Teens talk about Jesus
Young people at Lancaster Mennonite High School were asked to write in a senior paper about their questions about and relationship with Jesus.
“Jesus to me is the all in all, a pure man without sin [who] cannot sin. He is someone to look up to, he is the real hero. … I think Jesus was sent down from God, which means Jesus is God’s son. – Ash
He’s the one I turn to. – Benjamin
“Jesus is my Savior. If it wasn’t for God’s ultimate sacrifice of his son, we would not be forgiven. Also I know that I am protected and can do anything because I have accepted Jesus into my heart. – Kiersten
“This is a question that I always manage to tear up about when I answer. I don’t wanna use all the traditional adjectives to describe him. Jesus is the one man who can look at me with love and when I am covered in the most dirt. He is willing to take me by the hand even when I turn away from him. Jesus is someone I can not describe because there is nothing I know that I can compare him to. He takes care of me when I am depressed, crushed, lonely, or broken. When I stand before him all my shadows are seen. He is the one that never leaves my side. He is more than a friend, more than a father, he is my savior. I can’t comprehend his infinitely beautiful and perfect love.” – Paul
“Who was Jesus Christ to me? What a packed question. … In the Mennonite faith he’s the one that we attempt to model ourselves after, follow his teachings and those of his disciples. In Islam he’s a holy prophet. To the Jews he’s a false witness. Over the years people have distorted what Christ has said in order to advance their own agenda, and in some ways it’s the same way with me. Christ more than often has become more like a firefighter/Santa Claus. He’s the one that I turn to when I can no longer rely on myself to pull through on a tough situation; he’s also the one that I turn to when I really want something. I know that it shouldn’t be this way, however that is not enough for me to stop.” – Benjamin
“The Bible and Jesus’ life affects me in that all of my actions should be held accountable and that my example should be that of Christ. Christians should use Christ’s example to illustrate God’s love and need for a relationship with us.” – Nate
What [Jesus] desires is … a heart that seeks after him in everything that we do. – Brittany
“Personally Jesus is many things to me and means many things to me. First he is God’s son and is the best example of who God is and calls us to be, he was blameless and pure; to put it simpler, he was perfect. His time of teaching on earth was short but was not short of being a huge impact. Through teaching, praying and leading, Jesus was purely God in the flesh, a man with the same temptations and longings that we as humans have. There are many questions that are hard to answer about what Jesus meant by this or why he did that, but what he desires is a heart that is open to his use and a heart that seeks after him in everything that we do.” – Brittany
I will admit that I … am still trying to understand and decipher who Jesus was and is today. – Becca
“So who is Jesus? I will admit that I, along with other people (or at least I hope so!) am still trying to understand and decipher who Jesus was and is today. According to Wikipedia’s definition, ‘Jesus Christ is the central figure of Christianity and is revered by most Christian churches as the Son of God and the incarnation of God’. I agree with this definition, and feel that it holds true to my life. But I also feel like my idea of Jesus varies in that I hold Jesus more as an ‘example and lifestyle.’ … And when modeling Jesus’ life, I try to live in a way that accepts others, teaches peace, and loves those that are labeled as ‘outcasts.’” – Becca
“In my spiritual world view, Jesus is God. I do not make the distinction between the multiple facets of God. God, in the form of Jesus, came to earth and lived, taught and died with his death paying for my sins. Given that, Jesus is not only my God, but my savior and teacher as well. He serves as an ideal for which I strive for in my life.” – Joel
Jesus is God, he came to Earth, and he died so that our sins may be forgiven – Tyler
“Jesus was the Son of God, and he died so that everyone’s sins may be forgiven. That really sums up who he is to me. Jesus was God, and he is the reason that all of sinning humanity has a shot at getting into heaven. Of course, Jesus can be described as many things. I could say he’s my ‘personal savior’ or that he’s the ‘king of kings’ or ‘100 percent man, 100 percent God.’ These would all be true statements, but it’s not the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Jesus. There are a lot of popular ways to view Jesus, which sound pretty, but have lost most of their meaning by now. In my mind, Jesus is God, he came to Earth, and he died so that our sins may be forgiven.” – Tyler
“At this point in my life, I believe that Jesus is different and individualized to each person. At this moment, to me, He is simply a basis at which to place faith on. That may sound demeaning, but I mean it in the way that faith must be based on some concrete principle or idea or the faith has the possibility of lacking any real meaning. Without all of the parables and miracles in the Bible, it would be difficult to have any faith in a higher power.” – Amber
I’ve grown up believing that God longs to have a personal relationship with every one of his people and have even been exposed to great examples of this through my parents. However, I have struggled to put that into personal practice. – Lindsay
“From the beliefs passed on to me from my parents, I’ve come to believe that Jesus is God’s Son, and the only way to salvation. I have always believed in Jesus and what he did for humanity two thousand years ago. I have accepted that gift of salvation. The aspect of Jesus that I struggle with the most is the personal relationship part. I’ve grown up believing that God longs to have a personal relationship with every one of his people and have even been exposed to great examples of this through my parents. However, I have struggled to put that into personal practice. I can’t seem to figure out what to do to take my faith from something that saved me from hell and transform it into something that resembles an actual relationship. – Lindsay
“I believe that Jesus calls us to love and love unconditionally. Often as Christians, and especially Mennonites, we are too easily caught up in trying to discern what God would like and what he wouldn’t like in a person. It is the religion of the church that gets in the way of being true followers of Christ.”
