“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa
One recent Sunday morning, Pastor Kim asked the young disciples what they knew about Jesus. There were basically two answers: “He was born in a manger” and “He died on a cross.” Not bad for kids whose average age was eight or so, and those are certainly two of the most important things to know about Jesus, but they’re far from the whole story.
There are denominations—and Christians—who distill the life of Christ down to those two moments, his birth and death, and especially his death. But this misses the amazing life in between the two. We don’t know much about Jesus’ life prior to the beginning of his public ministry following his baptism by John the Baptist (Matt. 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21,22; John 1:31-34). Luke records a single incident from when Jesus was twelve (2:41-52) but beyond that his early life is a mystery until well after he became an adult.
Along the way, he associated with fishermen and tax collectors, healed the sick, raised the dead, and gave hope and consolation to the outcast and oppressed. He came, he said, to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (Matt. 5:17), “‘to proclaim good news to the poor. . . . to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’” (Luke 4:18b-19 ESV).
Each life he touched was transformed, each person made different. True transformation is into the will and likeness of God (1 Cor. 3:18). If that doesn’t happen, there hasn’t been true transformation. Paul wrote to the church in Rome, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom. 12:2 ESV). But our idea of “good and acceptable and perfect” isn’t necessarily the same as God’s. The goal isn’t to make God’s will closer to ours but to make our will closer to God’s “by the renewal of [our] mind”. I believe when our will grows closer to God’s and we become transformed into the image of Christ we will be surprised. The Jesus I believe in doesn’t always tell me the things I want to hear. He doesn’t always conform to my preconceptions. But he’s always there, an advocate with God the Father (1 John 2:1), revealing his divine image and helping me to become more like him.
The children’s choir at church sometimes sings a song called “Everybody Ought To Know Who Jesus Is” and it’s true. We should know not just the Jesus we imagine, the Jesus who forgives us and eases our hurts, and agrees with our prejudices, but the real Jesus, the one who challenges us and sometimes says things that make us uncomfortable or even mad. That’s the same Jesus who made the religious leaders of his day mad, the one who frustrated the first disciples, who challenged everyone he met, and who continues to challenge people like you and me today.
It’s all right for children to know only the beginning and the end of Jesus’ story but for those of us who are adults the standard is higher. Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (1 Cor.11:1 ESV). How can we imitate someone we don’t know? We can know Jesus through Bible study and Pastor Kim’s excellent sermons. The Holy Spirit will let us know more through regular prayer. We can also become more like him through sacrificial service. And if we do know him, we can let his light shine in our lives. There’s an old Methodist hymn that we sing on Easter Sunday, “Love’s Redeeming Work Is Done.” The final verse contains the words “made like him, like him we rise, / ours the cross, the grave, the skies” (vs. 3). Being remade in the image of Christ means sharing in his birth, death and resurrection. We can’t have any one without all three. And if we share in these, we can share in his life. This is the message Jesus proclaimed. This is the message of Easter.
“I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. . . . I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” (1 John 2:12, 14b ESV.)