What Kind of Jesus Would You Like?

Heritage Presbyterian Church https://heritagepresbyterian.org

Christ the King
Sunday November 20, 2022

Scripture readings: Jeremiah 23:1-6 and Luke 23:33-43

In the spring of 2008, I was invited to preach three times at Heritage Presbyterian Church.  This was back in the time when I was doing pulpit supply preaching and just helping out with various churches.  It was work that I really enjoyed!

On one of those Sundays, I preached a sermon titled, “What Kind of Jesus Would You Like?” – which is very similar in title and structure to the one I am giving today.  So, for any of you who were present on that day, if you think, “He’s done this before…” you are sort of correct.

In that long-ago sermon and in the one for today, I am asking the same question: “What kind of Jesus would you like?”  If you think there is only one answer, I am not sure you are correct.  There may be just one Jesus, but let’s be honest: we have created many, many versions of that one Jesus, and all of us are comfortable with some of those, and all of us are UNcomfortable with others.

Let me point out some examples that I raised in the original sermon:

  • There is the perfect, baby Jesus.  Remember the lyrics to the Christmas hymn: “Little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.”  From this type of thinking, any new parent might conclude that baby Jesus never cried, never pooped his diaper, never spit up on Joseph’s best work shirt just as he was about to leave for work, never cooed in the middle of the night… nothing wrong…just making enough noise to keep the parents awake for hours…
  • There is gifted-and-talented Jesus.  This one is the Jesus who dazzled the elders at the Temple in Jerusalem when he was about twelve years old.  Mary and Joseph and their entire clan went to Jerusalem for three days, and when they all left, they thought Jesus was in the group.  Instead, he was back at the Temple charming and impressing the priests, elders, and teachers of the Law – a tough crowd that he would encounter years later.  Gifted-and-talented Jesus…
  • There is miracle-working Jesus.  We all LOVE this Jesus.  He gave sight back to the blind, gave the mute speech, cured leprosy with just his words, made the lame and paralyzed walk, cured the sick, cast out demons, and even brought his friend, Lazarus back to life after a few days in the tomb. Anyone who is burdened by a chronic disease or condition that makes daily life a challenge can appreciate this particular Jesus.  Those miracle-working Jesus stories are wonderful to tell!
  • To continue, there is social-justice Jesus, who always cared about the widows, the sick, the poor, the children.
  • There is High Priest Jesus, who was the perfect representation of the Law on behalf of our Heavenly Father.
  • There is gentle Jesus, who always had time for everyone and seldom turned anyone away with a harsh word.  Sometimes his words seemed so brutally honest that they seemed to sting when we read them – think of how he addressed the woman at the well who had been married five times, or the Syro-Phoenician woman who begged Jesus to cure her child.  He still served them both!
  • Dramatic Jesus who calmed the storm by just saying, “Be still!” or making a whip of cords and driving the money-changers out of the Temple.  Pretty dramatic!
  • Teacher Jesus left lessons that are so simple, so pure, so expert that they stagger the imagination even today.
  • There was the Jesus of High Expectations.  This particular Jesus was expected to be a warrior king in the image of David, who would conquer the hated Romans and drive them out of God’s land.
  • Today, we have modern culture Jesus, in which we have come up all new forms of Jesus to embrace.  There is the Jesus on the bumper sticker, the Jesus on the dashboard of your car, the Jesus of the cross tattoo…which seems to appear so often on those tough guys who get arrested for drugs, assault, murder, and other serious crimes (what are they thinking with that tattoo of the cross?).  There is Hollywood Jesus, who often has an English accent; think of the TV special from a few years ago, “Jesus of Nazareth.”  His sermon on the mount was delivered in a perfect English accent!

