WHO IS JESUS?
Written by Doug Ponder on April 28, 2013
Consider Jesus (You Owe it to Yourself)
Whether you consider yourself to be a Christian or not, and whether you consider yourself an expert of Jesus or someone who knows little about him, you owe it to yourself to consider the life and teachings of Jesus. You owe it to yourself because the impact of Jesus’ life and teachings upon the world is unrivaled by any other figure in history. No one is more loved and hated than Jesus.
How could this be? Jesus never traveled more than a couple hundred miles from his rural, backwoods home in first-century Israel. He never held a political office. He never wrote a book. He never married. He had no professional degrees. He never won any major awards. He died poor and homeless.
And yet, Jesus is the most famous person in history. Fully one third of the world today call themselves “Christians” (Christ-followers)—a nearly fifty percent increase in self-proclaimed adherents over the world’s second largest religion. More songs have been sung about him, more books have been written about him, more artwork has been created of him, more buildings have been built for him, and more charities have been started because of him than any other person in history. In fact, Jesus’ impact is so huge that we even divide our calendars into the years before and after his birth. (This is even true for international calendars, as the global community uses these divisions as their standard.)
No nation or person has changed human history as much as Jesus has. You owe it to yourself to see why.
Popular Misconceptions of Jesus
Now, none of this should be taken to mean that everything done “in the name of Jesus” has turned out for the better. There are a lot of people in the world, some of whom are confused about Jesus and some of whom deliberately twist Jesus to suit their own agendas. The problem in such cases, however, is not that these people were too much like Jesus. On the contrary, they didn’t really consider who Jesus was and is.
For example, consider the following common misconceptions about Jesus:
1. Hippie Jesus – Jesus was a wandering tree hugger who would never swat a fly or say anything harsh to anyone, no matter how evil they might be. People who follow Hippie Jesus have mistaken his kindness for passivity, and his humility for weakness.
2. Ethnic Jesus – People who wrongly speculate about Jesus’ skin color, trying to claim him for their own ethnicity, are followers of Ethnic Jesus. They overlook the fact that Jesus’ Jewishness had less to do with his skin color and more to do with the fact that he was a member of the people that God had entrusted with his promises.
3. Sweet Little Jesus Boy – Jesus was the cute and cuddly baby who gives us a reason to celebrate at Christmas time. This image overlooks the fact that Jesus grew into a man, let alone the fact that he is the Lord of the universe.
4. Buddy Jesus – Jesus is your pal, your chum, or even ‘the man upstairs.” Jesus is not seen as the Sovereign, the one who has the authority to command them or rebuke them or call them to turn from sin.
5. Syncretistic Jesus – Syncretism is the blending of a one belief system with another, despite their contradictory claims. So Jesus was just a good Muslim prophet, preparing the way for Muhammad; or Jesus was an enlightened sage of Buddhism; or Jesus was one of the many reincarnations of the god Vishnu. Yet Jesus made plenty of statements that contradict the central tenets of Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Clearly, he should not be viewed as one of the teachers of those religions.
6. Co-Pilot Jesus – If you have the “God is my co-pilot” bumper sticker on your car, then you’re probably guilty of following Co-Pilot Jesus. People who think of Jesus as their Co-Pilot basically imagine him to be just a helpful life coach who sits beside them and doesn’t do much until they say, “Jesus take the wheel.”
7. Hyper-Political Jesus – It’s true that you can’t separate belief from politics. But some people take this to another level by trying to claim Jesus for their own way of thinking. If you think that Jesus would be a Republican (or Democratic) presidential candidate, then you’re guilty of following Hyper-Political Jesus.
8. Liberation Jesus – Jesus did a lot of good for the oppressed in his day. Unfortunately, his acts of charity and compassion have been twisted by modern groups to support their devotion to things like Communism, Socialism, or even total tolerance of everyone and anything. These people love Liberation Jesus because he always opposes “the man” and helps “the people,” who supposedly don’t need any correction from him.
9. Action Figure Jesus – Jesus was a legendary hero after the likes of Spiderman or Batman. To you Jesus will be little more than entertainment and inspiration. He’s a legend, but he’s not a real person who lives and acts within history to heal, to judge, and to restore.
There are many other horribly misguided images of Jesus that remain popular today. (Perhaps you can think of a few of your own to add to the list.) So where should we go to get the real image of Jesus? To the source of his life and teachings, of course.
