One of my favorite pastor jokes is the following: A pastor was doing the children’s sermon one Sunday. She asked the children, “What is brown with fur, has a long bushy tail, and collects nuts?” The children were quiet for a moment and then one little boy spoke up, “I know the answer is supposed to be Jesus, but it sure sounds like a squirrel to me!”
The little boy thought he was supposed to recognize Jesus in the description of the squirrel. How do you recognize Jesus? The Bible, from Jesus’ death through his resurrection and beyond, tells how people recognized Jesus in his death and in his life.
The centurion standing beside the cross recognized Jesus in his death. Mark 15:39: “And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”
Mary Magdalene did not recognize Jesus until he called her by name. John 20:13-16: “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
Cleopas walked and talked with Jesus for a while before he recognized him in the breaking of the bread. Luke 24:30-32: “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
Thomas recognized Jesus when he saw the nail-scarred hands. John 20:26-29: “A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Once Jesus had ascended into heaven, those who had not seen him recognized him through the witness and ministry of other believers. Acts 4:1-4: “The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. But many who heard the message believed; so the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand.“
How have you learned to recognize Jesus? Have you seen him in his sacrificial death as he suffers on the cross? Has he called you by name and let you know that you are loved? Have you eaten the bread of communion and known that this is his body, given for you? Has he answered a prayer or spoken to you through the words of others? Have you seen him in the scriptures or through the witness or actions of a friend?
Jesus comes to us in many different ways to let us know that we are loved and precious to him. He shows himself in such a variety of experiences so that we can learn to recognize him and know him. We don’t all hear or see the same. We don’t all understand in the same ways. But Jesus keeps calling, keeps showing up, keeps sending witnesses until we learn to see and know and understand.
How have you learned to recognize Jesus?