Jesus Christ Superstar - Who Was Jesus?
Saturday 7th July 2012Who is Jesus Christ and what does he mean for those who put their trust in him? The Archbishop of York writes in The Sun as Andrew Lloyd Webber launches his new programme searching for someone to play Jesus on the West End.
Over the centuries, since Jesus Christ was on earth walking amongst men and women like us, amazing them with his wisdom and his miracles, people have tried to capture what he was like in words, music, paintings and poetry. But how do you capture reality of someone who was both human and divine?
And now on our televisions screens we are about to see a whole line-up of very different individuals vying to put their own interpretation on the character of Jesus.
Of course, when Jesus was alive, growing up as a Jewish boy, physical representations of God were forbidden. But the Psalms and the rest of Scripture told the story of God’s love for his people. Jesus was that love in human form: God with us.
But how can we grasp the reality of such a person?
Medieval painters depicted him in iconic form, faces without expression, but images of great and distant beauty to help people with prayer. Later, painters and sculptors began to interpret what they knew of Jesus by displaying emotion and character in his appearance. The traditional image of Jesus with a beard and flowing hair comes from the work of Renaissance painters.
The image on the Turin Shroud, which some believe was the burial cloth of Jesus Christ, has also influenced the conventional bearded image of Jesus.
But as the Hebrew people knew, it is often dangerous to try to capture what God, even God in the person of a human being, looks like.
In trying to depict the holiness of Jesus, he is often shown as impossibly distant, or tame and sanitised; in trying to depict the humanity of Jesus, we portray him in our own terms, make him so much like us, and lose the mystery of God in human flesh.
A few years ago, the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (USPG) produced 35 wonderful pictures of Jesus, called ‘The Christ we Share’. These showed Jesus in the image of all the cultures of the world, and in every mood – angry, laughing, in pain, in gentleness. For Christ is Everyman, Everywoman; but he is also more than that. Jesus Christ is welcome in all cultures but at home in none, because of cultures’ tendency to try to domesticate him.
Now in TV show Superstar, a new line-up of men from different cultures from different backgrounds and of different appearances will make us wonder again about what Jesus the man might have been like.
Painting can’t tell us the complete story, nor can even words. As the Apostle John said, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”
So how can we know who Jesus is? Can music help? As St Augustine of North Africa said, “God gave us music that we may pray twice”.
The musical Jesus Christ Superstar gives us another interpretation of Jesus. But the questions remain.
Who are you? What have you sacrificed…
Only want to know Only want to know
Only want to know, now Only want to know”.
So cries Judas in his anguished song in Jesus Christ Superstar. He is trying to understand the friend he betrayed, trying to explain his own actions.
Throughout the stories of Jesus in the Gospels, there are people asking, ‘Who is Jesus’.
“Who is this, that even the winds and waves obey him?”, ask his disciples, as he calms the storm?
“Who are you? – are you the one we expected (the Messiah)?” John the Baptist’s followers ask him.
“Why does he eat with sinners? Why does he heal people on the day of rest?” the religious leaders demand.
“Where does he get this wisdom? How come he does miracles? Who gave him authority to do these things?” the crowds ask each other.
“Are you king then, the king of the Jews?” asks Pilate.
Today, many people are still asking who Jesus is. What sort of a person is he? “He’s a man, he’s just a man….” Mary Magdalene sings. But is he?
Listen to what he says about himself in John's Gospel:
He says “I am the door of the sheepfold ... anyone who comes into the fold through me will be safe through and through." What?
He says "I am the good shepherd and I lay down my life for the sheep." He says "God the Father knows me and I know him. The Father loves me because I am willing to die for others and will receive my life back again."
What – is he nuts? He says he's the door to safety; he says he's a shepherd who will guard his flock with his life; he says he's willing to die for others and thinks he'll come back to life. Even Superman doesn't try this.
And, oh yes, he says he's the Son of God!
How do we find out what he really means?
First, we have to listen to the voice of the shepherd
We have to enter in through the door;
Then we receive more and better life than we ever dreamed of from the Son of God.
Many people feel that their lives have no purpose. Life seems empty. Life is cheap. Life is meaningless.
What is the answer? Where is freedom?
We know enough today to be able to see it isn’t in wealth, education, fame or power. You can be successful materially and empty at the same time. Because we were made to be friends of God. That’s why Judas, in his song, is totally lost.
Jesus gives us the answer: Life has no real meaning apart from God.
But for many people God feels very far away.
Another thing Jesus tells us about himself is that he is The Life, he is the Truth, and he is the Way.
So in order to be close to him we have to Live him, we have to Know him, and we have to Walk him.
Fans of today’s stars buy their pictures, their music, copy their fashion and their behaviour; some even change their faces to look like them. That’s what followers of Jesus try to do too – try to be as like him as possible.
But the change is from within. It’s a radical transformation as Jesus forgives us our past sins. Gives us new life in the present. And hope for the future. He does for us that which we could not do for ourselves.
Jesus Christ Superstar – a marvellous show and wonderful music. But there is even more to the real Jesus.
Superstars have become rather a debased currency in our time. Here today and gone tomorrow. Loved by many for a while, but then forgotten. Jesus is different.
As I said in the Sun on Sunday a couple of weeks ago, the flame of God’s love for us in Christ has been passed on for over 2000 years on by generations who have known and trusted him. Who have been transformed by his love and forgiveness. He isn’t just a flash in the pan. He’s the same yesterday, today and for ever.
If we came face to face with God and asked him, “Who is Jesus Christ?” the answer would go something like this:
“Jesus Christ is exactly like me, the God you can’t see. He is superior to all creation. I was pleased to live fully in him. He died on the Cross. He is the first to be raised from death. He made it possible for human beings to become friends of God. The life he lived is freely given to all who trust in him.”