As a Christian, my understanding of Jesus derives from the Creeds.
Or, in other words, from the five centuries of theological debate that led to the Creeds - as the church attempted to understand and codify exactly who Jesus was.
And so, Jesus is ‘the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father and through whom all things were made.’
Which is all good and what we Christians believe. But it doesn’t sound very human, does it?
To quote the Nicene Creed again, however, we also believe that Jesus ‘came down from heaven and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, became incarnate from the Virgin Mary and was made man.’
He was fully human.
Fully divine and fully human.
It’s hard, however, for Christians today – living as we do this side of Easter - not to tilt more towards the divine than the human. To see Jesus as being different from us and other human beings. And not being just like everyone else.
Yet at the time of Jesus’ ministry, Jesus – despite His charisma - must have seemed like an ordinary human being. The disciples did not know that He was going to be raised from the dead on Easter Day. They did not know He was going to ascend and return to them through the power of the Holy Spirit.
When we read the Gospels, we often forget this. And so, I would urge you – when you read Bible stories about Jesus – to try to do this without the benefit of hindsight. Try to forget what you know happens in the end. Try to see Jesus the way people around Him would have seen Him at the time.
When we do this, we realise just how passionate and unpredictable Jesus was.
Jesus was not, as Philip Yancey puts it in his book The Jesus I Never Knew, ‘like a Star Trek Vulcan - calm, cool and collected as he strode like a robot among excitable human beings on spaceship earth.’ Other people affected Jesus deeply. Obstinacy annoyed Him. Self-righteousness infuriated Him. Simple faith excited Him. If anything, He was not calmer than other people; He was far more emotional. And unpredictable.
In fact, if we try to do a personality analysis on Jesus, He is very hard to pin down.
He showed little interest in the main topical debate and concern of His time – the Roman occupation of Palestine. Yet He was incensed by the money traders in the Temple and drove them out with a whip.
He said He did not want to change a dot or comma of the Torah (the Jewish Law of Moses.) But He was often caught breaking the most important Jewish laws pertaining to the Sabbath and ritual purification.
He was moved with compassion for a leper He’d never met before. But He would shout at his close friend Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan!’
Sometimes He was healing great crowds. At other times His power seemed blocked.
Sometimes He stole away and evaded arrest. At the end of His ministry He deliberately set His face towards Jerusalem – where He knew people wanted to kill Him.
He told His disciples to love their enemies and turn the other cheek. But on one occasion, He tells them it is time to take up swords.
He made great claims that He was one and the same as God the Father. But, on other occasions, He told people not to say anything about the miracles He had performed.
In short, Jesus is such an extraordinary and unpredictable person – that we should be wary about taming Him into a neat and manageable package. As Dorothy Sayers wrote, ‘[We have] very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified Him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.’
I’m not, for a moment, suggesting we reject the Creeds or our understanding of who Jesus truly is – as revealed to us by God on Easter Day. But I think it’s good to see Jesus also in His gloriously human self – as He would have appeared to people around Him during his life.
A man of passion and immense unpredictability.
Which is why Jesus continues to stir us up and surprise us today.