Who is Jesus?
Without a doubt, the person who has been depicted in art the most down through the centuries is Jesus. We have seen pictures of Jesus in Bibles and Bible storybooks, all of them radically different in how they depict him. Rembrandt’s Jesus is very human, all light and shadow; El Greco’s Jesus is a striking, lean somewhat wild and demanding Jesus; Angelico portrays Jesus as sweet and angelic. There is Jesus the Good Shepherd, loving, smiling, caring, and holding lambs or carrying a child in his arms. There is Jesus, the judge with a dark severe expression, sitting on a throne, staring as if he could see right through us.
Without a doubt, the person who has been written about the most is Jesus. Whole libraries are filled with books about Jesus and almost every book gives us a different picture of Jesus. To mention just a few.
H.S. Reimarus (early 1700s) contended that Jesus wasn't divine but a Jewish revolutionary figure who died a disappointed failure. His disciples stole his body and made up a story about him being the redeemer. Paul spread the lie which was swallowed by a gullible world. Ernest Renan (mid 1800s) presented a rather romantic picture of Jesus – a strange, sweet-spirited poet walking about Galilee teaching morality. He won the hearts of many people but fell foul of the temple authorities. David Strauss (mid 1800s) said that the gospels were untrue, and the miracle stories were just "myths". Albert Schweitzer (early 1900s) who portrayed Jesus as a prophet who was disappointed that God did not step in and end the world, work justice, and set things right.
In both art and literature there are so many images of Jesus and so many ideas about what kind of person Jesus was. Who is right? The search for the historical Jesus, Jesus as he was known back then in Palestine, has only led to confusion and futility. What is important is who is Jesus today.
In our text today, Jesus casually asks the disciples "Who do people say I am?" The reply came, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah (because it was believed Elijah would return) while others say Jeremiah (the prophet of gloom and doom) or some other prophet." People who had witnessed Jesus work miracles, listened carefully when he taught about the Kingdom of God, heard him speak harshly to Canaanite woman and witness what the kind of person he was, were all guessing about this man from Nazareth really was.
Jesus wasn’t interested in what others thought of him. He got straight to the point, "What about you?" Jesus asked the disciples. "Who do you think I am?"
This question is as relevant today as it was 2,000 years ago.
A Christian rock-magazine reported an interview with Mike Portnoy, the drummer of a popular metal band. The interviewer asked, "Who do you think that Jesus Christ is?"
"Whoa, uh, this is a question for Kev," laughs Mike. " ... He’s got a pretty strong outlook on that question. I tend to go with the general consensus that he is God or was God or whatever. I’m not a very religious person, but I do believe in God, and I believe in Jesus Christ. To be honest, I’ve never been a very religious person, so that’s another question that I couldn’t answer from the bottom of my heart." (Heaven's Metal #42, page 24).
Mike Portnoy might be an exceptional drummer in a rock band, but he expressed what most think about Jesus. Jesus is God or was God or whatever. That’s something I can’t answer from the bottom of my heart. That means, I think Jesus was a real person, but he has no effect on my life whatsoever.
A student went to a university chaplain and asked him to explain what were the differences between Christianity and Judaism. She was in love with a Jewish student, and they were thinking about getting married. They talked about worship, rituals, festivals, customs, traditions, prayer and even God himself. Finally, she asked, "When it comes down to it, what is the one thing that makes Christians, Christian?"
The reply came, "The thing that makes us who we are is who Jesus is. Jesus Christ is Christianity. Other faiths have love; have beliefs about the good and the true. Only Christianity has Jesus."
We believe that God came in the flesh, as a Jew from Nazareth. We believe the way God saves is through Jesus. We believe that the Jewish carpenter’s son, who was born, lived briefly, died violently in his thirties, and rose from the dead, is God who has brought us forgiveness and hope. We believe that we have met God; we have met God as Jesus. We, along with Peter, confess, "You are the Messiah, the son of the living God."
Christianity is more than knowing biblical facts, or the teachings of the church. It is more than memorising Bible verses. It is even more than doing good things for others.
It is about a relationship – a relationship between God and us. How many people have said to me that everything they had learnt at confirmation classes didn’t make a great deal of difference to their lives at the time of their confirmation. In fact, a lot of what they learnt, had gone right over their heads. It was sometime later that they became aware of what Jesus was all about. Suddenly in some cases, and in others, more slowly, the penny dropped. It’s not that they were searching for more meaning in their lives and suddenly found Jesus. Rather they were minding their own business and from out of nowhere, God found them. The Holy Spirit finally got through to them and they could see in full technicolour detail that their faith is all about the relationship between God and them and how this relationship now changes everything – their attitudes and their relationship with their family and others.
A man tells how he was just biding his time in a church service, looking at his watch every now and then in order to keep himself awake during the sermon. He didn’t really know what the preacher was rattling on about. In the middle of his boredom, he heard just one sentence. That one sentence grabbed him, and he began to see his faith in a totally different light. He claimed that God opened his ears to hear that one sentence and things were never the same again.
When Peter made his confession, "You are the Messiah, the son of the living God" Jesus makes a point of telling him that this truth isn’t something that Peter had worked out for himself. Jesus said, "This truth did not come to you from any human being, but it was given to you directly by my Father in heaven".
It’s our sin-stained humanity that gets in the way and clouds our understanding of God. How can we have a relationship with God when we constantly hurt him, forget that he even exists, ignore his power and presence, deny any connection with him through what we say and do. In other words, we are downright awful and horrible to him. If we were like that to any of our human friends, they would soon exit any relationship with us. We need God's help.
God planned from the days of Adam and Eve to send Jesus to make things right again between himself and us. God closed the gap between us; has made us members of his family at our baptism; and reaffirms his relationship with us every time we go to Holy Communion. Whether we speak of God as we know him in the Old Testament, or see him stretched on a Roman cross, his attitude toward his people is always the same. His commitment and love are the same, and he is determined to establish a relationship with people who are unwilling even to acknowledge him. The Bible tells story after story of God reaching to people in love. We read about his patience with the people of Israel in the wilderness and his grace toward the thief on the cross.
We love God, we believe, because God first loved us in Jesus. Christianity is not the adherence to a set of rules, nor is it a set of ideas, a philosophy you might say, that leads to peace, harmony, inner peace, and good karma. It is a way of life, a way of walking with Jesus, a relationship. Christians are often looked at with a degree of scepticism by those who don’t know when we say we believe that Jesus rose from the dead and is present with us now, that he walks with us, and is closer to us than we are even to ourselves.
Mother Teresa was asked by a young man why she always talked about this Jesus stuff. He said he was going to work among the poor like her, do charity work, but without the Jesus baggage. Mother Teresa responded something like, "Go and work 20 years or a lifetime among the poorest of the poor. Then come back and tell me how you did it. I know that the only way I have been able to do it is because of Jesus." Her faith, her understanding of Jesus, gave her the ability to be a doer, a doer not just for a week or a season or a year, but for a lifetime. She was able to do work that would have turned off the bravest hearts because of her relationship with Jesus.
As we stand around the deathbed of someone we love – Jesus is with us. As we try to decide what direction to take and what is the right decision – Jesus is with us. As we struggle with disappointment, guilt, and depression – Jesus is with us. As we grieve over change in the church, or the lack of love in our family – Jesus is with us.
By his grace, we are able to say, "You are the Christ! You make all the difference in my life. Thanks!"
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