Scripture: Luke 24:36-48
In 2012 a very unusual event happened. A bus of international tourist was driving through some of the more wild and beautiful parts of Iceland. The bus took a scheduled stop where the tourists could get off, stretch their legs, and explore the local trails. When the schedule stop ended, several concerned travelers mentioned that a woman, who was traveling alone, was not back yet. This led to a search party being organized. For most of a day over fifty people scoured the woods looking for her and a helicopter from the coast guard was on standby to join in on the search. The search was quietly called off in the evening, when it was discovered the missing woman had joined the search party that was looking for her! Here’s how it happened: The woman, who was traveling alone, decided to use the stop to change her clothes and freshen up, which led to her change to how she had arranged her hair. When she got back on the bus she sat on a different seat, and those who were near her did not recognize her new look! Also, this woman completely managed to not realize for several hours that the description of the missing woman fit her. This led a group of people to search for someone who was literally with them. No one could find the person who was hidden in plain view! The news stories about this bizarre incident never mention this woman’ name, but this whole affair could have been avoided if someone had just asked “Is she here? Will whatever her name is please stand up?”
This sensation of searching for someone right in front of you must have been how the disciples felt in this morning’s scripture. To give you a bit better context, this morning’s scripture takes place on the evening of the resurrection. For the disciples it had been quite a day. If they had all been staying huddled together then the morning woke early with Mary Magdalene coming running from the tomb telling them that Jesus was not there. Peter and John at once went to investigate, only to come back confirming it was true. Can you imagine the conversations the disciples had throughout that day? What did they say? How much did they talk over each other? Which disciples were ready to believe the unbelievable, that Jesus had risen from the dead? Which disciples were the skeptics insisting that this must be a Roman plot to lure them out? What exactly was the mixture of fear and hope in that room? What do you think, did the disciples want to send out a search party to look for Jesus or hold tight where it was safe?
While the disciples are having this conversation, they get more news two other Christ followers, the men that Jesus talked to on the road to Emmaus, come bursting in and tell the disciples that they have seen Jesus! The room had to burst in activity and conversation. It is when they are talking about that Jesus shows up in the room with them, saying “peace be with you.” Jesus was right there with them, but the disciples were asking themselves “Is this the real Jesus?” They had to be, because the scripture records Jesus as saying, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds?”
Jesus goes on to prove to the disciples that he is real. He shows them the wounds and he eats. However, Jesus questions of “why are you troubled and why do doubts rise in your minds” were loaded questions. The disciples were wrestling with more than the fact that Jesus was standing in front of them, they were wrestling with the idea of who Jesus is. The disciples had all signed up to follow Jesus because they believed him to be the messiah, but they also all had different ideas as to what that meant. They all had their own ideas of who the Christ was supposed to be and what he was supposed to accomplish. For many of them, the idea of resurrection was not something they had fully considered could be a reality. By the end of this morning’s scripture the disciples’ minds had been opened, the dots started to connect, and the blocks began to fall into place. However, when Jesus first appeared in the midst of them, every single person in that room had a different understanding of who Jesus was and who Jesus was supposed to be. Before Jesus showed up, I imagine much of the discussion and arguments of the disciples was about these conflicting opinions, as they were essentially asking “Will the real Jesus Christ please stand up?”
This is still a question we face today. Who is Jesus, really? Mike Slaughter, United Methodist pastor at Ginghamsburg UMC in Ohio, gets right to the heart of it in his book Renegade Gospel. Slaughter wrote: “Let’s be honest. Most of us have taken the Jesus of history and recreated him in our own cultural, political, ideological, theological, and denominational bubble.” We create and emphasize Jesus the way that we want him to be. We reduce the Logos, the Word of God that was present at the creation of the universe and the savior of that universe, into a caricature of himself. In my readings, conversations, and experiences there are three dominant caricatures that we tend to reduce Jesus to.
The first is “hip Jesus.” This version of Jesus is culturally relevant to a fault. He spoke to agrarian peasants, so his stories were always folksy and down to earth. They were full of farming analogies and other things that the people could relate to. Jesus spoke straight to them in a way that was uplifting and brought about peace. This version of Jesus is kind of like an ancient version of Oprah. Instead of giving out new cars, he would roll into town healing the sick. He would then give people and uplifting message that would inspire people to better themselves. This version of Jesus though ignores the fact, that Jesus regularly challenged his culture, not blend into it. This version forgets that on more than one occasion Jesus alienated his followers with his hard message not give them inner peace. This version also does not leave room for the fact that Jesus died an outlaw’s death, despise and rejected.