I’ve always thought of Jesus as a close friend who I can’t see who watches over me. -Maggie
“I have always heard the name Jesus so I’ve never really had a Jesus-is-my-Savior epiphany. However, I’ve always been taught that he died on the cross for my sins (whatever that means). Personally, I’ve always thought of Jesus as a close friend who I can’t see who watches over me but it’s sometimes hard for me to make that distinction between Jesus and God.” – Maggie
I believe the Bible tells us about Jesus’ life so that we can try to mirror Him although it is impossible to be perfect as Jesus was. – Brandon
“To me, Jesus is the person who is the reason that Christianity is the way it is in that our sins are forgiven and if we ask, we can have a direct relationship with God in Heaven. I believe that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and that if we ask Him to come into our hearts, we are forgiven and can have an everlasting relationship with Him. I believe the Bible tells us about Jesus’ life so that we can try to mirror Him although it is impossible to be perfect as Jesus was. I believe the Bible affects me in that it is God’s word; we should live how it tells us and use it to minister to others and develop a better relationship with the Lord.” – Brandon
“Jesus is my dearest friend because when ever I call on him, he always answers.” – Hope S.
What do you think?
What do you believe about Jesus?
Is it possible to have a relationship with Jesus?
What questions do you have about Jesus?
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adults responding to who is Jesus?
I think we need to present Jesus as one who challenges the status quo with surprising things, because I think the image we have is so banal and so predictable. And in places where the church is associated with the status quo, to find a way of recovering the subversiveness of Jesus. I want to talk about instances like the widow’s mite, the clearing of the temple, the teaching about economics.
Jesus is a hero, teacher, son, friend, legend, healer, Messiah, and a leader. Jesus is my savior.
Jesus is absolutely essential and foundational to my thinking. In this country you will see a very clear divided emphasis between those who primarily focus on Jesus as Lord in terms of worship in church. (The focus is very much on him ascended on high, in power, in glory.) and those who would emphasize Jesus as the one we follow where his life (The incarnation is the pattern and following Jesus is the major emphasis.) I just believe we’ve got to see these two things come together.
I don’t see it being as much of a problem for me as a white person to image a white Jesus, even though historically that’s probably not how Jesus looked. But it is a problem if that is assumed that that’s the way Jesus looked. Recent historical and theological research has proposed that Jesus’ skin tone was probably closer to that of African American than even a Palestinian because of changes that have occurred through the years. I think it’s important that we have an image of God that we can relate to, but by no means should we in any way suggest to others that God is white, that God is any one color.
Peacemaking is central to the gospel and its central to what the church is called to be. A peacemaking community within itself.
Oftentimes we depict Jesus in the manger and we don’t take Jesus out of the manger. But Jesus is a person of action, caring and love. He makes demands on us to be faithful, to be caring. He comes by without condemning but standing alongside of and affirming the dignity of every person. He says to us, “You are my body, you are my child and I love you no matter what.” That’s the Jesus that I serve. That’s the Jesus that has become real to me in so many ways. Jesus was a man of action. He didn’t just spend His time in prayer. He spent His time among the people, working among the people.
Raymond, Ivory Coast, West Africa:
In order for Jesus to become incarnate he made himself nothing and he temporarily set aside the glory he had shared with God. And after he had finished his earthly ministry, he asked God as we see in John 17, to give to him again, to restore to him the glory that he had let go of during his earthly ministry and that was his right. And it was in this way that he was raised to the right hand of God and restored to his former position of glory. Jesus is truly God manifested and always was even in his earthly ministry. He’s not something lesser than God but simply God who had chosen to set aside his rights in order to become one of us.
