“Above All Else – Jesus” – Genesis 1:1
Introduction: Above All Else
Last Sunday I explained that, for the next few weeks, I am going to use this book – “Above All Else” – and also a couple of other resource books to take us through the essentials of our Christian faith… what we believe and how we live. Last Sunday we looked at the topic of God, the Father, the Almighty, the Creator – the subject of the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed. Today we turn our attention to the Second Article, and the Second Person of the Trinity – Jesus.
One of the most significant questions Jesus asked, one of the most poignant discussions Jesus had with people was about His own identity. Those questions and discussions brought out these responses from disciples and would-be disciples about who Jesus was:
Andrew: “We have found the Messiah.” (that is the Christ)
Philip: “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth.”
Nathanael: “You are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel.”
Peter: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Martha: “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”
A man-born-blind: “Lord, I believe.”
The centurion at the cross: “Surely this man was the Son of God.”
Thomas: “My Lord and my God.”
Only the Jewish religious leaders had trouble with Jesus’ identity – calling Him a blasphemer, a sinner, and even a demon!
Still today, people have a variety of opinions about the identity of Jesus. Yet, it is crucial to our faith to have the right understanding of the person and work of Jesus. Who is Jesus to you?
1. Jesus: Who He Is
Like pillars that hold up the roof over the entrance of a building, we will consider two pillars that uphold what the Bible teaches and what we believe about the identity of Jesus.
a. One-of-a-kind birth (the God-man)
The first pillar is His one-of-a-kind birth. This is, of course, the Christmas story, but since we are a full 5 months past Christmas and still a full 7 months until the next Christmas, let me remind you of some key aspects of that account.
The first and most profound is the brief dialog between the angel Gabriel and a young resident of Nazareth named Mary. Gabriel explained that she had found favour with God, and that the Holy Spirit will come upon her, and that she will give birth to a child who will be called the Son of the Most High God. That’s one factor in this unique birth. The other is explained in Mary’s own question: “How can this happen since I am a virgin?” Gabriel’s response is that “nothing is impossible with God.” So, in the end, this was to be a child with God as Father and with a human being – Mary – as mother. That’s why Luther would explain that Jesus was true God – begotten of the Father from eternity – and true man – born of the virgin Mary. Jesus… the God-man. No other child in the history of the world has had that parental heritage. Yes, a one-of-a-kind birth.
The other details of the story are not necessarily one-of-a-kind, but they are notable: Joseph’s dream-inspired decision not to divorce Mary for apparent adultery; the census-inspired travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, which fulfilled Old Testament prophecy; the announcement of the birth by angels to shepherds in the fields at night; the visit of the shepherds to the baby in a manger; the profound pondering of Mary at all that had happened; the mysterious visit of the Magi to worship the child, and the significant gifts they brought.
There is also the meaningful and foreshadowing name revealed to both Joseph and Mary – Jesus, Yeshua, which means ‘God saves.’ He would also, according to words from Isaiah 7, be called “Immanuel” which means ‘God with us.’ Finally, there is the term ‘Christ’ that is applied to Him… not as a last name, but as a title… the Messiah, the Anointed One, the promised one of God.
b. One-of-a-kind death
We will skip over Jesus’ life and ministry – we’ll come back to them in a few minutes – and move right to the second pillar of Jesus’ identity… His one-of-a-kind death.
During His ministry, Jesus gained quite a following… not just the twelve disciples, but various groups of people, sometimes crowds numbering in the thousands. He turned His attention to all kinds of people, and it wasn’t just the 80% of the population that would be considered acceptable, normal, like everybody else. There were the rich (Zacchaeus and Joseph of Arimathea, and Mary, Joanna and Susanna who supported Jesus’ ministry), the poor (widows), those who were outcast for social/ethnic reasons (a Samaritan woman, a Canaanite woman, a Roman centurion), those who were outcast for health reasons (lepers), those who were outcast for moral reasons (adulterers, tax collectors).
Those were the kinds of people who would have been cheering Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. But there were the other people – the religious status quo who didn’t just have trouble with Jesus’ identity, but who also had trouble with things that Jesus was doing and saying. He was a blasphemer because He assumed God’s authority to forgive sins. He was a sinner because He picked grain and healed people on the Sabbath. He was a demon, because He apparently had authority over lesser demons as He cast them out of people. Those religious leaders were the ones plotting behind Jesus’ back to arrest Him, and try Him, and kill Him… all so that they would have their proper place as the religious elite.
Of course, during Holy Week those Palm Sunday cheers were turned to Good Friday jeers as Jesus was accused not just of religious recklessness, but also of undermining the authority of Caesar. In reality, Jesus was sinless – morally, spiritually, criminally. Yet, after being betrayed by one disciple, denied by another, and abandoned by them all, He stood trial in front of the Jewish High Priest, in front of King Herod, and in front of Pilate the Roman Governor. He was almost entirely silent, making no defense for the accusations hurled against Him. He was unjustly tried at night, with witnesses whose testimony did not agree with one another. Pilate didn’t find Jesus guilty of any significant offense, but cowardly handed Him to the Jews for the Roman punishment of crucifixion. Before that sentence was carried out, He was stripped, beaten, mocked, spit upon, and crowned with a circle of thorns. He was hung on a cross between two deserving thieves. For three hours it was dark, and when He finally died, there was an earthquake and the temple curtain was torn in two from top to bottom. It was then, after seeing all that, that the Roman centurion proclaimed this to be a one-of-a-kind death of a one-of-a-kind man… the Son of God! No one had died a death like that before. We will come back to the meaning of His death in a few moments.
