During the Christmas season, the old classics abound on television- “Miracle on 34th Street”, Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, and “A Charlie Brown Christmas” are a few of the shows that we love to watch and share with our children. For the record, I’m a big television documentary fan. I don’t like sitcoms. I don’t like variety shows. But I’ve always watched documentaries. Shows about history, and different places and people fascinate me. But there is something that has begun to happen this time of year that bothers me. It’s a certain genre of “religious” television shows. I’m not talking about holiday shows. I’m talking about the Jesus “reality” shows.
There has been a trend over the past few years for some of the documentary channels to focus on the “historical” Jesus. You’ve probably seen at least one of them. A typical show will present the archeological “record,” in order to give the viewer insight into what Jesus might have looked like and how he might have lived. They retrace the steps Jesus may have walked and the places He may have visited.
These shows tend to focus only on the humanity of Jesus. Some shows have gone to great lengths, using computer graphic techniques, to reconstruct what He might have looked like. These representations are based upon what a typical Galilean male of the era would have looked like. Others focus on how He might have grown up and the effect it might have had on His ministry. In those days, many Jews struggled for bare subsistence. They were essentially a captive people and many dealt with poverty and itinerant lifestyles. They led very hard lives. There was a huge divide between the “haves” and “have nots”. Jesus is portrayed as a “have not” based upon where He grew up and his circumstances, as described in the Bible. The Jesus we see revealed in these shows is an unattractive, uneducated and deprived Jew, who barely scraped by.
These shows impute the circumstances of that time, for a typical male Jew, from a typical Jewish family, to Jesus. Perhaps this representation of Jesus is accurate. The underlying theme throughout these shows is that we are all a product of our environment. If we grow up in a class-based system and are on the wrong end of it, we will rebel in favor of the “have nots”. And that is the problem with these shows. They inevitably want to lead you to the conclusion that Jesus was a product of his environment. His teaching and preaching was also a product of that environment.
These shows and those positing these theories tend to portray only the human side of Jesus. But they ignore and presumably reject the other side of Jesus, His divinity. In other words, these theorists are willing to accept only part of the New Testament accounts of Jesus as accurate. The problem is that you can’t have it both ways. If parts of these accounts are inaccurate, then we must question the accuracy of the entire account.
Jesus, of course, was human. But then again, we are talking about Someone who was a very atypical human. Christians believe that Jesus was also the only Son of God, which of course, would make him also much more than human. According to the biblical accounts, Jesus did some pretty fantastic things. He somehow converted large amounts of water into a very fine and rare wine. He restored sight to blind people. He healed demoniacs. He fed thousands from a few loaves of bread and pieces of fish. He predicted His own death (and the manner of it). He walked on water and calmed storms. He brought dead people back to life. And He himself was raised from the dead, after which He stayed with His disciples for 40 days and ultimately, ascended into Heaven as they watched.
Candidly, it’s just hard for me to imagine Someone like that barely scraping by, in a dirty longshirt, speaking in Aramaic uneducated slang. I’ll admit that it’s unlikely that He looked like the blue-eyed Jeffrey Hunter in the movie “King of Kings.” But I don’t know for sure what He looked like. The New Testament accounts don’t tell us. Contemporaneous secular literature doesn’t either. And as to His socioeconomic status, I have no idea where He landed in the Jewish hierarchy. I’m pretty sure that money and wealth were unimportant to Jesus. If He was who He said He was, He created all of the wealth in the entire world, and it therefore belonged to Him anyway.
I think what was really important to Him was reaching through to you and to me. We’ll never know why his earthly ministry was so short in duration. But its impact is nothing short of miraculous. Contemporary mankind began measuring years by the year of His birth. What began as a defeated little band of men and women, whose Leader was humiliated, tortured and crucified, ended up as a belief system that is followed by more people than any other in the world. And even those who don’t follow Him, in more cases than not, celebrate His birthday.
There is really only one way to know who He was and what He stood for. We read His teachings in the Bible. We test the validity of those teachings through our own life experiences.
The Old Testament is filled with prophecies of the coming Savior of the world. The list of these prophecies is sufficiently long as to be the subject of a separate blog post (or perhaps a series of blog posts). But when you read them, I think you will come to the same conclusion that I did- the only reasonable explanation for their fulfillment is as described in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus as described in the New Testament. Jesus taught that He was the only path to God. He explained that we must be born again, in order to have eternal salvation. And all we have to do is believe in Him. That’s all He asked of His followers at the time; and that’s all He asks of us today.
Here’s how I test the validity of Jesus’ teachings in my own life. It’s simple, but perhaps the most convincing evidence that there is. This is empirical evidence in its purest form. I know what I was like before I trusted in Jesus; and I know what I’m like now. The “now” me is supernaturally better. It’s not because I try harder now to be good. Frankly, the harder I try, typically the more I mess up (also a point validated and written about extensively by Paul in Romans). I’m better because Jesus, in way that is almost impossible to articulate, now lives within me.
Certainly, if Someone gives me the gift of eternal life in Heaven, I’m going to be grateful. I’ll want to please Him. And that’s where the old Christian hymn “Trust and Obey” comes in. We ask Him into our hearts. We trust in Him. And we desire to obey Him. But it’s the trusting and not the obedience that saves us. He saves us. And His Holy Spirit provides us with the tools we need to obey- love, peace, patience and all of the rest of those qualities that just don’t come naturally to most people.
And the effect of Jesus on my life is the bottom line. What He looked like, how He dressed and spoke, and how much money He had simply aren’t important to me. And focusing on these things about Him completely miss the point. It’s sort of like focusing on one toenail of the Statue of Liberty, or one rivet in the Eiffel Tower. If you do, you will completely miss the experience. You won’t see the big picture. You won’t understand the intent behind the work. So, watching a Jesus “reality” show may be theoretically interesting. I suppose it’s kind of fun to imagine what His life may have been like. But then again, we are talking about the earthly life of the Creator of the entire universe, who is an eternal being.
Here’s a suggestion. If you are channel-surfing over the holidays and one of those shows comes on, turn it off. Open up your Bible to Matthew, Mark, Luke of John. Instead of hypothesizing about whether Jesus had blue or brown eyes, read about Him firsthand. Read what He said. Read about what He did. Then come to your own conclusion about who He was.
I hope you have a wonderful Christmas.
 I use quotation marks around the word “record” because, as with anything historical, it is subject to interpretation. For some reason, we humans tend to attribute a greater degree of credibility to anything that purports itself to be scientific. But the truth is that scientists make as many mistakes as anyone else. And so do archeologists. And because something is presented as scientific or archeological evidence, it does not mean that the evidence is necessarily valid, or even supports whatever proposition it is intended to support. Instead, all evidence should be weighed, in order to ascertain the truth about a matter. If the evidence is consistent with the theory or resonates based upon prior experience, and it is authenticated through an independent and unbiased process, then it may be considered as relevant and perhaps even as dispositive of the matter asserted.
 More correctly, “who He is” because it is fundamental to Christian beliefs that Jesus has never died.
 John 14:6.
 John 3:7.
 John 1:12
 Romans 6-8.
 John 14:26, Romans 8:9.
 Galatians 5:22.