Jesus Isn't Contained By Our Boxes

Just when we think we've solved Jesus, He turns the tables on us.

Jesus often comes to us in unexpected ways and through unexpected means.

Just think about how He came to Earth. For centuries, Israel had waited for a political Messiah. They expected Him to lead a rebellion and free Israel from Roman oppression.

But how did the Messiah make His entrance into the world? He came in a way that made it easy for His own people to reject Him. He came as a frail baby, born in a feeding room for animals. There He was. The promised Messiah who was expected to overthrow the mighty Roman Empire and set Israel free from Gentile oppression. A needy Nazarene born in a manger.

When Jesus grew up, He ate and drank in their presence and taught in their streets (Luke 13:26). Yet they didn’t recognize who He was. He was unassumingly modest, of humble origin. A mere craftsman; the son of a craftsman.

He grew up in the despised city of Nazareth, fraternizing with the despised and oppressed. But more startling, He befriended sinners (Luke 7:34). As such, the people of God didn’t recognize Him. Why? Because He came in a way that made it easy for them to reject Him.

And what about the disciples? Read the story again. Jesus continued to break out of their expectations. He couldn’t be pinned down, figured out or boxed in. The Twelve were constantly confounded by Him. His teachings were offensive. His actions scandalous. His reactions baffling.

But the greatest offense of all was the cross. It offended everyone—both Jew and Gentile. The only crown the promised Messiah-King would accept was a crown of thorns. Look at Him again. A suffering Messiah, a defeated King. It’s easy to reject Him.

One of the Lord’s most faithful disciples teaches us this principle well. Mary Magdalene was the first person to see Jesus after His death and resurrection. Do you remember what she did as soon as she recognized Him? She grabbed Him, and she wouldn’t stop clinging to Him.

Jesus responded, “Stop clinging to me” (see John 20:17, Greek text). Why did Jesus tell Mary to stop clinging to Him? Because Jesus had somewhere to go. He was on the move. Jesus was poised to go to Galilee to see the other disciples and then to ascend to His Father.

Note the principle: He was moving forward, but she was clinging to Him.

Jesus was in effect saying to her: “Mary, stop holding on to me. There’s a new way to know me that’s different from what you’ve experienced thus far. Let me go. I must move on.”

Do you remember the disciples who walked on the road to Emmaus? Their hopes were shattered by Jesus’ horrible death. Suddenly, the resurrected Christ began walking beside them, yet their eyes were blinded from recognizing Him.

However, when He engaged in the very simple gesture of breaking bread (something He had done frequently before them), their eyes were opened.

He then quickly disappeared from their sight.

These stories hold a critical insight. You cannot cling to the Christ you know today. He will vanish from your midst. Jesus Christ is an elusive Lover. Seeking Him is a progressive engagement that never ends. He doesn’t dance to our music. He doesn’t sing to our tune.

Perhaps He will in the beginning when He woos us to Himself; but that season will eventually end. And just when you think you’ve laid hold of Him, He will slip out of your grasp. He will appear to you as a stranger. But upon second glance, we’ll soon discover He’s no stranger at all. Emmaus will be repeated.

We all wish to cling to the Lord who we know now. We all wish to hold on to the Christ who has been revealed to us today. But mark my words: He will come to us in a way we do not expect—through people who we’re prone to ignore and inclined to write off.

Perhaps they don’t talk our religious language. Perhaps they aren’t theologically sophisticated. Perhaps they don’t use our vocabulary. Perhaps they don’t share our insider knowledge nor parrot our religious idioms.

And so we cling fast to the Lord we recognize—receiving only those who talk our language, use our jargon and employ our catchphrases—and all along we end up turning the Lord Jesus Christ away.

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What, then, does our Lord do after we fail to receive Him when He comes to us in an unexpected way? He moves on. And the revelation we have of Him ceases to grow.

Jesus Christ is richer, larger and more glorious than any of us could ever imagine. And He comes to us in ways that make it tempting to reject Him.

