I think one of the greatest misunderstandings our culture deals with is that of the personality and likeness of Jesus of Nazareth. Aside from His divinity (which I firmly believe in), His influence on the world is likely the most widespread in all of history. He wasn’t an aristocrat, a prince, or a wealthy businessman. He was a laborer and a Rabbi (and, of course, is THE Messiah). Whether we believe in His God-ship or not, we all seem to have an opinion on what He was like…what He stood for…the ways in which He lived His life. The unfortunate reality, however, is that He has been represented in ways that further our causes more than He has been represented truthfully…and this really needs to stop.
For years, I thought of Jesus as a British sounding, prim-and-proper, mild-mannered, somewhat non-threatening man. This was the way I saw Him represented in film and in illustrations. When I heard of Him being discussed, His lifestyle was always portrayed as a strongly religious and morally upstanding individual that cared about the way we behaved more than anything else. I’ve heard Baptists say that since there’s no record of Him actually consuming alcohol, then the case for alcohol being evil is strongly supported. When discussing the way He overturned the money-changer’s tables in the Temple, we gloss over the fact He was constantly railing against the way that the Jewish belief system had become so institutional and industrial. We essentially seem Him as a “church leader” or a “religious teacher.”
On the other end of the spectrum…perhaps a less conservative or traditional approach…He is represented as almost a hipster type that would never tell anyone that they were wrong for something. I’ve actually heard people say that He was the “original hippy.” His statements on loving each other and not judging are the ones that get quoted the most in this context and all He seems to care about is making sure the world is a fair place to live.
I don’t think either of these representations is accurate. I don’t believe He abstained from alcohol or meat. I don’t think that He was always a mild-mannered, calm, and proper individual. I believe He laughed and enjoyed life. There were times He was angry and there were times He mourned. He was disgusted by the way the religious establishment had become such a money-making and political machine that exploited people’s faith and cared very little about the reason for its foundation. He didn’t take it lightly when people were making bad decisions in their lives that resulted in pain and heartache for themselves or others. He didn’t mince words or tiptoe around subjects in any kind of politically correct way. But, I also don’t think He was a jerk (even though I’m sure there were some that likely thought He was).
Why is this important? Because our understanding of Him and His ways is foundational to the way we live out our faith. If we read the Gospel accounts with fresh, unbiased eyes, then we may come to the place of realizing that the things we care about or the things we emphasize were not necessarily on His radar…or that our understanding of His opinion on these things is way off.
His purpose wasn’t to fix our behavior but to redeem and resurrect our souls. His work wasn’t to try and make us moral or religious but to make us alive and vital. Jesus isn’t republican, democrat, or libertarian or whatever else. He wasn’t a politically correct social justice activist/guru.
If we are ever going to really help people understand the truth of the Gospel, then we’ve got to stop misrepresenting the One that the Gospel is about. If we are going to reach people with truth, then we must stop being traditional, conservative, progressive, liberal, or any other label. We’ve got to allow Him to be represented in ways that are realistic and may make us uncomfortable. We’ve got to put more focus on His reality and less on how we can remake Him in the image of our religious or social ideologies.
He was a man with leather skin, passion in His voice, fire in His heart, light in His eyes, and a total intolerance for the crap produced by establishments, activists, or lobbyists.
Let’s stop hijacking Jesus. If He were here today in the flesh, He would likely be in the middle of the most questionable of company, maybe even discussing life and truth over a beer. He would be compassionately direct and I don’t think at all afraid of offending people.
Perhaps that’s the way we should start behaving…like Him.
*Image taken from: https://authenticfreedomacademy.com/2012/07/05/jesus-out-with-the-bathwater/