Summary: When the real Jesus is seen, he presents problems -- either he is too difficult for us to accept, or he is offensive to our sloppy ways of doing church, or we are just too tired of churchiness -- but his words of life revive our weariness.
I notice that they’ve revived one of the old-time television shows. We can once again see, “To Tell the Truth”. The idea of “To Tell the Truth” is that three people come out, and they all stand and give a name – the same name. Then someone reads a few sentences about the person who actually has that name – his occupation, his accomplishments, something distinctive. The contestants listen to all of this, and they ask questions to see if they can figure out which one of the people presented really is the person described. After they have guessed, the show’s host calls out, “Will the real Joe Blow, whoever, please stand up?” and you find out which one actually is the person who was described.
When you ask people today about their understanding of Jesus, you want to ask, “Will the real Jesus please stand up?” There are about as many ideas about Jesus as there are colors in the rainbow or chads on the ballot. Will the real Jesus please stand up?
For some people, there is the “gentle Jesus, meek and mild”, who would never hurt a flea, who is always mellow and calm and soothing. When I was growing up there was a radio program called, “The Greatest Story Ever Told”; it was a weekly dramatization of some event in the life of Jesus. Our family used to listen to it, and I would always know when the actor playing Jesus was about to speak, because there would be some shimmering music, a pregnant pause, and then this incredibly deep, sonorous voice – “Blessed are the pure in heart … blessed are the peacemakers … blessed are you when men shall revile you”. That was the gentle Jesus, meek and mild.
But for others, Jesus is not gentle or meek or mild. For others, Jesus is feisty. He is ferocious. The devil-may-care Jesus. The Jesus who walks with abandon through grain fields and plucks off what He wants to eat. The Jesus who goes to a wedding and whips up more wine when the strong drink runs out. The Jesus who looks up in a sycamore tree and grins at a little man hiding up there and invites himself to dinner! For some, Jesus is not at all meek and mild; He is a feisty party animal!
Oh, and let’s not forget that for some folks Jesus is the revolutionary, a fiery unkempt rebel, teaching people to defy the keepers of the establishment; and for other folks Jesus is a wild-eyed, unfathomable seer, talking about a day when God’s judgment will fall.
There are as many ways to look at Jesus as there are colors in the rainbow; there are as many ways to see him as there are personalities. You want at some point to call out, “Will the real Jesus please stand up?”
But when He does – mark it down – when He does stand up, trouble comes. When we truly understand who Jesus is and what He teaches – when we get it about Jesus, there’ll be some problems! Be sure of this – the real Jesus is not easy to deal with.
In this coming year, we intend to test that. We are going to tackle, as seriously as we know how, the question of who the real Jesus is. We’ve neglected that. As I look back over the years, I find that I have not preached enough messages on the specific teachings of Jesus. I have neglected, to a degree, an analysis of what Jesus said and what He did. Oh, I have preached sermons out of nearly every book of the Bible. And I have preached about the gift of salvation that Jesus Christ offers. I have spoken about the importance of seeing life as He leads us to see life. But we have not, spent nearly enough time looking carefully at what Jesus did, how He did it, why He did it, and what He said. We have let ourselves hang on to our images of Jesus, whatever they may be; but this year, we are going to ask, “Will the real Jesus please stand up?”
But, I say again, when you do that, issues arise. Things get sticky. What may we expect when we walk with Him, talk with Him, listen to Him, and take Him seriously, this Jesus?
In the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus has taught about Himself. He has said some things that were very hard to understand. They still are. He has spoken about eating His flesh and drinking His blood. He has described Himself as the living bread of heaven, come down so that others may eat and live forever. Now that’s pretty difficult stuff. And so there were several reactions, as there always are when the real Jesus is out there, up front and personal. When the sixth chapter of John opens, there are five thousand excited camp followers; but when it closes, we are down to twelve anxious disciples. Pretty good ensmallment campaign, isn’t it? How did that happen? Well, the real Jesus stood up, that’s how; and that creates issues.