High on Jesus
by Len Wilson
At Invite, we exist to build a like-hearted community of influencers who are high on Jesus, low on politics, and biased toward innovation. But what does it mean to be "High on Jesus"?
On what is the foundation of our faith built? On nothing less the Jesus’ blood and righteousness. On Christ the solid rock we stand. The unique claim of Christianity in world history is the person of Jesus Christ. Ours is the only religion that worships a person, not a set of principles or ideas. As the apostle Paul wrote, "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” (1 Cor 15:3) This single event—the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ—is the hinge of history.
But what is it about Jesus that is unique? A proper understanding of Jesus is what theologians call a “high Christology”. The old hymns teach us to lift high the cross. When we keep Jesus elevated, the Christian faith makes sense, even in its mystery and lament. But when we allow Jesus to be lowered, all sorts of sanctimony and social unrest takes its place in the thrones of our hearts and our communities.
Scripture has several images that illuminate the person of Jesus Christ. Some use his famous “I Am” statements, signifying like the great “I AM” that Jesus is the Lord God. Here are seven images to explain what we mean by being "high Christology" or "high on Jesus." By better understanding who Jesus is, we may rightly place him high on the thrones of our lives, become better followers, and discover life in abundance.
The Alpha and Omega
“I am the Alpha and Omega” (Rev 22:13)
Jesus is eternal (John 1), the agent of all creation (Col 1:16), and through his life, death, and resurrection, inaugurated the end or telos (John 19:30), now (Matt 12:28) and forever (Matt 24:44). When we follow Jesus, we can be confident that he is God and one with God.
The Lamb of God
"Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
Jesus is the last lamb who came into Jerusalem as a lamb to be slaughtered (Ex 29:38-42), shed his blood on behalf of all humankind, and was the completion of Passover and the fulfillment and resolution (the telos) and reconciliation of people to God (1 Cor 5:7). He was perfect as lambs were required to be (Ex 12:1-6), and thus he died without deserving it. But he was no weak lamb; instead he was a warrior lamb who, though he was one with God (Phil 2), took on the weight of the world’s sins because of his all-encompassing love for the world, and thus demonstrated once and for all that love conquers death. In this way, Jesus demonstrates for us how through our own willingness to die (to self and even unto life), we show what true love us, and thus overcome evil with good. (This is Christus Victor - in my theology of atonement, penal substitution and Christus Victor aren’t competing ideas, but sacrifice is part of the larger story of victory.)
The Good Shepherd
"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” - John 10:11
Jesus also describes himself using lamb imagery, saying he is the good shepherd. A bad shepherd snoozes while wolves come, or allows a stray sheep to wander off. A good shepherd does his job well. He chases after the one (Luke 15:3-7). He puts his own life in danger in order to protect us. When we understand ourselves as sheep, we see that we are prone to wander. We are basically dumb. We make bad decisions. We need someone to protect us from harm. Jesus is our shepherd.
The True Vine
“I am the true vine.” (John 15:1, 5)
Jesus is the source of all life. When we, as branches, are connected well to the vine, we bear fruit. When we become disconnected, we wither and die. This is one of my favorite images because it is a clear image of how Jesus is the giver of life. When we are connected, we flourish. When we become disconnected - by disease, by outside forces that harm us, etc. - we wither. Another great aspect of this image is that we can be grafted onto the vine, so even if we were connected to the wrong vine, when we become attached to the true vine, we flourish.
The Way, The Truth and The Life
"Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
He is the way - a way of living, a rhythm of life, the practical decisions of daily existence. He is the truth - truth is not a proposition or a philosophy, but only found in the person of Jesus Christ. He is the life - Jesus is clear that the life abundantly lived (John 10:10) only comes through him.
The King of Kings and Lord of Lords
"On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: king of kings and lord of lords.” (Rev 19:13)
We talk a lot about kingdoms. But you cannot have a kingdom without a king. Who is the king, not just of our private hearts, but the entire world? From the beginning, God’s design was to be the people’s king. There is no other solution; no other authority is worthy. With the resurrection, this problem is solved: Jesus is the king. This means that he has been given all authority over creation, in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). Jesus is the authority - not the past (tradition) or the future (progress) or a strongman leader who will save us. Only Jesus can save us, and he has already done so through the cross. It is only when we stop looking to other authorities, and even to ourselves as authorities, and recognize Jesus as the authority of our lives, that the problems of the world abate and we discover peace. Jesus is clear: the Kingdom of God is not found in the formation of political systems and in the exercise of human power, no matter how noble the intent; the kingdom of God is only found in the presence of God and is only built by Jesus (Matt 16:18). Jesus is the only good, true, and beautiful source of authority. (For more on this, see Telos: The Hope of Heaven Today, by Leonard Sweet and Len Wilson).
The Author and Finisher of our Faith
"Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith...” - Hebrews 12:2
Jesus is more than a distant ruler or authority in a castle, though. Authority is authorship. To whomever you give authority in your life, you give the ability to write your life’s story. If your authority is Trump, you allow Trump to write your story. (Can’t say that.) Hebrews is clear: when we follow Jesus, Jesus becomes our author. When we allow Jesus to author our lives, we become a new creation. Consider one of many transfigurations that happen through Scripture when we submit to the authority of the Lord. Gideon said, “Forget it, unless you send me better brothers, I’m not doing anything!” But Gideon the Timid became the Gideon the greatest judge of all of Israel. This may happen to us as well, when we allow Jesus to be our author.
Image, The Transfiguration (1516-1520) by Raphael, public domain