Just like Jesus’ birth clearly showed that He was true God and true man, Jesus’ death showed that He was true man, and Easter Sunday morning showed that He was true God. An aftershock earthquake was followed by the rolling away of the stone guarding the exit of Jesus’ cave-tomb. The tomb was empty, and Jesus was alive. His resurrection demonstrated triumphantly and without doubt that He had power over death. Only God could do that. And that’s who Jesus is!
2. Jesus: What He Has done
Now that we have clarified who Jesus is, let’s consider what He has done.
We have looked at Jesus’ one-of-a-kind birth and death. In between those two events was a three-year-long ministry that was comprised of four main activities: teaching, miracles, healings, and exorcisms. Exorcisms were simply the casting out of evil spirits that were afflicting people in various ways – seizures, voices, self-harm. Jesus cast those evil spirits out not because He was a more authoritative demon, but because He was God, the authority over evil, and demons, and the devil, himself. There are some people here at Hope that are now almost ¾ of the way through a 2-year-long Bible reading program. A few days ago we read 1 John 3, and it included this profound verse: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” The devil has always been trying to turn people away from God. He does that with deception, and lies, and evil, and hatred, and addiction, and hopelessness, and spiritual bondage, and discouragement, and a host of other attitudes and actions that are simply meant to keep people from the love of God. Destroying the devil’s work comes about from truth, and goodness, and love, and hope, and freedom, and forgiveness – all gifts of Jesus! Jesus’ passion was to turn people back to a true understanding of and faith in God as loving creator and father. That’s what He wants you to know and believe.
Jesus healed people of a wide array of physical ailments – from blindness to fever to crippling paralysis to leprosy. We may even want to include raising three people from death in the category of healing, because miracles generally had to do with the realm of nature – calming storms, walking on water, turning water into wine, multiplying meals of fish and bread.
Jesus’ teaching was primarily about the Kingdom of God. He told many parables which explained what the Kingdom of God was truly meant to be. Besides that, His teaching pointed to the character of God, and to His own mission to save the world. Even His teaching was truly undoing the works of Satan by directing people to the goodness and the truth of God.
b. Roles of Prophet, Priest and King
Jesus was given divine names, He had the same divine attributes / nature as God the Father, He performed divine works (including forgiveness of sins), and various people ascribed divine honour and worship to Him… again the same as God the Father. But He also carried out three very human roles as part of His mission: those of prophet, priest and king.
Old Testament prophets did not primarily foretell future events. God used them to teach the grand truths He was revealing for our salvation. They were not so much foretellers as forth-tellers of God’s message. Jesus was a prophet in the same way. His first message was simply: “The Kingdom of God is near.” And by that He meant – in Himself! In the life and ministry of Jesus, the Kingdom of God had arrived. And people were called to pay attention. Whereas prophets could only proclaim divine truths as they were revealed, Jesus possessed in Himself all wisdom and knowledge and could speak of God from personal acquaintance and unique authority.
Old Testament priests were the mediators between God and His people. They would represent the people before God in their prayers, and they would represent God before the people in their messages. The priests would offer sacrifices – grain, bulls, lambs, birds – to restore a right relationship between the Lord and His people. Those sacrifices of blood would never fully meet God’s perfect requirement, for even the priests were sinful. It was only when Jesus, the Great and Perfect High Priest came, that a perfect sacrifice was made, for He offered Himself, once for all. His sacrifice was powerful and effective because it was the sacrifice of a divine person, and His blood has infinite power to cleanse, restore, and renew. Jesus is still active as our High Priest.
Old Testament Kings were desired by the people of Israel in order to protect and defend them from mortal enemies. But those kings failed, too, mostly by their failure to rely on God as the true King of their nation. Whereas those great kings ruled over God’s people in a worldly sense, Jesus rules over the hearts of His followers in a kingdom of grace. He is the head of the Church, and He forgives, renews, strengthens, fosters, protects and nourishes His people. At the end, He will lead His redeemed people home to heaven and will reign over us forever as the King of kings and Lord of lords. That’s what the Lego theme slide is about – Jesus’ Ascension and His reign as king (because it was Ascension Day this past Thursday).
There is one last thing to mention about what Jesus has done, and it is actually the most important thing, the thing that ties back to Jesus’ death and resurrection. Because we all sin daily, we find that we are not right with God, we cannot please God, we cannot expect that God will welcome us into His new life in heaven. But Jesus came precisely to bear the sins of the whole world… yours! Mine! A Bible word to describe what Jesus has done is ‘justified.’ It means that, by His sacrificial death on the cross, Jesus has paid the debt, the punishment required on account of our sin. The account has been settled, the transaction is closed. Everything that Jesus did counts for us. Justification is essentially Jesus answering for God’s wrath over all our sins. It is Christ’s doing. It is a gift. It is received through faith. We can’t do anything.
And that’s the good news that Martin Luther writes of in his explanation of the second article of the Creed. “[Jesus] has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.” Jesus has redeemed me. Jesus has redeemed you! That makes you right with God. That all comes from what Jesus has done. That is the true and gracious work of Jesus, for YOU! And it all leads you and me to join Luther in that confession about Jesus’ identity: “I believe that Jesus Christ – true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord.” Not just THE Lord, but MY Lord, YOUR Lord… that we may live under His lordship in His kingdom, forever!! Amen!