Our tradition would emphasize seeing Christ in each other and knowing Christ ’s presence in the gathered community. For the Anabaptists that sense of God’s presence is in the gathering of the church in the brother and the sister, in each other’s faces.
Nonviolence is absolutely at the heart of the gospel of Jesus. I’ve come to a place now where if nonviolence, peace or radical gentleness as I sometimes like to call it, if that isn’t the heart of the gospel then whatever the gospel is doesn’t really make any sense to me. The whole issue lies, where we start, with the people being made in the image and likeness of God and a recognition of that. However evil, however violent a person is, we have a person here who is nevertheless made in the image and likeness of God and a recognition of that. There’s a sacredness about them, they’re my brother, my sister, and so we move and relate to them on that basis. Killing people doesn’t remove evil from the world. We have thousands of years of believing that somehow we cleanse the world by killing evil people and that completely is an illusion. And the fact is God’s whole heart and God’s whole character is to see people finding life in him. In fact every violent situation has the opportunity of redemption.
I’m very careful to point out that I’m not talking about what you call white religion, I’m talking about the biblical Jesus and not this caricature and this misrepresented Christ that you see where folks’ walk doesn’t match their talk and their practice doesn’t match their profession. I’m talking about the one who was concerned with the poor people so much so that he came as a poor person, identified with them in his birth and many of the people that he called to be his disciples. But it does give hope to people who are considered to be the butt ends of society, the marginalized people, that Jesus Christ does identify with them and that he’s not what these misrepresentations have portrayed as the exclusive possession of privileged people.
Jesus would have us live against the grain of our culture in terms of the dominant values and especially in material things. We (our little Christian community) have economic discipline to give some of our money away. Our world gives a nod to Christian values but in our country we have a lot of inequality, a lot of poverty, and we don’t share the resources.
The way that we worship shapes our peoplehood. How do we evaluate our worship? Many people will say, well, I felt really good today. Or the singing was wonderful. Or they’ll say oh the sermon wasn’t very good. It didn’t have much to say to me. And people are evaluating the worship in these individual terms. What we’re trying to get through from our Anabaptist emphasis is that the way we worship should become obvious in the way we live. Are we a more merciful people, are we a peacemaking people? Is the way of Jesus really printed on our foreheads or is it showing in the way that we live together?
Jesus is really important. We are trying to live our lives based on his values. The way we try and be generous with money, the way we open our homes for people to stay. All those things show that we don’t hold onto money and stuff strongly, we try to hold onto it lightly, because we believe Jesus will provide what we need.
Knowing Jesus has changed my mind about money. I now see money as a gift that God gives in order that other people might be resourced. I’m trying to increasingly share my money so that other people benefit.
Jesus is angry. And I think that anger and nonviolence are not opposites. I think God wishes many more of us would be angry. Jesus is seeing the most public part of the temple area, where people who couldn’t go any nearer could certainly come and pray, being used as a market stall. And he’s angry. He’s challenging the religious status quo and its failure. This should be a house of prayer for all nations.
Death and resurrection
He wasn’t patronizing with people at the edges of society. I remember someone once saying a leper could have looked Jesus in the face and Jesus wasn’t so beautiful and statuesque that the leper would have felt ashamed. Even his humanity was something that these people could look at and feel drawn by it.
I think of Jesus more as somebody I know, just like I have friends who would in a certain situation say, pull yourself together or keep your eye on the ball or something. People have certain sorts of things they say and you know them. It’s their idiom. I think of Jesus in that way. There are certain sorts of things that he says that reverberate in my mind that come to mind when things happen. Like you can’t serve two masters. He’s talking about priorities and what comes first. Or someone came to Jesus and said, “Jesus, when it’s all said and done, what’s the heart of this matter?” He said, “Well, it’s about loving God with all you’ve got and loving your neighbor. That’s it. This is not a matter of just feeling that way, but do this and you’ll live.”
Knowing Jesus has changed my mind about the way we view things. He wants to be able to assess things whether it’s people or organizations not by their impressive budgets, size, attractiveness, or the kinds of clothes they wear, but whether they are working for his kingdom or not, whether they are spreading peace and love.
