Years ago my sister returned from the Ukraine after a mission trip. She returned home with a heart full of joy, a head full of memories, and bags full of strange and wonderful souvenirs. She brought me a unique gift—a set of Matryoshka dolls, which are traditional Russian nesting dolls. When you open the first doll it has a smaller doll on the inside, so on and so forth, until you reach a tiny Weeble Wobble deep within.
The outer doll of my Matryoshka set was, entertainingly, Boris Yeltsin. When Yeltsin was opened, there was Gorbachev, then Khrushchev, then Josef Stalin, and finally Vladimir Lenin himself. I now keep all these little Communists boxed in the attic. They are much too dangerous to be let loose in the world again.
The deeper you went within the dolls, the closer you got to the essence of Soviet power, its source and beginning. As layer after layer fell away, and finally you held a tiny characterization of Lenin in your hand, you could truthfully say, “Ah, now I’ve gotten to the bottom of it all.”
Many have tried this same thing with Jesus. We try to unravel him and reduce him. We think we can get to the bottom of who he is. But there is a problem. When dealing with Jesus, we do not move to something smaller and more manageable. As the layers fall away, we move to something greater. He gets larger, more uncontrollable, inconceivable, and more wonderful. We are the ones left to weeble and wobble.
Yet, there is a seed, a core to the historical Jesus as well as the exalted Christ of our faith. It is the element of sacrifice. There at the end of it all, when the onion is peeled, is a cross. C. S. Lewis challenged us to look at the cross, not as a display of godly anger toward Jesus or the world, but as a Lover absorbing the shame and humiliation of betrayal. Lewis said, “Jesus shows on the cross that God’s love is not about violence and retaliation. The cross is the only true language of forgiveness.”
That cross shows us how far Love will go: God, humiliated and bleeding in a suffering mess, bearing up beneath the betrayal of his creation. If you can get to the bottom of that, please let me know. You’re a smarter person than most.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author of multiple books. You can read more and receive regular e-columns in your inbox at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.