I recently attended a talk by someone from the Student Christian Movement on 'the person of Jesus'. It was good and one thing he said in particular struck me. Christians are divided into many, many different groups that disagree on almost every imaginable question of doctrine and practiced large and small. But the one thing they all have in common is the person of Jesus. That sounds like it should be really obvious but it made me think about the type of man Jesus must have been, to have made such an impact on people. In particular in contrast to the apparent provincial nature of his life and death. This quote, I think, says it better than I could.
"Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher.
He never owned a home. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put His foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself...
While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves. While He was dying His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth – His coat. When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.
Nineteen long centuries have come and gone, and today He is a centerpiece of the human race and leader of the column of progress.
I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that were ever built; all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that one solitary life."
For me another the thing that makes Jesus even more remarkable is just how little we do know about him but he stills has this impact. We have 4 short, extremely partial, fragmentary accounts of a short period of his life spanning at most 3 years. He spoke largely in riddles and metaphors that can be difficult to access today and the exact meaning of which people disagree massively. He left no writings and died an apparent failure.
Look at other great spiritual leaders. Muhammed died a successful military leader, ruler and lawgiver of a powerful and united state that had already conquered all Arabia and would sweep across most of the civilised world in a single lifetime. Buddha died leaving a thriving and spreading community of monks and disciples several thousand strong and was mourned across much of Northern India. Both died peacefully surrounded by their adoring followers. Jesus died alone, leaving no money, no written works, no organised community or military force, an apparent failure, and for centuries after his death his followers were a scattered and persecuted minority in states that hated them.
What a man he must have been. How incredible must have been his character and his sheer force of personality, that he could tell people to leave all their possessions and follow him to life and death and they did How incredible must he have been that his memory and example was enough to drive his followers through three hundred years of persecution. And that even today, even through the cloudy mirror of those partial, 2nd hand accounts we have of him, he is a real force that speaks to people and changes their lives and is as real and present as any person they know.
And today there are more Christians than any other religion in the world, his words exist in more languages and have been distributed more widely than any other words ever spoken and continue to influence people from almost unimaginably different backgrounds, nations, geographies and lifestyles today. Despite the partial, fragmentary nature of the Gospels the personality and person revealed in those pages shouts loudly enough to capture the hearts of people in every corner of the world in the deepest, most personal manner possible. And is revered almost universally, even among countless people who don't count themselves as Christians. To 2 billion Christians he is God Incarnate, to a Billion Muslims a revered prophet of God, to many millions of Hindus and Buddhists a respected teacher or incarnation of God, and even for many non-religious people around the world an important spiritual and moral example and innovator.
For me personally the man I met in those Gospel pages has filled my entire life, despite the distance the huge distance of space and time that physically separates us. It has shouted with a voice that always, even in my darkest and most faithless moments, I have never been able to get out of my head and heart. He has been my teacher, my example, my constant challenge to do and be better, my friend, my ever-present support, my master, My King and my God.
In classic Christian theology there is no book or law or thing or vision that is the Revelation of God. There is a person, Jesus Christ, who is the Truth, the Word, The Revelation, the Way, the Love, the Life, the Salvation, the Being of God, and everything that matters is defined in reference to him. And we could do vastly worse than to have nothing but him in common to all of us.