The Jesus I Never Knew By Philip Yancey

6 June 2016

The impact of Jesus on human history is so obvious that many writers are always inspired to write about Him. Many have written about Him and His teachings, but few have actually been as personal as Philip Yancey’s The Jesus I Never Knew.

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Intriguing as the title is, this paper looks at the more personal Jesus under Yancey’s writing. The book’s main strength is the progression of the character and personhood of Jesus that the author takes his readers to—a journey into the Jesus who may seem to have started as an ordinary carpenter but came to be known as the Savior of all men.

The author immediately takes his readers into the theme of the paper.  Yancey orients readers he took an interest to write about Jesus from the very start, because as a child, he knew about Jesus as “a child singing Jesus Loves Me in Sunday school, addressing bedtime prayers to ‘Lord Jesus,’ watching Bible Club teachers move cutout figures across a flannelgraph board. He also associated Jesus with Kool-Aid and sugar cookies and gold stars for good attendance. The author gets the reader’s empathy as similar experiences come to mind.

Yancey’s description of Jesus physical appearance is also very similar to most of the other people’s experience such as seen in the first two paragraphs alone. Here, the author has his readers under his watchful guide as to how he perceives Him.

Indeed, during the Christian era, Jesus was the best example of a servant leader. Despite His divine power and qualities, he remained humble and followed God’s commandments even until his death. He was a good leader for all. Being a leader for Jesus also means being a servant for all. He told his apostles that if any one wants to lead, he must also be a good servant. For Jesus, a leader as a servant must be humble, unselfish and unworldly.

As Yancey takes his readers on this journey, readers experience the discovery as much as the author. Thus, there is no feeling that he has experienced or known Jesus more than the other person. Yancey’s role is more of an inspiration that motivates people to look and see the biblical Jesus and what drives Him to do what He does. Philip Yancey addresses the theme of his book and puts it as,

 “The God Who fills the universe imploded to become a peasant baby Who, like every infant that has ever lived, had to learn to walk and talk and dress Himself.”

Jesus’ life and teachings can be glimpsed from the way the author depicts Him as devoid of any stereotyping, given to a well-known character. Instead, readers grasp the true meaning of his coming to this earth.  He divides the book into three categories and simplifies the flow of thoughts.

The novel is divided into three main sections such as Jesus’ personhood, His mission and purpose and His legacy. Thus, readers are able to identify well with Him like any other human being born in this earth. However, Yancey goes even further as readers see the depth of His character. His purpose on earth is explained well as we see how the author explains the Beatitudes and His resurrection.

Jesus Christ’s redemptive work on the cross, is the ultimate sacrifice so man will be saved and so that we might be able to come to God without worrying if we were righteous enough or if sinners could come to God. When Christ died for our sins, that was the payment for all of man’s past, present and future sins and it means that no sin remains unforgiven. With this knowledge, we should be confident in the fact that we are already right with the Lord.

That, although Christ by His work has earned forgiveness for all, there are still certain conditions which God demands of people before He will pronounce them righteous.

Because of the purity that we are able to attain through the saving power of Jesus Christ, we are able to walk in fellowship with the Lord. There is also a false teaching that was believed before and that was taught to many. For some reason, some people have been taught: That a person is able to bring about his own justification or that of anyone else by his own faculties, abilities, or works.

This is not true because man is sinful and his ways are fallen so he cannot reconcile with a Holy God through a sinful manner in the first place. Whatever man does in order for him to attain justification, it will fall short of the glory of God because a sinful person will do it through fallen means.”

People can only be right by receiving the gift God gave us—the gift of His Son’s most precious sacrifice which completely gave us the right to be called righteous by our Eternal Father. As in other writings of Yancey, he shows a God who does not give man what he deserves. He has set out to get back His lost sheep, His lost family by any means and through a great sacrifice, He was able to create a means for an unholy people to commune with a Holy God. Philip Yancey writes,

“The same God who created the heavens and earth has the power to bridge the great chasm that separates Him from His creatures. He will reconcile, He will forgive, and no matter what obstacles His prodigal children put in the way. As the prophet Micah says, “You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.” (Yancey, 1998)

Because of God’s great love, he gives man the grace that he needs in order to come back to Him. No matter how many fallacies other churches may teach, His word remains.  He is a holy and a loving God;  He is a forgiving God who has the compassion to sacrifice His own Son for the illegitimate children who always wants their ways to be given precedence. The grace has been provided and we only need to repent of our sins and be right with God to receive it in its wholeness.

Despite all these truths, Yancey’s motivation for even writing about this book spurs one to examine his own life’s direction. For Yancey was both a “doubter and lover” and he needed to balance it well. When Yancey writes, “I tend to write as a means of confronting my own doubts,” makes readers take a good look at his own beliefs.

Even as he writes, “Sometimes, I confess, I wonder what difference it should make to my life that a man lived two thousand years ago in a place called Galilee?” Yet these are the very words that make readers want to explore what Jesus was really like and why he would die for someone so far down in history, whom He has never even seen?

Yancey emphasizes his point when he says that “It occurs to me that all the contorted theories about Jesus that have been spontaneously generating since the day of his death merely confirm the awesome risk God took when he stretched himself out on the dissection table—a risk he seemed to welcome. Examine me.

Test me. You decide.” (p.21).  And from there, Yancey gives a clearer view of who the Savior and manages to allow readers to ask themselves gently after reading the book, “ Now who do you say that I am?”  Yancey shows his readers the character of Jesus all throughout his book.

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