I try to help my junior high confirmation students imagine what it would have been like to be alive when Jesus was here. I illustrate that by describing what it would like if Jesus were to meet them in their lives today; perhaps sometime after school as they are walking to the bus. “Let’s say,” I begin, “there was a man out on the sidewalk, telling you to obey the ten commandments and follow him because he could do anything. He tells you he can walk on water, he can control the weather, he can even bring the dead back to life, because, he tells you, he is not just a man, he is really God who is here in the form of a man for a few years. Would you listen to him, or would you try to get away from him? What would you think of such a man,” I ask them.
Well, even though what he says sounds like Jesus, if he was just out there on a normal day after school, they would not expect that it would be Jesus. They all agree there would probably be something wrong with such a man, and they would not pay attention to him, but would want to get away from him. I agree, saying that would be a good and logical response. In fact, I say, that is how some people first responded to Jesus when he was here, saying he was crazy and should be avoided. Others said he was a liar and a deceiver, and he was called all sorts of other bad names. For them, the appearance of Jesus was just like it would be for you out on the sidewalk in front of school. Jesus came to them in the midst of their daily, ordinary lives, and so what were they to think of this normal looking man saying things about being the Son of the almighty God?
The interesting thing in the Gospels is that most people did not avoid Jesus, but came to him in large crowds. People would drop everything to see him and hear him speak. They would even leave their jobs and home to follow him. And many people who did not believe in him at first, did come to believe in him later. It is very interesting to look not only at what Jesus does in the Gospels, but also at how people respond to him, because they were there with him and had every reason to believe that he was just a normal man.
Of course, Jesus started to give them reason to believe that he was more than a man. I ask my students to imagine that the man on the sidewalk in front of school not only talked about being someone special with special powers, but also displayed some of those powers. I ask, “What if he went up to your classmate who has been in a wheelchair ever since kindergarten, took her hand and told her to get up– and just like that she was walking and jumping and doing cartwheels? What then? Well then, of course, you might begin to have a very different reaction.” And so it was in Jesus time. As people heard Jesus teach, they realized that he was not crazy but very wise; and when they saw him heal the sick and do the many other miracles, they realized that he indeed was someone special and began to believe that he truly was the Son of God.
Mark 3:20-22 — Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”
John 7:11-12 — Now at the festival the Jewish leaders were watching for Jesus and asking, “Where is he?” Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, “He is a good man.” Others replied, “No, he deceives the people.”
John 3:1-2 — Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
Matthew 16:13-17 — When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.”
Lord Jesus, make yourself to me
A living, bright reality.
More present to faith’s vision keen
Than any outward object seen.