Jesus is always more than he seems to be
by Jack Wald | July 21st, 2019

Matthew 16:13-16

Jesus is always more than he seems to be.

When Mary went to see Elizabeth after her encounter with the angel Gabriel, Mary was just another pregnant Palestinian. If someone had seen her as she walked toward Elizabeth and Zechariah’s house they would not even have noticed that she was pregnant. But Elizabeth greeted her with a word of prophecy. (Luke 1:41-42)
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!

When Jesus was born in the guest room of a home in Bethlehem, he was just another birth to be counted in the Roman census. But then angels appeared to shepherds and a year later wise men showed up to reveal that Jesus was more than just another birth.

When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple to be dedicated, he was just another newborn being brought to the Temple by his parents. But Simeon and Anna saw that Jesus was more than just another baby. Luke 2:28-32
Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and the glory of your people Israel.”

At the age of twelve, Jesus came with his family to Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover. He was just another boy in the crowd but he was more than he seemed to be and when Mary and Joseph discovered he was not with them on the return trip to Nazareth, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. (Luke 2:46-47)
After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.

Jesus was more than he appeared to be.

God revealed to John the Baptist that his chosen one, the Messiah, would be marked by the Holy Spirit coming down and resting on him. Then John saw that the Messiah was Jesus, his cousin with whom he had grown up, and he testified (John 1:32)
I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him.

Jesus was more than he appeared to be.

In the last week of the earthly life of Jesus, he entered Jerusalem leading a parade. The crowds were enthusiastic. Jesus had revealed himself to be a teacher who spoke with authority. His miracles had demonstrated with power that he was more than a good teacher.

Israel had waited a long time for the Messiah who would come to liberate Israel and return it to the grandeur that existed when David was king. It had been four hundred years since there had been a prophet in Israel and at the time of Jesus there was a heightened expectation that the Messiah was coming. Whenever someone stood up and fought the Romans, speculation abounded that this might be the Messiah. People flocked to see John the Baptist because he was the first prophet in Israel in such a long time. Israel was waiting. When would the Messiah come?

Jesus had not led an assault against the Roman occupiers, but he had fed large crowds from just a few loaves of bread and a couple fish. He had healed lepers, those born lame, those born blind, those who suffered from all manner of disease. He had cast out demons from those who were possessed. He had raised people from the dead. If this was not the Messiah, then who would be?

For three years Jesus had resisted the limelight. For three years Jesus had told his disciples it was not yet the time. For three years he had encouraged those who were healed to keep quiet about what he had done for them. But now he said it was time and he headed toward Jerusalem. And so the people celebrated as Jesus entered Jerusalem.

I don’t know what the disciples were thinking, but perhaps some were thinking that this was a day they would always remember, the day that Jesus entered Jerusalem, overthrew the Romans and took control. Years from now they would sit back and tell their grandchildren what it was like to be with Jesus on that day. Jesus who had power over nature and could calm storms with a word! Jesus the healer! Jesus the deliverer! Jesus the liberator!

How was Jesus going to use his power to overthrow the Romans? One could never be sure with Jesus but it was going to be exciting.

But Jesus is always much more than he seems to be.

The disciples and the crowd thought that Jesus coming into Jerusalem and kicking out the Romans was everything. To have Israel be once again a powerful nation was everything. But Jesus came into Jerusalem to do much more than merely liberate Israel from Roman occupation. Jesus came to rescue the world from the bondage of death.

Jesus came to do battle against man’s greatest enemy and when he won, death became something no longer to be feared. As Paul wrote in I Corinthians, (I Corinthians 15:54-55)
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

Jesus came to fight a cosmic battle between good and evil. Jesus fought the devil and defeated him for all time.

Jesus came into Jerusalem to do battle but it was not a simple battle against the Roman occupiers of Israel; it was a battle of much greater significance than the disciples could comprehend.

Jesus is always much more than he seems to be.

Jesus is incomparably more than we can imagine – which can make us uncomfortable – and so we work hard to limit him.

Jesus is the whole beach full of sand and we construct a small sandbox to put just as much sand in it as we can handle and then we proclaim to all who pass by that this is who Jesus is.

We work hard to make Jesus manageable and safe.

If you had a horse that was a delight to ride but hard to control, you would be careful walking around him. You would make sure he was securely tied up before putting a saddle on him. You would take care when mounting into the saddle. You would keep a firm hand on the reins. You would do everything you could to make riding your horse safe and manageable.

We do the same with Jesus.

