In the last part of last year, we spent a bit of time brainstorming words that describe Jesus. I said I would summarise it and bring it back to see if we could come up with a profile of Jesus. I have spent quite a bit of time trying to do that. Recently, I have spent a lot of time on it. I have found it difficult.
I expanded our list with some additional words. I had 300+ words or phrases. Then it was a case of trying to identify the most biblical, the most important, which ones were closely related, how they might be categorised, whittling it down to something manageable, etc. etc. etc..
How do you summarise Jesus? Every time I looked at it I would think, “Oh no, it would be better if it was this way or that way.” I would realise that there were important concepts that I hadn’t included. It also reflects my own biases and blind spots and someone else might do it very differently.
However, I now do have something, but can you tell that I am pleading with you not to be too tough on me? This is a work in process. It will need to be improved but, at least, it might be a start and it might have some value even if it is not perfect.
I have selected 50 words or phrases. You will notice that there are some others in there that are in grey. They are there because I wanted to group things under a heading or to include some alternative words or whatever. I’ve cheated a bit but, essentially, there are 50. I have grouped those 50 phrases under four headings: Jesus’ identity, Jesus’ spirituality, Jesus’ character and Jesus’ mission.
A great deal could be said about each one of these phrases. Each one needs to be unpacked.
When you get to the right hand column, you need to remember what has already been mentioned. For example, you might say that it doesn’t say that Jesus loved the disciples. No, but “loving” is part of Jesus’ character. It is part of what He is like so He automatically brings it into His ministry to the disciples.
It describes Jesus in terms of a series of relationships. His identity is expressed relationally: Son of God, Son of Man. His spirituality is His relationship with His Father. His character might be expressed as His relationship with Himself. Is He true to Himself? His mission is about His relationship with the world: His relationship with the crowds who were not yet Christians and His relationship with the disciples who had chosen to follow Him. It is perhaps no surprise that Jesus’ life is about relationships.
It also might not be a surprise that character is such a big category. Character is huge.
I don’t know how easy it is to quickly absorb this but I’ll give an opportunity for comments a bit later.
Colossians 1:15-20 lists a whole lot of statements about Jesus. He is:
- The image of the invisible God
- The firstborn of all creation
- All things were created through Him and for Him
- He is before all things and holds all things together
- The head of the church
- The firstborn from among the dead
- The fullness of God dwells in Him
Paul described Jesus in terms of His supremacy over all things. He focuses on Jesus’ divinity. He is the Son – of God. He is the image of God. All of God’s fullness dwelt in Him. He is over all creation. All things – thrones, powers, rulers, authorities – were created through Him and for Him. He is God.
And yet, in the midst of all that, He is also the firstborn from among the dead. He died. He is human. His death reminds us of Jesus’ humility and obedience and willingness to suffer. It takes us to Calvary.
Why? V.19: Because God was pleased, firstly, to have all His fullness dwell in Him. This God-Man was Emmanuel: God with us. God in all His fullness came into the world in Jesus.
But why? Because God was pleased to reconcile all things to Himself by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross. God’s plan is for our reconciliation with Him. God was willing to achieve that through coming into the world Himself and dying on a cross. Reconciliation was achieved – peace was made – through the shedding of His blood on the cross.
In those few verses, we have statements (or, at least, strong implication) about:
- Jesus’ identity: Son of God, Son of Man, The Messiah, the risen Lord
- Jesus’ relationship with His Father. He is the Son doing the Father’s will.
- Jesus’ character – implicitly, if not explicitly, His love and obedience and willingness to suffer. His selflessness, humility and trust in God.
- Jesus’ mission – to reconcile all things to God through His death.
Jesus is way too big and way too glorious to be summed up in a few words. Any list will be inadequate but is this list getting close to describing Jesus?
So, what is the point of this exercise?
It is certainly that we understand Jesus better and know how amazing Jesus is. It is good for us to keep our eyes on Jesus and to spend time discovering more about Him. It might renew our desire to worship Him. It would be very good if we sing more wholeheartedly or we spend more time with Him in prayer.
If we see Him more clearly we might love Him more dearly and follow Him more nearly, day by day.
