The Jesus I Never Knew
Copyright ©1995 by Philip Yancey
Who He Was
1. The Jesus I Thought I Knew
2. Birth: The Visited Planet
3. Background: Jewish Roots and Soil
4. Temptation: Showdown in the Desert
5. Profile: What Would I Have Noticed?
Why He Came
6. Beatitudes: Lucky Are the Unlucky
7. Message: A Sermon of Offense
8. Mission: A Revolution of Grace
9. Miracles: Snapshots of the Supernatural
10. Death: The Final Week
11. Resurrection: A Morning Beyond Belief
What He Left Behind
12. Ascension: A Blank Blue Sky
13. Kingdom: Wheat Among the Weeds
14. The Difference He Makes
Thanks .. .
To the class I taught, and was taught by, at LaSalle Street Church in Chicago.
To Tim Stafford, Bud Ogle, and Walter Wangerin Jr., whose perceptive comments
caused me to rewrite this book several more times than I would have on my own.
To Verlyn Verbrugge, for his careful technical editing on matters of biblical accuracy.
To my editor John Sloan, who patiently endured, and helped improve, all those drafts.
Who He Was
I Thought I Knew
Suppose we hear an unknown man spoken of by many men. Suppose we were puzzled to hear
that some men said he was too tall and some too short; some objected to his fatness, some
lamented his leanness; some thought him too dark, and some too fair. One explanation . . .
would be that he might be an odd shape. But there is another explanation. He might be the
right shape. . . . Perhaps (in short) this extraordinary thing is really the ordinary thing; at least
the normal thing, the centre.
G. K. Chesterton
I Thought I Knew
I first got acquainted with Jesus when I was a child, singing "Jesus Loves Me" in Sunday
school, addressing bedtime prayers to "Dear Lord Jesus," watching Bible Club teachers move
cutout figures across a flannelgraph board. I associated Jesus with Kool-Aid and sugar cookies
and gold stars for good attendance.
I remember especially one image from Sunday school, an oil painting that hung on the
concrete block wall. Jesus had long, flowing hair, unlike that of any man I knew. His face was
thin and handsome, his skin waxen and milky white. He wore a robe of scarlet, and the artist had
taken pains to show the play of light on its folds. In his arms, Jesus cradled a small sleeping
lamb. I imagined myself as that lamb, blessed beyond all telling.
Recently, I read a book that the elderly Charles Dickens had written to sum up the life of
Jesus for his children. In it, the portrait emerges of a sweet Victorian nanny who pats the heads
of boys and girls and offers such advice as, "Now, children, you must be nice to your mummy
and daddy." With a start I recalled the Sunday school image of Jesus that I grew up with:
someone kind and reassuring, with no sharp edges at all-a Mister Rogers before the age of
children's television. As a child I felt comforted by such a person.
Later, while attending a Bible college, I encountered a different image. A painting popular in
those days depicted Jesus, hands out-stretched, suspended in a Dali-like pose over the United
Nations building in New York City. Here was the cosmic Christ, the One in whom all things
inhere, the still point of the turning world. This world figure had come a long way from the
lamb-toting shepherd of my childhood.
Still, students spoke of the cosmic Jesus with a shocking intimacy. The faculty urged us to
develop a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ," and in chapel services we hymned our love
for him in most familiar terms. One song told about walking beside him in a gar-den with dew
still on the roses. Students testifying about their faith casually dropped in phrases like "The Lord
told me. . . ." My own faith hung in a kind of skeptical suspension during my time there. I was
wary, confused, questioning.
Looking in retrospect on my years at Bible college, I see that, despite all the devotional
intimacies, Jesus grew remote from me there. He became an object of scrutiny. I memorized the
list of thirty-four specific miracles in the Gospels but missed the impact of just one miracle. I
learned the Beatitudes yet never faced the fact that none of us-I above all-could make sense of