And that’s putting it mildly.