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.
In Mark chapter 2 there is the account of Jesus healing the paralyzed man. But He begins by saying, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”(vs.5) There were some of the Jewish leaders observing this, and they immediately objected. “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And that is exactly the right question. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Jesus was revealing Himself to be God. There have been some in recent times who have tried to say that Jesus never claimed to be God. They certainly have not really considered Jesus statements about Himself. It is ultimately the Holy Spirit who has to reveal the truth of Jesus to each heart, but Jesus certainly did claim His identity with God, even to the point of taking the holy name of God for Himself. In John 8:58 He declared “before Abraham was born, I am!”. The “I am” is the most holy name that God gave to Moses when He called him to deliver Israel from bondage. (Exodus 3:14) This Jesus that we worship is truly God. Glory to His holy name.
Statistics have shown that a very high percentage of people believe in god. But god is a very general term. It can mean almost anything. Even the devil is called the god of this world.(2 Corinthians 4:4) The only true God we know has been revealed to us in Jesus Christ. In the very beginning of his Gospel the Apostle John declared “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”(1:18) God has created us and wants to be known by us. He is a real and personal being with a plan and purpose for the people of His creation. Yet we are separated from His absolute holiness and perfection as a lump of clay is from the potter.(Jeremiah 18) God can only be known in the person of His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus said of Himself, “he who has seen me has seen the Father.”(John 14:9) So we do not worship a god however we might conceive of him, but the only true God who has revealed Himself to us in His Son, Jesus. He is the One who is the center of our life.
Comparing ourselves to other is always a dangerous proposition. If we are thinking about sins, we can always find someone who is worse than we are, so we don’t look so bad. We don’t take seriously that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”, including ourselves. We diminish the seriousness of sin. If we are thinking about accomplishments, there is always someone who does it better than we do, so we can get depressed. Even our own self opinion is not that valuable. The only opinion that is really important is God opinion of us. He has said, “you are my child for Jesus’ sake. I love you. I have given My Son as atonement for your sins. I have given you what talents and abilities you have, to use for my glory. I have made you unique and have a purpose for your life.” The more we take our eyes off of ourselves, and keep them on Jesus, the more we are free from false evaluations. We can truly rejoice in all that God has done for us and does through us.