A young man came to our house one night. While I was out of the room, he pulled out a 8-inch long kitchen knife and told my wife, Dorothy, and Michael and Julian to go downstairs into the office. He saw me come up the stairs and quickly grabbed Michael who was four at that time, and put the knife right to Michael’s throat. I put my hand up and I said, “In the name of Jesus, put your knife down.” He was into some kind of rage, and then I went toward him and he stabbed me a number of times but his knife broke. There was an ensuing struggle but I was able to stop him. He never for a moment thought that I would have anything but fear of him and this knife. You know, he saw his knife as an absolute power. And that’s what many of these fighters have experienced. They’ve experienced the absolute power of the knife or a gun and if they use that thing they can get you to do whatever against your will. What he never took into account was that I didn’t believe in the power of the knife, I believe in Jesus’ power and I was not afraid. I was not afraid of his knife and God protected us.
It’s important for churches to speak out of they’re really going to model what Jesus Christ did. He didn’t take the easy way out. He didn’t take the way of least resistance. He confronted the powers and paid the price for it. But if we understand that his suffering was redemptive and if we follow in that train, it has its redemptive value and effect on our society today.
Jesus is seen as the lamb. It is war not against people, but against Satan. It is won by Jesus self-giving on the cross, giving of himself in love.
Jesus came to show us that it takes God to be a human being, but then through his life, death, and resurrection he enables us to begin to live like him. And so the challenge of the incarnation, the challenge of how he lived, how he acted, as a human being on earth, is the model for us.
He has kept me, and kept me going, so I kept the church open.
Rod, Benin, West Africa:
I think that at times people really are able to manipulate spiritual forces to do evil again other people. In that context of course, Jesus becomes the power that can dominate all the evil powers and rescue people from fear of witchcraft. That is the single most powerful message of the gospel in this culture. If you hear a sermon on a Sunday morning or at any kind of gathering of Christians that doesn ’t talk about Jesus’ power over evil, it’s like there’s something missing. That’s the central message and that gets delivered again and again.
Knowing Jesus has changed my mind about violence, because I am a naturally violent person. I react most easily to aggression with fists and my body. I used to do that regularly. Knowing Jesus has changed my mind on violence where we talk, even argue in a life-giving way, that respects the other person, even our enemy.
With Jesus, I have never feared anything although I was alone many times.
Willroy, Costa Rica:
My perception of Jesus has been impacted because I have been away, a real journey away from home, for an extended period of time, where I can depend on no one else but him. The best way to describe Jesus is as a ray of sunlight and God as the source of energy, the sun. When I am overwhelmed by chaos in my life, whether it is through the work that I am doing or personal decisions, or going through a faith crisis, it is often a special form of light that brings me back, or reminds me of the need for the connection to the source.
Is Jesus unique?
One of the Anabaptist communion liturgies is by Balthasar Hubmaier. He has a section called the pledge of love which is used just before you actually administer the cup and the bread. The people all stand up together, and they each one make promises of covenanting and committing to each other, to the way of Jesus, loving the enemy, loving the brother, being willing to lay down your life for your brother or your sister.
Here in Brazil it’s tradition to celebrate the Lord’s Supper the first Sunday of every month. It reminds us of, first of all, what the Lord has done for us. Also, it’s a celebration of communion with Him, celebrating in His suffering but also in the resurrection. We celebrate together as brothers and sisters that we are one in the body of Christ. It’s wonderful to see young and old, the ones more well to do with ones that are very, very poor, celebrating together around the table.
We share a common grace that is symbolized in the cup and in the bread, the blood, the body of Christ. But the other meaning that it has is that we’re here as a group of people and so we’re renewing our covenant. We are re-identifying ourselves as the body. This is who we are as a people. We are the people who have gathered around Christ and who receive life from his sacrifice for us. Communion is a renewal of our baptismal vows, of our pledge to be obedient, and to be united as a people. The final meaning of the Lord’s Supper is its anticipation when we are all going to sit down with Jesus as the host of the table and share a meal, a big glorious banquet.
Communion means that we are one body. We are united when we take the bread or the body of Christ. When we take the wine, that means that the blood of Jesus Christ continues to restore and to heal.
Jesus gathered his disciples together when James and John were having this funny and interesting discussion about who would get to sit on the right and left hand of Jesus. Jesus gathers his disciples together because they’re squabbling over each other … and it says you’ve heard that the Gentiles lord it over one another, but not so with you in my kingdom. Whoever would be first, would be last. Whoever would want to be served, should be a slave. And he finishes that discussion by using himself as an example and speaking about going to the cross. Christ’s very act of salvation was an act of love and servanthood. And that’s how we’re to be. That same Christ, as an act of servanthood, supreme servanthood, brought the world into being. If we are to love one another and care for one another and be peacemakers in this world, and we have as our par excellence role model, Jesus Christ, who happens to also have been the creator of the world, then wouldn’t it make a lot of sense to figure that this whole thing of non-violence extends to something that our Lord and Savior created himself?
