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Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Jeffrey O. Cerar, February 1, 2015

No One Like Jesus

Text: Mark 1:21-28

In 1993, when I was fresh out of seminary, I said something terribly wrong in a sermon. I was left with a mistaken belief after a seminary education that should have prepared me better. What I said was that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Fortunately, I was taken to task and straightened out. Although Muslims claim to be descended from Abraham through Ishmael, which is probably true, Allah, whom they worship, is not the God whom Christians worship. All you have to do is to read the Qu’ran, and you will see. For Islam teaches that Jesus is not divine, He did not die on the cross, and He was not resurrected. Muslims are taught that Jesus is simply a prophet, and in fact, a prophet who doesn’t even measure up to Muhammad.

In order to see how different that is from what the Bible tells us about Jesus and about God, we’re going to look at Jesus closely today. And our entry point is in Mark’s Gospel chapter 1. Mark tells us about the first time Jesus taught in a synagogue, and how the people reacted. They could tell right away that he wasn’t acting like a mere prophet. Mark reports, “The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” (Mark 1:22)

Picture yourself in that synagogue in Capernaum. Jesus gets up to speak on the Sabbath, as rabbis usually did. He is not dressed in fine clothes, but there is something compelling and reassuring about Him. When He opens His mouth to teach, you see that He isn’t quoting human authorities. He isn’t saying, “Well, Plato said this, and Kant said that, and Einstein proved that, so here’s what you should believe.” He is saying, “Here is what I say, and if you believe in me, you will have life.”

What is your reaction to that? We heard the audience in Mark’s Gospel this morning say, “What is this? A new teaching with authority!” Now, to modern folks, that would be a very positive thing. We are always looking for that new genius who has the answer to our weight problem, or who can tell us how to get rich with little or no risk. But to the people gathered in the synagogue in first century Capernaum, a “new teaching” would have been shocking. In fact, we hear often in the Gospels that the people were amazed or astonished by it. Mark tells us that Jesus’ fame spread everywhere throughout Galilee. The throngs were so huge that He and His disciples often had to sneak away for some down time. But eventually, the dramatic claims of Jesus about Himself and His authority were what got Him executed. It wasn’t the Romans who wanted Him dead. It was the Jewish authorities who saw Him as a blasphemer.

Let us see what was so shocking. What He was saying, when you put it all together was, “I am not just one of the prophets. I am the Son of God. I speak for God because I am God.” It is right to be skeptical and careful about one who says such things. But if it is true, the only reaction is to fall on our knees and worship Him.

Look what happened that morning in Capernaum. A man with an unclean spirit challenged Jesus. The demon in him spoke: “I know who you are, the Holy one of God.” This was a being from the spiritual realm where Jesus was well known. He knew of Jesus’ authority. “Have you come to destroy us?” he asked. But Jesus, with the authority only He had, said, “Be silent” ! Come out of him!” And the demon came out of the man and fled. This is not something a rabbi could do. The people were amazed.

Jesus did other things only God can do, and He continued to amaze the people. He healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, and raised the dead to life. Jesus said a couple of times, “even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.”
(John 10:38)

And He did something even more presumptuous than raising the dead. He forgave people’s sins. The religious leaders were scandalized:

Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming” ! Who can forgive sins but God alone? [Mark 2:7]

Who indeed? This is not just another prophet, is it? Jesus is claiming to do things only God can do. And He is demonstrating the truth of His claim by raising Lazarus from the dead, and healing the man born blind, and making a paralytic able to walk.

What do you make of all that? Do you fall on your face in awe of Him? Or do you temporize about Him? I have heard Christians say:

• Oh, demons don’t really exist. The Gospel stories are just talking about mental illness.

• Oh, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John just made up those stories. We know the laws of nature don’t allow such things.

Well, Christian, you have to do better than that. Jesus said a lot of things about Himself that are just plain hard to believe. And either they are true, or you are a fool to call yourself His follower.

The hard-to-believe things Jesus said fall into two categories. Some we want to believe, but if spoken by a mere man, would be too good to be true. And some we don’t want to believe, because they are too threatening.

