Why is Clarifying the Jesus of the Centre so… Murky?!

April 10, 2024

So I’m not sure what I’ve gotten myself into here. No matter how you slice it, this latest series is…. ambitious. If you were with us Sunday morning for Message 1 on our series “Revealing the Jesus of the Centre”, you may have sensed the struggle of this endeavour. But, exactly why is it so hard to “pin” him down? Let’s discuss this a bit.

First off, let me say this: I’m leery of the project of “pinning” Jesus down. Something about that rings of trying to box Him in, to define Him according to MY expectations and standards and biases. There’s no good outcome that can come from limiting the incarnate God of the universe. So let’s start with the acknowledgement that to pin down Jesus is not only impossible but actually a harmful pursuit to begin with.

With that out of the way, we acknowledge that there are things about Jesus that everyone accepts: he was an itinerant teacher, or rabbi, in 1st century Palestine; he was the son of Mary and Joseph, he grew up in poverty, etc. None of these things are the complete picture of who he is, of course, but they’re a good place for us to start. We can also add universal agreement, for Christians anyway, of him being the Son of God, of dying on a cross and being resurrected, and…well, after this things get a bit murky.

The reasons for said murkiness are varied but perhaps can be whittled down to two main things. The first is that all we know of Jesus comes from the New Testament; the 4 gospel accounts providing slightly varied angles on his life, one book specifically on the spread of the early church—the Book of Acts—and then 22 letters or epistles written more or less to specific local contexts or individuals, trying to figure out in real time within a first century world what it meant to submit to the resurrected Jesus. We are to take these ancient texts and impose them on our own context 2,000 years later, on the other side of the world – a context of indoor plumbing and electricity and iPhones and Netflix and AI… and T-Swift. The task is to somehow make heads or tails of what Jesus meant when he speaks into a pre-science, pre-modern first century context about things like money accumulation…. or divorce… or submission to authorities… or, well, you get the idea. There are many layers between us and the Bible which means lots of room for coming up with different ways of interpreting who Jesus was and what he was all about.

And then the other reason for the challenge of interpreting Jesus, as I see it, is our own annoying proclivities. Okay, let’s just call it what it is: sin. It’s baked into us and it definitely contributes to whatever heads or tails understanding we end up having of Jesus. Our sinful tendency is to make Jesus into something palatable, something that wouldn’t make us too uncomfortable, too uneasy to deal with. Who wouldn’t derail us from the trajectory we’ve already set for ourselves. We don’t want a Jesus that might impinge on our own efforts and pursuits of success, power, advancement, reputation building, etc. If he’s not willing to get in line with where we’re headed, than we just go back to the drawing board and draw up a new Jesus. Easy peasy.

So, how do we overcome these challenges? We start by acknowledging these realities that make our access to Jesus murky. We pray for clarity, asking Holy Spirit to remove the cloudy lens that separate us from Jesus and then we move forward, trusting that we are being faithful to the text and its revelation of Jesus, ensuring that the Jesus we put at the centre is one that calls us to follow in a way that puts his will before our own and yet still loves us unconditionally when we fail.

It is an ongoing challenge we’re in but to ignore it and just assume we got it is the easy way out. And I am confident our community is up for the task together. Let’s do this, friends!


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