When Peter, James and John saw the transfigured Lord on the holy mountain, Peter wanted to build a tabernacle for Jesus, Moses and Elijah and remain on the mountain to enjoy the encounter. But God would not allow it (Matthew 17:1-13).

There is something in our fallen nature that, like Peter, wishes to build a monument around a spiritual encounter with God and remain there. But the Lord will not have it. He will always break free from our frail attempts to pin Him down, box Him up and hold Him in place. And He does so by coming to us in new and unexpected ways.

Frank Viola is the co-author (with Leonard Sweet) of Jesus Manifesto (Thomas Nelson). You can learn more about the book at This article originally appeared in RELEVANT.



Marian Karvonen commented…

Brilliant, not boxing God in leads to a a vulnerability where we realise that we ultimately have no influence, reputation or other props to sustain us. Yes Jesus Christ is richer, larger and more glorious than any of us could ever imagine. An unpredictable and untamable God.


Anonymous commented…

"But mark my words: He will come to us in a way we do not expectthrough people who were prone to ignore and inclined to write off."

These words ring true for me after this weekend. I called up my step-dad after hearing from my mom that he got a new job. I wanted to congratulate him, seeing as how he had been looking to move to a place closer to home.

To keep a huge back story short, me and my step-dad have recently rebuilt our relationship, after 3 and a half years of not speaking, grudges, and pride getting the better of both of us.

After my congratulations, he told me that him and my mother would be looking for a church back home (I being away at college). When I asked why, he told me that he was listening to a financial adviser speak on giving/tithing, so he decided to take the $60 in his wallet, didn't even tell my mom, and gave the cash to Goodwill.

The very next day, he got called multiple times for several jobs, landed his interview, and got hired.

God used my step-dad's experience to show me we have to step out, take that leap of faith, and to know that He will provide. It's incredible, especially since my step-dad is not someone I would consider a Godly man, but I am so overwhelmed with joy and thankful God finally broke my step-dad. It's an old answered prayer, even if I did give up and stop praying for it...God still answered it.


pastorjon commented…

In church we talked about this and its so true, we cant squeeze God into our lives, but rather pour our lives into God.


Anonymous commented…

You know, a lot of people nowadays want to take God out of the "box" of "theology" and put him into the box of "social justice." And it's important to know and understand that neither box can contain God. Neither lens is the complete picture of Who our Great and Mighty God is, who created the entire gigantic universe, and yet cares for every single tiny aspect and person in His creation.

I believe that taking God out of the boxes we create in our minds should always result in an increase in the conviction of the Holy Spirit; if it doesn't, or it has the effect of excusing behaviors or beliefs we are convicted about beforehand, I think it would behoove us to question whether we have taken God out of one box only to attempt to box Him up in another way.

(Of course, the One, True, Trinitarian God cannot be boxed; it is instead ourselves and our own understanding that we limit, so we could say that we've boxed ourselves rather than God)

(and if you are familiar with the re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica, this may mean something else to you entirely)


Anonymous commented…

I believe the alogory which Mr. Keck is talking about still is valid. Regaurdless of the order upon which Christ was going to either his disciples or to God is a bit of a moot point. It would seem that that Jonathan Keck is trying to bring up the point that Christ is ever changing in our lives and we must be aware of that. If, in allegory, we are going to get into textual criticisms we could start asking things of more obvious concern such as why when Christ gets ready to enter Jerusalem do his discples attend the task of finding a beast of burden for him to ride in such different ways in each gospel? I am, of course, not really asking this but if so many of us take this with a grain of salt and jump to the point of Christ going into Jerusalem, then I think the order of Christs 'to do' list can be overlooked and the point appreciated. I believe that his point is made and I agree with him, we will not find Christ in our comfort zones or by stopping on our walk because we found a shady spot. Christ moves in growth and growth is discomforting if not painful. A good article.

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