It is the time of year when we celebrate Christmas and the birth of the Saviour of the world, Jesus Christ of Nazareth. But, who is this Jesus? Throughout history, many a ‘Jesus’ has come and gone. Paul the apostle warned us of this and that even another ‘gospel’ would be preached. To the Corinthians and the Galatians he wrote: “But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted - you may well put up with it” 2 Cor 11:3-4.
“I marvel that you are turning away from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the Gospel of Christ” Gal 1:6-7.
Who is this man?
The puzzled Jews and Pharisees asked Jesus “Who are You?” John 8:25. Peter, the Apostle, said of Him: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” Matt 16:16, and in his first sermon on the day of Pentecost declared: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” Acts 2:36.
Emperor Julian, the apostate, in his dying words proclaimed “You have conquered, O Galilean”. So, who is this Jesus of Nazareth? Who is this Galilean? Who is this man who lifted the centuries off their hinges, divided our calendar in half, and changed the course of human history? Wherever His true followers went, they changed the world for the better. Indeed, there is not a country where Christianity has gone and not been of immense benefit to its people. How is it that no man or woman has ever regretted being a Christian on their deathbed?
Dr James Allan Francis, in an essay entitled ‘One Solitary Life’ (1926), wrote this of Him: “Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village. He worked in a carpentry shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher. He never owned a home. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put His foot inside a big city. He never travelled two hundred miles from the place He was born.
He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself...While still a young Man, the tide of popular opinion turned against Him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves. While He was dying, His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth – His coat. When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend. Nineteen long centuries have come and gone and today He is a centrepiece of the human race and leader of the column of progress. I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that were ever built; all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that One solitary life”.
A different jesus within the cults
Today, some proclaim Him as a prophet only, an enlightened new-age guru, a cosmic Christ, a moral philosopher, a political revolutionary. Among the cults, many believe He is god, but not the only eternal God, or Saviour and not Lord.
C.S Lewis said in his book ‘Mere Christianity’ , “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said, would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic - on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg - or else he would be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this Man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman, or something worse. You can shut Him up for being a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon, or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that option open to us. He did not intend to.”
A different Jesus within evangelicalism
Daniel Darling, in an online article entitled ‘Counterfeit Christ Figures We Should Stop Worshiping’, states that “Jesus seems popular these days, even at a time when Christianity seems to be facing more social marginalisation.” He goes on to note that “from political and social movements, to bumper stickers, we’ve appropriated Jesus as a mascot for our favourite causes.”
But, is this the real Jesus of the Bible or a Jesus of our own construct and making? Christ’s Mission is to call out a people and form them into His own likeness, but it seems we are more interested in forming Christ into our image. It is as if Jesus can be easily moulded into whatever we wish Him to be. Soon, the Christ we claim to worship will look strangely like the man in the mirror.
What are some ways we are tempted to mould Jesus, like clay, into whatever we want Him to be? Here are some of the partial Jesus’, pointed out by Darling and others, that have become popular in contemporary western Christian culture:
Guru Jesus. This is the Jesus of the Enlightenment and New Age. He existed in history as a great moral Teacher, but was not nearly as radical as the Christ of the Gospels. This is the wise, winsome figure Who fits nicely alongside other moral teachers and religious leaders, like Buddah, Confucious, Chrisna, Vishnu, and others. This is a safe Jesus who only tells us good, affirming, uplifting things and does not bother us with dangerous talk of the Kingdom of God. Guru Jesus is the ‘cosmic therapist’ we can go to when we need Him for advice and affirmation. The problem with this Jesus is that He defies the historical record and claims of Jesus Christ, and is not the compelling Christ of Scripture. Guru Jesus does not meet the deepest longings of the human spirit for salvation and deliverance from sin and death.
Socialist Jesus. This is the Jesus of progressive social causes, who is anti-capitalist and has little relevance to personal salvation by faith. While it is true that the Kingdom means Good News for the poor, Christ’s coming wasn’t the first advent of a Karl Marx, but that of God’s eternal salvation and the inauguration of a New Covenant mediated through the life, death and Resurrection of Christ. The utopian dreams of socialism are trivial compared to the worldwide renewal promised by Jesus Christ and His Kingdom.
PC Jesus. This is the politically correct Jesus who is in vogue among many well-meaning, progressive, liberal evangelicals. The Jesus we are all tempted, at times, to embrace. He replaces the so-called angry God of the Old Testament with a mostly peaceful, healing, non-controversial Jesus of justice. He is far more likeable than the Apostle Paul, who just doesn’t seem to understand our twenty-first century social norms. This is the tolerant, ‘nice’ Jesus who loves unconditionally, appreciated by moral humanists. There is only one problem with PC Jesus, He is unlike the Christ of Scripture, who loved us sacrificially and spoke of an “unbreakable Law”. His coming was not to abolish “one jot or tittle of the Law”, but “to fulfil the Law.” The real Jesus said controversial and demanding things about marriage, about hell, about repentance, judgement and His coming Kingdom.
