News headlines rivet our attention to controversy. Think of the kaleidoscope of colorful names and personalities we have been subjected to in recent days, weeks, months and years. There is something about people who step outside the lines that arouses our attention, whether we are drawn to or repelled by the controversial person.
In my lifetime, I have seen a remarkable thing come to pass. The Jesus of my youth, loved or at least tolerated by almost everyone in our culture, has become the most controversial person in the world. Let me explain.
When you think of socially acceptable topics of conversation, in a wide variety of settings, think about what can be, and what cannot be discussed without stirring dissention. Depending on the setting, today one can openly talk about hobbies, interests, politics, current events, sexual preferences of all types, and up to a point, religion. Religion can be talked about in general terms. One who appreciates beauty in nature or people is considered “spiritual.” If one is a self-described Buddhist, people will nod in admiration of the person’s supposed detachment from the things of the world…often at odds with the person’s lifestyle. Someone might even speak of their love for God, and how they feel close to him in nature, in the embrace of an infant, or in the quiet hours of their own home. The common religion of the day is one that blends agnosticism (you can’t really know) and Unitarianism (all paths lead to God).
Speak the name of Jesus, however, and you are likely to hear a couple of very different responses. Many will say something condescending indicating the have no problem with Jesus, because he was a great teacher, a gentle spirit, a great lover of people, etc. Others will deny that he even existed, in spite of the fact that we have more evidence of his existence than most historical figures whom no one questions. The problem with the last is resolved by open minded research of the facts. For a true seeker, I would recommend “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel. Mr. Strobel is a former editor of the Chicago Tribune who set out to disprove the existence and significance of Jesus, and became convinced the evidence demanded the opposite conclusion.
The seemingly kind, condescending response is one that Jesus himself does not allow. What mere man, great teacher or not, claims to be God and promises to return to judge the earth? As C.S. Lewis puts it, Jesus own teachings allow us only two options. Either we must conclude that he is a lunatic or a demon from hell set out to deceive the world, or we must decide that he is who he claimed to be, the son of God, creator of the universe, the one true Lord who will soon return.
And that is the very core of the controversy. If Jesus was right about his self-proclamations, we owe him a response of gratitude and obedience. Obedience to another does not settle well with the human nature–we want what we want, when we want it. I believe this is at the heart of both off-target responses to the question of “Who is Jesus?” People just want to keep doing whatever they want, believing that there will be no consequences.
The Jesus of modern myth, relentlessly placid and politically correct, is a recent invention. If you would know him as he really is, check out what the Bible really says about him. He rebuked, confronted, and even threw some furniture around to make a point. He humbly submitted to the Father, but unflinchingly described himself as the only way salvation. Your response to him is your choice, but it does not change who he is. To deny him is to delay the inevitable, when every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2).
“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times in various ways, but in these last days he as spoken to us by his son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.” Hebrews 1:1-2