Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Who is Jesus?

In our society, we love celebrities. We’ve all seen the oceans of ink and days of airtime devoted to Brad Pitt, Paris Hilton, Lindsey Lohan, or any of a hundred different celebrities. Why is that? I believe that we all long to be connected to someone or something, but don’t want to risk being hurt. Perhaps, they think, they can have a relationship with these people, but at the same time not risk any real hurt. We will know a lot about them, but we will probably never know them. They will remain personalities to us, not persons. They will never be more than what we want to project on to them. They will never be real to us.

Unfortunately, to many in the Church, Jesus remains a personality, not a real person. He seems unapproachable, and unknowable. Too many people, Jesus is an impressive figure that can’t be known. Like today’s celebrities, too many people project their own hopes and ideals onto Jesus and want to have a “relationship” with him that based, not on Jesus’ Personhood, but on his personality or celebrity. They want a relationship where they can’t be hurt (or changed) by Jesus. Perhaps that’s the condition some of us are in? We know about Jesus. We love and respect Jesus. We even worship Jesus. But do we know Jesus? Do we want to know Jesus? How can Jesus cease being a celebrity or personality and become a person for us? Well, to answer that question, let’s look at how Jesus became “real” to some of his disciples.
First, it might surprise you, but many of Jesus’ disciples didn’t recognize him as anything other than a political leader – a personality. There is a good story about the Disciples’ inability to recognize Jesus in Luke. The story takes place on the Sunday of the Resurrection, after Jesus had appeared to the women, but the Apostles still doubted.

Luke 24:13-17
“That very day, two of them (the disciples) were going to a village name Emmaus, about seven miles form Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?’ And they stood still, looking sad.”

Jesus’ own disciples didn’t recognize him. Luke tells us that “their eyes were kept form recognizing him.” Why is that? Probably because they hadn’t recognized the real Jesus before the crucifixion. They were too caught up in Jesus as the political leader or Jesus as the crusader for justice or Jesus the one who would free Israel from Rome or Jesus the fill in the blank.

Aren’t we like that too? Isn’t the ability to see the real Jesus the cause of today’s trouble in the Church? There is a story about a successful businessman who had just become a Christian. On a business trip from New York to Los Angeles, he sat next to a person from India. He began to tell his new neighbor all about Jesus and what Jesus had done. At the end of the businessman’s tale, the Indian man said: “Excuse me, sir. I was under the impression that Jesus was a first century Jew. You make him sound like a 21st century businessman.” How well do we know Jesus? How well would we recognize him? “Well, he’s not with us the same way he was with the disciples?” you might say. Well, the Risen Lord was walking with the disciples and they didn’t recognize him! They had followed him and seen him and listened to him teach and they still didn’t recognize him. Remember the disciples “stood, looking sad.” The Personality Jesus had let them down. Instead of overthrowing Rome, he had been killed by Rome. These disciples had spent their time on the road talking about Jesus.

There is a danger in the Church that we will spend too much time talking about Jesus and not enough talking to Jesus. Just as Jason said in yesterday’s talk on Piety, we need a connection with Jesus. So, how does the story continue?

LUKE 24:18-25
Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, ad crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see.”

One of this signs that a person is real to us and not just a personality is his or her willingness to listen to us. Listening is a gift to the speaker - and in listening, both the speaker and listener become a little more real to each other. Jesus, more than a great teacher or a wonderful debater or magnificent sage, was a master listener. He could listen to people and know what they needed to hear (if anything). In the story of Zacchaeus, the only words Jesus said to Zacchaeus was “Come down, I’m having dinner with you!” With Mary and Martha, Jesus listens to both of them in their grief and treats each one differently according to her needs. With the children, the lowest of society, Jesus rebuked his disciples so that the children could come to him. Picture the children swarming up to Jesus, reaching out to touch him and to talk to him. Can’t you see hundreds of questions coming from the children and Jesus laughing and answering them? Jesus listened to the disciples on the road as they poured out their hearts and frustrations. He then patiently responded and opened the scriptures to them showing why these things had to happen. The story continues:

LUKE 24;28-29
“So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further, but they constrained him, saying, “stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them.”

Jesus could have come and just said, “Here I am!” But he didn’t. He was patient and waited until the disciples lost their focus on themselves. Note how they now invited Jesus to stay with them. They were beginning to understand what had happened. They had to risk something of themselves before they could see Jesus. If Jesus is to become a person for us this weekend, we too will have to lose our self-focus and risk something of ourselves with Jesus.
The story ends like this:

LUKE 24:30-35
When He was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. The said to each other, “Did no our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures? And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, who said, “the Lord has risen indeed and has appeared to Simon.!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.”

Jesus appeared to them in the breaking of the bread. But notice, the disciples surrendered their position of host to Jesus before he could appear to them. He was the guest, but he became known to them when he became the host. Look at the sequence in the lives of the disciples. Jesus is a great person to them.
  1. They respect and admire him, but he is still a bit of a celebrity – not a person.
  2. Then Jesus dies and frustrates their hopes and dreams.
  3. They pour out their hearts to Jesus on the road.
  4. They invite Jesus to stay with them.
  5. They surrender their leadership to him.

Only then do they recognize the real Jesus – only then does he become a person for them. Only in invitation and surrender did they know that Jesus hadn’t been defeated – he had conquered death and that they shared in Jesus’ new life.

Is Jesus a person to you or a just a celebrity? Do you want Jesus to be a person to you? Put yourself in this story. Where are you? Are you still on the road, absorbed in how Jesus or others have let you down? Are you there pouring your heart out to him? Are you sharing your dreams and frustrations with him? Have you invited him into your life – to stay with you? Finally, have you surrendered to him?

Brothers and sisters, Jesus is alive and real. He asks us to invite him and to surrender to him. Jesus wants us to have a personal relationship with him. There is no better time than right now to begin or strengthen your personal relationship with Jesus. Where ever you are in the story, please take the next few steps. Invite Jesus into your life, surrender to him and let him become a real person to you.

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