–December of 2003
“We Didn’t Know Who You Were”
The early American spiritual, “Sweet Little Jesus Boy” has a profound insight running through its lyrics. The writer appropriately reflects the world’s failure to recognize the incarnate Son of God when He says: “We didn’t know who You were.” The third verse proves to be even more remarkable. “The world treats you mean, Lord, treats me mean too, but that’s how things are down here. We don’t know who you are.” The writer deliberately shifts from a historical ignorance to a present-day failure to recognize the Son of God.
I’ve spent the last several months studying the gospel of John for the specific purpose of learning how to model the life of Christ in my own life. The revelations have been startling. As I looked for Jesus in John’s narrative, the first thing I learned was that it’s very easy to miss Him because of looking for the wrong thing.
The world completely missed Him on that first Christmas (John 1:5, 10). Their kings were born surrounded by pomp and circumstance. But Jesus came silently, in a stable, with only a few shepherds to pay him homage. Their kings lived in palaces, dressed in splendor, dined with heads of state, and traveled in gold plated chariots pulled by majestic steeds. Their vision of a king was one to be served, feared and honored from a distance. Jesus wore the garb of common men, had no place to lay his head, traveled by foot, rubbed shoulders with the poor and diseased, held children on his lap and first revealed His glory at the wedding of a poor village girl. The very thought of a king, dying on a cross to redeem his people and establish His kingdom, was to the world foolishness.
His own people missed him (John 1:11). The Jews were looking for a conquering warlord that would throw off the yoke of Rome, liberate their country and return them to the golden age of Solomon. But Jesus said His kingdom was not of this world, spoke of going the second mile, turning the other cheek, and loving your enemies. The Jews watched in complete horror as He healed a Roman’s Centurion’s servant, talked to a Samaritan adulteress, stayed in the home of a tax collector and spent most of His time with a group of ignorant fisherman. For their Messiah to be crucified on a Roman cross as God’s perfect sacrifice, proved to be a huge stumbling block.
His disciples had problems recognizing who He was. Peter, speaking for the twelve, announced at Caesarea Philippi that, “Thou art the Christ, the son of the living God.” Jesus’ response to that was to explain that being the Christ involved a cross. To which Peter replied, “Not so Lord.” When Jesus washed the disciple’s feet, Peter’s paradigm of the Messiah came out again, and it was not one of self-sacrificing servanthood. Even after three years, His disciples saw His death and resurrection as the ultimate end rather than the consummate victory.
You don’t have to miss Him. Those who were in tune to God’s redemptive plan and activity recognized Jesus right away. Simeon and Anna recognized Him as God’s means of salvation when He was still a babe in His mother’s arms. The wise men worshipped Him, John the Baptist announced Him as the “Lamb of God,” and the woman of Samaria said to her friends, “Is not this the Christ?”
Even a Roman Centurion who witnessed His crucifixion said, “Truly this was the Son of God.”
If Jesus were reincarnated among us today, would we be prepared to recognize Him? Or have we created a Jesus so much to our own liking that we would never know the one walking through the pages of our New Testament? This Christmas season, go back to the gospels and look for Him. You will be awed by what you find.