Who is Jesus?
Like the apostle, Peter, Christians believe that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. This is a fundamental Christian belief. Jesus, Himself, made the same claim on many occasions as seen in the four Gospels. Sometimes, He did so openly, but often implicitly. But by His death and resurrection, Jesus proved His divine credentials beyond doubt.
Jesus is an interesting character. Generally, people like Him. Even people of other religious faiths regard Jesus highly. Many revere Him as a great moral teacher, but they stop short of believing that He is God. Many atheists like Jesus too. Mahatma Gandhi, the revolutionary leader of the Indian independence movement, pretty much sums up the opinion of non-Christians concerning Jesus. Gandhi was quoted as saying, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Well, so deep was Gandhi’s admiration for Jesus that he adopted Jesus’ non-violent approach to revolution, which successfully disengaged India from the powerful British Empire.
But not everybody loves Jesus. Bertrand Russell is one such man. He is an agnostic English philosopher and one of the most influential thinkers in the twentieth century. In one of his famous essays, he said, “There is one serious defect to my mind in Christ’s moral character, and that is that he believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment.”
On another matter of lesser importance, Russell pointed out that Jesus was “not very kind to the pigs to put devils into them and make them rush down the hill to the sea.” He was also unimpressed with the curious episode of Jesus cursing the unfruitful fig tree. He remarked that there was neither wisdom nor virtue in what Jesus did.
While Russell found certain things concerning Jesus disturbing, I find it fascinating that generally, Christians fail to notice and question the bizarreness of some of Jesus’ words and deeds, which are at best controversial and at worst offensive. We tend to overlook these things. Contemporary Christianity has created a sanitised version of Jesus and the gospel message. Jesus is made to look like the nice and agreeable neighbour next door. He is safe, never controversial and always inoffensive. There are no conditions attached to believing in Jesus. He has no expectations, and He does not make any demands on His followers. On the contrary, Jesus is precisely the opposite.
Ironically, many Christians do not know the real Jesus.
Several years ago, Philip Yancey wrote a thought-provoking book with the title, “The Jesus I Never Knew.” It became an instant bestseller. The book brings out several facets of Jesus and the gospel message that many Christians are unaware. Masterfully written, it captured the attention of many Christians, and it helped them to know Jesus better.
Let me give you a brief preview of what you can expect from our pulpit in 2019. I will be presenting the biblical Jesus and clarifying the message of the gospel. You will be surprised at how little many Christians know about the biblical Jesus and understand the gospel message. They have some basic ideas but not a comprehensive enough understanding of Him. The bible reveals Jesus very clearly, but somehow, most Christians capture only certain vital aspects of Him. It is like they have seen a caricature of Jesus but not His actual portrait.
This is unfortunate, and it is problematic because a lopsided view of Jesus is unhelpful for our spiritual growth and development. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, says that God has given the five-fold ministers to His church to equip His saints so that “we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” and this is how we mature in our faith (Ephesians 4:11-13). An incomplete and thus distorted view of Jesus will only serve to complicate and derail this spiritual growth process.
I believe this is one of the primary reasons the contemporary church is facing a crisis of having many professing Christians but few authentic disciples of Jesus Christ. Many of them want to live for Christ sincerely, but they struggle to commit to a lifestyle of consistent and wholehearted devotion to Him. It might be an issue of misplaced priority, but I believe it also has much to do with the lack of understanding about Jesus and the message of the gospel. In view of this, let us commit ourselves to know Jesus better in 2019.
Pastors Leslie & Adeline Chua