I just watched an amazing video of a portrait of Jesus being put together by a wonderful artist. As I was watching, I realised how fascinated I still am by Jesus. After about 25 years of being a believer, he still challenges me, still draws me, still encourages me to strive on to be better than I am.
There is something amazing about this man who lived, died and, I believe, was physically raised 2,000 years ago. People of all persuasions have had their lives turned upside down, been given hope, been infused with meaning, and been turned around from self-destruction to self-giving love by the man from Nazareth. Kings and rulers, and slaves and peasants alike have been utterly transformed by him.
If you think of some of the things that make Jesus so fascinating, they are at once paradoxical yet at the same time make sense in him. Things like the fact that he makes the most outrageous, extraordinary claims of himself, yet not once does he come across as arrogant or self-opinionated. Or how about the fact that he actually intensifies the moral norms of his culture (“you have heard that it was said…but I say to you…”), and yet the most despised of ‘sinners’ in that same culture are drawn to him like metal to a magnet?
Jesus makes the most pressing claims on our lives, yet at the same time gives us grace upon grace – undeserved love. He demands total commitment yet never demands anything he doesn’t do himself. He tells us to love our enemies, and does it himself. He tells us to walk the extra mile, and he walks it himself. He tells us to take up our cross and follow, and he takes it up himself, even unto death on the most brutal, completely humiliating implement known in those times: a Roman cross.
This is a man like no other. The most intelligent minds in the world, such as former Head of the Human Genome project, Francis Collins, to the child who sits in wonder at the fact of Jesus’ love, come away transfixed, never the same again. 2,000 years later, Jesus appeals to great minds and little children alike. And throughout those 2,000 years, thousands have been transformed in a way they cannot explain but for the presence of a love outside of themselves. As Bono said once when it was suggested to him that this Jesus stuff is a bit outrageous: the alternative is that thousands of people throughout history have had their lives turned upside down by a madman – now that’s outrageous!
I read a bit of the Bible every day. I have read about Jesus for years; I have written about him and I daily try to live my life as he did, but still I find myself drawn to him, still I find myself wanting to be like him, still I want to learn more from him, and more than ever I am convinced that only in him lies the life and hope that we all strive for.
As I ponder, I can only echo the famous words of Dr James Allan, written almost a century ago, of this One Solitary Life:
He was born in an obscure village
The child of a peasant woman
He grew up in another obscure village
Where he worked in a carpenter shop
Until he was thirty
He never wrote a book
He never held an office
He never went to college
He never visited a big city
He never travelled more than two hundred miles
From the place where he was born
He did none of the things
Usually associated with greatness
He had no credentials but himself
He was only thirty three
His friends ran away
One of them denied him
He was turned over to his enemies
And went through the mockery of a trial
He was nailed to a cross between two thieves
While dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing
The only property he had on earth
When he was dead
He was laid in a borrowed grave
Through the pity of a friend
Nineteen centuries have come and gone
And today Jesus is the central figure of the human race
And the leader of mankind’s progress
All the armies that have ever marched
All the navies that have ever sailed
All the parliaments that have ever sat
All the kings that ever reigned put together
Have not affected the life of mankind on earth
As powerfully as that one solitary life
To paraphrase Paul Simon, I remain, of Jesus, still fascinated after all these years.