(Extract from MP3: The Welcome of God - Mark 15.)
- I like to think that Jesus would have me on his team.
- I like to think Jesus would have formed a coalition with Nick Clegg.
- I like to think Jesus would come to our church
- I like to think Jesus listens to my kind of music.
- I like to think of Jesus as morally inspirational.
- I like to think Jesus would vote for…
Everyone has their own ideas. And everyone thinks they’re in with Jesus. We all seem to have our own plastic Jesus. A Jesus who looks a bit like what I wish saw when I look in the mirror. A Jesus who is on my team and fits nicely in my pocket. The problem is that whenever we say “I like to think of Jesus as…” we’re just creating an imaginary Jesus. It’s no more real than me saying “I’d like to think of my wife as a 6ft-tall brunette who works as an astronaut…” – that’d be a figment of imagination, and it turns out I prefer my actual 5ft4in blonde music teaching wife…
If we burn our plastic Jesus and look at the real one, what do we find?
It’s a plain fact of history to say that Jesus is phenomenally influential. Disproportionately influential by most standards. A man with enduring appeal, through generations and around the world. Certainly we find a person who has shaped history – he has influenced more art and architecture, literature and culture than anyone else in the last two thousand years. And yet this is a man who never lived far from his birth place, never went to University, never married or got a mortgage, never wrote a book or ran for political office, and whose short life ended shamefully with death in his early 30s after just three years of in the public eye.
If we’re serious about burning our plastic Jesus and finding the real Jesus we’re not on a hopeless quest – we can turn to the records of his life. There is plenty to choose from. We have writing from those who hated him and we have writing from those who were ambivalent to him, both confirming the basic facts of his life and legacy.
Within a few years of his walking on earth a multi-national movement called the church had come into being that has never died out in 2000 years, though empires and kingdoms have come and gone, the church has pressed on and can today be found in most people groups and cultures of the world.
The most accurate and reliable testimony about Jesus was recorded by eyewitnesses of his life and their associates. So impressed were they that they painstakingly gathered evidence to document his life and carefully duplicated and circulated those documents. They were later collated into what we now call The Bible and form a part of the world’s best selling book. One of those is Mark’s account of Jesus life, transcribed from the eyewitness testimony of Peter who knew Jesus personally and was an early leader of the church. The document dates to within a generation of the events it records, days in which its testimony was verifiable with witnesses, and we have here an English translation of the oldest extant manuscripts.
Mark presents a breathless account of Jesus’ life. Jesus is introduced to us as the LORD: the 2nd person of The Triune God, fulfilling a prophecy that someone will come and prepare the way for the LORD. We’re shown a man called John the Baptist who does the preparing, and then immediately Jesus comes on stage. The Triune God is walking on the earth.
Jesus is clearly Mark’s main character, on stage in all but two scenes (an observation I owe to Andrew Page's Mark Drama). Heaven is torn open in Jesus’ first scene. A voice speaks from heaven, from God the Father saying – this is my son, I am well pleased with him, and later: everyone should listen to him.
Jesus takes for himself the title of The Bridegroom. An overwhelmingly positive image of a lover on his wedding day; progressing like the sun does through the sky (Psalm 19:5); coming to lay down his life for his bride, the people who follow him, the church. Mark’s recurring theme is Jesus predicting that he will soon die and then on the third day be raised from the dead.... and then we reach Mark 15:33, the scene of Jesus' death.... and this story isn't about you and me, it's about him.