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Seventh Sunday After Pentecost
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Jeffrey O. Cerar, July 12, 2015


Who Is Jesus?


Who is Jesus? People want to know why we talk about Jesus so much. Some people seem surprised that Christians actually worship Jesus, and not just admire Him greatly. Today I would like to address the question, “Who is Jesus” in hopes of explaining why He means so much to us—why we call Him King of kings and Lord of lords—and why none of us would be the same if we had not met Jesus.

First of all, Jesus was a historical figure. He was a real person who lived in First Century-Palestine. Back in the days of Soviet Communism, official Russian doctrine was that Jesus was a mythical figure who never actually existed. But his life is thoroughly documented, not only by the Bible, but by other contemporaneous books of antiquity. Jesus was the son of a Jewish carpenter in Nazareth. His family was not famous, although they were descendants of King David, the most revered King of the Hebrew people.

Because Jesus was so ordinary, it was difficult for the Jewish people of His time to accept His claims that He was the Messiah. That is what He said about Himself. That is what the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament said. And in fact, Jesus fulfilled over 200 prophecies in the Old Testament, the Hebrew scriptures, which foretold the coming of the Messiah.

The Messiah was what they called the one who would one day come to be the Savior of Israel. They had assumed that the Messiah would be a powerful military leader, maybe royalty. But here was this Jesus. He had no title. He had no troops. He wasn’t a political figure. He wasn’t an official of the Jewish hierarchy. He was just an itinerant preacher from Nazareth, a town about which it was said nothing good ever came from there.

And yet, Jesus was an amazing man. The people said He preached with authority. He said things as if God Himself was speaking. And there was power in His words. Something about His words convicted people. And on top of that, He did remarkable works. He made the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk. He cast out demons. He calmed the winds and the waves. He raised the dead to life. But then Jesus got crosswise with the leaders and ended up getting crucified on a Roman cross. What kind of a Messiah was that?

When you look back at the Hebrew scriptures, you can see that the prophecies said that the anointed one from God would not be a powerful political figure, but rather a suffering servant. Isaiah chapter 53 describes the Messiah as:

• a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering (v. 3)

• a man who would be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our sins (4)

• a man who would be led like a lamb to the slaughter (8)

• a man who would pour out his life in sacrifice (12)

That is just what happened to Jesus; and that is just how the disciples interpreted what happened. And then He rose from the dead. Over the next 40 days, 500 witnesses saw Him, and were able to attest that Jesus was alive. And then he ascended into heaven leaving behind His disciples to continue His work and spread the word.

The cult of His followers began as a movement within Judaism. But eventually, those who believed He was the Messiah, and those who did not could no longer worship together. And so the people who were soon called Christians separated themselves from the synagogues. They began to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, and the Church began to grow dramatically. And that, too had been prophesied in the ancient scriptures. In Isaiah, we hear God say that His salvation was not just for His chosen people, but for the whole world:

Isaiah 49:6 “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light to the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

It is interesting to ask why the Gentiles were able to accept the message that God had sent a Savior to rescue them from sin. Sin was a concept that was foreign to their own worldview. They weren’t taught about repentance or atonement or salvation. Only the Jewish people had a deep understanding of sin and of a righteous God whose will was supreme. Only the Jewish people understood about God’s judgment and mercy. But when the Jewish Christians began to spread the Gospel, Gentiles began to see that the Biblical testimony gave the only plausible explanation of why the world was such a mess—why there was constant war, why there was suffering, why people did such bad things to each other one minute, and then behaved with such kindness and love the next. For the scriptures told of

• God’s creating humankind in His image,

• and then their fall from grace because of sin and rebellion,

• and God’s unfailing love,

• and finally, God’s initiative to rescue the world and restore it to its original state that He called “very good.”

The one God sent on that rescue mission was Jesus. He is the Savior. He is the one who came into the world to rescue it from sin and death through His sacrifice on the cross and His rising again to eternal life.

But He was not just a man whom God sent on a mission. While the Bible calls Him the Son of God, it also says that He Himself is God. In Jesus, God has pierced the veil that separates time from eternity, and the spiritual world from the earthly. He has humbled Himself, emptying Himself of His divine prerogative (Philippians 2:6) to dwell among us and become one of us human beings (John 1:14). That is why the virgin birth is so important to the scriptural message. For Jesus to have been born as a man, He would need an earthly mother. But at the very same time He is divine. And so, the Bible tells us that He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary, a virgin. Yes, it is miraculous! Yes, it sounds like a huge stretch of mental gymnastics. But God does things in His own surprising, miraculous, fantastic ways. If He didn’t, we would just be stuck with the world the way it is,

• with all its madness and mayhem,

• all its decay and dysfunction,

• all its suffering and cynicism and sorrow.

Jesus is God who became man. He is the Creator who stepped into His creation to save it from destruction. But He didn’t just come and go. As He was preparing to return into heaven, He promised that He would be with us always, as His restoration work continued on. He promised that His Holy Spirit would come to dwell within us. That is a very big deal for us. For with Christ dwelling in us,

• We are never alone.

