Thursday, June 2, 2011

What is Theology?: Who is this Jesus?

Have you ever heard someone say that they hate Jesus? I certainly haven't... not in America anyway. Muslims call him a good prophet. Mormons claim to worship him. Every faction in the Christian church in every denomination has only good things to say about him. I've never heard a Buddhist insult him. I've never heard anyone from any religion take a stab at him. Why do you suppose that is?

When Jesus was alive he was never treated this well. There were crowds that loved him, but the crowds that decided his fate screamed "crucify him!" We all know how that story ended. Sure the story goes that Jesus was raised from the dead... but the fact that he needed to be is quite telling. What if he were here today? Wouldn't it be reasonable to think he would have been much happier in our day?

Think about it. Even people who take his name in vain don't put much thought into it. If you confront them about it they don't really think they're doing it to spite him personally. They certainly wouldn't do it to his face. The problem is with the Church right? People love Jesus, they just like to take stabs at the church because we don't live like he did. Right? Everyone who supports social justice would certainly love Jesus. He was all about the poor wasn't he? Judging by the tone in America towards him today, he would be welcomed with open arms wouldn't he? If he was around he would get the church back on track. We'd be more loving. We'd get our good reputation back. We're past those days where anyone would want to kill such a good man. People would get it. They would love him... they would love us too because we're his followers.

Does that sound about right? Yes? No? Maybe some of it's true... but something's a little off isn't it? Who was this Jesus really? If he's really the man I keep hearing about in pop culture, then I just don't see how he could get crucified... not now... and not in his day either. Something's not quite right. If people with differences this strong all say they admire him, then what do they admire him for? Do they even know?

In the Bible we see two very different reactions from people when he did his ministry. Jesus spent his time teaching, preaching, or working miracles. When he would do these things, he would either be marveled at, or he would arouse great anger in those who saw and heard what he did and said. The really hostile reactions came later in his ministry toward the time he was killed.

Many people like to talk about why he was killed. They like to talk about why he was hated. They also like to talk about why he was loved by so many. Everyone seems to have reasons. The number one reason I hear from many Christians for his death was that he was trying to bring down the religious establishment, and the religious leaders didn't like it. Maybe this is true... assuming we agree on what religion is and what an establishment is.

I think there's some truth to this way of saying it... but I think this way is a little too appealing to our American, individualistic, non-conformist minds. The bringing down of an establishment sounds great for us. We're Americans. Revolution is in our blood. I have one question though... if Jesus' goal was to bring down religious authority, then why would he go after the Pharisees? He could have gone much further than that. He could have gone after Roman authorities. They had the real power in those days. They wanted everyone to worship Cesar. Is that what he did? Not even close. In fact, go read your Bible. Look at how he treated and spoke of Roman authority. Roman soldiers were actually on pretty good terms with Jesus most of the time.

It was something more. It was something much more. Jesus didn't come because he had a problem with authority. He even told us he came to fulfil the law. What was it? What got him killed? The answer should be obvious to us, but so often we forget. He didn't just come to bring down authority. He came to set up authority. He WAS true authority. People don't hate good teachers. Good teachers with a quick wit and wise words are glorified in the movies. People like their thoughts provoked. What they don't want is their place on the scale of authority defined for them. They don't like being told what to do.

When I hear Christians who are sick of being unpopular talk about Jesus and what he would think about the state of the church, I hear some truth... but then sometimes I have to say, just who is this Jesus you're talking about? I've read my Bible and I can't find him. He made people angry. Not because he wanted to hug them. He made them angry because of who he said he was. Not only because he said it... but because he proved it was true with his life. He convicted them with his very presence.

Who was He really? He was the Son of God. He wasn't just a man. He was God himself. "This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God." He didn't leave the option "good teacher" open as a view of who he was. He didn't leave "only human" to be an option. He existed before he even became a human. He claimed to know Abraham. When they questioned this claim, he said: "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.", a statement reserved only for God himself. When the rich young ruler came to him and called him "good teacher," he responded, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone." This could only mean one of two things. Either he wasn't good, or as I've heard stated, you can only call Jesus good if you're willing to call him God!

This was why the Pharisees hated him. This is why they had Him killed. They preferred their kingdom over God's. Would an individualistic, revolution based nation like America want this Jesus to come for a visit? I don't think so. We would have killed him too. Sure, people loved him in his day, but it was the people who recognized that he spoke with authority and they honored it. In those days it was the sinners and outcasts. We love to preach about Christ's love, grace, and forgiveness, but we forget that it is impossible to enjoy those attributes of Christ without his authority.

So how should we in the church feel? Jesus didn't promise us popularity. He promised the opposite. He promised that if the world hated him, they would hate us too. Does that mean we should look for opposition? Of course not. If someone says they love Jesus and not the church, we should be quick to examine ourselves. But, we should also be quick to wonder which Jesus they're talking about. Is "the church" as they call it really becoming a bunch of hypocritical Pharisees? Or are they the Pharisee that is too proud for the grace of Christ under his authority? We can't always judge quickly, but whether the church is the most loved institution in the world is not what will prove anything. Knowing the real Jesus is our only hope. The proclaimer of grace as well as truth. The bringer of peace, and the bearer of wrath.

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