Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Who is Jesus?

" For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.”

1 Timothy 2: 5-6
 “Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord.” Apostles Creed

We don’t all have to be nutritionists, but someone needs to be. There’s a lot of junk food, and junk advice about food in the world. If we didn’t pay attention to what we eat, we’d wind up malnourished, obese, or poisoned. We don’t all need to be accountants either, but someone does. We don’t all need to be doctors, either, but we need well-trained doctors. Without them, we might die.

If this is true about nutrition, finances, and medicine, isn’t it also true about spiritual things? Our souls are more important than food or money.  There’s a popular idea that what we believe doesn’t matter, so long as we believe in something!  Would you listen to a nutritionist who said, “It doesn’t matter what you eat, so long as you eat,” or an accountant who says, “It doesn’t matter where you put your money, so long as you invest?” We should expect the same kind of integrity and training for those who feed our souls as we do of those who feed our bodies. 

Spiritual mistakes, like medical or financial mistakes don’t show up quickly, but emerge over time. The long term results of bad theology hurts us in the end.  

And there is no place in the church where bad theology does more damage than in our discussions of who Jesus was. 

There are a lot of false versions of Jesus around. One of them we’ll call “Santa Jesus.” This false Jesus is all love, but no Lord. He gives us comfort and presents, but makes no demands. He’s the gentle shepherd who carries lambs on his shoulders and plays with children, is incompatible with the angry Jesus who drove out the moneychangers.

Then there’s “Biker Jesus”.  He’s the opposite of Santa Jesus--a tough, angry rebel who came to town to stir up trouble. Those who envision Jesus this way ignore the fact that He actually sat down with His enemies without condemning them, offering forgiveness even to the people who murdered Him. Jesus didn’t win the world with his fists (though He could have), but by His sacrificial death. Jesus was a suffering servant, not an action hero.

Then there’s “Super Jesus” a strange visitor from another world with miraculous powers. This false Jesus and invulnerable to human pain and temptation. Would Superboy, as a child worry about stubbing his toe or getting a spanking?  Why would this false Jesus be worried about the cross?  Yet Jesus did experience pain and anxiety just like the rest of us.

Then there is the “Rebel Jesus.” They see Jesus as a political revolutionary, putting together a band of followers who will overthrow the world, ready to start a fight to clean up injustice. This false view ignores the fact that Jesus lived among one of the most unjust regimes in history, namely the Roman Empire, yet never mentioned its worst injustices such as slavery, infanticide, homelessness,  political corruption, and others.

All these views of Jesus are still with us, and many who reject Jesus are not rejecting the real Jesus, but distorted misinterpretations. The real Jesus was someone else entirely.

The middle section of the Apostles Creed begins with three titles for Jesus ---the Christ, the only begotten Son, and our Lord. These titles are relational. They tell us how He relates to the world, to God, and to ourselves.   

1. Christ. “Christ” was not His last name. It means “messiah” or “Anointed leader.”

When Jesus was alone with His disciples, he asked them a question in Matthew 16: 13-16---“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They answered, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

He replied, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter gave the answer for them all, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

“Christ” (in Hebrew “messiah”) is a leader who is going to solve all our problems. When Obama was elected, many people thought he was going to be their messiah. They mistakenly believed that the government would pay off their debts, empty the ghetto, give free health care for all, and bring world peace. Now Trump is president, some people talk as if he is the messiah who will save us from Isis, runaway debt and illegal immigration. It’s too early to tell, of course, but I think neither Obama nor Trump are the Christ or the antichrist. There’s only one messiah and that’s Jesus.

Jesus is the messiah, but not the way the world thought. The underlying sickness in the world is spiritual, not political. Worldly messiahs fail because they offer worldly solutions to spiritual problems. The disparity of wealth in the world is not a problem if the rich weren’t greedy. If the poor weren’t jealous, it wouldn’t matter if the rich had more luxuries. If we could master lust, sexuality wouldn’t be an issue. Eating disorders come from vanity and gluttony. Political oppression comes from our desire to dominate others. One generation’s freedom fighters become the next generation’s oppressors, because inside dictators and rebels are made of the same sinful stuff.  They all prove false in the end. Whatever form of government we espouse, sinful people will still run the world. The true Christ must save people from their own sins before there can be permanent change to society.

2. “the only begotten Son.” This speaks of His relationship with God. “He is not a created creature--but God’s essence in human form. Colossians 1: 15-20 tells us:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. . .For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. . .”

He is also called the “Word,” the  self-expression in human form of God.

You don’t have to understand this--just accept it! He’s not a heavenly created being, like an archangel. He’s not a lesser god, like Greek mythology suggested. He’s not just a human being who got promoted to divinity, like the Roman emperors. He’s not a pure ray of divinity in a dirty world, like the Greek philosophers said. He is God, taking on human life, fully human and fully divine, living as an ordinary Galilean carpenter and preacher, the eternal expression of God on earth—God in as a real person.

Many people over the years have claimed to be God, to make themselves sound important. Jesus was God brought down to our level, to experience all the hopes, fears, and struggles of human flesh. He wasn’t frail flesh claiming divinity, but God daring to become frail flesh. God entered fully into creation so he could experience human existence; enduring birth, childhood, family life, friendship, hunger, thirst,  happiness,  celebration, suffering, torture, and death, so He could know firsthand our pain.

Brennan Manning, a Catholic priest, did something similar in a small way. To minister to prisoners, he became a voluntary prisoner. Only the warden knew. He did this so he could experience life inside the prison bars. He didn’t last very long at it. I couldn’t have endured it!  Yet Jesus lived a lifetime among us. You may love the homeless, but would you be homeless?  You may love your dog, but would you be a dog? This was an act of humility bigger than any we can imagine.

3. “Our Lord.”  This is His relationship to us. He is our Lord, not someone else’s.  Philippians 2:  9-11 says:

“Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

It’s interesting that the creed never mentions “saved” or “salvation.” Receiving Jesus as savior is just a prerequisite for receiving Him as Lord.  Salvation is the door do a new life, but we don’t live in the doorway, we enter the feast! We don’t hold weddings every day—we live in marriage. We don’t rejoice in forgiveness, we enter His service. 

We are not just saved—we are saved from something to something. We are saved from ourselves, our sins, and our foolish idolatry to become a subject of Jesus’ kingdom. Salvation implies submission. A drug addict saved from his addiction must still hold down a job and enter healthy relationships with others. If he can’t learn to submit to an employer he will not stay sober for long. He must submit to live.

What if we don’t treat Jesus as Lord, can we still be saved? If a person says to God, “Save me from my sins.”  If an adulterer asks his wife for forgiveness, but continues to live with another woman, should the woman take him back? If we ask God for forgiveness, yet continue to life in sin and idolatry, should we have any more right to be forgiven than an insincerely repentant cheating husband?  If you accept Jesus as your savior with no intention of making Him Lord, how can He really be either?

Notice the middle word in this phrase from the Creed--“only.” He’s the world’s only messiah, God’s only human expression and our only Lord. Is Jesus your only? He won’t take second place. Make Him your only, and all others things will be added to you. If we try to make Him less than our only, then we will miss out on everything else.

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