• He comforts us in times of distress.

• He encourages us in times of challenge.

• We operate in strength that comes from Him.

• We have peace that passes all human understanding, which only He can give us.

• When Christ lives in us, we are connected with the divine.

Now, this is very different from a belief that is popular today called “pantheism.” Many people say that there is a divine life force of which we are all a part. In some mysterious way, this divine force is said to drift at will throughout the universe, giving life to everything it touches. And through that we are all connected.

That is not what Jesus is all about. That is not who God is. The Bible describes God to us in a very different way. He is a personal being. He loves. He grieves. He gets angry. He communicates. In fact, the coming of Jesus was a personal aspect of this personal God. He was saying to us, “I love you enough to come through the veil and live among you.” That is part of what Jesus said when He uttered the famous words of John 3:16:

For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that all who believe in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.

This personal, communicating God loves His creatures so much that He wants us to spend eternity with Him. And He is willing to make huge sacrifices in order to bring about what He wants. In order to understand this, we have to acknowledge that God is sovereign. He is the supreme king of the universe. And what He says goes. He is holy, and so in order to participate with Him in His eternal kingdom, we have to be holy as well. Only He can make us holy. And it is for that purpose that Jesus came to save us.

And one day, God is going to judge the world, so that only those whom He has made holy will come to be with Him forever. In fact, the Father has passed that authority along to Jesus. So He is not only our Savior, but our judge.

We have talked of Jesus as Savior, as God in the flesh dwelling among us, as God the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, and as the judge of the world. There is another aspect of Jesus that we heard in this morning’s reading from the Gospel according to Mark. Jesus is a sender. He sent His disciples out two by two to the neighboring towns and villages. They were to spread the word about Him. They were to cast out demons and heal the sick. They were to call people to repent of their sins. And He sends us out as well.

• That is why we have what we call missionaries: people who travel to where people don’t know Jesus in order to bring them into the kingdom.

• That is why we have what we call evangelists: people who tell everyone they encounter that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. (John 14:6)

• That is why we feed the hungry and pray over the sick and clothe the naked and preach good news to the poor and visit those in imprison: so that everyone can feel the love of God.

For as the Bible tells us in 2 Peter 3:9, it is the Father’s desire that everyone be saved.

I hope this doesn’t sound too academic. There is much more to say about Jesus that one can only tell as a personal testimony. Here’s what I know personally about Jesus. I grew up thinking of Jesus as someone who lived a long time ago, who had a lot to say about how to be good. I thought of religion as being as good as you can, and hoping and expecting that God would reward you by letting you walk through the pearly gates of heaven after you die. That is kind of a capsule of American civil religion. A lot of people see Christianity like that. But the truth is something you discover when you meet Jesus up close and personal. That happened to me at the age of 36. It came at a time when I had come to grips with the fact that I couldn’t be as good as I wanted to. And when in shame and fear I repented, I met Jesus. He wasn’t what I expected. He wasn’t judgmental and severe. He didn’t give me three years’ worth of Our Father’s and Hail Mary’s to say as my penance. He just loved me and forgave me and told me He would make me into someone new if I would let Him.

His love melted my heart. And starting that day, I have known Him not as a figure from the Bible, but as my dearest friend.

• He goes where I go.

• He knows what I am thinking.

• He suffers as I suffer.

• He rejoices with me.

• He reassures me.

• He understands my shortcomings.

• He knows why I am not as good as I ought to be.

• He forgives me when I stumble.

• He urges me to do things I don’t think I can do.

There is no one like Jesus. There is no love like His. There is no faithfulness that compares to His.

• He is there when He says He is going to be there.

• He does what He says He is going to do.

• If everybody else has abandoned you, He is the one by your side.

• When nobody else believes in you, He is the one who stands behind you.

• He doesn’t stop loving you, even if you don’t measure up.

• He fulfills that longing that nothing else can fill; He “gives the healing and grace our hearts hunger for.”

That is a phrase from a song by my favorite Christian singing group, “Selah.” The song is Wonderful Merciful Savior, by Dawn Rodgers and Eric Wyse.

Wonderful, merciful Savior
Precious Redeemer and friend
Who would have thought that a lamb could
Rescue the souls of men?
Oh, You rescue the souls of men

Counselor, Comforter, Keeper
Spirit we long to embrace,
You offer hope when our hearts have
Hopelessly lost our way.
Oh, we hopelessly lost the way.

[Chorus]

You are the one that we praise.
You are the one we adore.
You give the healing and grace
Our hearts always hunger for—
Oh, our hearts always hunger for

Almighty, infinite Father,
Faithfully loving Your own,
Here in our weakness You find us
Falling before Your throne.
Oh, we're falling before Your throne.

[Chorus]

©2015 Jeffrey O. Cerar

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