An accurate view of Jesus?
If you were to ask people how they feel about Jesus, you would get a wide array of answers. I have not done an official study, but my impression is that the overall response would be positive. And if people did not all respond positively, I still think the majority would at least be neutral, with the minority of people having a negative impression of Jesus. It is remarkable that people have maintained such a favorable view of Jesus while the overall impression of Christianity in our culture has become less positive.
Another question is whether those same people have an accurate view of the Jesus we read about in the Scriptures. One of the reasons Jesus has maintained such a positive view, at least in part, is because people like to mold Jesus into whatever form best suites their desires. To some, Jesus is a great teacher or philosopher. To others, Jesus is a social liberator and change agent. And still others, Jesus is our homeboy. But is this the Jesus of the Scriptures? Is this the Jesus that changed the world?
Jesus is certainly a great teacher. The sermon on the mount is one of the single greatest teaching moments in the history of the world.
Jesus is also a social change agent. The Kingdom of God is permeating this world and God's people are called to fight injustice and seek to liberate the oppressed.
Jesus is also our homeboy. He is personal and he is a friend.
But... none of these is the primary characteristic the Bible uses to talk about Jesus. Before any of these other descriptors, Jesus is our rescuer. He is our savior.
The Bible points to Jesus as our Rescuer
When we read Paul's letter to the Colossians, Jesus is described as the one through whom "all things were created (Col 1:16)." He is "before all things, and in him all things hold together (1:17)." He is the head of the church (1:18) and firstborn from the dead (1:18). Through Jesus, all things are reconciled to God and through his blood he has made peace with all things (1:20). We were once "alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds (1:21)," and Jesus has reconciled us to God. He has rescued us from our former life. In the lengthy description of Jesus from Colossians One, Jesus is not described as a teacher, social liberator or friend. He is described as God and Savior.
In Galatians, as Paul is giving his introductory words, he describes Jesus as the one who "gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen (Gal 1:4-5)." Paul did not describe Jesus as a teacher, although he was certainly a teacher. Paul did not describe Jesus as a social change agent, although he was that too. Paul described Jesus as a rescuer. Paul described Jesus as a savior.
There are four gospels in the New Testament that recount the life of Jesus. No single gospel tells the complete story of Jesus' life and even when we combine all four gospels, we still do not have enough material to cover the entirety of Jesus' life. The Gospel authors, under the guidance and inspiration of God's Spirit had to pick and choose what material they would include. As the gospels retell the life of Jesus, each one slows down dramatically for the last week of his life and devote far more time to describing these final events. On average, each of the four gospels commits about 40% of its material to the final week of Jesus' life. This points to the importance of those final moments leading up to Jesus' death, burial and resurrection. The cross points to Jesus as rescuer, because it was his death and resurrection that secures our salvation.
The Bible describes Jesus in many ways, but chief among them is Jesus as rescuer and savior.
A swimming manual is no help to a drowning man
If I were drowning in the middle of the ocean, gasping for air and seeing the light of day begin to fade, I would be desperate for someone to save me. As I was assaulted by the waves, sunlight only visible from beneath the water, my condition would be utterly desperate. In the event that I saw a boat approaching, I would muster all the energy I could in order to get my voice above the water and scream, "Help! Help! Over here!" If that boat were to hear me or see me and begin to turn in my direction, what relief it would bring. As it approached, I would be waiting anxiously for the life preserver to be thrown in my direction. In those moments, would I be well served to have someone throw me a manual on how to swim instead of the life preserver? Would expert coaching on how to properly execute a front crawl help me? Absolutely not. What I would need most is for someone to throw me a rope and pull me to safety.
That is our condition. We "were dead in the trespasses and sins in which we once walked... But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved (Eph 2:1; 4-5)."
Before Jesus rescued us we were dead. We were hopeless in our sin and Jesus has brought us life. Jesus is our rescuer and savior. Before we need Jesus as a teacher, social liberator or friend, we need him to rescue us. And the good news of the gospel is that is exactly what he does.
Back to me as a drowning man. If I were tossed a life preserver and dragged onto the boat, I would be filled with deep emotions of gratitude, relief and the hope of a second chance. If my wife were standing on that boat, I would hug her with a passionate embrace. When we got to dry land, I may even kiss the ground. I was sure as dead out in that ocean, but I had been saved.
We sometimes live as though following Jesus is like being thrown a swimming manual. Once we have read it and received proper instruction, we can swim our way to shore and essentially save ourselves. This is simply not the picture the Scriptures paint. In fact, an even more appropriate analogy would not be of a person on top of the water screaming for help, but of someone who is dead at the bottom of the ocean. Jesus reaches through the depths of the sea and revives our dead hearts. He gives us new life.
This reality brings pure joy to the revived soul. It may even cause us to weep at the thought of the life we have been given. Even now, take a moment to worship God because of the new life he brings through Jesus and may it overflow into every crevice of your new life.