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New Testament portraits of Christ

Who is Jesus to you? Reflect on that for a minute. Your mind will probably first turn to some standard explanations that you learned in church. But do you really understand what that means very deeply? Is it an understanding that really challenges your spiritual life?

Jesus was a very complex character. He is a complex person, and far more complex as God and man in one. We can better know and appreciate him when we pull away from the two-dimensional Sunday school representations of Jesus, and see him as a real person who lived and acted in history with other people. And as a person he is more fascinating and mysterious because this man is also a member of the divine Trinity who walked among us. These concepts have real implications for how we live. This blog is the first in a series that will look at some insights from different parts of the New Testament, by touching on different perspectives of Jesus, especially viewed within the bigger context.

The New Testament writers show us different aspects of his personality and character, and the NT not only presents the human and divine Jesus, but sometimes contrasts and juxtaposes them. We see the Jesus who is divine and mysterious, and the humble Jesus who gives folksy parables, serves the common people, and dies for us. Scripture presents us with this duality of the incarnation, which is sometimes hard to reconcile. How can someone be both God and man? Scripture does not try to answer these in a systematic way, but such questions have always arisen in Church history. Could he really undergo temptation, and did he overcome it solely because of his divine nature? To what degree did he lay aside his divine powers in becoming a man? Why does he not invoke his own divine powers on a greater scale? Theologians have spilled much ink over these and other questions (especially in early Church history, even to the point of theological hair-splitting about details of how his divine and human nature go together).

This blog series, however, is not for theologizing over such questions. Rather, the Scriptures invite us to think more about who he is personally, and how we are to respond. We will learn from how he lived and taught, how he interacted with certain people, and why some NT writers used certain expressions to describe him.

These all have implications for how we understand him, and in turn, how we live. For example: Why was he born and raised in places like Bethlehem and Nazareth? Why does he do miracles while teaching in a poor, remote province, instead of more world-changing, attention-getting actions? Why does he tell those kinds of parables? What were his attitude toward money or power? What should we do with our money? What were his attitudes toward about success and living a good life? How should we view people of other social classes and other races? What do you think about those questions? (Take a few minutes and ponder these yourself.)

Do our values align with his? Our answers say something about what we think of Jesus, and our understanding of Jesus shapes the kind of daily life that we lead. How we answer such questions is a gauge of the kind of religion that we follow, whether it is a healthy, life-transforming faith, or something more banal.

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