Years ago my sister traveled to the Ukraine on a mission trip. She worked among the indigenous Christians on a number of worthy projects, and when her time ran up, she returned home with a heart full of joy, a head full of memories, and bags full of strange and wonderful souvenirs.
Since I’m the only twin brother my sister has, she brought me a unique gift: A set of Matryoshka Dolls; 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.
My sister traveled well after Russian Perestroika, Polish Solidarity, and the other movements that unhinged communism in Eastern Europe. The outer doll of my Matryoshka set was, entertainingly, Boris Yeltsin. His likeness had a dopey little smile and rumpled hair as if he had been drinking too much vodka, accurately portrayed I fear.
When Yeltsin was opened, there was Gorbachev with the familiar birthmark on his forehead. Inside Gorbachev was 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. This is the seed, the kernel from which all the others grew.”
I, and many others, have tried this same thing with Jesus. We have struggled to unravel him, to break open his shell, and then the next, and the next, and the next. Then, we think we can get to the bottom of who he is and his story. We reconstruct his historical setting. We dissect his words. We set out to determine who he “really was” and is. But there is a problem. When dealing with this Jesus, we do not find ourselves moving to something smaller and more manageable.