Wednesday, February 24, 2010
THE JESUS WE DO NOT KNOW
“God created man in His image and man returned the favor” – Voltaire
“I like to think of Jesus with, like, big eagle's wings, singin' lead vocals for Lynyrd Skynrd with, like, an angel band, and I'm in the front row, and I'm hammered drunk.” – Cal Naughton, Jr., "The Ballad of Ricky Bobby"
A few years ago I sat down and read through the Gospel of Mark in a single sitting. It opened my eyes to narratives and themes that are only visible when taken all at once. One thing that jumped out at me while I was reading Mark this way was that the book has a climax which comes at the point where Jesus stands up in the boat and silences the storm by commanding the wind and waves to cease.
Up until this point, the disciples have been following Jesus as if he were simply a Jewish Rabbi, a teacher of the Law, and perhaps the Messiah who was to come and set their people free. But when Jesus stands up in the boat, with lightning crashing all around, thick black clouds pelting them with rain, and giant waves tossing the boat like a toy in a bathtub and commands the elements with his voice, all bets are off. In that moment, Jesus utterly destroys their version of the Messiah and sends everyone back to square one. The Gospel of Mark records it like this, “They were terrified and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!" (4:41).
You can almost taste the sense of fear and uncertainty of those disciples. They had just moments before this been afraid of the power of a storm, and now they are even more terrified of this man in the boat with them. “Who is this person?” they ask. All of sudden, they are not so sure. They look to one another for answers and realize that none of them has any clue who this Jesus is, or what might happen next. This is a side of Jesus they have never seen before. He is not who they thought he was at all.
Sometimes I feel as if you and I need to have that sort of moment in our lives where Jesus can be who He really is and not necessarily who we have made Him out to be. Let me assure you, Jesus is not who you think He is. He is more glorious, more powerful, more confusing, more fascinating, and more radically inclusive than you or I can possibly imagine.
There’s a version of Jesus that we are comfortable with. He’s our friend. He’s our provider. He’s our encouragement. He is whatever we need at the moment. But, sometimes the Jesus we need isn’t the Jesus we should be following. Even worse, the Jesus we are comfortable with may not even actually be the real Jesus at all.
So, when we fashion a version of Jesus we are comfortable with, we run the risk of missing the real Jesus who upsets our status quo and makes us tremble in his presence asking, “Who is this?”
Maybe we’ve been confused by the language being thrown around in Christian circles about how we need to “know Jesus” in order to be saved. Jesus Himself said as much (John 17:3). But maybe knowing Jesus isn’t a past tense reality? Maybe knowing Jesus is an ongoing, daily journey of discovery. You meet him as a friend, you receive him as a savior, you embrace him as a brother, you marvel at him as a teacher, you lean on him as a provider and a good shepherd, and you are continually surprised to discover another new facet of his character with every passing day, because he is alive, and he is bigger than your expectation.
I don’t know about you, but if I am offered a choice between the Jesus I have made in my own image or the Jesus I have not fully understood yet, I would rather have the Jesus who is still bigger than my ability to understand, who defies my description, who challenges my preconceptions, and who takes my breath away. I would rather have the real Jesus, and I have to be willing to admit that the real Jesus may not fit into my convenient little box.
Let Jesus be who he really is. Jesus is not your UFC fighting champion. Jesus is not your flag-waving Republican (or Democrat). Jesus is not your blue-eyed all-American boy.
Don’t fabricate a version of Jesus who happens to share your political viewpoint, or who hates all the same people you hate, or who tolerates all the minor sins you happen to practice.
Our journey of faith is to find out who Jesus really is. Not to mold him into the version we are more comfortable with. We must take his words to heart. We must grapple with his teachings. We must take up our cross daily and follow Him - not our own agenda.
Jesus doesn’t want to be your co-pilot. He’s either the pilot, or you’re on the wrong plane.
On the way he asked his disciples, "Who do men say that I am?" And they told him, "John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others one of the prophets." And he asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" (Mark 8:27-29)