I discovered Jesus as a thirteen-year-old watching Jesus Christ Superstar.
Most pastors and theologians I know would suggest that was a bad beginning. It seemed to take, though, as I’m still following Him some years later. You just never know which way that Holy Spirit wind is going to blow, do you?
I didn’t know the answer to the question the singers kept asking – Who are you, anyway, Jesus? Watching him die on a cross there on late night TV, I suddenly wanted to. I sincerely, desperately wanted to know who that was who would do such an incomprehensible, soul-searing thing. Because Sunday-school born and bred or not, I knew what he was doing, and I knew it was for me. I just didn’t know what I was supposed to do about it.
The culture that created that stage play and movie – my culture – was asking some macro and micro-cosmic questions.
Who do you say you are?
Jesus–Who do others say you are? Do you agree with them? Really, they were asking, Are you still relevant? Do you still mean anything? Is who you are still important to anyone here and now?
The answer was yes.
The answer is still yes.
Always, and eternally, yes.
But we have to know which Jesus we mean. Which Jesus is the conversation about? Which Jesus are we allowing to die on that cross and speak truth into our 21st century skeptical existence?
I promised an exploration into those questions, and it starts here, the first time Jesus makes a truly public appearance.
“Wrapped now in flesh, the God who once hovered over the waters was plunged beneath them at the hands of a wild-eyed wilderness preacher.” Rachel Held Evans
Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. But John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?”
But Jesus said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.” So John agreed to baptize him. After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” (Matthew 3.13-17)
Do you think you’re who they say you are?
This is a pretty whiz-bang way to make your first public appearance. The clouds open up and James Earl Jones’ voice booms out of heaven. He labels you pretty clearly – God’s son. Well OK then. There should be no more questions.
Jesus could take his special effects show and make bank on it. He could have an instant platform and thousands of followers on twitter. He could get his own reality show. He could talk world domination. He could do ….all the things the devil will soon tempt him to do out in the wilderness. Exert his power. Use his position. Make it big and splashy and all about him.
But he does not.
John knows who he is. He offers to give Jesus his rightful place. He cannot fathom that Jesus would not want to step up into the limelight, nor that he would want to step down toward submission and anonymity.
It’s the first thing people who encounter Jesus see. A man who has defeated Satan’s temptations and been announced to the world by God Himself, but he calmly walks into the water like he is ambling up to a stoplight and obeying the ‘walk’ sign. As if he is anyone in the crowd of people who need this obedience like they need bread in a famine.
He doesn’t need it, but he chooses it, and in choosing, he says to the people watching him for maybe the first time, “I am here to restore the order of things, and though I could be your Almighty God I choose to be your companion on this journey. I’m starting something new. Come with me.”
Jesus’ first statement before the world was that he could choose power and glory — but he will not.
That’s a Jesus we can love, isn’t it? That’s a Jesus we can trust, perhaps, in a world where it seems Christian leaders have not taken that road often enough. That’s a Jesus we can want to get to know more. That’s a Jesus who is still relevant in 2016.
Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross. (Philippians 2.6-8)
We are quick to choose the power and glory. That shouldn’t be surprising, since it’s the choice first made in that fate-filled garden. But can’t you love a Savior who chooses humility instead, at a time when the power stakes are at their highest?
We’re told, in this world where Jesus is no longer considered chic, that even His followers have to choose power and glory if we want to have an impact. Perhaps the way of Jesus is more relevant than we realize. It’s relevant to meet anger with humility. It’s incredibly relevant to take the road of quiet obedience rather than offer sound-bites on our position.
I want to know a man who is so completely different. I want to walk beside One who insists on a life so counter to His world’s wisdom. I want to put into practice a relevance that is so radical it’s timeless.
How about you?