What Was Jesus?

[I wrote this two years ago for a women’s retreat in Valdosta, Georgia.]

Was Jesus:

  • Wanted: I was taught that He was the Messiah the Jews were waiting for; so He must have been wanted, right? But Jews expected a hero-warrior-king. [Jeremiah 23:5: The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.] Romans wanted a puppet king (Herod); Mary wanted to marry Joseph and have kids after marriage. Nobody wanted or expected what happened.
  • Welcomed: Maybe He wasn’t what they expected, but since He was so much MORE than they expected, He was welcomed by them, right? But even His family doubted Him and tried to get Him to stop. [Mark 3:21 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’] In the (almost) end, He was so unwelcome that He was crucified.
  • A liberal or a conservative: Jesus is not our favorite brand of politician; He removed Himself and His kingdom from the politics of this world. [John 18:36 Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’]
  • A feminist or an anti-feminist: He is a salvation-ist; He did not come to elevate the status of women or to keep them subjugated. He came to save women – and men. Jesus’ ministry and His disciples included women; His parables included women (sweeping the house to find a lost coin), His miracles included women, women anointed Him with oil and tears, cried for Him as He carried His cross, stood at the foot of His cross, went to His tomb, and Mary Magdalene was the first to proclaim the good news of His resurrection. [John 20:18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.] But He cannot be called a feminist any more than He can be called a Democrat or Republican – BECAUSE THAT CONCEPT DID NOT EXIST THEN.
  • A social reformer: He did not come to make the world a better place. He came to remind us that this world is not our real home and destiny. [Luke 4:42-43 At daybreak he departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowds were looking for him; and when they reached him, they wanted to prevent him from leaving them. But he said to them, ‘I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.’] Jesus began a powerful social reform movement – one that continues to this day, including His “preferential option for the poor.” But that was not His purpose. His purpose was to deal with sin; social reform is an effect of Jesus’ mission, not His primary mission.
  • A religious reformer: He did not come to reform Judaism; He did not come to start a new religion; He came to tell us that God is with us right where we are; we don’t need religion. [Matthew 4:17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’] Repent = metanoia = turn around: The kingdom of heaven is not with the High Priest in the Holy of Holies in the temple in Jerusalem. The kingdom of heaven is all around you.
  • Christian: He was JEWISH! Matthew chapter 1 establishes Jesus as a Jew (descendant of Abraham) in the kingship line (descendant of David). He was raised, lived and died as a Jew.
  • The savior of the world: Jesus is the savior of individuals; of each person. He did not come to make the world great again, or whole again, or fair again – He came to bring individuals out of the world and into the kingdom of heaven. [Mark 2:5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’]
  • God’s Son: “Son of God” is a (confusing) way of describing God-incarnate; Jesus is God: teach third grade if you don’t get how confusing it really is. [John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.]
  • A man who lived 2,000 years ago: He was born 2,000 years ago; He lives TODAY!
  • The best advice columnist ever: He told us what the Law expected in order to make it clear that we will ALWAYS fail to earn salvation by keeping the law (as St. Paul, St. Augustine, Martin Luther and Nadia Bolz-Weber remind us). Salvation is ours only by “right” of grace: the righteousness of God freely given to us. [Luke 18: 26-27 Those who heard it said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ He replied, ‘What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.’ Those who heard it said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ He replied, ‘What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.’]
  • My best friend: I “get” my best friends; lots of times I don’t “get” Jesus and I certainly don’t like what He wants of me. My BFFs are pretty easy for me to understand and love. Jesus is full of contradictions. Once we get past the Christmas and Easter feel-good stories, and pay attention to His words and ministry, things can get pretty confusing. Mary couldn’t understand Him consistently, nor could Peter, Thomas, Paul – or even your pastor.

The truth is, I don’t know, from day to day, who Jesus is and will be to me. So I have to keep going back to hang out with Him – I have to keep reading the Bible – to make sure that I am not creating an idol whom I call Jesus.

Here’s what I know: I want to know the Jesus whom Thomas (yes, the one we call Doubting Thomas) knew and I want to respond to him as Thomas responded. Thomas only speaks 3 times in the gospels, all in the gospel of John:

  • John 11:16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’
  • John 14:5 Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’
  • John 20:28 My lord and my God. (The only time in the Gospels that Jesus is called God.)

I want Jesus to be the person I live and die for; I want to follow Him; I want to acknowledge Him as lord of my life and as God. That’s what I want but, like St. Paul: I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. … For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. (Romans 7: 15, 19)

Then my comfort, my peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7), my blessed assurance is that I do not have to be consistent because God is consistent in His belief in me, His love for me, His salvation of me. As the old hymn says:

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine;
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.

Perfect submission, perfect delight,
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
Angels descending, bring from above
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.

This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.

Perfect submission, all is at rest,
I in my Savior am happy and blest;
Watching and waiting, looking above,
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.

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