At the beginning of Revelation chapter two the Lord commended the church of Ephesus for a number of things, but said that He had one things against them, they had “forsaken their first love”, or “the love they had at first”. This didn’t mean that they weren’t holding to the true faith, or weren’t caring for people. They were doing both. What had grown dull was their pure love for Jesus, and their desire to know Him deeply and have Him physically present with them. Above all of our right doctrines and sincere loving service to others is our desire to know and be with our Lord. Jesus is our Bridegroom. Our only natural and fulfilling place is with Him. As time had gone on in the first Christian century and Jesus had not returned the longing for Him had grown dull. I’m afraid it has also with many of us. We continue to teach, share His truth, and serve in His name as God gives us the strength and grace to do, but our desire, our longing, is for His presence alone. All else flows from this.
Why do we continue writing, speaking, teaching, and preaching about Jesus? Psalm 100 expresses it this way, “For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”(vs.5) We desire to extend that good to all people. Our Lord is the source of life. We want all to find life in Him. Jesus is not just a nice add-on to an already good life. He is life itself. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”(John 14:6) He is not just the back up plan if all else fails. He is the plan and purpose for life, the one who gives life its meaning. “Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.”(100:2) As we come to Him with worship and praise we find strength, life, and peace.
Talking with one of my people a while back they were saying it was difficult for them to pray to God, the Father. They had no image of the unseen Father they could visualize. This friend said all their prayers were to Jesus who was a clear picture of a person for them. I think all of us struggle a bit with explaining or visualizing God as three persons of the Holy Trinity, yet only one God. I’ve likened it at times to an ant trying to understand a human. But God, who desires a true relationship with us, in the depth of His grace, did what only He could do to make Himself known. Paul wrote “…Christ Jesus, being in very nature God, … made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”(Philippians 2:5-7) Jesus is God. In theology we say the second person of the Holy Trinity, but Jesus is the way we know who God is and what He is like. All of the Bible is centered in the person of Jesus Christ. The concept is God, the Holy Trinity, is important, but my friend was doing well to direct their devotion to Jesus.
From the earliest years of the Church there have been debates about who Jesus is. Christian theology teaches us that He is both God and man, but is He more one than the other? Some of the greatest heresies in Church history have come from this debate. Scripture teaches that Jesus is both true God and true man. Incomprehensible to human reason, but a truth of God’s grace that means our life and our hope. As true man He knows us intimately having experienced every temptation and trial we face, yet without yielding to sin. As true God He is the perfect unblemished Lamb sacrificed in atonement for our sins. We can’t fully comprehend this by human reason, but we can accept it as the truth of God’s Word, and humbly bow in worship of the One who has given us life.
Two hundred and fifty years ago a man by the name of Augustus Toplady wrote “Rock of Ages, cleft for me. Let me hide myself in Thee”. Nine hundred years ago a monk by the name of Bernard wrote, “Lord, let me never, never out live my love for Thee”. We can go back to Apostles and saints for two thousand years and find the same faith built upon the same Rock. That Rock is Jesus Christ. Even in the darkest times that Rock has never moved and His light has never faded. Paul was writing about the Israelites on their journey out of Egypt fifteen hundred years before Jesus’ birth. He wrote that the people drank from “the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.”(I Corinthians 10:4) You and I live in this ultra modern era with all its advances, but our feet are sill set upon that same Rock, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”(Hebrews 13:8)
There have always been individuals or groups who have tried to claim that Jesus never said He was God. They would rather say He was a great moral teacher, or a wonderful example of love, but not God. This, however, can’t stand up against a clear reading of Jesus’ words in the Gospels. To the Jewish leaders He said, “before Abraham was born I Am”.(John 8:58) He was taking the holy name of God for Himself, and it almost got Him stoned. To the disciple Philip He said, “I and the Father are one”.(John 10:30) There are many other references throughout the Gospels. C.S. Lewis wrote about such claims saying, “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 — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — 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.” Each one must make a choice about Jesus, and it is a choice that touches every part of one’s life.
I never cease to marvel at the opening words of St. John’s Gospel. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”(1:1-5) The Word is Jesus, verse 14, the divine Son of God. He is the author of all things, and the source of all life. It is through Jesus that life is understood, and no darkness of this world can change His truth. And “from the fullness of His grace we have all received one blessing after another.”(vs.16) Emmanuel, Almighty God with us. What an astounding marvel! In total humility, His is worthy of all our worship.
Yesterday’s Gospel text was from Matthew 16 where Jesus asked the disciples who people were saying He was. He had created a quite a stir during His brief ministry, and people had all kinds of speculations about Him. But none of that really mattered. Jesus made the question very pointed. “But who do you say that I am?” He asked the disciples directly. That is the ultimate question posed to each of us, and one that makes a difference for our entire life. Our times give a variety of answers, most of which keep Jesus out there at arms length away from us. Too often Jesus is treated as a nice addition to an already good life, a model of love to follow. But the true answer that Peter gave will not let us do that. “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”(vs.18) The Christ – the Messiah, the Redeemer, the One who shed His blood to buy us back from the power of sin, death and the devil. And the Son of the Living God – the One who created us, and who has a full claim on our lives. You see, Jesus can’t be a nice addition to life. He is life itself. So, “Who do you say that I am?”
There has always been a lot of controversy about Jesus. Who is he? Is he really what he says he is? Jesus once asked His disciples what people were saying about Him? The disciples had heard a variety of opinions. Some say John the Baptist had come back from the dead. Others that He was Jeremiah or one of the prophets of old. That’s all very interesting, but Jesus wouldn’t let the discussion lie there. “But who do you say that I am?” He asked. That really is the central question. It doesn’t matter much what the public opinion surveys have to say. Where do you stand? It was Peter who answered first. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”(Matthew 16:16) It is in that confession true life is found. It is a confession that God, Himself, reveals to our hearts. It is upon that confession the whole foundation of our life is built. Who do you say that I am?
There have sometimes been Christmas In July events emphasizing giving charitable gifts to the needy. But really the meaning of Christmas is something one can never stop contemplating. And I’m not talking about peace and good will toward men, as is so often made the center of the Christmas proclamation. No, I’m thinking of the incarnation – Almighty God becoming a man in Jesus. The baby born to Mary, growing as a boy in Nazareth, supporting his family as a carpenter, and later becoming a teacher throughout Israel. God becoming one of us, a real human being. Why? Why would ALMIGHTY GOD, creator of the universe, almighty, all powerful, all knowing, humble Himself so much as to identify completely with His lowly, rebellious creatures? Why? The answer to that “why” question must touch the center of our life. St. John gives the answer in his Gospel. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whosoever believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life.”(3:16) God sent His Son to die as an atoning sacrifice for our sins so that we could return to full and lasting fellowship with Him. This “why” question causes us to look at the depth of love God really has for each of us, to see Jesus, the Christ, as the center of our life, and to bow humble in worship of our gracious God. Think about it, and celebrate Christmas all year through.