How do you imagine Jesus, his features, or the way he's dressed? In The Shack, author Wm. Paul Young describes him as “Middle Eastern...dressed like a laborer, complete with tool belt and gloves. He stood easily, leaning against the door jamb with arms crossed in front of him, wearing jeans covered in wood dust and a plaid shirt with sleeves rolled above the elbows, revealing well muscled forearms. His features were pleasant enough, but he was not particularly handsome….Mack knew instantly that he liked him” (The Shack, p. 86-87).
What was it about Jesus Christ that drew people to him? Was it his appearance? The Gospels are profoundly disinterested in Jesus’ appearance. However, the prophet Isaiah suggests that when the Messiah comes, he will have “no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53: 2). Along these lines, Mack bluntly remarks to Jesus, “I just thought you’d be better looking.” Jesus laughs: “By whose standards? Anyway, once you really get to know me, it won’t matter to you” (The Shack, p. 113). One thing is certain from those who got to know him first. In the words of Michael Green, Jesus was not “a miserable holy man that never laughed”, nor was he “a lifeless figure in a stained glass window” (Michael Green, Who is this Jesus?). Here are three observations that the gospels make with confidence:
The first is this: Jesus was great company: He helped us to see ourselves and one another as God does. Jesus was someone people wanted to be around…someone people really enjoyed getting to know. He was a carpenter …who mixed as easily with shepherds and fishermen as he did with the wealthy and influential of his day. He broke down all the usual barriers that kept people apart. Michael Green points out that a respected teacher like Nicodemus was as comfortable with him as a loose woman from a hostile neighboring town. He was surrounded by children one minute…and by crowds of grown men and women the next. Everyone who knew Jesus, knew that he helped people see themselves and each other as God does…with grace, forgiveness, truth, and love. As God instructs Samuel: “The LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (1 Sam.16:7).
In Philippians 2, Paul exhorts the church to be a place of encouragement, compassion, sympathy, humility, in full accord and of one mind, looking to the interests of others not just one’s own…and then he sums up all he’s said in this way, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2: 5). In other words, Jesus was an encourager, Jesus was compassionate, Jesus was humble, Jesus put the interests of others before himself! No wonder he was such great company…who wouldn’t want to be with a man like that?!!
Here's another observation: Jesus made God real: Those who met Jesus felt they had come into contact with God. The Gospels speak of a unity between Jesus and God that is utterly unique; a closeness like that of Father and Son. Paul speaks of how Jesus was “in the form of God” (Phil. 2: 6) and in Col. 2:15 that he is “the image of the invisible God.” Jesus says in John 14: 9, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father…Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” And again, in Luke 9: 46, “Whoever welcomes me…welcomes the One who sent me.” What’s significant is that Jesus not only called God his Father… but he encouraged us to call upon God as our heavenly Father too; to experience the intimacy that he already experiences with the Father in the Holy Spirit. Jesus says to Mack: “I am the best way any human can relate to Papa or Sarayu. To see me is to see them. The love you sense from me is no different from how they love you” (The Shack, p. 112). Obviously, we meet God in creation, through other people, circumstances and divinely orchestrated events; but it’s the witness of Scripture and countless millions that Jesus himself best reveals the character of God, and the heart of God.
Jesus wants to make God real in your life; he wants you to know that he was with you in the past, that he’s with you now, and will be with you in the future. How easy it is for us to be overwhelmed by fears and worries about the future…to say that we trust in God, but not practice that trust in real life. “Do you realize that your imagination of the future, which is almost always dictated by fear of some kind, rarely, if ever, pictures me there with you? To the degree that those fears have a place in your life, you neither believe I am good nor know deep in your heart that I love you” (The Shack, p. 144). Regardless of what your present life is like; or what your future holds…you and I can begin to imagine our present and future as a life with Jesus and his love.
Two weeks ago, I needed encouragement. The reason is not important; but in the morning the Lord gave me a clear word from Scripture that lifted my spirit…and then that evening, while waiting in line at the local Trader Joe's, something extraordinary happened. Standing in front of me in line was a pastor and spiritual mentor that I had not seen since 1985. It was his ministry along with my dad’s that most influenced me to enter seminary. I shared with him about my present life and ministry without any hint that I was in need of encouragement; yet out of the blue, he said to me, “Steve, don’t be discouraged.” It felt like Jesus was speaking to me in that moment; and I left the store feeling 10 feet off the ground. Jesus is alive…he makes God real…and I’ve experienced it -- again and again and again.
