Regardless of where you are in your belief of the divinity or authority of Jesus, one thing appears to be consensus among secular and religious scholars alike. Jesus actually existed. He was a real man who walked the Earth roughly 2000 years ago. All but the most divergent historians agree on that.
So then who was this man? And how is it that we, and hundreds of millions like us are still talking about him thousands of years later? Inarguably, Jesus was a prolific speaker and teacher. He had this amazing way of telling a story that captured peoples hearts. He would often teach in parables that lined up closely with his context to help illustrate his points in memorable ways. And probably most memorable of all, Jesus often challenged popular thought and those in power with his words. This was a man who chose to eat with society’s pariahs. This was a man who washed the feet of his students, even though they totally didn’t get it. This was a man who loved sacrificially.
We saw last week how he challenged the church leaders, the pharisees on the Kingdom of Heaven. Luke 19 depicts a story where Jesus calls to a man named Zacchaeus, a tax collector. These guys were the white collar criminals of the time. This Zacchaeus would have been something like a Bernie Madoff. And Jesus is willing to meet with him, have dinner with him, hang out with him. ugh…
Then there’s the prostitutes. Jesus was respected as a teacher, so he would often get invited to fancy dinners. In Luke 7 Jesus is at one of these dinners, and somehow, in the hubbub a prostitute sneaks in. And when she does, she begins crying and washing Jesus feet with her tears. Most of the holy people would have shooed her away…the church leaders around began complaining about her presence. She wasn’t supposed to be there, she was a lesser-than, and further, she was touching him. ugh…
The stories of his humility, his love, his grace go, the parables and stories, they go on and on.
So why think that Jesus is anything more than this? Why do Christians have to take it any further? Why can’t it just be that Jesus was a good teacher and a great guy and lets just remember him for that. We don’t have to elevate him to anything else…right? But here’s the thing, if we think he’s a good teacher and a great guy. If we think he’s this amazing revolutionary that was challenging the powers and understandings that be for the sake of the least among them. If we believe the things that Jesus says, then we must also believe who he says that he is. Jesus says I am the way the truth and the life in John 14. We don’t have to fully understand that to know how important that kind of statement is. Or in John 8 where Jesus says before Abraham was born, I am.
So in a way we are entering into a relationship. We are cautious at first perhaps. For some there is this love at first sight, but for most of us, it happens a little more slowly. There is something inside us that begins to connect with the things this other person says and the way this other person lives. It makes sense. We like them. In some ways we want to be like them. And in order to deepen that beyond the surface, we must also begin to trust them. As we get to know them we trust. We trust their judgements, we trust what they reveal about themself, we trust who they say that they are because they act like what they say. We trust that they are who they say they are. And so it is with Jesus.
A relationship isn’t about the facts and tangibles. When I describe falling in love with Jeff I talk about finding my other half. I talk about my heart being full. I talk about just knowing. There’s not a lot of fact in that at all. There is not a lot of literal truth. Jeff is not literally the other half of my person with the other leg, arm, lung and the rest. My actual physical heart is no different than it was before we met. And there is nothing rational or explainable about “just knowing.” And yet, all of the descriptives are so completely true. Jeff: You really are my other half, my heart and I just know we were meant to be together…that our sum is greater than our parts.
And so it must be with our faith. It’s not the tangibles that are the most important.
I think the truth is, no matter how historically accurate or factual we believe this collection of stories called the Bible to be, what matters is does it resonate? Do you just know? Does it make your heart full in some way? Does it speak truth? I think all too often we find ourselves asking the wrong question. We look for the facts, the tangibles, things we can grab hold of as if that somehow makes them unchangeable, steady and irrefutable. At last we will have something firm to stand on. But what we know, is that everything changes with time. Even so-called facts. And what we also know is that the best things about this life are not facts at all. They are relationships and trust and community and love. None of them firm to stand on as none of them are under our control.
If we can’t break it down, if we can’t open it up to see how it works, if we can’t reduce it to a number of working parts and factual observations, can we believe it? Interestingly, I think belief isn’t related to these things at all. Belief is when you take that flying leap into something on hope. Belief is what happens when you fall in love. And love is so much more about being than it is about doing. We can’t control love. We can’t force love. We can’t break it down to working parts and analyze love.