Is Your Jesus Too Small?

As the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approached a few weeks ago, I found myself browsing through some of the many news and blog pieces being written to reflect on those terrible events. I can’t remember where I came across it, but one author’s retrospective mentioned a conversation he overheard between two students on a college campus the morning of the attacks. One of them remarked something like, “I turn on the T.V. and it’s just ‘Twin Towers this, Twin Towers that.”

Without wanting to be too hard on that particular student, I think it’s fair to say that he hadn’t yet grasped the huge ramifications of 9/11. Family and friends would feel the searing losses resulting from nearly 3,000 lives lost. Our country launched a global war on terrorism that would claim the lives of many more. Our diplomatic relationships with numerous countries changed significantly. Buildings that had assumed an iconic value for both New York City and the nation were smoldering piles of rubble. We began wrestling with difficult questions regarding security vs. civil liberties. The stock market took a significant dip, reflecting the unease inherent in crisis situations.

That college student clearly didn’t get it. At that point at least, 9/11 was a small event in his mind, something to get past so we could resume our normal programming.

I bring this up because I think we can do that same thing with Jesus. We can make him small. How? In at least two ways. In the first, Jesus becomes something like a friend whose primary role is to make our lives better, happier, more enjoyable, more fulfilled. I don’t mean to suggest that such thinking is completely misguided, only that it’s seriously incomplete. Most of us probably don’t put on a “Jesus is my homeboy” shirt, but we all fit somewhere on the continuum of this mentality at one point or another.

The second way is to relegate Jesus to limited, even if important, aspects of our lives. We’re happy to talk about him, his will, his significance, etc., on Sunday morning or during our small group. But we don’t associate Jesus with the rest of our lives: our work, everyday family life, finances, free time, friendships, etc. We want to get him out of the way so we can get back to the important stuff. In this perspective, Jesus becomes a complimentary or even optional player in our lives. And again, we’re all guilty of this mentality in some fashion.

So we have ways of making Jesus small, only sometimes relevant, only sometimes necessary. Of course, that’s not at all who he really is. Consider how John begins his gospel:

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

While we couldn’t possibly plumb the depths of a passage like this in a single blog post, I will underscore a few points:

1. Why does John call Jesus the Word? To answer, ask another question: when God speaks, what happens? His word creates, it guides, it works salvation. And it reveals something of who God is, including his character and purposes. Jesus is God’s greatest demonstration of all these things.

2. Of course he is that because he is God himself. He was with the Father before creation. Literally everything in creation was made through his eternal power. This has two profound implications. First, Jesus is the rightful Lord of all there is. He gets to set the agenda. Just as a painting doesn’t choose which colors it will include or where it will be displayed, the created works (including us) don’t dictate to their Creator. Secondly, it means that literally everything in creation is only rightly understood—at least in an ultimate sense—in light of who Jesus is and what he’s about. In short, he’s relevant to every bit of our existence. (See also Col. 1:15-17.)

3. John says that Jesus is “life” and “light.” While some scholars see this as still pointing to Jesus role in creation, it’s hard to read the rest of the gospel and not see a connection to his work in salvation (re-creation). After all, he will later demonstrate himself to be both the “light of the world” and “the way, the truth, and the life.”

So, even from these few short verses, we find that Jesus is the eternal, cosmic Lord, the origin and context for every bit of our lives and experience, and the source of light and life. He is many things, it turns out. But he is never small.

In fact, in light of these truths, it becomes all the more remarkable that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). That the God of the universe would condescend to become one of us, rub shoulders with us, to suffer and die for us, to become not only a friend but a brother to his people, is quite simply astounding.

I read another story of 9/11 recently that I won’t soon forget, one concerning Lt. Heather Penney, nicknamed “Lucky,” and her commanding officer, Col. Marc Sasseville. On the morning of 9/11, when the news came that a plane had hit one of the towers, they thought it was an accident. Then they heard about the next tower being hit, followed by the Pentagon. Word came that a fourth plane was on its way.

And so Penney and Sasseville, took off shortly thereafter. They had been scrambled to bring down United Airlines Flight 93. They knew the stakes. They knew that, in order to protect their fellow citizens, they were going to have to bring down a plane full–tragically so–of their fellow citizens.

But there was one more thing that they knew as they flew to intercept Flight 93. They knew their fighters had no live ammunition. There hadn’t been time to arm them. The only way they could fulfill their mission was to fly their own planes into the airliner. That likely meant their own deaths. They went anyway.

Thankfully, they did not have to carry out their mission. The heroic passengers of Flight 93 brought it down themselves before it could be used to hit another target. But Lt. Penney and Col. Sasserville got it. They knew that 9/11 was not a small day.

So here’s the question for you and me. Do we get it—really get it—when it comes to Jesus? Is he the small Jesus that we sometimes acknowledge and then move on? Or is he the always-relevant Creator and Lord of all there is, the ultimate source of light and life?

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