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  • Writer's pictureC. Kershaw

No Mr. Nice Guy

She was easy to talk to and engaging. Unlike many teens I work with, it didn’t take long for us to get to the crux of her problem--a pervasive sadness.  It began several years ago and had crept, with tentacle precision, into all aspects of her life.  The octopus was squeezing her now, pushing her to dark places where violent visions of pain and destructive, self-harming scenarios played through her mind.  

When I asked her about Jesus, and who he was in her life, her answer was painfully transparent.  He was a good guy, she said, hesitating.  That was about it--he was a good guy--nothing more, nothing less.  As a rational thinker who preferred science to stories, she didn’t get what the big fuss was about him, or the Bible either, for that matter.

This young woman’s frank comments represent what many think about Jesus Christ in our postmodern world.  He was a good guy.  Good guys can teach, good guys can help, and good guys can even die for others. No big deal.

Postmodernism has left many struggling in the position this young woman so eloquently communicated.  In a world that takes its questions to Google, or asks Alexa for life advice, it is difficult to understand Jesus.  With artificial intelligence promising to think through struggles for us, and search engines answering everyday problems, many teens simply herald what they see in society at large. Good guys cannot fill the existential emptiness this woman feels.  Good guys may be helpful, but they cannot save you.  

In this context, Jesus is not understood or accepted as the embodiment of God.  Christ’s divinity has been superseded by his, and our, humanity.

Accepting Christ’s mystery is critical.  His sovereignty, holiness, and divine nature rest on this foundation.  Our fact-gorged society dismisses what it cannot quantify, placing Jesus on par with magicians and lottery winners. How can we introduce others to the authentic mystery of Jesus Christ, Son of God?  How do we address  pervasive “good guy” apathy?  I find Luke 9 particularly helpful.  In one chapter, Jesus magnifies his mystery in a variety of ways. Here are a few of them, and how they translate in our conversations.  

The Good News is that Jesus is God’s Son.  Luke records that the disciples were sent out to speak a very specific message using a specific methodology.  They were to tell others that Jesus was the Messiah. The Kingdom prophecies they had clung to for centuries had been fulfilled!  The message was simple, powerful, and profound.  Some would wholeheartedly embrace it and extend hospitality to the visiting disciples, others would not.  Their message was volatile--they were not there to tell others that there was a nice guy in town.  Everyone would have accepted that.  They spread the news that Jesus was the Son of God. The mystery of their message was underscored by the power Christ gave the disciples to heal the sick who came to listen.

Jesus uses practical physical miracles to communicate his divinity.  When a crowd of over 5,000 people is hungry, things can get dicey.  The disciples tell Jesus it is time to knock off, and let the people find the food and shelter they need before night falls.  Jesus challenges them-- “you feed them,” he says in Luke 9:13.  The disciples have experience healing the sick, but feeding a starving crowd?  Who could do that?  That's precisely the point Jesus is making.  Only the Son of God can do that, through the mysterious power he has been given by his Father.

Jesus asks the disciples directly---who do you think I am?  Christ’s divinity is central to his message.  He has no desire to be the disciples’ best buddy or a wildly popular circuit speaker.  He came to earth as a sacrifice for sins, Son of God in the son of man.  When he asks the disciples what the crowds are saying about his identity, he is market-testing his message.  Do they understand his true identity?  They will need to move past what they can see to embrace the mystery he's communicating.  Jesus wonders, are they getting it?

Jesus also wonders if those closest to him understand.  He has not given them the power to heal and perform miracles so they can stage an elaborate dog and pony show.  These events and the message they are called to share are not coincidental.  They reveal Christ's identity.

Jesus’ prediction of his death and resurrection illustrates his incarnation.  Although the disciples did not understand, Jesus continually told them the end of the story.  He did not come to help them cope with complicated relationships or life skills. His help is dramatically different.  He will serve as a human sacrifice, paying for the evil of mankind in an excruciating, tortuous death.  God’s divine power will resurrect his broken body, mysteriously conquering both sin and death.

Our powers of perception will not lead us to understand Jesus. We have to believe in his divine identity, or we cannot accept Jesus at all. There is no middle ground. To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic, or the Son of God.

Each of us is afforded one choice. That choice directs our eternity.

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