A Japanese businessman was invited by his American host to attend church with him, and he quickly agreed. At the end of the message, which was delivered by the Methodist clergyman Ralph Sockman, his host asked him what he thought of the message. In his discreet, polite manner the Japanese friend commented, “To hear him tell it, Jesus was an American, a Methodist, and an Arminian,” quickly adding, “But we know that is not true because Jesus was really a Japanese, a Baptist, and a Calvinist.”
Was Jesus white? Dark-skinned? Or slightly dark as are many today of Jewish descent? Was His appearance more like a white Anglo-Saxon as much of the religious art of the centuries has portrayed him? If Jesus appeared today, would He look as if He had just stepped out of a Holman Hunt painting? And what of His world outlook? Was He for business or for the working class? Would He have been a Marxist or a champion of democracy?
The reality is that Jesus Christ has been all things to all people. In Africa, artists portray Him as being black, just as they are. In Asia, Jesus is often portrayed with Asian characteristics, and rightly so. Of Him, Warren Webster writes, “The color of his skin was probably darker than mine and lighter than some of yours, for he was born of the almond-colored descendants of Shem. With respect to time and place, color and race, his position will always remain central in the history and life of mankind. He was born midway between East and West that he might be Savior of both. We have difficulty imagining Buddha, Confucius, Socrates, or Mohammed awakening equal devotion in people who live as far apart as the South Sea Islands, Sweden, Brazil, Japan and Uganda. Yet this is precisely the attraction that Jesus Christ has. Today his followers are found in every country. They have come from every religion, every culture, every race, every language family, even stratum of society, because Christ, and he alone, is the Savior of the world.”
Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?” Mark 8:27
The fact is, He was born at the crossroads of three great continents–Asia, Africa, and Europe. He learned to walk in Africa where Mary and Joseph had fled to Egypt. Born in Asia, He was neither a European nor an American. His cross was placed outside the gates of the city where anyone who traversed from North to South had to pass by it, and it was in the marketplace where He taught and preached, thereby showing us that He should never be confined to the cathedral or church, embellished by stained glass windows and art which makes Him appear as someone always different from us.
He challenged the great and the mighty but fed the multitudes of common people who labored with their hands and knew the feel of hard labor. He was food for their hunger, light for their darkness, hope for their despair, rest for their weariness, and certainty for their doubt.
He didn’t simply influence history. He changed it forever in such a way that there was no going back. Scores of people, having grown up with skepticism and unbelief, have made the decision to refute what He said and did, but in researching what He taught, their lives have forever and unalterably been turned about as they embraced Him as the unique and only begotten Son of God.
Jesus said, “Follow me; I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Thomas à Kempis, the churchman of the Middle Ages, adds, “Without the way, there is no going; Without the truth, there is no knowing; Without the life, there is no living.”
“Who do people say I am?” Jesus asked His disciples. He’s still asking. How do you answer that question?
Resource reading: Mark 8:27-30