He-Man Jesus. This Jesus has come to help men recover their masculinity in a response to a crisis of manhood. This is the Jesus of Braveheart, Rambo, John Wayne and big-game hunting. However, a Christ-shaped masculinity isn’t defined by tough talk and martial arts. The Jesus of Scripture was both tough and tender, a Man who rebuked and nurtured. He did not come to conform men into a hyper-masculine construct, but, into men who fulfil their unique Kingdom purposes as servant leaders in the home, the church, and the community. Fatherlessness and masculinity can only be healed through the transformation of men who lay down the fallen nature of Adam to follow the Lord, Jesus Christ.
Patriotic Jesus. This is the Jesus of patriotic national renewal, who ushers in a revival of traditional values and a return to the perceived ‘glory days’ of yesterday. This Jesus always disappoints because he seeks ultimate satisfaction in short-term victories, instead of a long-term view of the Kingdom of God. In contrast, Jesus of Nazareth is not interested in simply returning America, Britain, or any nation for that matter, to an era of bygone values. He lived, died and rose again to renew the entire universe from the curse of sin. We Christians look to that great City whose builder and maker is God.
Dr Phil Jesus. He is a tough-talking of sage and dispenser of advice. Evangelicals seem to love this Jesus, He has the solution to all of their problems. To them He comes close to the Christ of Scripture, who is the answer to our deepest needs. Yet, sadly, He exchanges a pursuit of Christ and Christlikeness for a pursuit of principles. The Jesus Christ of Scripture becomes less of an object of worship, than a means to an end, in a five-step recovery programme. This Jesus, who will fix your marriage, set up your next job and ensure your children make it to university, is, in the end, a disappointing deity, preaching a moralistic, therapeutic deism that cannot save. The real Jesus Christ of Nazareth leads us not to a set of principles, but to Himself!
Prosperity Jesus. This Jesus is Dr Phil Jesus’ extravagant cousin. He doesn’t just promise an abundant life, but a wealthy and prosperous life. He is appealing to the wealthy, to those living in ivory towers, where persecution and difficulty are hardly known. He is the answer to a guilty conscience for those living in idolatry, greed, selfishness and plenty. Somehow, He seems removed from the threadbare existence of most Christians around the world. Prosperity Jesus is an insidious heresy preying on the poor to collect their money, causing disappointment and ruin when the promised prosperity does not materialise. The Christ of Scriptures does not promise private jets and expensive holiday homes, but the presence of God in the midst of difficult circumstances, and self-denying faithfulness in a fallen world. What’s more, the Christ of Scripture offers a much better ‘future return on investment’ than short-term bling of any earthly kingdom.
Post-Church Jesus. The Post-Church Jesus allows you to worship Him without all the trappings of the institutional church. He is for those who are burned out by the overly political, legalistic church. In some ways, this Jesus is attractive for those who have grown tired of a gospel that sounds more like traditionalism than the Gospel of Christ. But, the real Jesus of Scripture does not offer His followers the option of following Him without being part of the Church. The very act of regeneration by faith baptises the believer into His Body. Christ loves His Bride and offers no fruitful path outside of the community of the believers.
BFF Jesus. The Best-Friends-Forever Jesus is one who fits well with our contemporary, narcissistic youth culture. He hints at the truth of the real Christ, who offers personal salvation and is a friend of sinners. This Jesus, of modern worship songs, sounds more like an ex-boyfriend who is needy and clingy, than the righteous Ruler of the Book of Revelation. What’s more, He seems to have no connection to 2 000 years of Church history and the weight of Christian orthodoxy. Instead, He is a light, fun, personal and private Jesus who is detached from the coming King of Righteousness and Justice described by Scripture. He approves, without reservation, our lifestyles and seems safe for the whole family. He is the Jesus of pop evangelicalism, who offers little preparation for difficulty or hard times and offers little anchor for the coming cultural storms.
Legalist Jesus. Lastly, this Jesus baptises my traditions and personal preferences. Like the Pharisees, He mixes prohibitions on trivial matters with orthodoxy. This Jesus, scorned by some, is attractive to others because He offers a simple list of rules to live by. He allows His followers to ignore the daily practice of repentance, forgiveness, and the Spirit’s sanctifying work, for a checklist Christianity. The problem is, His gospel cannot save the lost. It offers a lifeless religion that seeks outward transformation at the expense of inward renewal and grace. Only the real Christ, whose life, death, and Resurrection offer personal salvation, has the power to change lives.
Who do you say He is?
Each of these ‘Jesus’ figures offer only a partial glimpse of the real Jesus of Scripture, by accentuating only some, or part of His character. This keeps Christians from bowing in worship at the feet of the real Christ, the Son of God, and the Saviour of the world. Any version of Christianity that allows us to shape Jesus as we see fit, although seemingly attractive, will be a spiritual dead end. We should, instead, find genuine joy and salvation in surrendering our hearts in worship and obedience to the original Jesus of Scripture!
PAUL DANIEL is the founder and senior pastor at Gateway Christian Family Church. Durbanville. firstname.lastname@example.org