Who is Jesus, really?

Is Jesus a healer or a teacher, a suffering servant or a glorified savior?  Who is Jesus, really?

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Who is Jesus, really?

February 10, 2013 – Luke 9:28-36


Yesterday was my birthday.  It was a significant one – my 60th!  And, while it is only one day (as one person said to me), it is also an occasion for reflection.

I remember my 40th birthday happily.  We were living in DeKalb.  I was in campus ministry.  Peter and Michael were in grade school.  It had been five years since my father had passed away.  I was in good health with plenty of my career ahead of me.

My 50th birthday was more difficult.  I had been here for one year.  Although I was very glad to be at Hope, I was still suffering some grief at leaving Trinity and Appleton.  Peter and Michael were out of the house.  Sylvia was making plans to go to seminary.  My life was going through some changes.  And it wasn’t clear to me how it would all turn out.

I am generally approaching my 60th birthday in a positive frame of mind.  While I’ve had some physical issues in recent years – eye surgery, back problems – I am in excellent health.  I enjoy what I do and I love being at Hope.  And I love where Sylvia and I live and the chance to share common work with her.  Although I have no specific plans to retire, I know that it’s out there somewhere.

I have much to be grateful for at this point in my life.  There are some questions – What will my health be like in the coming years?  How long will I continue to enjoy doing what I am doing?  But the question that has come up more and more often for me over the last decade is none of these.  It is – Who am I, really?

In part, this question has arisen as I have looked at old pictures of myself at different stages of my life.  I have tried to remember if I really looked liked that.  But I have also tried to remember what my state of mind was at the time.  I admit that I have a difficult time putting my finger on it.   I have a difficult time connecting with that person.  But mostly I think – Who is that person?  Was that really me?

More and more I feel as though I have not lived one lifetime – I have lived several lifetimes.  Maybe it’s because I’ve lived this long.  Maybe it’s a trick of my mind.  Maybe it’s because I am now undeniably bald.  You’ve all known that for quite awhile, but I’ve spent a good deal of time during the last decade looking into the mirror and thinking – Who’s that bald guy staring back at me?

While this may seem troubling – and there are days when it is – it is, I believe, a good thing.  It forces me to look more deeply at myself.  Not merely to accept the definitions that I and other people have given me over the years.  It gives me the chance to ask the question – Who am I, really?


This is also a question we ask about Jesus – Who is Jesus, really?  We get lots of different pictures in the gospels – the baby in the manger, the boy it in the temple, the wise teacher, the compassionate healer, the forceful debater, the miracle worker…  There are images he himself paints – the living water, the good shepherd, the light of the world, the way and the truth and the life…  And there are the images of Jesus dying on the cross and Jesus risen from the tomb.

But – Who is Jesus, really?  This is a question we ask because of all these different pictures we have of him.  But it is also a question we ask because Jesus asks it of us – his disciples.  Who do you say that I am?

Before Jesus takes Peter and James and John up a mountain to pray, he poses this question to them.  When he is at prayer, he asks, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” 

“John the Baptist or Elijah or one of the ancient prophets,” they tell him.

Then he says, “But who do you say that I am?”  Peter answers, “You are God’s Messiah!”

But then Jesus explains what this means – suffering, rejection, and death – and, on the third day, resurrection.

And Jesus also tells them what it means for them.  “If you really want to follow me, you must take up your cross every day and follow me.  If you want to save your life, you will lose.  If you lose your life for my sake, you will find it.”

I particularly like the way Eugene Peterson renders these words in The Message:

Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead.  You’re not in the driver’s seat – I am.  Don’t run from suffering; embrace it.  Self-help is no help at all.  Self-sacrifice is the way, my way to finding yourself, your true self.  What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?


Then on the mount of Transfiguration, Peter and James and John get a glimpse of the Jesus in his glory.  While he was at prayer, his appearance became a blinding white.  Two men – Moses and Elijah – appeared with him and talked about his upcoming exodus.  The disciples were heavy with sleep, but they managed to stay awake just enough to see.  Peter babbled something about setting up tents. 

A cloud settled over everything.  The disciples were scared out of their wits.  Then a voice spoke out of the cloud – “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”  And then there was only Jesus.  After that, the disciples were reluctant to speak about it to anyone.

Coming down off the mountain, Jesus performs an exorcism that baffles the disciples.  Then he says, “Listen…very…closely: The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into human hands.”

Jesus is the Son of Man.  He is the Messiah.  He is the Son of God.  But he is a very particular kind of Son of Man and Messiah and Son of God.  He is the Son of Man who is betrayed.  He is the Messiah who is condemned.  He is the Son of God who dies.  And after three days is raised.  Jesus is all this and more.

Do the disciples see all this on the mountain?  Probably not.  But perhaps this sight of Jesus transfigured carries them through the darkness, through the darkness of his rejection, condemnation, suffering and death, even the darkness of their own unfaithfulness to Jesus.


This is the way I am coming to see myself.  Not that I am Jesus, but that I too am more than I think I am.  I am all these pictures – and I am none of them.  Or, to put it another way, I am all these Chris’s – and I am much, much more.  I am much, much more, not because I have made myself that way. I am much, much more than this because of who God has made me to me, because of who God is transforming me to be, because of who I am in God,

Who I am is not so much about me as it is about God and about God’s love for me.  God’s love is present within me and there is nothing that gets in the way of that love.  There is no hardship, no difficulty, no challenge, that gets in the way of God’s love.  There is nothing that I have done – the ways in which I’ve failed, the ways in which I’ve messed up, the ways in which I’ve hurt myself and others – none of that gets in the way of God’s love.  Not even death gets in the way of God’s love for me.  It is this eternal, infinite love present throughout the universe that is also present in me.  This love will carry me through whatever the coming years hold – all the changes, all the challenges, all the joys, and all the sorrows – and will even carry me through death – to God.