For us as Christians we see service as a mandate from God. Jesus is our example and we are called to serve the community. But people don ’t know how to help their community. We need to help them find ways to serve their brethren and neighbors. This is also a way of helping other churches see service as a characteristic of a Christian. This is why we give other churches the opportunities to be part of the program so that they can experience that service is part of the Christian life. We also teach the youth that life is service, and then whenever we can give service we should. Finances are important for everyone. Even though our volunteers are earning money they are gaining experience and are able to develop some abilities. It’s very important for us that persons be able to discover a means of service and that they feel that they are able to help people in different ways, because this makes them feel more valuable.
If we took Jesus seriously, what would happen?
We emphasize not only confessing Christ by word but with life. Obedience to scripture in daily life is really important and not just going through the motions. Many Christians feel that as long as they go to church and practice sacraments it’s enough. Our emphasis is on love, forgiveness, and honesty.
Church is more than going on a Sunday. Church is relationships, it’s sharing whatever resources you have, it’s being real and vulnerable with one another, it’s eating together, so primarily we meet in homes.
Jesus didn’t generally start out by telling people they had sinned. In Jesus’ presence we all are sinners, and some people in Jesus’ presence discover their sin and discover his forgiveness very powerfully and some people can only see that he’s receiving the wrong kind of people. I see in Jesus a tremendous compassion when he looks at sinful people because he knows that sin is addictive and gets people completely bound up. It deprives them of their freedom, deprives them of their perspective and I believe that Jesus’ love and forgiveness can set people free.
I sense Jesus in the love of the congregation.
Go back to the Sermon on the Mount. It’s no good saying, well, scripture says do not commit murder. No good saying I’m OK there I haven’t done that. Or do not commit adultery, I’m OK there. And then he just comes in and says is your attitude ever murderous. Is your attitude ever adulterous? Now I find that liberating. Of course I realize there are all sorts of attitudes and thoughts and reactions and things that would fail the test at one level. But I realize we’re doing the absolutely basic level. Jesus did not come to bring another religion. Gospel is smashing the whole concept of religion. It’s talking about a living relationship with God. It’s talking about spirituality. And that’s why I think Jesus is so relevant today, because many people are saying I’m not interested in religion, but I’m interested in spirituality.
Many people look at being saved as being saved from just sin or saved from an old lifestyle. I tend to think that when we talk about the salvation that Jesus offers, it reaches beyond that: salvation from poverty, salvation from neglect and abuse, salvation from the past lifestyles. We ’re saved to a new complete way of living in Christ where there’s a freedom, there’s an abundance, there’s a new joy in serving the Lord.
My impression is that much of the time the disciples were scratching their heads wondering what he was talking about, and again and again he just shocked them with the things he was doing, and I think we have lost some of that. What does that Sermon on the Mount passage about turning the other cheek really mean? What does going the second mile really mean? It’s often presented as a doormat Christianity where I think it’s about creative responses to conflict.
I think the way he calls us to community, absolutely crucial. There is so much focus on me as an individual Christian following Jesus. But it ’s us following him, you know. I need your help. You need my help. We need to be encouraging one another in this journey.
The bride of Christ imagery that is so common in 16th century radical literature, means that they were so head over heels for Jesus that even though they haven’t got a worked out theology of mission, they can’t help talking about the one whom they love, the one with whom they have an intimate relationship.
Many of these comments came from interviews for Turning Toward Jesus video curriculum, produced by Jerry Holsopple, or the Cloud of Witnesses video series.
It all boils down to this: God is a personal god.
In order to get this as a concept, you have to pull back and take a look at it in light of other religions. If you look at other religions, you see gods who do not care about individuals. In other religions the goal is to please their god(s) enough to be accepted into heaven. The love flows one direction: towards the god.
Jesus, however, is different. He comes to each one of us personally. He reaches down and speaks to each of us individually and relates to us on a personal level.
This means that he wants to know us as individuals--that he wants to be loved by us as individuals. That he wants a relationship with us as individuals.
But that relationship means that we have to both speak (through prayer) and listen (through all the ways that God talks with us). That, ultimately, is what a relationship is. A give and take; both speaking and listening.
He wants our love and gives love in return. That's what a personal relationship is about.