The second is “militant Jesus”. This version of Jesus it the opposite of hip Jesus, in that he is completely counter cultural. Jesus is opposed to the powers that be, he came to fight and over throw the man. Jesus stand for social justice and is always on the side that is opposed to authority. This version of Jesus places great emphasis on the fact that Jesus died a rebel’s death. It points out that he took the cross willingly as a final act of defiance against an evil empire. This version of Jesus though ignores the fact that Jesus himself said that he came to fulfill the law not abolish it. This version of Jesus sets him as the ultimate resistor of authority, but forgets that Jesus is King and that he is the ultimate authority.
The third caricature is the most common and the worst. That is buddy Jesus. Again Mike Slaughter characterizes this understanding of Jesus well “Jesus is often portrayed in our churches as a good-natured Mr. Rogers type who beackons the tired and weary of his neighborhood for a little R&R and entertainment.” Buddy Jesus’ main goal in life is to make sure that you are happy and content. This version of Jesus loves everyone to a fault. Literally, buddy Jesus loves you just like you are and thinks you are perfect just because you are you. This version of Jesus though fails to convict, confront us with truth, or create true change. This version of Jesus is toothless and powerless. Buddy Jesus might be a cool guy to be around, but Buddy Jesus cannot free us from sin or transform the world.
All of these caricatures have a kernel of truth. Jesus did tell parables that connected with his audience, Jesus did stand against oppression and corruption, and Jesus does love everyone to a fault (he just loves us to much to leave us where we are at). However, these caricatures exist because we have taken the part of Jesus we are most comfortable with and ran with it. This is a common problem. Nineteenth century German theologian Albert Scwitzer put it like this: “It is as though we look down a well looking for Jesus but we see our own faces reflected in the water.” This is why far left democrats see Jesus as the first Marxist and 77% of tea party republicans believe that Jesus would oppose universal health care. Instead of seeking to follow the real Jesus, we follow the Jesus of our imagination.
With all of these conflicting images of Jesus, we too might find ourselves proclaiming “will the real Jesus please stand up?” How do we know the real Jesus? Interestingly enough, this morning’s scripture gives us Jesus’ description of himself. Verses 46 and 47 record Jesus saying: “The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations.” This is the starting point it tells us that Jesus conquered death and in doing so offers forgiveness of sins. It also tells us that Jesus calls us to repentance. This is a starting point of finding the real Jesus, but it is just a starting point.
If we consider ourselves Christians, then knowing the real Jesus should be the most important thing to us. We should regularly ask ourselves, do I follow Jesus or do I follow my idea of Jesus? The question is played out to the point of being a cliché, but it is still valid. We should still ask, “What would Jesus do?” We should seek to answer this question, not based on our own imagination of who Jesus is, but based on who Jesus, the risen Lord who sits at the right hand of the Father, is today. Now clearly we do not know the mind of Christ in all matters, but we can get a good idea from what is recorded in the gospels. How well do you know the Jesus of scripture? Is most of what you believe about who Jesus is from your imagination or I it from what you have read in the bible? When is the last time you read Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John? If we are going to be Christ followers then we absolutely must know what Christ taught and did. If you search your heart and mind and say that you honestly do not know the real Jesus, then I challenge you to meet him. Read the gospel of Matthew or John and learn about who Jesus is. I challenge you to read the gospels with an open mind and let how Jesus is presented there challenge your initial perceptions of him.
A young pastor once asked Mother Teresa what advice do you have to offer a young preacher. She said “Preach Jesus, the true Jesus, the real Jesus, the resurrected Jesus, and not a Jesus of people’s imaginations.” The world needs Jesus. People who are lost, hopeless, and staring into the abyss of death need to know the messiah who has defeated death. The world is full of people desperate for redemption and craving the freedom that only forgiveness can offer. The world needs Jesus. The true Jesus, the real Jesus, the resurrected Jesus. We need to stop offering our caricatures of Jesus, the Jesus of our political ideologies, and instead let the real Jesus stand up. In this morning’s scripture in Luke 24:45 it says that Jesus opened the minds of his disciples so they could understand the scriptures. May that be our prayer as well. May we be willing to lay a side our thoughts of who we want Jesus to be and instead may we seek to earnestly follow the real, true, resurrected Christ.
May we do one better than that though, instead of just following the real Jesus may we share him with others. Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho once said “the world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.” May our example be the one of the savior that we are following. May we share Jesus by loving others the way that he loves them. This does mean that sometimes we will need to be culturally relevant and meet people where they are at. This means that sometimes we need to take a stand against injustices on the behalf of others, and sometimes it means we need to be a sympathetic buddy. May we constantly seek to know Jesus, follow him, and love people like Jesus. In doing so, we stand up as disciples of the real Jesus and by our example transform the world