It is easy to believe in Jesus. Simple belief (as in assent to an idea) really is easy. One can believe the historic Jesus existed… that He was a good man who made nice, pithy statements that were kind and charitable.
One might even go so far as listen to Christian radio because it provides a warm and positive tone for a harried work day. Our American cultural Christianity is one that requires nothing of us – it’s the ultimate in “easy believism.” It requires no faith, no confession of sin or acceptance of Christ as Savior. It requires an elementary knowledge of Christ and maybe a few Bible stories. Most claim the title “Christian,” accepting the hate-free warm fuzzies of spirituality and distancing themselves from “extremists” who might muddy things up with theology. Jesus, mom, baseball, apple pie… they are all nostalgic and nice.
Jesus isn’t nice. Jesus never wanted us to think he was nice.
For some reason He even decided to give nice people some fairly valid reasons to dislike Him. Like who really wants to follow a guy who throws tables over or insults people in power? He told a group of people who were fascinated by his miracles they should eat His flesh and drink his blood. Such strange words confused and disgusted these kosher rule keepers. He made followers and then purposely said things to thin the pack. He did not overthrow the oppressive Roman rulers and set the Jewish people free as they had expected a political Messiah to do. He healed only a select number of people, while thousands of others remained unhealed. He stirred up controversy, confusion and even disappointment among his closest followers. His coming was too counter-cultural to be nice.
Jesus is not predictable
As Beaver once said of the god figure Aslan in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series, “’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” The Pharisees were confused about several of His choices and to be honest those choices didn’t make Jesus seem like a good rule-following Jew. How could He break the Sabbath by healing a man or plucking grain from fields on a day of rest? Why did He let a woman caught in adultery get off without punishment and talk to a shady woman (who obviously wasn’t His wife) out at a well in broad daylight? He showed questionable taste in hanging out with tax collectors and certainly had people talking when he let a prostitute give him an aromatic foot massage.
It is far easier to close our eyes to the facts of the Bible and instead prefer a Jesus who is just a nice man.
It is even easy to accept Christ wholeheartedly as Lord and Savior and yet create a Jesus in our own minds as we want Him to be. This Jesus follows our rules. We do good things and this Jesus blesses us. We do bad things and this Jesus punishes us. We often trade Christ for a system of simple karma in our minds – thinking Christ is as predictable and small as our minds have made Him.
In studying the whole of God’s Word we get to know Jesus in all of His different facets. He was there working with the Father during the six days of Creation. He appeared in His pre-incarnate state to saints of old, such as Abraham, Joshua and Jacob, as “the Angel of the Lord.” To the disciples He was Messiah and friend. To the multitudes He was Healer and Miracle Worker. To the religious leaders of His time, Jesus was the Enemy. At the end of day Jesus will be the one who divides loyalties among family members and leads an army at the final, bloody battle. The complexity of Jesus requires us to dig in deeper than may feel or be comfortable.
A good place to begin in developing a belief that leads to saving faith is John, a book of the Bible written specifically so people would understand Jesus. In John 20:31 John writes, “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” It includes hard truths, miracles, and people who both accept and reject Him as Savior. It also introduces us to the concept of grace. John 1:17 says, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Grace is unique to the Christian faith and crushes the concepts of rule keeping and karma. It removes condemnation and shame associated with sinful acts and replaces them with God’s loving forgiveness and a fresh start. Jesus offers such grace to murderers, those who cheat on their taxes, prideful rule keepers, and bad drivers. In that case, Jesus really is nicer than we are.
Have thoughts on the topic of Jesus’ character? Do you think think “nice” is an appropriate adjective to describe Christ? Please tell me what you’re thinking?