My 2 year old daughter Ellie loves Play Doh. I know I am a minority in this, but I have never liked Play Doh. I am not sure if it’s the feeling of Play Doh under my finger nails, or the lack of creativity my brain has, or what. But I have never been a huge fan. But I do understand the reason why so many (including my daughter) love it. It puts you in charge. You get to be the boss and make whatever you want, for whatever purpose you want, to whatever end that you want. In other words, it allows you to create and enjoy all the things that accompany creating. However, no matter how good you are at Play Doh, your potential is quite limited. Perhaps if we had something of much greater influence that moved, formed, and did our bidding it would be more interesting to me.
I am not really sure.
Have you ever noticed how many different Jesuses (how do you spell the plural form of Jesus?) there are presented to us in our day. There are political Jesuses (Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Communist, etc.). There are religious Jesuses (Gnostic Jesus, Jehovah Witness Jesus, Mormon Jesus, Muslim Jesus, Christian Jesus, Hindu Jesus, etc.) This is not even to mention how Jesus has been consumerized onto T-shirts, rubber duckies, posters, backpacks, movies, bracelets, etc.
How can we know the true Jesus? And why is everyone wanting a Jewish man from a no name town that lived roughly 2,000 years ago on their team? These are the two questions I hope to answer in this post.
When we consider how we me may get to have a more accurate understanding of who Jesus is it is important that we establish we are actually talking about a real flesh and blood person. This really isn’t up for debate. Nearly all historical scholars from all biases acknowledge that the fact Jesus was born in Bethlehem, from Nazareth, lived and taught and performed many signs in Galilee, that He was crucified under Pontius Pilate was buried in a tomb and on Sunday His tomb was found empty, and lastly, that many eye witnesses claimed to have seen Him in His resurrected state. Obviously, whatever one’s bias is will determine how they interpret all this evidence. But the evidence is crystal clear.
That being the case, when we seek to know the true historical Jesus it is important to interact with sources that are closest to the time when Jesus existed. Contrary to popular belief there is much written in the 1st and 2nd century concerning Jesus and His early followers who made up the Church. For your research, I would commend, Pliny the Younger’s work “On Christians” or the famous “Works of Josephus” or Ignatius’ letters “Letter to Trallians” and “Letter to Romans” or Irenaeus’ work “Against Heresies” or Eusebius on “Church History” or “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles” or Justin Martyr’s work “First Apology”. In any case, we can learn much about Jesus from writers who lived during the time of Jesus or are removed by only 1 to 3 generations from Him.
But the single best works that exist to help us know the true historical Jesus would be to look at the biographies written by the men who lived and walked with Jesus Himself for over three years. These are eye-witness accounts of what Jesus had said and done. These works are commonly known as the Gospels. There are four canonical Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Unreliable Ancient Sources
There are only four canonical Gospels because the other Gospels known as the Gnostic Gospels were written a hundred plus years removed from Christ by men who never saw, heard, or touched Jesus. In fact, the writers of the Gnostic Gospels wrote under a Pseudonym or false name to give themselves credibility. But none of the original recipients believed they were written by the proclaimed writer. In addition, textual criticism and other examination has shown that the writers weren’t even from the area in which Jesus lived and ministered, died, or rose. In other words, the Gnostic Gospel were among the first to manipulate a Jesus to their liking to gain credibility or influence like my two year plays with Play Doh. That being the case, the Gnostic Gospels are not helpful for understanding who the true Jesus is, rather they are helpful in understanding what some people believed about Jesus in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th century in the Roman Empire.
Where The True Jesus Is Found
So my commendation for us would be, to truly know who Jesus is and what He taught, did, and believed about Himself, we must be very familiar with the eye witness accounts of Jesus found in the books: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. In addition, in the rest of the New Testament we find out more about what Jesus taught His followers and as a result what He would want us to believe.
I must follow up with something fundamental and crucial. The eye-witnesses claim to be not only writing from what they observed, they claim to be writing the very words of God Himself. So the perspective they give is not merely a fallen man’s perspective, but rather, from an omniscient point of view. So though, we ought to approach these works as historical genre. We cannot merely come to them as that. They are authoritative on our lives as well.
WHY EVERYONE WANTS JESUS ON THEIR SIDE
The bottom line is this. Jesus is LORD of heaven and earth. He said as much in Matthew 28:18,
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.
So who wouldn’t want Jesus on their team right? Even those who do not acknowledge the Bible as authoritative still can’t shrug off the real influence and power that Jesus has over every sphere of life. Jesus authority is very real make no doubts about it. And so is self-deception. So is it any wonder that the masses create a Jesus to their liking and then comfort themselves that He is on their team. If a business owner sees a way to make a buck by using Jesus, they’ll take it. If a politician sees a way to guilt people onto His side by using Jesus, he’ll do it. If a religious leader can get a bigger following and deepen his pockets or increase his influence and power, he’ll do it. The list can go on. But this begs the question.
WHOSE SIDE ARE YOU ON?
Here is the reality. Jesus isn’t on any of our teams because He is LORD of heaven and earth. The real question for us is, am I and you on His team? We don’t get to draft Jesus on our teams because He is the owner, boss, creator, potter, LORD of us and we are His Play Doh. We don’t get to shape Jesus into our image. He makes us into His or He damns us. It is either the one or the other. He will damn all those who continue to commit treason to His lordship over them. But He will graciously, lovingly, powerfully, miraculously conform those who submit and put their trust in Him into His glorious image.
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? –Jesus (Matthew 16:24-26)