David Hoffbrand: "Restoring our Picture of Jesus"
Have you ever been for a sight test? I’ve had pretty good eyesight for most of my life. Recently though, it’s been a struggle to see details clearly, and I began to wonder if something had changed, so I booked a sight test.
The lady set my chin in the device and got me to look at the rows of letters and, sure enough, I could see the huge letters at the top and a few lines below them, but underneath that there were just rows of little dark blobs. I’m sure many of you will have had the same experience, but it was new for me.
Then she slotted some lenses into place and—bam! There were all these rows of letters in glorious focus. It was like now I could see the details, whereas before, all I could see were the headlines.
I think sometimes this is how it can feel when we read the Bible and think about Jesus. We see the headlines—the key truths—yet it feels like so much of the picture is blurred.
We’ve all had the experience of wondering what certain passages in the Bible mean, wondering what Jesus meant when He said this or that, and giving up, thinking, “I just can’t see it.”
The trouble is, the Bible only comes alive in us as we understand it, as the truth sets us free.
Like the letters on those lower rows, however, the detail is right there, hidden in plain sight, and God wants us to move beyond the headlines so we can know Jesus more intimately.
I believe that the key to this is to look at the Bible in its original Jewish context. When we do this, it is like putting on the right lenses—suddenly all those missing details reap- pear. Our picture of Jesus becomes clearer than ever before!
Over the last fifty years or so especially, there has been much research revealing the Jewishness of Jesus, and scholars such as Dwight Pryor have shown us how putting on ‘Hebraic spectacles’ can help us to see a more accurate and detailed picture of who He is.
Actually, before we can put on new lenses, we need to take the ones with the old prescription off. The truth is that over the last two thousand years every culture and era, even every individual, has painted Jesus in the light of its own needs and expectations. We all see Jesus through a filter of our traditions without realizing it.
There have been so many different versions of Jesus— Social Justice Jesus! Freedom Fighter Jesus! Hippie Jesus! Mystic Teacher Jesus! So many old lenses that affect the way we see Him.
Now imagine the clarity you would have, the level of intimacy you would experience, if you had the perfect, tailor-made prescription for you—the lens that allows you to see the authentic, original Jesus, and the one upon which all the others are based.
That’s the Jewish Jesus. I want to introduce you to Him—the Jesus of the Bible—in a way you perhaps haven’t experienced before, because if knowing Jesus is our goal then surely we want to see the details, not just the headlines?
You see, the one Jesus who is most clearly in the Bible, the one who ties together all of the rest and yet seems most missing today for us, is the Jewish Jesus. He is Jesus the healer. He is Jesus the Savior. He is the head of the church and the one we’re following.
When we look beyond our traditional thinking, we will find that so much more detail emerges as we restore the lens of the Jewish context in which Jesus and His followers actually lived and taught.
As we reconnect with the Jewish Jesus, it causes us to re-examine God’s purposes for the Jewish people and to consider what the Bible really says about Israel.
This in turn leads us to ask the question—what is the relevance of all this for the church today? How can we incorporate it in a way that enriches our lives as individuals and church communities?
When I was first exploring these issues, I thought it was going to be a complex process. Instead of something mystical, however, I felt God say to me that the key is simple—read without religion.
God impressed on me that all we need to do is read the Bible as if we hadn’t read it before—to remove the lens of our traditions, which causes us to skip past so many passages without seeing the details.
This is not about trying to live according to a Jewish culture you never even knew, but it is about properly under- standing the Bible and God’s heart. It is about a return to the Jewish mindset that is at the heart of the Christian message and writings.
I truly believe that as we go on this journey together the details that were there all along will come into focus, and we will know Jesus like we never have before.