Finally, Jesus’ life was profoundly human: He modeled for us how to be a humble vessel of God’s grace and power. The final aspect of Jesus' character that I want to zero in on (because the New Testament certainly does) is his humanity. Paul says in Phil. 2:7 that Jesus “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in human likeness.” Paul is speaking about an incredible mystery…the mystery of the incarnation…the mystery of God humbling himself in Jesus Christ… becoming a flesh and blood human being. In my previous blog, we talked about the mystery of the Triune God…one God, three Persons; and that the disciples saw in Jesus the very presence and power of God at work. Christians rightly affirm Jesus’ divinity… but we have to be careful not to so emphasize his divinity that we forget to honor his humanity.
Some may object: If Jesus was fully human, how did he supposedly do all those miracles? How did he feed the five thousand? How did he cleanse the lepers and open the eyes of the blind? How did he preach and live such a life of humility and grace? Is this not testimony to Jesus' divinity? Listen carefully to the words of Christ in John 5:19: “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus says, “the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise." In The Shack, Papa says to Mack: “Although [Jesus] is fully God, he has never drawn upon his nature as God to do anything. He has only lived out of his relationship with me, living in the very same manner that I desire to be in relationship with every human being. He is just the first to do it to the uttermost – the first to absolutely trust my life within him” (pp. 101-102). In other words, Jesus was human. At 12 years old he wandered away from his parents to talk with the rabbis in the temple. In the desert, he grew so hungry he was tempted to turn stones into bread. He told funny stories about camels trying to squeeze through a needle’s eye to make a point. He wept at the tomb of Lazarus; and sweat drops of blood in Gethsemane.
I began by asking the question, “What is it that draws us to Jesus today?” Here is what some of my own church members told me this week: Jesus is approachable and personal ●he always knows exactly what to say ●he’s merciful and kind while being Lord ●he’s human, he can identify with me ●he’s available, never puts you on hold ●he’s friendly and helpful ●strength of man, gentleness of woman, he’s complete ●his way with children ●his humility ●his kindness ●he’s approachable ●his compassion ●how real he is ●he’s humble, loving, accepting, especially to the poor ●his courage; unconditional love ●he showered his love upon the sinners of his time, prostitutes, drunkards, sick, poor, those the religious judged and scorned ●his calm, restful completeness, his perfect obedience to the Father as an inspiring example to us of how to live, and finally, ●he’s down to earth, literally. I'm impressed by the consistent portrait of Jesus that emerges in these 21st century descriptions of Jesus; and I love the humanity of Jesus expressed in these words!
There’s a scene in The Shack, where Jesus drops a bowl in the kitchen. As the bowl crashes to the floor, and splatters food all over Jesus, Papa and Sarayu (the Holy Spirit), all three start laughing. Sarayu teases Jesus about how clumsy humans are. Then, Jesus begins to lovingly wipe the food off of Papa, including Papa’s feet. Now, the truth is, I break dishes all the time, but Jesus? It's been observed that we often put people we respect on a pedestal…a pedestal so high, we end up de-humanizing them. Pastor Bruce Humphrey points out that to dehumanize often refers to treating a person less than human; but it can also simply mean “to divest of human qualities.” By imagining that people we admire are so far above us; we actually dehumanize them...we make them unreachable and unrelatable.
Why do we do this to Jesus? Could it be that we actually want to see Jesus as strange and other worldly because it's easier to ignore him that way? After all, if he's really "un-human" we don't need to take his teaching or his example that seriously. On the other hand, if we can see that Jesus is as fully human as Scripture testifies, eating and drinking, laughing, weeping, at times getting angry with us, trusting moment by moment in the Father’s help….If we could picture, for a moment, Jesus in jeans, down to earth (literally); fully God yes, but also fully human, with a work shirt and a tool belt around his waist, then perhaps we could see ourselves in jeans too…called to be in his company, to have the same mind and attitude that he has, trusting the Father’s life in us as he does, called to be humble servants as he was, and to live as ordinary human beings, to the glory of God!