Who IS Jesus, Really?

In college, when it came time to register for classes for the next semester, we students would huddle together with the class list in front of us and compare notes on the different professors. What did we know about Prof. Smith or Prof. Jones? Was he nice? Was she a tough grader? Did he diligently take attendance? Does she accept incomplete assignments? We talked extensively about each professor even though we had never actually met them or taken her class. At the core of all of our questions was this: Will I like him? Will she like me?

That’s a little like how we come to know Jesus, isn’t it? None of us have ever actually met the man face-to-face. All we have to go on is personal testimony and circumstantial evidence. And yet, our questions are similar to what we wanted to know about our professors: Is Jesus nice? Is he a tough grader? Does he diligently take attendance on Sunday morning? Does he accept incomplete assignments? And, deep down, we have the same core questions: Do I like him? Does he like me?

Those are hard questions to answer when the most recent first-person account we have is a few thousand years old. The question, “Who is Jesus, really?” is one I’ve been wrestling with ever since I was introduced to him. Actually, I wasn’t literally introduced to him, or else this question wouldn’t be nearly as hard to answer. Instead, I was introduced to him through the pages of scripture, through sermons from a pastor and through the experiences of other people. That’s a quite nebulous way to start a relationship.

The journalist in me has never been quite satisfied with my level of knowledge about Jesus, so for Lent this year we’re going to spend some time getting to know Jesus on a more personal level. We’ll do this in two different forums. In our Sunday School series at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday mornings in Chalice Hall, we’ll get to know Jesus through the “I AM” statements he makes about himself in the gospel of John. Jesus isn’t much of a self-promoter; in fact, in most instances he tells people NOT to publicize anything about him. So when he does talk about himself, it’s worth listening. Your ministers will take turns exploring with you the different ways Jesus identifies himself.

In the sermons, we’ll take a completely different angle on getting to know our Savior. In our efforts to build a relationship with Jesus or to introduce others to him, we tend to emphasize the less controversial parts of his personality. It’s a lot easier to get to know “Jesus, meek and mild” than “Jesus, mean and wild.” So we don’t often hear about the stories where Jesus appears irascible, off-putting or even – gasp! – like a jerk.

But in Lent, we will. We’ll look at those stories and see what we can learn about Jesus. We’ll hear his harsh words and read about his divisive actions. We’ll wrestle with the fact that our Savior wasn’t always a nice guy and how that could impact what we believe about him. We’ll spend six weeks getting to know him all over again.

My hope is that by the time we get to Easter, we’ll have a fuller understanding of Jesus’ time on earth. The disclaimer I offer is that we can never fully know him, more than we can ever fully know any human being. In the end, there will still be much we don’t know about Jesus. But hopefully we will have a more complete picture of who this man was back then and who he continues to be for us now. At the end of these six weeks, will we like him more or less? Who knows? To be honest, I’m not even sure what to expect. But I hope the conclusions I draw about him are similar to the ones drawn about the lion Aslan in C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”: “Safe? Of course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

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