As someone who really likes Jesus, I feel like this is an important question for me to answer.
A lot of people talk about Jesus, but they can do so in ways that seem ambiguous or ways that simply project onto Jesus their own image of what they think he’s like.
This is a very old problem, stemming back all the way to Jesus’ ministry in the first century.
Mark 8:27-28 gives us this little snippet:
Jesus and his disciples went into the villages near Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They told him, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others one of the prophets.” (CEB)
That people today still attribute many different characterizations to Jesus (ex: hippie social reformer, cynic philosopher, self-help guru, etc.) shouldn’t surprise anyone. Jesus has always, always, always been the receptacle of other people’s expectations and preferences (ask me about “The Quest for the Historical Jesus” sometime).
So when I talk about Jesus, what am I talking about? What do I mean? What am I referring to?
When I speak about Jesus, I use three frames of reference: 1) His Words, 2) His Works, and 3) His Person.
To speak about Jesus means, in part, to speak about the words he spoke, so what did he say? What did he talk about?
The most basic of summary of Jesus’ message is found in Mark 1:15:
“Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!”
That’s it. That was Jesus’ first message: God’s rule is coming! Change! Trust! Do it now!
But what does God’s rule look like? I’m glad you asked.
Matthew 5-7 (the Sermon on the Mount) acts in many ways as a constitution for God’s kingdom. In God’s kingdom, people don’t seek revenge. They forgive. They tell the truth. They do for others what they would want others to do for them. In other words, they love (Matthew 22).
Living this life requires that a person set aside all of their personal interest, even to the point of death (Matthew 10).
And Jesus calls to us, hoping that we have eyes to “see” what he’s saying (Matthew 13).
It is a product of being “modern” people that when we think of Jesus, we tend to think of him primarily as a teacher…and we forget that the stories we have about Jesus, particularly in Mark, seem to indicate that he was a miracle worker…who, incidentally, also taught.
While I don’t want to get into the historical reliability of the miracle stories in this blog (although if you are interested, you can find some resources here and here), the focus on miracles in the Gospels is indicative of who Jesus was.
Jesus was once asked if he was really the one who would initiate God’s kingdom on earth. The story is found in Matthew 11:2-5:
Now when John heard in prison about the things the Christ was doing, he sent word by his disciples to Jesus, asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Jesus responded, “Go, report to John what you hear and see. Those who were blind are able to see. Those who were crippled are walking. People with skin diseases are cleansed. Those who were deaf now hear. Those who were dead are raised up. The poor have good news proclaimed to them.
Jesus’ response is a callback to a passage in Isaiah 61:1-2 (which Jesus quotes Luke 4:18-19, relating it to himself), which says:
The Lord God’s spirit is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim release for captives, and liberation for prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
The miracles of Jesus indicate to us that his agenda, and hence God’s agenda, is to free and heal those who are wounded, broken, and oppressed.
In the works of Jesus, we only ever see “the Lord’s favor.”
There are three passages I want to highlight that are significant for understanding who Jesus was in his person.
The first is John 14:9 where Jesus says:
Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.
Elsewhere, Paul writes in Philippians 2:6-8.
Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings. When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Finally, Colossians 1:15 states:
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the one who is first over all creation.
I want to sum up these three Scriptures with the following statement: If you want to know what God is like, God looks like Jesus.
In light of the words and works of Jesus, as well as his self-emptying nature, Jesus’ person is really good news about who God is.
Like what you see here? Join us on Sunday mornings at 10:30 at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington for the conversation and our Q&A.