Who is the Real Jesus?
by Dr. Timothy J. Keller
Matthew 11:2-6 – 9/08/96
“Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?" And Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me." (Matthew 11:2-6)
...you have to make sure you do not try to understand yourself before you understand Him ... Because over the years I have talked to many people who are trying to find out whether Jesus is real. Lots of people explore: Is Jesus real? Is Christianity for me? And almost always, virtually always they go about it differently, because John the Baptist has a problem, He has a big problem. He is in prison. He is about to be killed. His life is hanging by a thread and yet when he goes to Jesus Christ he says nothing about his problem at all. He doesn’t say, “If you’re the One get me out of here. Then I will know. Instead he says, “Are you the one?” he is utterly different than the thief (remember there were two thieves on the cross on both sides) and the first thief, the scornful thief. The one thief looked at Jesus Christ and said, “If you are the One, get us out of here, then we will know.” See it’s very simple. In other words, “prove you are the one by solving my problem.” And over the years virtually everybody I have ever seen who comes to Jesus and approaches this question and wants to sort of look into Christianity, they always have a problem-centered approach to Jesus. They want to know whether Jesus is going to give me the power and support to live the way I want to live. Let me give you four common examples. Someone says:
1) I am thinking about becoming a Christian, or I am thinking about Christianity and want to know whether it is true, but I am struggling. I want to be a doctor and I don’t whether I will make it through med-school. Will Jesus help me get through med-school? Or
2) I am struggling because I have a bad marriage and am thinking of getting a divorce. What is the Christian view on divorce? Will I be supported?
3) I have a problem with self-esteem. I have a problem with guilt. I have been in a lot of abusive relationships. If I come to Jesus, will he make me fell good about myself?
4) I am gay, and I want to know that if when I come to Christianity, will I be supported or will I be condemned?
What is Jesus answer to those four questions? They are actually all the same. You know what his answer is? Not yes, not no. He says that they are the wrong first question because of the reason the thief was wrong and John was right. The reason the thief says I want to know what you are going to do about my life before I give myself to you. I want to know whether you are the messiah by the way in which you support me. In other words, the thief says, if you let me live the way I know I should live then I know you are the one … and John the Baptist just says, “Are you the one?” And the reason that John is right and the thief is wrong, is not because John is more spiritual, but because he is more sensible. And that is this. The thief, and everybody who asks one of those four questions assumes they already know how their life should be lived, who they really are, and how the world out to go before they know whether he is the Author of life … Whether He is the One your heart was built for. How in the world can you assume that you know who you are and what you need before you even know if you were created or were an accident? How can you know who you are and what you were made for before you know whether you can communicate with and know the creator of the universe?
John would never, ever say "I know I need to be out of prison. Therefore, are you the one? Spring me." You know what John says? He is saying, "if I am on my own, of course I need to get out of prison, I mean that is the only way I will be happy." But [on the other hand]if you’re the One whatever you ask of me will be a tiny thing compared to what you will give me. Whatever sacrifice you ask of me will be nothing compared to the glory that will be mine. Whatever you decide is right for me will be consummately wise, utterly practical, perfectly right. John is not such a fool as to say how can I know what is right for me and wrong for me before I know whether this guy is the creator of the universe and the Lord of my life? Let’s not be spiritual, lets’ be sensible. If Jesus is who He says he is, then you are someone utterly different than who you think you are now. And if he is not who He says he is, he can’t help you a bit. It makes no sense to say, if you are who you say you are, will you let me live my life the way I know I should live? It makes no sense at all.
Listen, one of the reasons why a lot of people have been searching for Jesus and have been inquiring about Jesus and have not got any answers, and they are still in doubt and still in confusion, is because if you think about it, the thief’s question is not a question, it’s an order. It’s a threat. Look, when you come to Jesus with conditions when you come and say well I would be interested in believing in you, I would like to be a Christian maybe, but I want to know, will you spring me, will you help me, will you do this. In other words, I do not want to know if you want something different for me. You are not asking for information, you are giving an order. Yeah, I will have a relationship with you as long as you do what I know needs to be done. And yet that makes no sense at all. Do you see? The reason a lot of people say I have been searching for Jesus but haven’t got many answers is … (asking Him questions but not getting any answers), but you know what? The reason you are not getting any answers is because you are not really asking him a question. You’re not asking for information. If you come with conditions then you don’t really want to know who he is. You don’t want to know. You’re not open. John’s question shows us you have to start by saying “Are you the One” and that is where everything starts because before I know that I can’t know anything else. “Are you the one?” it begins there. Once I know that it will change my perspective on everything else. It will change my perspective on prison, it will change my perspective on marriage, it will change my perspective on sex, it will change my perspective on being a doctor. Everything will be changed. How in the world can I ask him a question with an assumption before I know the answer to the thing on which everything else hinges? No, no, no. You come with conditions; you don’t really want to know. The first thing John shows us is that you cannot possibly understand yourself before you understand Him. You won’t be able to understand self before you understand him and therefore you mustn’t come with any conditions.