• I am the light of the world [He said.] Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. [John 8:12]

• If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. [John 8:32]

• I am the good shepherd. [John 10:14] My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them from me. [John 10:27-29]

• I am the Bread of Life. He who comes to me will not go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. [John 6:35-36]

• …whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. [John 4:14]

These are all wonderful things He says. We want to believe they are true, for if they are, we have it made. But imagine the impact of what Jesus is saying. He isn’t saying what the world understands: work hard, be good, keep your nose clean and you will be rewarded. He is saying, I hold your destiny in My hands. Put your trust in Me, and you are safe for all eternity. That is something we want to believe, but in order for it to be true, Jesus has to be more than just a great man.

And what about the things He says that we don’t especially want to believe? Interwoven with these wonderful promises, He is saying some very exclusive things. Modern people don’t want to believe the exclusive things He says.

• Remember He said, I am the bread of life? Well He also said, “Unless you eat my flesh, you have no life in you.” (John 6:52)

• “I am the vine, you are the branches,” Jesus said. “If you remain in me you will bear much fruit.” But He went on to say, “apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” (John 15:5-6)

• Jesus told us the truth will set us free. (John 8:31-32) But He also told us, “I am the way, the truth and the life. There is no other way to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

These are exclusive claims. Jesus is saying He is the only way. You can’t accept those claims and fall for the myth that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Nor can you accept the pluralistic claims of modern culture, that all pathways lead to God. So do we believe Jesus when He talks like this? Do we believe Him when He says that one day God will separate the sheep from the goats, and some will go to eternal punishment, and some will go to eternal life? (Matthew 25:46)

And it isn’t just a matter of believing what we want from His words and rejecting the rest. We have to deal with His words that say things like:

• “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)

• “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30)

• The Father has given me all authority in heaven and on earth. (Matthew 28:19)

• Jesus referred to Himself as the only Son of God. (John 3:16)

You can’t just slough over those words. As C.S. Lewis said,

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic….or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse…but let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. [C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 55]

For 21 centuries, people have been making that choice. And it is not just an academic exercise. It isn’t just a choice in the supermarket of ideas. For those who accept His authority and believe in Him, new life has flooded into them.

• People have left behind their loved ones to travel to far-off places like Sudan and New Guinea and Yemen to tell others the good news that there is a God who loves them and forgives their sins.

• Christians have risked their lives to share the love of Jesus with people dying of cholera and plague.

• Jesus has met people where they are, and has healed them of their addictions.

• Felons have met Jesus in prison and gotten out to live beautiful, redeemed lives.

• Christians have forgiven their enemies when others live in bitterness and retaliation.

• Christians can sing, “Alleluia!” at the funeral of their beloved, because we believe what Jesus has said about eternal life.

• We Christians can look at the violence and terrorism and economic turmoil around us and can live without fear. We live in hope, because we know that Jesus is coming again, and He has promised to redeem the world.

Jesus was different, because He did teach with authority. His claims were without precedent, because He is without precedent. And those who have submitted to His authority have found new life.

If you are accustomed to calling yourself a Christian, but you haven’t come to grips with these matters, now is the time. There is so much at stake. There is a great cosmic battle raging. And we are seeing it manifested in the things that are happening daily here on earth. We have to be clear-headed about what is true and what is not. God has given us every chance to know the truth and to commit ourselves to Him.

• He has revealed Himself in the Holy Scriptures, and no human being, and no spirit can come along and say God’s Word is mistaken.

• He has sent His only Son into the world to speak with authority.

• and to demonstrate the truth by His miracles

• and to promise that all who believe in Him would not perish, but have eternal life.

Yes, Jesus did teach with authority. For He is authority. He is the authority. He is not just a prophet. He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And yet He humbled Himself to come and share our human condition. He is the Word made flesh who has come to dwell among us. And He is among us still. Here. Today. Now. Alleluia” ! Let every knee bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!

© Jeffrey O. Cerar 2015

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