When you walk into the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, one of the first exhibits you encounter is a two-story-high, illuminated timeline, detailing the development of human rights. Between the Greek philosopher Socrates and the Roman emperor Constantine, is an entry that reads, “Jesus of Nazareth teaches virtues of love, compassion, and justice.”
The fact that a Jewish man named Jesus lived more than 2000 years ago in the Middle East is rarely questioned. Who Jesus is, on the other hand, is a question people through history have continued to ask. And it leads us to draw all sorts of conclusions.
A few years ago a Christian college gave a simple personality test to its first-year students, followed up a few weeks later with a questionnaire asking them to describe the person of Jesus.
The surprising (or not) result was that nearly every student described Jesus as their “ideal” self. They projected their greatest wants and positive characteristics onto their understanding of who He is.
Who do you say I am?
Jesus posed the question to His disciples after they returned from their first ministry practicum. (Matthew 16:13-16) “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” he asked.
And just like today, there was not a shortage of answers. The disciples replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matthew 16:14)
Then the question moved from the academic to the personal. “But what about you?” Jesus asked. “Who do you say I am?”
The question is intensely personal. Jesus doesn’t want to hear from us who our friends say He is, or who our spouse confesses Jesus to be, or what you were taught at home as a child, or even what you heard this past Sunday in church. Jesus wants to know who you say He is.
To answer the question “Who is Jesus?” we must begin with the incarnation. If we don’t, we will end up creating a Jesus in our own image, someone who is limited by our own thoughts and imagination.
As William Farley writes in his book Hidden in the Gospel, “The incarnation is not a doctrine that anyone would dream up. All the tendencies of our sinful nature run the other way—towards self-exaltation. When we invent gods, they are like us. That is why the gods of the ancient Greeks, Romans and so on were selfish, self-exalting, and self-obsessed.”
Wrestle and ponder
To really know the Jesus who gave sight to the blind, strength to the lame, calmed the storm, and conquered the grave and also became tired, hungry and died, you must wrestle and ponder the mystery of God becoming flesh. It is only by doing so that we see the full significance of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. It is in the incarnation that we see the holy, unseen, creator God revealing Himself to frail, sinful creation. The incarnation is how the triune God stooped down to us to show us who He is.
Failing to contemplate and grow in our understanding and appreciation for what it means that Jesus is the God-man, will inevitably lead us to worship a Saviour who is less than—less magnificent, less beautiful, less powerful, less glorious.
This Advent season let us not settle for a small Jesus. Rather let us ponder what it means for the earth-shaking God to become fragile flesh so that we could experience true hope, love, joy, and peace.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bill McCaskell is the National Director for One Hope Canada.