Focus – In Search of the Real Jesus
By Major Anne Pickup –
“Jesus asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?'” — Matthew 16:13
A highly publicized scholarly think tank named the Jesus Seminar has met twice yearly since 1985. They meet for the purpose of determining the historical accuracy of the sayings attributed to Jesus in the Gospels. They are in search of the real Jesus.
To date, they have decided 82 percent of the words attributed to Jesus were not spoken by him. Their decisions are based on evidence that is “from below,” that is, what can truly be known. Evidence “from above,” claims of faith, historical creeds and confessions are inadmissible. Every word attributed to Jesus starts from a point of non-acceptance and must be proven rationally to have been truly spoken by him.
In questioning the individual words of Jesus they are in fact questioning the very essence of Jesus. The residual affect of the Jesus Seminar is not only our uncertainty of anything Jesus said, but in turn we can’t be certain of anything he did and certainly we can’t be sure he is who he claimed to be–the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
“Who do people say I am?” is an ageless question originating with Jesus. Meeting together in Caesarea Philippi, a shrine to the pantheon of Roman gods, Jesus asked his first disciples this critical question. They reported that people were asking the same thing and drawing interesting conclusions. Some thought Jesus was the eccentric beheaded preacher John the Baptist come back to life. Others saw traces of Elijah, the powerful prophet who challenged the gods of Baal on Mount Carmel. Still others wondered if there was a connection with Jeremiah, the prophet who ushered in the greatest religious reform in Israel’s history.
A lot of ideas were out there about Jesus! But most important was what these followers of Jesus believed about him. “Who do you say I am?” Immediately, in Peter’s impetuous way, came the answer, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Based on evidence “from above,” (“this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven”) we are given a clear, final word on the ageless question.
With such a definitive word on the question it seems strange that the debate goes on. I believe it goes on because in every generation and for every individual, the question must once again be answered–who do I think Jesus is? Our beliefs and behaviors hinge on our answer. If Jesus is just one of many religious sages whose philosophies are nice but optional, then his words will have little impact on us. But if Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah, the Savior of sinners, then every word he spoke dramatically impacts us on a daily basis. If Jesus is the Messiah from God, I need to know what the Bible says about his role in this world and the one to come. If Jesus is the Savior, I need to respond in surrender to his merciful forgiveness and gracious healing. If he is the Christ, then all the spiritual blessings and attributes evident in him are available to me.
If Jesus is just one of many spiritual gurus, then not much changes. But if he is the Christ, the Messiah come into this world as a baby born in Bethlehem, then everything changes. As we enter the Christmas season, the season of Jesus, let each of us answer the ageless question with an affirmative “thou art the Christ!”
Come, thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in thee.
Born thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us for ever,
Now thy gracious Kingdom bring.