Is Your Jesus the Real Jesus?

In one exchange recorded in the gospel of Matthew, Jesus asks his disciples who people think he is. They reply with what they’ve heard: “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (see Mat. 16:13-20). One of the interesting things about the possible answers they report is that each is somewhat understandable given first century Jewish culture. Another notable thing is that every one of them is wrong.

Jesus’ next question for his disciples is one we’d do well to ask ourselves today: “But who do you say that I am?”

Whether you’re new to Christianity or been around it all your life, you might be surprised at how much your understanding of Jesus comes from the people and culture around you.

After all, you’ve been exposed to the opinions of your family and friends. You’ve heard Jesus discussed, defended, critiqued, dismissed, and otherwise mentioned in media and academic circles. You’ve seen him portrayed in all kinds of art, from museum galleries to hip-pop songs, from Hollywood movies to greeting cards. And all these things have likely contributed to what you think about Jesus. But how much does your perspective of Jesus resemble the real person?

For example, people regularly portray Jesus as passive and meek (at least in the modern sense of meek, i.e., weak, mousy, etc.). He’s seen as a victim of larger events and machinations, someone who is walked over. Yes, he’s a nice and loving person, but he’s a bit of a wimp. A noble doormat.

And yet the Jesus we find in the gospels doesn’t resemble this person at all. Consider:

Jesus is not intimidated. At the age of twelve, he amazes religious teachers with his understanding. When he starts his public ministry, people are struck by the fact that he isn’t like other teachers, but rather teaches them with “authority.” On several occasions, he confronts religious and political leaders in rather bracing terms. In fact, in his encounter with Pontius Pilate, the man who supposedly had the authority to send him to his death, it’s Pilate, not Jesus, who demonstrates fear.

Jesus is completely resolute in his purpose. Jesus never swerves in his mission to “give his life as a ransom for many.” Despite knowing the betrayal and suffering ahead, Luke says that Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Even thought he was overwhelmed with sorrow at the prospect of what he had to do, he prayed to the Father, “Yet not as I will, but as you will.” And in the face of the foolish taunts of onlookers at his crucifixion, Jesus refuses to be baited into ending his suffering and forcibly responding to his detractors. Instead he takes the far more agonizing route and remains committed to enduring the cross.

Jesus is incredibly powerful. We see this over and over again in the gospels. He demonstrates complete mastery over the natural world, turning water into wine, calming a raging storm, feeding thousands from just a small amount of food, and so on. He heals all kinds of diseases and physical problems. He easily compels spiritual forces—forces powerful enough to wreak havoc on individuals and communities—to do what he commands. He raises people from the dead. During his arrest, trial, and crucifixion—when we might think he’s the most vulnerable—he demonstrates he is in complete control. And of course, he conquered his own death.

Far from a doormat, Jesus consistently reveals himself to be the resolute and powerful King.

And why is it important that we get this right? Ask yourself: which Jesus would you rather trust in and follow: doormat Jesus or King Jesus? Which Jesus will give you confidence that he will stick to his purpose of saving his people and fulfill his promises regardless of anything that might stand in his way?

I’ll take the real Jesus. What about you?

For more ways in which we can develop a better understanding of Jesus and his his importance for our lives, check out the Jesus According to Jesus class at The Crossing over the next few Sundays at 11 a.m.

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