. The Real Christ...
The naturalness which Jesus had with people reflects His respect for the freedom which God has given His people to chose for themselves. He was Himself supremely free, due to His pure conscience before the Father. He was the red heifer “upon which never came yoke” (Num. 19:2). We were set free from sin by Christ through “freedom” (Gal. 5:1 RV). But we were set free by Him as a person. His freedom, His freedom from sin and the freedom that must have characterized His person, is what liberates us too. And it is the experience of that freedom, the freedom from sin that comes through forgiveness (Jn. 8:32), which can be ‘used’ to love others (Gal. 5:13).
He didn't spell things out to His followers in the detailed way many religious leaders do. And yet it is surely related to a sense one gets from re-reading the Gospels that Jesus was in tune with nature. He so often uses examples and parables grounded in a perceptive reflection upon the natural creation. He spoke of the carefreeness of birds and other animals; and yet He had the shadow of the cross hanging over Him. The way He was evidently so relaxed with people is a tremendous testimony to Him, bearing in mind the agony ahead. All this is what makes and made Jesus so compelling. On one hand, an almost impossible standard- to be perfect, as the Father is. And yet on the other, an almost unbelievable acceptance of fallen men and women. He didn't criticize those who came to Him. He Himself was the standard by which their consciences were pricked, and yet not in such a way that they were scared away from Him. This mixture of high standards and yet acceptance of people wherever they were is what we all find so elusive. The fact none of us get it right is what turns so many away from our preaching. How compelling He was is shown by how He polarized people- He sought to provoke a final decision in people for or against Him personally- not a yes or no to a particular dogma, rite or law. His compelling power is associated with the sense of urgency which there was in His teaching. The Lord repeatedly spoke of His return as being imminent- and surely His intention was to inspire in us a sense of urgency about His return, a living for His kingdom today rather than delaying till tomorrow.
The Lord was unlike any other Rabbi- He wasn’t a verse-by-verse expositor of the Old Testament, neither did He like to argue case law. He told parables to exemplify and clarify His message- not in order to explain an Old Testament verse, as the Rabbis tended to. He drew lessons from nature in a way the Rabbis simply couldn’t do. Rabbi Jakob, a first century Rabbi, stated: “He who walks along the road repeating the Law and interrupts his repetition and says: How lovely this tree is! How lovely this field is! To him it will be reckoned as if he had misused his life” (The Mishnah, Pirqe Abot 3.7b). By contrast, the Lord stopped and looked at the flowers of the field and drew His teaching from them. The Rabbinic way was to write and study endless midrashim on Bible verses, a kind of verse-by-verse exposition. The Lord’s approach was more holistic and natural. The word ‘Midrash’ comes from ‘darash’, to search, and perhaps the Lord had this style of ‘Bible study’ in mind when He said: “Ye search [i.e. midrash] the scriptures because ye think that in them ye have eternal life… [but] ye will not come unto me, that ye may have life” (Jn. 5:39). Neither the Lord nor myself are against careful Bible study. But the Lord was warning against the attitude that eternal life comes from midrashing the Scriptures, writing dry analytical commentary, labouring under the misapprehension that this somehow will give life. Eternal life comes from knowing the life of Jesus, for His nature and quality of life is the life that we will eternally live, by His grace.
Jesus died because He gave out His Spirit, as an act of the will. He gave His life, it was not taken from Him by murder. The fact the Lord died not just because events overtook Him and happened to Him is perhaps reflected in Paul’s speaking in Rom. 6 of “the death that he died…the life that he liveth”. He died a death; he Himself died it; and yet just as truly, He lived a life. He didn’t just let events happen to Him. He was not mastered in His life by human lusts and selfish desires; He was in that sense the only ultimately free person to have ever lived. When He “bowed his head”, the same Greek is used as in Mt. 8:20: “The Son of man has no place to lay / bow his head”. It was as if He only lay His head down, giving out His life, when He knew it was time to rest from a day’s work well done. He lived a surpassingly free life, and freely gave that life up; it was not taken from Him.
On one hand, the Lord was totally in tune with the thinking of those around Him. Yet on another, He was so out of step with them to an extent that must have led to great temptations of frustration and loneliness. The disciples drove away the children; but Jesus wanted them to come to Him. He spoke of having food to eat which they didn't know, referring to the stimulation of His conversation with the Samaritan woman; and they thought someone had sneaked Him a packed lunch. They thought that Mary had wasted the valuable ointment; whereas He perceived it as a highly appropriate gift of love and understanding. It was as if He spoke a different language, was on a different level, was out of sync with those around Him. And yet on the other hand, it was His very humanity and realness which attracted people to Him. The tension between these two aspects of Jesus provides real insight into His personality and daily mental experience amongst us.
