September 24, 2023
Nearly two years ago, I wrote to you about the so-called “hero's journey” of Jesus Christ (I'll apologize in advance for some of the graphic and violent imagery in that article, but it's still worth a read).
Recently, I've been thinking more and more about Jesus Christ. After all, I make it a point to talk to Jesus every day, and often fall asleep while reciting “The Jesus Prayer“. It's been crossing my mind lately how much Jesus is often portrayed as a meek and mild carpenter, often with soft, curly hair and a beard, sometimes snuggling with a lamb or a child.
And sure, Jesus is overflowing with love, mercy, and kindness. Jesus was, and is, forgiving, humble, compassionate, gentle, patient, good, honest, and obedient. But, in the same way that God is a dangerous, wild, and unpredictable God, His son Jesus Christ is a rugged, tough, fearless man from Nazareth.
Sure, Christmas time brings with it the scenery of the sweet little Jesus Boy, with songs that express the idea of gentle Jesus, meek and mild. Yet sometimes I wish we'd realize more often that Jesus was not just “a nice guy” but also a very, very “tough guy from Nazareth” with calloused carpenter hands and a won't-back-down type of attitude.
That's especially important for men like me to realize, since that nice guy image can often be difficult for a masculine man attempting to be a strong, fearless leader can relate to, in the same way that it can be difficult for many men to relate to a modern church foyer decorated with plastic white flowers, plush purple pews, gentle electrical piano synthesizer tunes and a pastor who appears to have never suffered under a squat rack. I'm not saying this to be judgemental, but rather to point out the painful absence of the threads of muscular Christianity, usually paired with a strenuous, stoic existence, that has at times painted America's history with more temperate men highly committed to and adamant about their faith.
Even if you haven't ever stepped foot or thought about stepping foot into a church, I think what I'm about to tell you is important, because my own life has been deeply changed by this ancient teacher named Jesus. See, I've thought very carefully about the claims Jesus made about himself, about the nature of reality, and about my own life. After pondering on these issues ever since I was a little boy, investigating arguments from both sides about the deity, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, questioning a lot of my worldviews and upbringing, asking many, many questions to myself and to others, and doing an enormous amount of spiritual reading and listening (I still average at least one large spiritual book each month, including the Torah, the Book of Mormon, the Bible and many others), I have concluded that Jesus got it right, that he saw the world the way it really was, and that this message of forgiveness is the ultimate path to happiness and fulfillment. I unpack these concepts quite a bit more in my books Fit Soul and Endure, and another quite good book to explore these concepts is The Story Of Reality.
Ultimately, I realized the “best bet” to take was on Jesus, so I have continued to follow him and his message in my day-to-day existence by studying Jesus's teachings, emulating his ways, and praying to him with as much constancy as I can.
So I definitely think this carpenter is at least worth thinking about and thinking about in an accurate way.
For example, speaking of carpentry, Jesus knew how to work hard. Heck, he grew up as a blue-collar tradesman, working side-by-side with his father as a carpenter. He knew how to work with hardened, seasoned, calloused hands, and engaged in a practice of ancient carpentry that would have included tasks such as roofing, crafting doors, hosting beams, carving shelves, cutting tables, and building cabinets, ladders, wheels, yokes and a variety of farming tools. Many carpenters also had to go out into the forest on a regular basis to cut down trees and harvest wood for their work. This required much more dirt under the fingernails and beads of sawdust-encrusted sweat than I tend to see in the average precious, soft, and clean depictions of Jesus.
Next, between fasting in the desert for forty days and spending entire nights on mountaintops praying while battling the elements, Jesus knew the rugged outdoors well, and was a true “wild man”. Any of us who have attempted hard, heavy rucking, camping, hunting, fasted hikes, wayfinding, plant foraging through thistles and weeds and the like – usually with modern technology and equipment Jesus did not have access to – know that this would have been a hard task indeed. Forty days of solo survival with no food in the Judean wilderness is absolutely no joke. The Bible reports that Jesus was there amongst the wild animals (Mark 1:12-13), which, in that part of the world would not have meant innocent, baby, snuggly, harmless lambs, but rather hyenas, jackals, bears, leopards, wolves, cobras, desert vipers, foxes and nasty tusked boars. We don't often think of Jesus as a wild, Jewish, bearded badass version of a modern-day Bear Grylls or Les Stroud, but it would have been impossible for Jesus not to have had gritty wilderness survival experience and the fortitude to be able to survive in inclement desert conditions on a frequent basis.
