Jesus Christ, the Self-centered Messiah

Self-centered: “concerned solely with one’s own desires, needs, or interests.”

In his book Basic Christianity* John Stott attempts to provide evidence that Jesus Christ is God.  His contention is that if someone seeking a foundation for Christianity cannot believe that Christ is who He said He was, then any foundation that one may have is undermined.  To provide evidence, Stott turns to the Bible for Jesus’ claims. The first major point that he attempts to make is that Jesus is self-centered.  Stott writes “The most striking feature of the teaching of Jesus is that He was constantly talking about Himself.”

 “Jesus is self-centered” [23].

How could this be?  This is the Child who was born in a stable, and cradled in a manger.  He was so common that he did not own an acre of land, much less a home.  He rode into Jerusalem in His last days on a donkey.  His told parables of humility, sending a message that a simple work of service can be considered doing the work of God. Jesus told of the Pharisee who prayed in a proud manner when Jesus said that humble prayer is the best way to thank God for the blessings of life.  He told the parable of the guests at the wedding feast “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. “But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted”  [Luke 14].  In the upper room Jesus took the time to wash his Disciples’ feet, sending a message that a simple work of service can be considered doing the work of God.  Richard Newton, writing on Christ’s humility says “He did not mean that they should literally make a practice of washing each other’s feet; but that they should show the same humility to others that He had shown to them, by being willing to do anything, however humble it might be, in order to promote their comfort and happiness. It is not the act itself, here spoken of, that Jesus teaches us to do; but the spirit of humility in which the act was performed that He teaches us to cultivate.”

Yet Stott says “Jesus is self-centered.”

There is great evidence of this.  “I am the light of the world.”  “I am the bread of life.”  “I am the resurrection and the life.” “I am the way and the truth and the life.”  “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from Me.” [a sampling of Scripture from John and Matthew].

Truly these seem to be self-centered claims and they are powerful statements.  Stott writes these types of statements are not “self-effacing. He [Jesus] was self-advancing.”  When He could have pointed men away from Himself saying “This is the truth; follow that.” He said “I am the truth; follow Me.”

When it comes to His role as a human being in this world,  He had no doubt.  He was sent on a mission and that allowed Him to be bold about His claims.  Luke 24: 27 is a passage showing His strength for He was rebuking two disciples on the road to Emmaus:  “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Him.  A few verses later [44] He says to a group of His followers “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

Some Christians feel that Jesus only shows up in the New Testament but what He was saying is no, I have always been.  In Genesis we learn that The Messiah would be descended from Eve, Jewish [from Abraham and the tribe of Judah] and He would crush Satan and rule as King forever.  Moses says in Deuteronomy “The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like Me from among your brothers.  You must listen to Him.”  God deals with Israel by choosing them, redeeming them and establishing a covenant with them, making atonement for their sin, but in their experiences, they were redeemed from their bondage to the Egyptians and through our experiences, we have been redeemed of our bondage to sin.  The parallels are there.

In the Law of the Prophets, we encounter many Old Testament kings who tried to rule a nation on their own, a nation that knew it was really ruled by God.  Over and over kingdoms fell as kings ignored God’s laws.  Kingdoms were redeemed as God found a way to forgive His wayward people.  King David vowed to build God a permanent home and even though he was another imperfect ruler, his better qualities began a discussion of what Jesus would eventually be.  Stott writes that the four characteristics were “peace, justice, universality and eternity.”  Isaiah 9: 6-7 prophesizes the coming of Jesus in these words: “For unto us a Child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders.  And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace…He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom…the zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”  These words foretell the glory of Jesus and in Isaiah 53, we see words that foretell His suffering.  “He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.  All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.  He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth.”

The third division of the Old Testament is called the Writings, the Psalms and wisdom literature.  Several Psalms apply to Jesus in the New Testament making reference to His deity, His humanity, His suffering and His exaltation.   Phrases from the Psalms are repeated often in the New Testament such as the words of God from Psalm 2: 7 which we find repeated at Jesus’ transfiguration “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.”  References from Psalm 8 to man as “lower than the heavenly beings” are applied to Christ in the New Testament book of Hebrews.  “My God, My God why have you forsaken Me” is a direct quote from Psalm22:1 Wisdom literature references are common in the teachings of Jesus and when we turn to Proverbs 8: 27-31 and note that this Scripture celebrating God’s creation of the earth starts with the words “I was there when He set the heavens in place” the inference is very strong that the One who was there was Jesus. 

Stott makes it perfectly clear that when he writes that “Jesus is self-centered” this is not to be considered a criticism.  He writes that Old Testament Scripture “depicts Him [Jesus] as a greater prophet than Moses, a greater priest than Aaron and a greater king than David.  That is to say, He will perfectly reveal God to man, reconcile man to God and rule over man for God.  In Him, the Old Testament ideals of prophecy, priesthood and kingship will find their final fulfillment.”

Jesus may have been bold in His claims but He knew what He was supposed to do.  He was calling man to Himself when He said “come to Me” and “follow Me.”  In Him He knew that salvation for man was possible, if we could only let go of our earthly concerns and look for a life with Him.  He knew He was our guide.  He was opening the door for us to live a life with Him now and forever.  He was prophesized to do this work and He knew the best approach.

Not “This is the truth; follow that.”

He knew the best way was “I am the truth; follow Me.”**

*My first post on The Cross of Christ made reference to Basic Christianity so I am going to insert comments on that book in between posts on The Cross…   I think readers may find this approach interesting.  For my opening comments on Basic see the post “Studying Stott Again” on October 25, 2020.  I have never worked on two books at a time but now is the time to do that.

**Supplemental content for this post comes from John Stott  Understanding the Bible.

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