And consider the way He was accused of being a glutton and drunkard. He clearly had no problem in making wine at Cana. Would He have shared a mug of wine with the boys when, say, someone had a birthday? And therefore would a 21st century Jesus have shared a beer with His fellow workers? Now in my image of Jesus I'm not sure He would have done. But perhaps in your image of Him, He would have. Apart from the memorial meeting, I don't drink, and haven't done for many years. I know how in many cultures this seems to erect a barrier between me and those I seek to make contact with. But when Jesus made the water into wine, He provided about 180 gallons [400 litres] of it. At a time when surely some were already rather the worse for wear from alcohol- for the master of the feast pointed out that the best wine [i.e. with higher alcohol content!] was brought out only when people couldn't tell the difference, because they had "well drunk" (Jn. 2:10- Gk. methuo, 'to drink to intoxication'). I wouldn't have done that. At least, not to that extent- for you can be sure, they drank it all up. But He did, so comfortable was He with His humanity. And this perhaps was what made all kinds of people so comfortable with Him, prostitutes and old grannies, kids and mafia bosses, saints 'n' aints. We seem so often ashamed of being human, indeed, some have taken their understanding of 'sinful human nature' to the extent that it's almost a sin to be alive. Whatever we say about human nature, we say about our Lord. Let's remember this. But Jesus was happy with who He was.
And He encouraged others to likewise 'be themselves'. He spoke much of not being a hupokrites, an actor. Those who follow Him are not to act a part before others, as if all the world's a stage, being what others want in the audience of the world of eyes that surround us, acting as an actor does, merely to please others. He continued the image when He warned of not doing things " to be seen [Gk. theathenai]of men" . Don't let them be a mere theatre audience to you- be yourself, living life in the constant presence of God's eyes, not man's. This was a major theme with the Lord. Paul likewise teaches us that every man should “be as he is” (1 Cor. 7:26 RV). Jesus taught His men " first of all" , i.e. most importantly, to beware of hypocrisy (Lk. 12:1). This was a cardinal point in Christ's manifesto. We must ask whether it has this place in our discipleship. It can be that the ecclesial audience is a kind of theatre, showing gratitude for the pleasing entertainment of the speakers. Yet the opposite should be true- God is the audience, we are living bared lives before His gaze.
The 'naturalness' of Jesus becomes all the more powerful when we grasp Biblically that Jesus is our representative; exactly because He was really, genuinely human, He is such a natural and powerful imperative to us in our behaviour. Take, for example, His perception of His own baptism. Surely why He went through with it was to show His solidarity with us, who would later be baptized. He lined up along the banks along with big time sinners, nobodies, dear old grannies, weirdos, starry-eyed youngsters, village people stuck in the monotony of a hand-to-mouth existence, all of them standing there probably half-naked...and took His turn to be baptized. When asked later to account for His authority, Jesus asked whether His questioners accepted John's baptism as from Heaven or from men (Mk. 11:30). This wasn't merely a diversionary question; it was dead relevant. His authority was [partly] because He had been baptized by John. This was how much John's baptism inspired Him. It meant so much to Him, to have been thus identified with us. And it was that very identification with humanity, as the " son of Man" , that gave Him His authority.
It could even be argued from Rom. 8:3 ("in the likeness of sinful flesh") that the Lord Jesus appeared to be a normal sinful human being, although He was not a sinner. This would explain the amazement of the townspeople who knew Him, when He indirectly declared Himself to be Messiah. Grammatically, "it is not the noun "flesh" but the adjective "sinful" that demands the addition of "likeness"" (1). He appeared as a sinner, without being one. Of course we can conveniently misunderstand this, to justify our involvement with sinful things and appearing just like the surrounding world, in order to convert them. But all the same, it was exactly because the Lord Jesus appeared so normal, so closely part of sinful humanity, that He was and is our Saviour and compelling example.
There was a child-likeness about the Lord. Not in that He was naieve- He was the least naieve of all men. But rather did He have an innocence about sin, as if He were a sweet child caught up within the web of sinful men around Him. Indeed the point has been made that when Paul spoke of the Lord as being one “who knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21), he was using the very phrase used in rabbinic and other contemporary writings to describe children, who were too young to ‘know sin’ (2). This child-likeness was beautifully related to His utter naturalness of which we have earlier spoken.
(1) F.F. Bruce, Paul And Jesus (London: S.P.C.K., 1977) p. 78. I have elsewhere argued that Rom. 8:3 is alluding specifically to the Lord's death, where He was treated as a sinner, strung up upon a tree like all those cursed by sinful behaviour, although in His case He was innocent.
(2) R. Bultmann, The Second Letter To The Corinthians (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1985) pp. 159,160.
Duncan Heaster has written over 20 books, some of which contain material relevant to The Real Christ. And there is a host of other relevant material...