A lot of books have been written about Jesus, starting, of course, with the first four books of the New Testament.  N. T. Wright, who has written Simply Jesus (2011) and The Challenge of Jesus (1999) notes that he has 20 shelves of books about Jesus written over the last two centuries.  Philip Yancey, the author of The Jesus I Never Knew (2002) writes that in the front pages of John Ortberg’s Who Is This Man? (2014), 1500 books about Jesus are published every year.

A recurring orientation of many of these books is a search for the “real” Jesus or a discovery or rediscovery of Jesus in a new way.  Some look no farther than cultural expressions of Jesus, others seek “new” or refined or reinterpreted historical understanding.  A few claim to have new information about Jesus’ “lost years” that require (in the opinion of the authors) a radical reinterpretation of who he was.

This book does not attempt to wade through the contradictory claims of the vast collection of books written about Jesus, nor does it attempt to critically evaluate Biblical sources, nor summarize all Biblical and historical material, nor does it focus on particular American cultural expressions of faith in Jesus.  Instead, a few Scripture verses are cited to outline the perspective of Jesus that underlies the remainder of this book, the vantage point from which the authors sought to discover Jesus in the history of Idaho Falls.

Jesus, the Creator

For by Him [Christ] all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.  Colossians 1:16

More than three million people come to see Yellowstone each year.  While not unique in the world, the geysers, canyons, animals, waterfalls, and backcountry of Yellowstone have been a place of refreshment and wonder to millions of people for nearly a century.  The beauty of Yellowstone, and other National Parks, can illicit moments of awe, of sensing something beyond the ordinary matters and concerns and worries of everyday life.

Yet one need not go to Yellowstone to have such encounters.  They can surprise us most anywhere.  Jesus, as Creator, is reflected in His creation.  This is a theme we want to explore in that part of creation within the loose boundaries of what we call Idaho Falls and Southeast Idaho.

Jesus is the creator of the visible and the invisible.  He supplies the water that has made a barren desert into a vibrant community, both the surface water and the rainfall.  He displayed His creative power in the volcanic activity that formed the Snake River Plain; He planned the processes that created the soils in which potatoes, sugar beets and other crops have been grown in Southeast Idaho.  The beauty of His creation is seen in the Teton and Snake River Canyons, in the colors of the seasons, and the clouds and sunsets over the city.

But also in ways more mysterious he created the invisible foundations of the life of this community.  He has given us peace throughout the history of our city.  In ways I’m sure I don’t comprehend, Jesus reigns in Idaho Falls, leaving marks of his creativity and handiwork in many places.  May Jesus be acknowledged as King!

Jesus, the Word made flesh

In these last days [God] has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. Hebrews 1:2
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.  John 1:14

Statements like John 1:14 imply that people who encountered Jesus on earth experienced a concentrated and personalized form of our encounters with Jesus through His creation.  The gospels record that many who in some way saw or heard or met Jesus were amazed at His teaching, awed by his healings, set free by His power and drawn to follow Him.  Some, that is.  Others, primarily religious and civil authorities, were threatened by Him, ultimately leading to His arrest, trials and death.  And others were too busy with their own affairs to seek out or listen to Jesus.

The One who created the world entered into His creation as a man with a message.  He was a teacher, a prophet and more.  Many of the recent books on Jesus have sought new insight into and understanding of the “historical Jesus,” and His message.  It is certainly important to understand Jesus’ life on earth in the context of His time and culture.  The Jesus that we hope to see in looking at the history Idaho Falls and the message of Jesus we hear today must be traceable to Jesus of Nazareth, who actually lived and died in first century Palestine.

For example,

Jesus called men and women to follow Him; we believe He still calls men and women to follow Him.
Jesus responded to requests of people in need; we believe He still responds to prayers of and for people in need.
Jesus’ words and power relieved people of sicknesses and other afflictions; we believe He still heals, bringing about positive changes in those that seek Him.
Jesus sent His disciples to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom and to make disciples; we believe He has sent men and women to Idaho Falls and from Idaho Falls for the same purpose.

Jesus, raised and seated at the right hand of God

But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.      Luke 22:69
[God] raised Him [Jesus] from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.   Ephesians 1:20-21
Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens.  Hebrew 8:1
He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead.  Colossians 1:18

Most anyone can imagine Jesus living in first century Palestine, walking the roads of Galilee, teaching the Sermon on the Mount, attending the wedding in Cana, enjoying a meal with Zacchaeus the tax collector or Simon the Pharisee, and praying in Gethsemane.  The stories of the Gospels are a weekly diet for some; others who rarely attend church have still seen the Jesus film or Mel Gibson’s The Passion of Christ or older films about Jesus such as Cecil B DeMille’s King of Kings.  The Gospels also document that after Jesus was crucified and his body placed in a tomb, He was seen alive by numerous people at numerous times. He was and He was not like He was before His resurrection.  He invited Thomas to touch His wounds; He ate meals; He walked with two disciples to Emmaus, He spoke with His followers.  But also He would appear and disappear.  And His appearances as the resurrected Jesus stopped after the disciples saw Him ascend into the clouds.

The fact of Jesus’ resurrection is the best explanation for the history of the early years of the church.  The fact of Jesus’ resurrection allows us to look for Jesus at work in the history of Idaho Falls and today.

Yet seeing Jesus in recent history, whether looking in the church that identifies with Him or elsewhere, is not an easy task.  Seated at the right hand of God, Jesus is in some sense ultimately behind much that happens in our world. Yet tracing from specifics through the multiple layers of causes can be difficult.  We have tried, and you can be the judge of how well we’ve succeeded.

Jesus, living in His followers

In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.  John 14:20
God wanted to make known to them the glorious riches of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.  Colossians 1:27
…Christ lives in me…  Galatians 2:20

In writing this book we have looked for Jesus in creation, we have used the lens of first century history to help identify Him, and we have allowed that as the One seated at God’s right hand, His influence can be observed in various human organizations.  Yet we have concentrated our search by looking for Him in His followers, people who acknowledge they know Him and who claim that He lives in them, people who have encountered Him and been changed by Him, people who are seeking to live out His kingdom here in Idaho Falls.

As we’ve sought to find Jesus in His people, our approach has been to look at the whole history of the city and the whole body of Christ within the city.  Neither of these has been easy, or to our knowledge, has been ever attempted before.  We make no claims to completeness.  History is blurred both by processes that erode and erase – memories fade, details of experiences are forgotten and/or were never documented, people die etc. – and also by evolving ways that experiences are viewed and interpreted.

And where exactly are the lines that define the body of Christ?  The wheat and tares are intermingled, appearances can be deceiving, and God’s Spirit can be at work in surprising places.

As hard as this is, we were convinced that we needed to try – to preserve stories of Jesus at work through His followers to inform future generations and to throw open the door to a broader sense of God at work than is usually seen within any particular group or church.

So we have looked for Jesus in His creation and in His new creation.  We have waded through the history of Idaho Falls seeking to find clues to what exactly Jesus has done based on what He said He would do, such as,

 “…I will build My church…” Matthew 16:18
“If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.”  John 14:14
“As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” John 20:21
And as we talked with people who identify with Him, we have caught glimpses of His kingdom and power and glory.  All of this we want to share with you.

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