This is one of the best books I've ever read and may ever read. It's clear that Yancey did extensive research and soul searching to produce this head-scratching, heart-opening text. I admit to forgetting who Jesus is, forgetting what He's done and continues to do, even though I am living proof of His grace. Yancey presents simple yet overlooked characteristics of Jesus that I never really took the time to meditate on until now. There are so many gems in this book - only a few are below, but they struck me especially. If you get a chance to purchase this book (or want to borrow mine), you definitely won't regret it! Believers and non-believers alike - get to know this God we all think we have pinned down.
According to Jesus, what I think about him and how I respond will determine my destiny for all eternity.
Other people affected Jesus deeply; obstinacy frustrated him, self-righteousness infuriated him, simple faith thrilled him. Indeed, he seemed more emotional and spontaneous than the average person, not less. More passionate, not less.
One day miracles seemed to flow out of Jesus; the next day his power was blocked by people's lack of faith. One day he talked in detail of the Second Coming; another, he knew neither the day nor hour. He spoke eloquently about peacemaking, then told his disciples to procure swords. His extravagant claims about himself kept him at the center of controversy, but when he did something truly miraculous he tended to hush it up. As Walter Wink has said, if Jesus had never lived, we would not have been able to invent him.
The Master of the universe would become its victim, powerless before a squad of soldiers in a garden. God made himself weak for one purpose: to let human beings choose freely for themselves what to do with him.
The more I get to know Jesus, the more impressed I am by what Ivan Karamazov called "the miracle of restraint." The miracles Satan suggested, the signs and wonders the Pharisees demanded, the final proofs I long for - these would offer no serious obstacle to an omnipotent God. More amazing is his refusal to perform and to overwhelm. God's terrible insistence on human freedom is so absolute that he granted us the power to live as though he did not exist, to spit in his face, to crucify him. All this Jesus must have known as he faced down the tempter in the desert, focusing his mighty power on the energy of restraint.
I believe God insists on such restraint because no pyrotechnic displays of omnipotence will achieve the response he desires. Although power can force obedience, only love can summon a response of love, which is the one thing God wants from us and the reason he created us.
This quality of restrain in Jesus - one could almost call it a divine shyness - took me by surprise. I realized, as I absorbed the story of Jesus in the Gospels, that I had expected from him the same qualities I had met in the southern fundamentalist church of my childhood. There, I often felt the victim of emotional pressures. Doctrine was dished out in a "Believe and don't ask questions!" style. Wielding the power of miracle, mystery and authority, the church left no place for doubt. I also learn manipulative techniques for "soul winning," some of which involved misrepresenting myself to the person I was talking to. Yet now I am unable to find any of these qualities in the life of Jesus.
He has nearly inexhaustible patience with individuals but no patience at all with institutions and injustice.
Jesus did not mechanically follow a list of "Things I Gotta Do Today," and I doubt he would have appreciated our modern emphasis on punctuality and precise scheduling. He attended wedding feasts that lasted for days. He let himself get distracted by any "nobody" he came across, whether a hemorrhaging woman who shyly touched his robe or a blind beggar who made a nuisance of himself. Two of his most impressive miracles (the raising of Lazarus and of Jairus's daughter) took place because he arrived too late to heal the sick person.
Like a bell tolling from another world, Jesus' promise of rewards proclaims that no matter how things appear, there is no future in evil, only in good.
Human beings do not readily admit desperation. When they do, the kingdom of heaven draws near.
"I find it strangely heartening that the Bible remains offensive to honest, ignorant ears, just as it was in the first century. To me, that somehow validates its significance." -Virginia Stem Owens
"If anyone proved to me that Christ was outside the truth...then I would prefer to remain with Christ than with the truth." -Fyodor Dostoevsky
He brings to the surface repressed sin, yet forgives any freely acknowledged sin.
Perhaps prostitutes, tax collectors, and other known sinners responded to Jesus so readily because at some level they knew they were wrong and to them God's forgiveness looked very appealing.
Jesus proved in person that God loves people not as a race or species, but as individuals. We matter to God.
Jesus never met a disease he could not cure, a birth defect he could not reverse, a demon he could not exorcise. But he did meet skeptics he could not convince and sinners he could not convert.
"Jesus' healings are not supernatural miracles in a natural world. They are the only true 'natural' things in a world that is unnatural, demonized and wounded." -Jurgen Moltmann
I have marveled at, and sometimes openly questioned, the self-restraint God has shown throughout history allowing the Genghis Khans and the Hitlers and the Stalins to have their way. But nothing - nothing - compares to the self-restraint shown on that dark Friday in Jerusalem. With every lash of the whip, every fibrous crunch of fist against flesh, Jesus must have mentally replayed the Temptation in the wilderness and in Gethsemane. Legions of angels awaited his command. One word, and the ordeal would end.
"Anyone can be sentimental about the Nativity; any fool can feel like a Christian at Christmas. But Easter is the main event; if you don't believe in the resurrection, you're not a believer." -John Irving
God has always chosen the slow and difficult way, respecting human freedom regardless of cost. "God did not abolish the fact of evil: He transformed it," wrote Dorothy Sayers. "He did not stop the crucifixion: He rose from the dead." The hero bore all consequences, yet somehow triumphed.
In many respects I would find an unresurrected Jesus easier to accept. Easter makes him dangerous. Because of Easter I have to listen to his extravagant claims and can no longer pick and choose from his sayings. Moreover, Easter means he must be loose out there somewhere.
By ascending, Jesus took the risk of being forgotten.
God has not absconded at all. Rather, he has taken on a disguise, a most unlikely disguise of the stranger, the poor, the hungry, the prisoner, the sick, the ragged ones of earth: "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me." If we cannot detect God's presence in the world, it may be that we have been looking in the wrong places.
"First we meditate on Jesus, and then we go out and look for him in disguise." -Mother Teresa
When Jesus departed, he left the keys of the kingdom in our fumbling hands.
Our real challenge, the focus of our energy, should not be to Christianize the United States (always a losing battle) but rather to strive to be God's kingdom in an increasingly hostile world.
If the gates of hell cannot prevail against the church, the contemporary political scene hardly offers much threat.
History gives ample precedent for legalism and also for decadence. But how does one hold to high standards of moral purity while at the same time showing grace to those who fail those standards? How to embrace the sinner without encouraging sin? Christian history offers few facsimiles of the pattern Jesus played down.
I must admit that Jesus has revised in flesh many of my harsh and unpalatable notions about God. Why am I a Christian? I sometimes ask myself, and to be perfectly honest the reasons reduce to two: (1) the lack of good alternatives, and (2) Jesus. Brilliant, untamed, tender, creative, slippery, irreducible, paradoxically humble - Jesus stands up to scrutiny. He is who I want my God to be.
It is through the Servant's wounds that we are healed, said Isaiah - not his miracles.