In C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, the Jesus figure in the books is a lion called Aslan. This is a world of talking animals and in the first of the seven books, four British schoolchildren find themselves in the land of Narnia and hear about Aslan from Mr. and Mrs. Beaver. From what they hear they are not at all sure that they want to meet him.

“Is he quite safe?” asks Susan. “I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver. “If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” asked Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Jesus is good. Jesus is loving. We are safe with Jesus, but Jesus will not be controlled by anyone. Jesus will not be content to be reduced to a size we feel comfortable with. Jesus is not safe and he is not manageable.

Thomas Howard grew up in an evangelical family with missionary parents. His better-known sister was Elizabeth Elliot. He found his evangelical world a bit stifling and at the age of 32 wrote a book which I first read in seminary and have come back to reread several times since. Christ the Tiger is an autobiographical account of Thomas Howard’s expanding view of Jesus. In the preface he writes about the problem of growing up in a dogmatic, orthodox Christian culture.

“A person in this situation begins life with a set of certainties that accounts for everything. It is axiomatic [self-evident] that his tradition is the correct one. It is also understood that his particular sector of his tradition is the only pure one.

Then he stumbles out into the great glittering world. He is threatened and dazzled and frightened and intoxicated. There is more occurring in human existence than he had thought. There are compelling alternatives to his certainties. There are obvious rewards to be had by simply leaving his categories behind.”

This is the story of too many people. They grow up in a strict Christian environment that has answers to all of life’s questions and then as they move into adulthood, they discover that these answers are not at all satisfying.

The Christian culture they have grown up in tried to restrict the truth of Jesus to a neat package, carefully wrapped, tied up with a bow. Many of those who grow up in some version of this dogmatic Christian culture leave it when they become adults.

Thomas Howard continues:
There is, however, one odd note: as of this writing, I have not done the expected thing. I have not disavowed Christianity. The pulling and hauling has not convinced me that God was not in Christ. It has, on the other hand, led me to suspect that we are involved in something wild and unmanageable, and in nothing that can be successfully incarcerated in any dogmatic orthodoxy. … I find the Incarnation compelling. For in the figure of Jesus the Christ there is something that escapes us. He has been the subject of the greatest efforts at systematization in the history of man. But anyone who has ever tried this has had, in the end, to admit that the seams keep bursting. He sooner or later discovers that he is in touch, not with a pale Galilean, but with a towering, and furious figure who will not be managed.”

Everyone has a theological system that helps them to make sense of the Christian experience but Jesus will not be contained by any theological system. Every theological system is a sand box on a beach of sand. Baptists, Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Anglicans, Quakers – we all have our theological systems and every theological system restricts who God is in some way. Whatever system we construct, Jesus bursts out and reveals how much greater he is than we imagine.

Jesus is not safe and he is not manageable but he is loving and good.

Over the rest of the Sundays of summer, we will be preaching from the gospels, looking at the ways Jesus upset expectations, charted new ground.

My wife, Annie, and I had a discussion about C. S. Lewis writing in The Chronicles of Narnia that Jesus is not safe. She said she thought Lewis had it wrong. We find safety in being with Jesus. When we are most safe is when we are walking in intimacy with Jesus. Jesus said, (Luke 18:16)
“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

Over and over again in the gospels we read that Jesus had compassion on people. He was tender toward the oppressed, the wounded, the alienated. He said, (Matthew 11:28–30)
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

We are most safe when we are with Jesus, so what does Lewis mean when he writes, “Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Jesus said, (John 15:13–15)
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.

We learn in nursery school and kindergarten that Jesus loves us and is our friend. This is an appropriate understanding of Jesus for young children. But some people never get past that – and Jesus is so much more than our friend.

What do you do with a friend? You hang out together; you share confidences with each other; you drink out of the same bottle without wiping off the top; you tease each other without being offended. Good friends have a give and take relationship.

Who were Jesus’ friends? If anybody, it would seem that the twelve disciples closest to him would have been his best friends. But I don’t see evidence in the Gospels that Jesus was the kind of friend you would share the same bottle with.

From the beginning they treated him with respect as their leader but as he went around healing and casting out demons and raising people from the dead, they increasingly viewed him with wonder and astonishment. The Gospels talk about him walking ahead by himself and the rest of them following him from a distance. Jesus would do something so miraculous that they would get by themselves and talk to try to figure out what had happened and who exactly Jesus was. They were a bit tentative in approaching him, tentative in answering questions he asked them.

