Every time I read the Gospels, I try to imagine myself in the scenes I read (it’s not hard; I have a fertile imagination).
What must it have been like to feel the wind and the water, see the waves, and experience the panic that comes from being caught in a small fishing boat during a ferocious storm at sea?
How would it feel—more important, how would it taste—to eat bread and fish provided by a miraculous act?
After being declared unclean, banned from human contact, how incredible would have been the sensation of a human touch, and hearing the words “Be clean.”
A woman crashed a private dinner party so she could anoint Jesus with expensive perfume—and be close to Jesus.
A lot of the interactions about Jesus recorded in the Gospels happened in the presence of more than one person. Sometimes there were several; often there were dozens or thousands. Almost always there were people who hung on every word, every gesture, in an attempt to get closer to Christ.
Mary abandoned Martha so she could be close to Jesus. Zacchaeus climbed a sycamore fig tree to be close to Jesus. Mothers brought their children to be close to Jesus. A woman crashed a private dinner party so she could anoint Jesus with expensive perfume—and be close to Jesus.
Also, in almost every story, Jesus’ detractors were never far away. And often religious leaders were His fiercest critics; they were the ones who condemned what Jesus said and did. They should have known better. After all, they were steeped in the Scriptures, they knew the prophecies (at least theoretically). But they were also bound by their traditions.
Because Jesus didn’t fit their preconceptions about the Messiah and His ministry, religious leaders dogged Jesus, looking for anything they could use to discredit Him and His ministry. When they saw Him perform miracles, they explained them away by saying that Jesus had a devil.
They so resisted the Holy Spirit’s influence that Jesus had to warn them: “Every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven” (Matt. 12:31).
So we see in the Gospels a rather sharp dichotomy. From the common people who heard Jesus’ stories, experienced His miracles, and were inspired by His ministry, Jesus was honored and affirmed. “They were all filled with awe and praised God. ‘A great prophet has appeared among us,’ they said. ‘God has come to help his people’ ” (Luke 7:16).
“But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they were indignant” (Matt. 21:15).
Sadly, faced with the loss of status and authority, religious leaders were the ones most determined to get Jesus out of the way. We know how that ended.
I like to think that if I heard Jesus describe the kingdom He came to set up, if I witnessed His miracles, if I saw how He related with everyone—young or old, rich or poor, educated or uneducated—I’d be captivated by His character and want to live as He lived. Given the opportunity to choose between Jesus and tradition, I choose Jesus.
Stephen Chavez is an assistant editor of Adventist Review.