Lots of people have asked that question. John 7 is a great chapter that illustrates the different opinions about that very question. The Jewish leadership, the crowds visiting from out of town for the Feast, the local residents of Jerusalem, the Pharisees, his brothers, the Temple police and even Nicodemus are all guessing and gauging who this man really is. Some thought Him a “good man”; others, a deceiver. Some believed Him to be a lunatic. Some questioned His lack of training or lack of theological pedigree. They questioned His accomplishments. They were threatened by Him, amazed by Him, alternatively believing Him to be a budding political superstar or a religious hero.
But then, if you read early church history, they spent 300 years trying to explain how He was truly God and truly man. The Apostle’s Creed is just one of the attempts from numerous church councils that tried to decide who He was and how to explain Him.
Heck, people go to seminary for three years to try to understand well enough so that they can explain it. They take classes on theology like Soteriology, and Ecclesiology and Eschatology. They study the atonement, the transfiguration, and the doctrines of total depravity, unconditional election and perseverance of the saints (we don’t agree on all of these things). They learn how to “exegete” (do you know what that means?) Scripture and do good hermeneutics… all so that they can answer that simple question – Who is Jesus?
I have two favorite answers that resonate with my own life and story.
The first one is from John 9. There is a guy who has a vision problem his whole life. He meets Jesus and Jesus gives him his sight back. And while the disciples wrestled with their theology of suffering (“whose fault is this, his or his parents?”), and the religious leaders responded in fear and judgment, the once blind man took a very definitive, almost non-theological stance. He only knew one thing about Jesus – “I was blind and now I see”. He is saying, “What I know of Jesus is that He is personal and He has touched my life. My life is different. My life is changed. What I know is that “I was blind and now I see!”” He answered Jesus because of something that Jesus did for him.
My second favorite story is from Matthew 27. There was a Roman centurion there at Calvary. He probably wasn’t involved in Jesus’ life until that moment. He may not have ever touched Him, talked with Him, seen a miracle or a demon delivered. His experience with Jesus was a short one. And Jesus did nothing that was not expected of everyone else in that situation. He was hanging on a Cross. That soldier looked at Jesus and said upon His death, “Surely he was the Son of God”. Truly, truly… how did he know that in His death this man was God’s Son?
The answer is that He did see first-hand this Jesus do something for him. He did see this Jesus die for him. He saw a man who was distinctly different.
So while there are great theological questions that matter about the divinity and humanity of Jesus the Christ, the real question that matters is much more personal, experiential, and from the heart. Who is He to you? Do you experience His entering your blindness? Do you see His suffering on your behalf?
At Christmas, the great thing about the baby Jesus is that we remember how approachable, touchable and personal He is. God became a man so that we could see Him. God became a man so that we could relate to Him as we saw Him relate to us, and to His Father. At the Cross, God became a man ultimately so that we could see and accept what that centurion saw and accepted – that Jesus was God’s Son, suffering for him.
So this Christmas, as you delight in the baby Jesus, remember that the real Jesus is the one who will hang on the Cross and the one who will meet us in our own experience of blindness. He is the God who both suffers for us and personally touches us.
Palmer Trice is an ordained Presbyterian minister. He is married to Lynne, has three children and has been in Charlotte since 1979. In his spare time, Palmer enjoys golf, tennis, walking and reading.