They knew a lot about each other because of all the time they spent together, but I don’t think any of them would have claimed Jesus as their buddy, their pal, or their best friend. Jesus had such power at his disposal they walked carefully around him, trying to understand him.

Some of us have watched the movie, The Shack. In this movie a man who is dealing with the grief of the death of his daughter meets with God: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, in a cabin by a lake. In his interactions he walks with Jesus, relaxes with Jesus, walks across a lake with Jesus, enjoys a friendship with Jesus. I like this but I don’t think we will ever get further than the disciples did in their relationship with Jesus. Jesus in heaven will still be the eternal, pre-existing, creator God.

Paul says we were once God’s enemies but now through Christ we have been reconciled. We are in the family of God. We have become God’s beloved daughters and God’s beloved sons. In John 15 Jesus tells us that we are his friends if we do what he commands, but that is not the same kind of friendship we have with people here on earth.

It would take more nerve than I have to waltz up to Jesus in heaven and say, “Hey Jesus. You’re my best friend.” This is nice sentiment but that is the problem – it is just sentiment. There is a holiness and magnificence to Jesus that prevents us from being casual with him. Who Jesus is demands that we focus on him, that we have awe and reverence toward him. Jesus does not enter into a room and we look up and say, “Hey Jesus, good to see you,” and then go back to our conversation. Who Jesus is demands that he always be the focus and in his presence ever knee will bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord and Savior of all.

Matthew 16:13–16
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Notice Peter did not say, you are my best friend. He said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

Let me present three ways we limit Jesus, three ways we reduce who Jesus is to a manageable size.

First, we limit Jesus by making him our feel-good-god.

I read an article taken from a book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. The authors interviewed 3,290 teenagers of all stripes and discovered that the dominant religious beliefs of these teens are the same, regardless of what religious system they came from: Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim or any other system.

This is the authors’ summary of what these teens believe.

  1. God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when he is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

It is a narcissistic religion in which everything revolves around me and my happiness. A fifteen-year-old Hispanic conservative Protestant girl from Florida expressed the benefits of her faith in these terms: “God is like someone who is always there for you; I don’t know, it’s like God is God. He’s just like somebody that’ll always help you go through whatever you’re going through. When I became a Christian I was just praying, and it always made me feel better.”

A fifteen-year-old Asian Buddhist girl from Alabama observed, “When I pray, it makes me feel good afterward.”

And a fourteen-year-old East Indian Hindu girl from California said of her religious practices, “I don’t know, they just really help me feel good.”

In the development of human psychology, teenage years tend to be a bit self-focused. This is normal. But as I read this article, it seemed to me that these religious tenets are held by more than just teenagers. For many adults, God is essentially a feel-good-god who helps when I need help but does not otherwise interfere with my life or my life choices.
For many people God exists to make them feel good and happy about themselves and about their life.

But I have news for these people: God did not enter human history so they could be happy and feel good about themselves. Jesus did not endure the physical, mental, social and spiritual suffering on the cross just so we could feel good about ourselves.

Jesus came into history because there was no other way to solve the problem of our separation from God. Because of our sinful nature, we are alienated from God and nothing we can do will bridge that separation. Only God could solve that problem and so Jesus had to die so we could have life. But people who have a feel-good view of God don’t see that. To say I am a sinner in need of a savior is a bummer. Why be so negative? Feel-good people see only their need to be happy and feel good about themselves.

The problem with this view of Jesus is that as soon as life becomes difficult or sacrifices need to be made, this god disappears. So crowds celebrated around Jesus for his parade into Jerusalem and then abandoned him during his crucifixion.

Jesus is not my feel-good-god. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

Second, we limit Jesus by reducing him to a tool to be used when we really want something. He is the tool to pull out when you need to fix your marriage. He is the tool to be used when you need to get out of debt. He is the investment tool you use when you give him 100 dirhams so he will give you back 1,000 dirhams. He is the tool you use to make your business successful.

When I was a young pastor a man came to the area to cut timber from the land of some of the wealthier people. He said he was a Christian and so they could trust him and then ended up cutting down trees he had agreed to leave standing. He used Jesus to get what he wanted and defrauded people in the process.

In my years in the business world I met Christians who used Jesus to promote themselves. They put Christian logos on their business cards. They said, “You can trust me because I am a Christian,” and I learned not to trust people who said this because their actions did not back up their words. I much preferred working with people whose actions demonstrated they were honorable people of faith.