Me doing this work is probably not going to help you. It will be as you dig into the scriptures and discover more about Jesus that it will have an impact on your life. But you could take this piece of paper away and think about what Bible passages relate to each phrase. Or, as you read your Bible, ask if what you see there is reflected on the sheet. Think about what words you would have chosen and how you might have grouped them. That is where the learning will come and I cannot do that work for you.
It might be that someone looks at a profile like this, or reads the Bible, and says, “If this is what Jesus is like, I think I could trust Him and I want to get to know Him better.” That would be fantastic.
But that was not my real reason. Here is the reason: This is not just a description of Jesus. It is a description of the potential you. God invites us to be like Jesus.
Romans 8:29 For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
God plan is for us to be conformed to the image of His Son. Can we say that? “God’s plan for me is to be like Jesus”. This is a glorious and amazing and wonderful possibility.
Would you like these words to be true of you – a child of God, intimate with God, a person of faith, prayerful, Spirit-filled and empowered, good, generous, forgiving, having compassion for the marginalised and needy, meeting needs in the power of God, a shepherd, influencing others by your example, exercising a God-given ministry. And all of the others. Do you want that? God invites us to become like Jesus.
2 Cor 3:18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His image with increasing glory, which comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
This is a wonderfully glorious thing. We can be transformed into His image. It is a process. It takes time. The passage doesn’t say we have been transformed or that we will be, but that we are being.
Being Christ-like sounds impossible. Who of us, by our own efforts, could be like Jesus? Who of us could live up to all of these phrases? But it is not about us. It is an offer from God. God says, “I can change you to be like Jesus. Will you let me do that?”
We do have to cooperate. We have to want it and we have to be open to the work of God and to the ministries of other people but it is the power of God that transforms. 2 Corinthians 3:18 does not say that we are transforming ourselves. It says we are being transformed and that this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
Last week I talked about what it means to follow Jesus. Following essentially means becoming like Jesus: thinking like Jesus, acting like Jesus, imitating Jesus. Our mission as a church is to help people follow Jesus. A list like this, imperfect as it is, can become our curriculum. It can give us something tangible to aim for. This is what we long for; that we be a people who know our identity in Jesus, people of deep spirituality, people of godly character and people who continue Jesus’ mission, His way.
Is there anything on that list that we would not also want to see in followers of Jesus?
It is true that there are some aspects of Jesus that are totally unique. There is only one Saviour of the world. Jesus is the Son of God in a unique way. But would it be true to say that, with a few exceptions, God wants to see all of these other qualities in the lives of His people?
Maybe we can improve on this list but a list like this gives us something tangible to aim for. It is not all woolly and vague. No, it is these things. Individually, we could look at this list and identify one area of Christ-likeness in which we would like to grow. It might be my prayer life or becoming more patient with people or having more people for meals, or whatever. And as a church we can think about how we provide opportunities and resources for growth in these various areas. Life Groups could focus on key aspects of becoming more like Jesus. This our curriculum.
Here’s why this is so important.
- Churches are so often crippled
by pettiness and division because the members are not like Jesus. Look at the
list of character qualities. Wouldn’t
relationships be different if Christians were accepting,
self-controlled, encouraging, generous. So often, trouble is caused in churches
because people want things their way. It is all about me. How different it is
when people have learnt to be selfless, like Jesus.
- In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul addressed the squabbling in the Corinthian church saying that their jealousy and quarrelling proved that they were immature or, as Paul says, worldly and mere human beings. They had not been transformed, hence the squabbling.
- If we are going to stand out as being different from society; if we are going to be seen as an example of the Kingdom of God, we need Christ-like people. Without people who have grown to spiritual maturity, we are no different and we have nothing to offer.
- If churches are going to be well-led, they need to have raised up Christ-like people who are intimate with God, know and trust the Bible, are Spirit-filled and empowered, Christ-like in their character, and committed to the mission of Jesus.
- If churches are going to raise a new generation of Christ-like people, they need Christ-like people as mentors. The family needs parents –who are mature and can model and teach Christ-likeness.
We could go on. For a church to be a church, in any remotely biblical sense, it must have Christ-like people. This is crucial. This is our job. And we need to address it. How do we grow Christ-like people?
We are going to be talking about this a lot more but, in the meantime, could you take this list and pray about it? There are two questions at the bottom. What does it say about Jesus and how do you want to respond? What does it say about your growth and how do you want to respond?