Today in our Scripture readings, we have the crucified Jesus who we can barely even allow ourselves to fully comprehend.  To imagine the Son of God dying a slow, agonizing death on a cross, to picture in our minds all the gory details of that death, to even read the details in any of the four Gospels and realize how much that Jesus must have loved us.  That Jesus demonstrated a type of love that seemed so undeserved to us. And yet…even in his agony, that King of Kings, that Jesus of the birth in Bethlehem, that Jesus of the resurrection on Easter morning, that Jesus still had a moment to comfort a fellow sufferer on his own cross.  What love!  What amazing love that Jesus had.

In 2022, we have a few more Jesus kinds that I have thought of and have discovered for myself:

  • There is the wonderful, peaceful Jesus of the quiet moments, when suddenly peace overcomes you and you know you are loved.
  • There is the Jesus of ideas and dreams that seem to come from nowhere…and seem to come from amazing people that are open to his love and his inspiration.
  • There is the Jesus of unexpected events, unforeseen happenings, sudden occurrences when everything you know and believe and do gets turned upside-down.  Like suddenly being asked to become an elder and do some leading in a church, or heading up a project on behalf of others that you do wonderfully well…despite your own self-doubt.  Or trying something new like volunteering or going on a mission trip or getting involved instead of sitting on the sidelines and wishing someone would DO something!   Or coping with all the challenges of a pandemic that doesn’t seem to want to end and impacts our own church every single day for more than three years.
  • I am also convinced, as crazy as this sounds, that there is a Jesus of the Jews, the Muslims, immigrants, young women who are trafficked for sex, peoples in squalid refugee camps around the world, the homeless – especially the homeless teens who are kicked out of their own homes and told to never return.  I often hear, “Where would Jesus be today?”  My answer usually involves Jesus being right in the midst of groups who feel society has turned its back on them completely.  Remember who Jesus hung around with besides his Apostles: say it with me, people: “Tax collectors and sinners!”
  • More than ever before, I think there is a Jesus who is shamed by those political leaders who pretend to have faith, who swear they are led by Jesus, but only give lip service in order to gain influence, support, and power.

You have lots of choices, don’t you Christians?

So what kind of Jesus would you like?

But as you are deciding, consider a few more types.  Here are some kinds of Jesus that I will avoid at all costs:

  • I will have nothing to do with the Jesus of intolerance.  This Jesus is used by Christians to exclude some from his Kingdom here on earth.  Because some people are very, VERY different from the norm, they can’t possibly be with YOUR Jesus. 
  • I will turn away from the Jesus of judging and condemning his children.  Despite Jesus himself reminding us, “Judge not, let you be judged,” we still do an awful lot of that, don’t we?  And we often do it in Jesus’ name.  Ask any alcoholic or drug abuser who grew up in the church, got in trouble, and then watched his or her own beloved church turn against them when they need the church the most!  This does not mean “anything goes” or “live and let live.”  It actually means to focus on yourself and your own life and your family, while at the same time remembering that some people fall and still need our love.  Reaching out to others is a wonderful thing, but if it is done without a righteous heart and a caring spirit, it is not any type of Jesus you actually have in mind.
  • Finally, I will quickly run from any Jesus that teaches falsely.  To hear any Christian tell someone who loses a loved one, “If you had only prayed harder, your loved one would not have died” or “If you would only go to church more often, your life would be perfect” or – my personal favorite which gets said to anyone who asks hard questions – “I’m so sorry you’re going to hell.”  This is FALSE teaching, and it’s done in the name of a Jesus that I don’t recognize.  It’s cruel…and the Jesus I know and love and follow was never cruel!

Instead of all this, let’s choose the Jesus of the empty tomb on Easter morning;

the Jesus of the cross, the forgiven thief, and the resurrection;

the Jesus who humbled himself to become human just like us;

the Jesus who born not in a palace but had the humblest birth I have ever heard of…born in a cave surrounded by animals, born to Joseph and Mary, two humble servants of God…

That Jesus is the one we worship today.

Jesus, the Christ, our Lord and our King.

That’s the Jesus we choose.