Third, Jesus was brave. He was not woke, he did not draw “inside the lines”, he did not make concerted attempts to make everybody feel included so that nobody would be offended, and he was certainly not safe and unobtrusive. For example, in Luke 20:22, Jesus is asked if it is lawful to pay tribute to Caesar, and while he answers in the affirmative, he includes an important exclusion: to render to God what is God's. This means that Jesus was not a fan of paying taxes that were not owed, nor would he have rolled over as a meek and mild servant to ignore the current highway robbery we now suffer under the hands of our own modern Caesars. While others turned a blind eye to the injustices and societal ridiculousness of his day (elements of ancient history now being eerily replicated, as one of my favorite current historians writes about here), Jesus did not. He did not care what the world thought of him but instead cared for what God had called him to teach, to stand up for, and ultimately to die for. Nor did he care that he would be perceived to be hanging out with the accepted, respected, and cool kids of his day, but instead was often found eating and drinking with the outcasts of society, including tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners (Matthew 9:10-17, Mark 2:15-22, and Luke 5:29-39). Embodying a repeated theme of bravery, Jesus confronted feared leaders who were misleading and abusing people with their power. He stood up for the weak, the sick, the abused, the poor, the old, and the young, and in doing so, he stood toe to toe with the most powerful men of his day: men who had the power to and eventually did execute him for standing up for honor and for what he knew was right.
Next, Jesus was bold. When it came to making his points, he did not beat around the bush. He cut straight to the chase. He was known to call the religious authorities of his day “snakes”, “corrupt tombs”, “filthy dishes”, “fakes”, “hypocrites” and, in general, old-school, Mosaic legalist rule-followers who failed to realize God's true revelation of universal grace, salvation, and forgiveness. Jesus stood firmly by these principles of forgiveness, declaring that God is gracious and universally forgiving towards all humankind, no matter our conduct and behavior – a far different message than the rule-following requirements of Torah purists, the submission laws of Islam or the suffering escapism of Buddhism. He taught that the grace of God was the only means by which we could follow God's laws, thereby removing all the fear, guilt, and shame from our relationship with God. Yet very much unlike the gentle, meek, and mild man he is so often portrayed to be, he tore through the temple in the middle of a worship service and cursed those in attendance for turning God's house of prayer into a den of thieves. He refused to negotiate, compromise, excuse, or water down his radical message and his insistence upon being a constant thorn in the side of the ruling authorities in his day. He did not back down from the absolute truth, but stood by his convictions to the very end, eventually being killed for this very conviction. He was willing to go the distance for everything he stood for, all the way to a horrific and painful death on the cross.
Finally, Jesus was fearless. He knew he would eventually be killed for standing up for the truth. He cried and even sweat blood over the prospect of what he knew would be the most painful and horrific death possible. He knew what was coming. But he nonetheless committed to his assigned mission and purpose. He was willing to stand up and tell the truth and defend righteousness, no matter the consequences. All prophecies and his own omniscience revealed to him that for this courage, he would go to the cross and die the most painful and horrible crucible of tortuous death ever invented. Worse yet, he knew in advance that in the midst of these horrors, he would be rejected, torn away from his Father, and forsaken by all (Mark 9:30-32 and Matthew 17:22-23). Yet, he made the ultimate sacrifice anyway and, shockingly, forgave his executors while doing so. He did this because he loved them and because he loves me and he loves you. Indeed, Jesus said in John 15:13: “Greater love has no man than this, to lay down his life for his friends.” It takes unstoppable courage to do such a thing: to fall on a grenade for the very same people who spit in your face, and to do it because you know they are worthy of love, no matter how despicable they can be. In doing so, Jesus defeated death forever.
See, the meek and mild, lowly child imagery that so often depicts a one-sided concept of Jesus Christ does indeed only show one side of who Jesus really was. This same Jesus was also bold, fearless, authentic, and offensive. He did not shy from controversy. He loved challenging, aggressive, and impassioned conversations, and even violent and physical confrontations when necessary and appropriate, particularly when it came to standing up for what was right. He was rugged, he was gritty and he could survive in the harshest of physical and mental conditions.
He was, and is, a very hard worker.
He was a wild man.
He was brave, bold, and fearless.
So I now encourage you to think about this rugged, gritty strength of Jesus the next time you feel as though you need to call on the “strength of the Lord”. When you sense that you need the strength and power of Jesus by your side, you can dwell upon verses like those below (by the way, you can check out my “Strength Of The Lord” breathwork session on the Breath Source app to experience these verses in a very powerful way, combined with energizing, invigorating breathwork):
Phillippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”.
Psalm 73:26: My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever”
Isaiah 41:10: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
Isaiah 40:29: “He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.”
Joshua 1:9: “Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Ephesians 6:10: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.”
How about you? Do you find yourself ever thinking of Jesus as a meek and mild servant – sometimes in a manner that portrays him as weak, spineless, or excessively tender? Do you understand how much strength you have ready and available by your side, if you will only call upon the name of Jesus to be with you? Do the ideas I've presented here help you to see Jesus in a different, strong light? Leave your thoughts, questions, and feedback below. I read them all.