“Jesus went to the area of Caesarea Philippi. There he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist. Others say Elijah. Still others say Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah. You are the Son of the living God.” “Matthew 16:13-16
If you have seen Will Ferrell’s Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, we watch Ricky reveal his very lop-sided view of Jesus. In one scene, he prays for their meal as follows: “Dear lord baby, Jesus, thank you so much for this bountiful harvest of Domino’s, KFC, and the always delicious Taco Bell. I want to take time to say thank you for my family …. Dear tiny Jesus in your golden-fleece diapers, with your tiny, little, fat, balled-up fists pawing at the air ….” Ricky’s wife interrupts saying, “Hey, um, you know, sweetie, Jesus did grow up. You don’t always have to call him baby. It’s a bit odd and off-putting to pray to a baby”. Ricky replies, “Well, I like the Christmas Jesus best, and I’m saying grace. When you say grace, you can say it to grownup Jesus, teenage Jesus, bearded Jesus, or whomever you want.”
Although we’re not as obvious about it as Ricky Bobby, we are all tempted to create God in our image. And it is frighteningly easy to do as long as life goes well. But when the bottom falls out, our fake gods make us miserable, and only the real God can help. When we build our life around another person (a husband, a wife, a child, a parent), and that person suffers, we are tempted to ask why a loving God would allow their suffering. We ask why He allows harm to happen to the one person we can’t imagine living without. Unable to answer these hard questions, some people give up on God. They don’t stop believing. They stop praying, trusting, and hoping. And some become angry with God. They think about him all the time, but hardly positively or productively. They believe God has revealed himself to be unjust and want to hold him accountable.
Ricky Booby’s best friend likes to picture Jesus in a tuxedo T-shirt, combining his love of formality and partying. Ricky’s boy likes to portray Jesus as a ninja fighting samurai. It’s ridiculous, somewhat irreverent, and oddly, what some attempt to do daily. We’ve become very adept at trying to catch God. We try and trap him in our understanding. We project upon him how we want him to think and act. We make him over in our image. We grasp him and tame him according to our understanding and preferences. But we’re fooling ourselves because our limited and foolish understanding will not confine God. His ways are not our ways. He is beyond our comprehension.
Thankfully, He catches us, and that’s no easy feat! He had to take extreme measures, like being born as a baby and dying on a cross. But He’s got us right where He wants us. He invites us to stop running and stop chasing but to rest, caught up in the loving arms of grace.
Who do we pray to, the Messiah? He took on suffering, rejection, and the cross, for us. We have a Messiah who is willing to die for us even when we reject and deny Him and race right past His ways. This Messiah was raised on the third day, ascended to heaven, and will return to set all creation right. That’s who Jesus is.
Too many people look at Jesus and see what they want to see, conforming Him to our desires, wishes, and limited understanding. But when Jesus looks at us, He sees us for who we are: sinners in need of saving, transgressors in need of forgiving, and wanderers who need to be caught. Jesus doesn’t promise success, prosperity, or even happiness. But what He does give himself and invites us to follow behind Him.