Set your heart on what it is you desire and then pull out the Jesus tool to get it. Set your heart on a job promotion, a car, a computer or a girlfriend or boyfriend. Then pray hard, read your Bible every day, sing with enthusiasm, give seed money to the church and then wait for your Jesus tool to get what it is you desire.

But Jesus is not a tool you can pull out of the closet when you need it. Jesus cannot and will not be used as a tool. And when you try to use Jesus as a tool to get what it is you want, you play with eternal fire.

Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and he does not exist so you can get whatever it is you want.

Third, we limit Jesus by making him our good luck charm.

Some people carry a copy of the Bible with them or a cross or a Bible verse to protect them from harm.

They open a business and make sure they put up a Bible or cross or some other religious symbol so God will bless their business. They pray before setting out on a trip or before playing a football match or before taking an exam – which is not bad in itself. But what could be an authentic prayer expressing anxiety easily slips into a superstitious act. “If I pray then I will be successful.”

Jesus says to us, “Come follow me.” He does not promise us worldly success or safety from the world’s assaults. He does not promise us that our business will be a success, that we won’t have an accident when we travel, that we will win a football match, or that we will pass an exam. What he promises is that he will be present with us no matter what we face in this life and that when we die our physical death, he will take us to be with him.

Jesus is not our good luck charm to help us safely through life. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

Jesus is so much more than he ever seems to be. He is a friend but so much more than a friend. He brings us peace and joy but that does not define who he is or what he does. Jesus helps us with our life responsibilities but he is not a tool in our hands. If anything, we are a tool in his hands. Jesus loves us, cares about us, is at work in our lives. But it is his interests we serve, not the other way around.

Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. He is not easily defined. We are safe with him but he is not safe. We cannot control him. We cannot limit him. He is not manageable.

In another of the books of the Chronicles of Narnia, The Silver Chair, a young girl named Jill makes her first trip to the world of Narnia. She knows little of this strange land and even less about the “not tame Lion.” She knows only that she is very thirsty, but the only stream she can find appears to be this lion’s hangout.

“Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.

“I’m dying of thirst”, said Jill.

“May I – could I – would you mind going away while I do?”, said Jill.

The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.

The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.

“Will you promise not to – do anything to me, if I do come?”, said Jill.

“I make no promise”, said the Lion.

Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.

“Do you eat girls?”, she said.

“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms”, said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.

“I daren’t come and drink”, said Jill.

“Then you will die of thirst”, said the Lion.

“Oh dear!”, said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”

“There is no other stream”, said the Lion.

Jesus may not be safe, but drinking from his stream is the only place your spiritual thirst will ever be satisfied. Jesus may not be manageable but he is the only one who will be able to love you in the way you need to be loved. Jesus may not be easy or convenient but only with him do you have a future.

Examine your relationship with Jesus this morning.

Who are you living for? What are your dreams and ambitions? Who do your dreams and ambitions serve? To what extent is your view of Jesus set up to serve your own interests and desires? To what extent is your relationship with Jesus a comfortable, casual relationship? When being a follower of Jesus begins to cost you something, do you stay with Jesus or move away and take an easier path? How are you using the money God has put in your hands? Are you giving 10% or more of what you have to the work of Jesus in the world? Or are you holding on to that money for your own needs and wants? The way we use the money in our charge is an excellent indicator of our spiritual life.

Jesus made the sacrifice of being born as a man in our world. He died on the cross so you could have eternal life. He did this because he loves you and wants you to share with him the wonders of his kingdom. He endures the suffering of his beloved daughters and beloved sons so they can enter into his kingdom. Come to him, grow in your trust of him, grow in your understanding of how much you are loved.

Jesus is far more than he seems to be and we are on an eternal journey of discovering who Jesus is and how much he loves us. Keep on the journey. Don’t get sidetracked by the world’s attractions. Keep your eyes on Jesus and find life.

Annie shared with me a new song by Casting Crowns, Only Jesus.

Let me share the lyrics and then we will watch their video of the song.

Make it count, leave a mark, build a name for yourself
Dream your dreams, chase your heart, above all else
Make a name the world remembers
But all an empty world can sell is empty dreams
I got lost in the light when it was up to me
To make a name the world remembers
But Jesus is the only name to remember

And I, I don’t want to leave a legacy
I don’t care if they remember me
Only Jesus
And I, I’ve only got one life to live
I’ll let every second point to Him
Only Jesus

All the kingdoms built, all the trophies won
Will crumble into dust when it’s said and done
‘Cause all that really mattered
Did I live the truth to the ones I love?
Was my life the proof that there is only One
Whose name will last forever?