Summary: We might believe in Jesus and we might know some things about Jesus, but do we really know the Jesus who lived, died, and was raised again?
In 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed in on itself which made for big changes not only in Russia, but in Alaska as well. Russians were coming to Juneau, where we lived, for business ventures, educational excursions, and cultural exchanges. My wife and I had the opportunity to house some of the Russians on several occasions. There was one person I will never forget. Her name was Sylvia. She was probably about 50 years old. She grew up and was educated at Moscow University. She was living in Petropavlovsk on the east coast of Russia where she taught high school. She spoke excellent English with a sophisticated European accent. She had come to Juneau on a cultural exchange. During our time together we had many conversations about Russian life and American life. We talked about life under Communist rule and what life was like after Communist rule. Those conversations were interesting and enjoyable, but only one has stayed with me nearly word for word.
On our last full morning together Lynn and I got to talking and sharing about the blessings that we were thankful for. We had talked about some of the blessings before, but this morning Sylvia stopped us and asked what we meant by that word, “blessing.” I got out our Russian to English dictionary and both of us were surprised to find that there was no word in the dictionary that even came close to what blessing meant. We tried to explain the meaning the best we could. Finally, we told her that those blessings, those gifts of grace, come from and through Jesus Christ. I will never forget her reaction: she tilted her head as if trying to remember something and then said, “I have heard that name before. Who is this Jesus?”
Philip Yancey, a well-noted Christian journalist for Christianity Today, wrote a book entitled, The Jesus I Never Knew. He wanted to write a book about Jesus and found that he had camped out on some preconceived ideas about who Jesus was, but he had never really known Him. Philip Yancey is not so different from many Christians. We have ideas about Jesus from Sunday school and from preachers on Sunday mornings, but many of us have never really taken the time to look long and hard at who Jesus is through the lens of the gospels. Who is this Jesus? Do we really know Him or do we just know some things about Him?
In the gospel of Matthew Jesus pulled His disciples aside one day and asked them who the people said He was. They said, John the Baptist, a prophet, Elijah… I imagine them thinking a little about what the people had been saying, but then Jesus interrupted them and asked, “Who do you say I am?”
Someone once said that Jesus was the most self-centered person who has ever lived and, it’s true. I don’t say that in order to justify my own self-centeredness and claim that I can be just like Jesus. Jesus was without equal among human beings. What that person meant when he said that Jesus was the most self-centered person is that among every other religion, no other religious leader ever pointed to themselves as the object of worship like Jesus did. Those religious leaders pointed away from themselves and told people to follow the truth as they perceived it. No leader of the great religions ever said, Follow me. Jesus didn’t say I know the truth and I want you to follow the truth. Jesus said, “I am the Truth, follow me.” Jesus pointed to Himself.
Listen to what Jesus said about Himself:
• “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).
• “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
• “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26).
• “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
• “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me” (Matthew 11:28-29).
Jesus grew up in the small town of Nazareth. After He began His ministry He came to His hometown and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath and as a traveling rabbi He was given a scroll of the Old Testament. He stood up and read a passage from Isaiah.
“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor” (Isaiah 61:1-2).