Not too long ago, a friend from another religious tradition asked me to summarize my “take on Jesus.” This is the reply I shared.
Jesus, ideally, is the center of my life. Traditionally, Christians speak of Jesus as “Lord,” “Master,” “Teacher,” “Savior” and the like. The simplest way I know to capture the essence of all such terms is to picture Jesus as the one around whom I orient myself.
You’ll probably ask, “Which Jesus?” My response is the Jesus we find in the canonical gospels (in all his complexity and simplicity), the Jesus of Christian reflection, and the living Jesus I know through the Spirit of God. For me, this is what it means to be a disciple or follower of Jesus.
Of course, while doing so I try to take care not to fall into the trap of thinking I’ve got Jesus pegged. As Carlyle Marney put it, “I try to follow the light I’ve been given, and I hope for more light.”
God and humanity intersect and become one in Jesus. How? I don’t know. But I accept the Incarnation and Resurrection, and when I combine them with the life and teachings and manner of Jesus, I find I stand in the presence of someone far greater than myself (or any other). He knows me, and indeed knows the human condition, not in the abstract but as a full participant. Yet, he knows God in much the same way, as a full participant in the life of God. I, therefore, use language such as “Son of God,” “Son of Man,” “God-Man” and the like–though, I try to be careful in doing so, since such terms are open to any number of interpretations.
I know Jesus as the one in whom we see what life is supposed to be like, both now and in the new creation. He is the one who knows what it means to love God, others and self as God intends. Self-giving love (agape) finds full expression in his life and death and through his resurrection is validated as the ultimately unconquerable way of life.
Strangely enough, if I am to engage Jesus with integrity, I must take seriously that he was a first-century Jewish man. That’s the aggravating aspect to Incarnation–it refuses to allow me to divorce discourse about the divine from the nitty-gritty of human life and history. The first century matters. I believe there is considerable continuity between Jesus the first-century person and Jesus the Risen One. In fact, I best trust interpretations of Jesus’ intent when they are tied strongly to his historical context.
Finally, I find I must treat Jesus as a living entity. Resurrection matters, too. This involves more than memories and influence. For me, it is an objective reality. Not that I claim to understand all that means; in fact, such a thing is quite beyond my grasp. But I try to operate as if Jesus is alive, well, at “the right of God,” and taking a healthy interest in the world at large and even in me. This is why I may speak of a “living Lord,” and Jesus as our “friend.”
That’s the “take” on Jesus which informs my preaching, teaching, leading and living–that is, on my better days!
Mike Smith is pastor of First Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn. This column also appears on his personal blog.