Photo Credit: Emily Carlin (CreativeCommons)
In the late 1930’s Superman made his comic book debut, and for the last seven decades readers and moviegoers of all ages have been thrilled by his use of super-human capabilities to rid the world of evil.
The idea of Superman resonates deeply with the American psyche. Though a fictional superhero, the man from Krypton embodies the independent, self-sufficient, nobody-to-somebody kind of story we love. He’s a loner. An island. “Supe” is the kind of guy boys dream of being and the kind that men actually try to be. Superman is the one guy everyone turns to and the one guy who never needs to turn to anyone else. And we admire that about him.
Sometimes we admire the same thing about Jesus.
Jesus is the one man who changed the world forever. He stepped to earth from another place, humbly rose to epic fame, and conquered evil all by himself. But unlike the fictional Superman, we believe the Bible tells the true story of how this no-name carpenter rose to the occasion to single-handedly defeat death itself.
It’s a good story. But it is not the whole story. If we aren’t careful, we will allow the American dream and the stories of our heroes (real and fictional) to shape the way we read Jesus’ story.
Let me prove it to you.
Take a moment to read two brief stories from Jesus’ life. Click here to read the Transifiguration from Matthew 17:1-8 and click here to read the Garden of Gethsemane in Matthew 26:36-39. After reading, see if I have summarized them well.
In the Transfiguration episode, Jesus went up a “high mountain to be alone.” While there, the veil between this life and the next became so thin that Jesus conversed with Elijah and Moses and God himself declared, “This is my dearly beloved son, who brings me great joy.” It was a remarkable high point in Jesus’ life.
The second episode was a remarkably low point in Jesus’ life. Just before his crucifixion, Jesus walked to the top of another hill to reach the Garden of Gethsemane. There he famously prayed “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”
Unknowingly, we all these familiar moments in Jesus’ life to foster our vision of Jesus as a superman who made solo climbs to the highest of spiritual heights and fought single-handed battles in the depths of spiritual darkness.
But if we look closer at both stories from Matthew we will see something crucial: Jesus was never alone.
The story of the Transfiguration begins like this: “Jesus took Peter and the two brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain to be alone.” (Matthew 17: 1 NLT)
Jesus and his three closest friends heard the voice of God together.
In the dark moments before his arrest, “Jesus went with them (his disciples) to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and…he took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed.” (Matthew 26:36-37)
Once again he was accompanied by his dearest companions.
In a recent small group Bible study, we read these two passages, and I will never forget my friend Gaven’s response. He put down his Bible as humility and surprise spread across his face. He could not help but say, “Whoa guys. This is huge. I just realized Jesus was never alone!”
That’s right, Gavin. He never was. And it is huge.
Even in the timeless void before the creation of the cosmos, Jesus was never alone. John 1:2 reminds us that Jesus “existed in the beginning with God.” As the second person of the Trinity, Jesus has always been, and always will be, in perfect community with God the Father and God the Spirit.
Culture always shapes the way we understand what we read, including the Bible.
We like the image of Jesus standing alone atop the spiritual battlefield in part because he did defeat sin and death forever (thank God!), but in part because we mistake it for the way an American superhero (or an American average Joe) would have done it.
But Jesus’ connection to relationship and community is a part of his life that we must never forget.
So the next time you are tempted to picture Jesus as a lone wolf who lived, loved, and leveled the enemy all on his own, read the Scriptures again. You will see a man who was quite super indeed, but who never acted alone.
Interested in why this matters? Check out The Trinity: Why it Matters, by Christopher at Trochia.org, and leave a comment about why you think this matters.