Any trip going North-South on Interstate 95 is a lesson in bombardment-marketing at a DEFCON 1 level. If you’ve traveled this way before, you know what I am talking about: South Carolina’s famously tacky South of the Border. This enclave of plywood stores features a 100-foot-tall statue of a man named Pedro wearing a huge sombrero that can be seen from outer space, garishly painted firework shops, a reptile lagoon, Mexican restaurants, and even a dog potty complete with fake fire hydrants.
But even more amazing than the location itself is the plethora of billboards. In fact, there are 173 billboards, beginning about 170 miles away. The slogans are corny, yet strangely eye-catching:
A large, three demential hot dog with the caption, “You never sausage a place.”
“Pedro’s forecast: Chili Today, Hot Tamale”
And probably the most honest one: “Fill Your Trunk With Pedro’s Junk.”
I can remember driving with my family from New Jersey to Florida and just thrilling at all the signs. It meant we were getting closer, and my sister and I salivated at the idea of stopping to buy some of Pedro’s junk. Unfortunately, my parents were not the type to do the souvenir shop thing, so it wasn’t until I was adult that I actually got to stop there. Sadly, the experience did not live up to the hype. I was disappointed that it turned out not to be the place of my childhood fantasies and dreams. Still, it is an institution that has charmed many a traveler for over 70 years, so there is that.
I think Jesus suffered the same thing. He wasn’t able (by design) to live up to the hype surrounding what people assumed the promised Messiah would be. Of course he exceeded all possible expectations when he fulfilled his ministry with his resurrection and gateway to eternal life, but nobody was prepared for what his messiahship would actually look like. The Jews in his day were awaiting a fierce Battlestar Galactica warrior, who would ride in on a huge beast and slay all the oppressors. Their messiah would be a king who would restore Israel as the most powerful nation, and all other nations would bow down to his might. Instead they got a gentle carpenter, and they were very confused:
Matthew 22 English Standard Version (ESV)
Whose Son Is the Christ?
41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, 42 saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,
44 “‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’?
45 If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” 46 And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
This is just one instance of many where Jesus’ contemporaries thought he was the son of David and would have a reign in the manner and scope of King David, Israel’s favorite and most effective army general-king.
They were wrong. They believed the hype as it came down to them through generations of watchers and waiters, and they got it totally wrong. Even at his crucifixion he was labeled King of the Jews, when in fact his kingdom is for everyone.
Who do you say Jesus is?
I think that is an important consideration. Sometimes we leave our childhood churches either thinking he is a harsh and terrible judge or a kind and gentle friend. Neither image on its own is correct. While he does sit on his judgment throne separating the sheep from the goats, casting those who denied him into the eternal fire, this isn’t the entire picture. Neither is the gentle shepherd who will leave the flock behind just to find you. These are parts of our Lord’s greater whole, and all of these aspects combine together to bring us a complete understanding of who he is.
The only way I know to cut through the hype is to become a student of the Word. When we study the entire Bible, digging deep from Genesis to Revelation, we have a better chance of seeing God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit as they have been faithfully understood for generations. Empirical evidence will emerge as we discern and contemplate the why, when, how, where, and especially the who of the trinity.
Who Jesus is to me will be different than who Jesus is to you. Just like on the road to Emmaus, Jesus meets us where we are and deals with who we are in that moment. But what remains steadfast in all of our experiences with him is grace. Grace is the unmerited love and mercy God gives us as a gift that we can’t earn and rarely deserve. Grace is the empowering pardon that sanctifies us and reconciles us to God. Through grace and grace alone we are redeemed and saved. Jesus is grace upon grace.
So if you are experiencing him as a punishing judge of your sin, there is great grace in that. If you know him as a comforter in your grief, you know his grace. If you turn to him for guidance and direction in your confusion, his leading will be sprinkled with grace. Grace is his messiahship, his kingdom, and his unchanging nature.
And that’s no hype…only hope.
Photo by the Dillon Herald.