The Life of Jesus
In the Scriptures we see several stories that give us glimpses from the life of Jesus that correct our misguided notions of who he was and is.
Jesus claimed to forgive the sins of others. Every Jew knew that only God can do that. So why would Jesus tell others he forgave their sin? Furthermore, how could Jesus forgive others for their sins against you? Who does Jesus think he is? (cf. Mark 2:1-12)
Jesus also calmed a storm. Although, that sounds pretty tame compared to what he actually did. The Scriptures say that he rebuked the wind and the waves—Shut up!—and they obeyed him. His disciples were so scared they wondered out loud, “Who is this that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Luke 8:22-25)
Jesus also cast out evil spirits from those who were oppressed by the forces of darkness. With a single word he did what imprisonment and banishment could not do—he restored a man to his right mind by driving out his tormenting spirits. The eyewitnesses of this were so terrified by what they saw that they begged Jesus to leave their town quickly. What kind of man is Jesus, that even the demons fear him? (cf. Mark 5:1-20)
Jesus healed the sick on many occasions, restoring their sight, reversing their paralysis, and curing their ailments completely. The religious leaders who saw these things wondered, “Who is Jesus? One of the prophets?” For they couldn’t understand how a man could do the works of God while associating with the kind of people that the religious leaders despised (cf. John 9:1-41)
Not only did he heal the sick, Jesus even raised the dead. After coming upon the tomb of a friend who had been dead and buried for four days, Jesus spoke to the dead man, saying, “Come forth!” And the dead man obeyed the call of Jesus. It was Jesus was the master over death. Maybe that’s what he meant when he said, “I am the resurrection and the life”? (cf. John 11:1-44)
Jesus also did many acts of compassion, feeding the hungry and helping the poor wherever he went. On one occasion he miraculously multiplied a few loaves of bread and some fish to feed more than five thousand people. All of this because he was pull of pity and moved with compassion for their needs. (cf. Luke 9:10-17)
Jesus was no softy, though. The Jesus who healed the sick and helped the poor and needy was the same Jesus who made a whip to drive out some religious thieves from God’s holy temple. They were abusing the place that God had established for his people to worship, using it to make money through exhortation. So, Jesus’ love for his Father’s glory spilled over into righteous anger as he stormed the temple and turned over their tables, spilling the spoils of their robbery onto the temple floor. (cf. John 2:13-22)
Yet Jesus was no angry, self-righteous judge. He was a “friend of sinners” who befriended the very lowest and most despised members of society in his day. Others mocked him and called him terrible names because of his love for the people, but he insisted on hanging out with them. When it was pointed out to Jesus that his friends were transgressors of God’s law, Jesus replied, “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Mark 2:13-17)
Even if none of Jesus’ teachings had been written down, the stories from his life paint a thorough picture of the kind of person he was. He had power over nature and the supernatural. He had the ability to heal the sick and raise the dead. He was compassionate and selfless. He was humble and welcomed everyone who came to him. He firmly upheld the righteousness of God, yet he went around telling others that their sins were forgiven. Who else but God-in-the-flesh, the Lord and the promised Messiah of Israel, could do all these things and more?
The Teachings of Jesus
We don’t have to wonder about what he wanted us to do based on pictures or glimpses from his life. He tells us plainly.
“Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. (cf. Mark 8:27-31)
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:23-26)
“Why do you call me, ‘Lord,’ and do not do what I say? As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.” (Luke 6:46-49)
This is what led those who met Jesus to agree with the testimony of men like John the Baptist, who said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! . . . I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. . . And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” (cf. John 1:29-34)
Jesus is the Messiah, the chosen Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. That’s why he has the authority to forgive the sins of others, for he laid down his own life to atone for sin. Jesus is also the Lord. That’s how he was able to heal the sick, raise the dead, and even be raised from the dead himself. Jesus was raised from the dead as proof of his righteous place as the world’s Savior and Sovereign Ruler. He will come again to redeem his people, restore his creation, and judge every evil once and for all.
Do you follow this Jesus? Have you considered the implications of his life and teachings? He is your boss. He is your rescuer. He is your judge. He is your friend. He is your teacher. He is your helper. He is Jesus, and everything you do should be weighed in the light of who he is.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.