Have you ever been at an event or just walking down the street, and spotted someone famous? Where I come from, Hollywood movie stars aren’t common, but there are some people with varying degrees of being well-known, whether the mayor of a local city, or a visiting sports star. Once, while visiting an island in the Caribbean on vacation, my family spotted a huge championship ring on the hand of a tour guide. Upon asking, we learned that he had been a professional football player (American football, that is), so my son asked to get a picture (which the guide was happy to oblige).
When someone famous is spotted, the whispers usually start to circulate, and subtle fingers point in the direction of the celebrity. In today’s world, smartphones are pulled out, so that pictures can be taken and shared online.
Other times, though, we just miss out. As a kid, I was on the White House lawn in Washington, D.C. one day, when the president walked by. I was too far back in the crowd to see him, though, so I ended up with only pictures (taken by a friend who I hoisted on my shoulders) as evidence that I was there at the same time as him.
I think that Jesus would be considered well-known throughout history. There probably isn’t anyone else whose name has been recognized by billions, to the extent that He has influenced the world.
Still, even as He walked this earth, there were many who missed Him entirely:
He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.
John 1:10-12 NLT
Yes, those in Jesus’ community probably knew him as Joseph’s son, or as “Jesus of Nazareth”. They might have known Him by His trade (whether Joseph’s trade, or teaching as a rabbi). As Jesus’ followers grew, and His teaching attracted more attention, there were likely more and more people in surrounding regions who heard about Him.
Still, knowing that Jesus existed as a human being is quite a bit different from recognizing Him as the Messiah (or Christ). He wasn’t just a savior, He was the Savior. His people, based on prophecy from God, had literally been waiting for Him to show up for hundreds of years. Those who were looking hard enough may have mistakenly thought that they had found the promised Messiah in other leaders, only to find later that the target of their interest either failed to live up to the prophecies, or that the corresponding movement faded away with time.
When Jesus arrived, He fulfilled every prophecy God had made about Him. God worked powerful miracles through Jesus to prove that He was the Messiah, including raising Him from the dead. The church that Jesus started continues centuries later, even to this day, and continues to make an impact on the world.
Still, because Jesus came to save people from their separation from God, and not from political oppression (which is bad, but does not harm people as much as the eternal penalty of sin), not everyone recognized Him as the Messiah. There were people who wanted Him to conquer very specific things, and they had already fixed that image in their minds. He walked among those who had all of the facts required to recognize Him, but they didn’t pick up on the evidence. While others were whispering about and pointing to Jesus, these people had made up their minds to the contrary, and chose not to believe the amazing news that they heard.
So, I suspect that you know about Jesus, whether from history, teaching, or others’ testimony about Him. But, the question is: Do you recognize Him? Have you realized that He is nearby, and would like for you to strike up a conversation with Him? Talking with Jesus is easy – He hears both our spoken words and our thoughts. This gives us the chance to learn why He came, acknowledge His authority and message, and accept His gift of salvation (where He has paid for the penalty of our sins).
It is perfectly OK to be skeptical (as long as that isn’t a euphemism for closed-mindedness), but each of us – including you and me – is still invited to review His credentials for ourselves.
Philip went to look for Nathanael and told him, “We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.”
“Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
“Come and see for yourself,” Philip replied.
John 1:45-46 NLT