THE STORY – CHAPTER 25
Readings: Psalm 96:1-9, Isaiah 9:6-7, Matthew 16:13-21, Hebrews 1:1-3
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, October 9, 2016
Last week in our worship service we were focusing on New Testament passages that appear in chapter 24 of "The Story" that picture Jesus as being no ordinary man. We thought about His extraordinary teaching and extraordinary actions and even the peculiar way He invited us to remember Him – by sharing together bread and wine within the context of a community of faith.
Chapter 25 of “The Story” features a number of passages that reveal to us that Jesus had a unique relationship to God, so close that traditional christian theology claims Him as being God's only begotten Son who came to us on a mission of redemption.
At the start of the Old Testament we saw how people had fallen away from being the amazing creation that God intended, but that God has never given up on us. He has sent teachers and prophets and Kings and messengers to call us back into relationship.
Now we are looking at the New Testament. In the words of Hebrews 1:1-2 “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days God has spoken to us by His Son.” The great claim of Christianity is that Jesus Christ was more than just any ordinary man, but that in Him, God was stepping into the circle of time and space as an act of personal intervention for the salvation of all creation.
The claim that Jesus is the “Son of God" is a remarkable one to make. We would be foolish to do so, if it were not a claim that Jesus makes for Himself. In the gospels 80 times Jesus refers to himself as "The Son of Man". In the Old Testament, particularly the Book of Daniel, "Son of Man" is a term that refers to a "Divine Being". In John"s gospel, Jesus frequently uses the phrase “I am.” “I am the light of the world" "I am the bread of life" "I am the true Vine". The phrase “I am" was one reserved exclusively for God.
He claimed that no one was good except God Himself, (Mark 10:18) yet constantly showed a goodness in His work, words, and actions that demonstrated He was the real deal. He forgave sins, a prerogative that only belonged to God. He claimed to be greater than Jonah, Abraham, Solomon, the Temple, the Sabbath and even John the Baptist, about whom He said; “Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11)
He predicted His betrayal, His death and His resurrection. He raised people from death. He showed an authority that even the highest religious authorities could not dispute, such as when He threw the money changers out of the temple.
During His temptation the Devil challenged Him by taunting Him; “If You are the Son of God...” Jesus responds by telling the Devil “Worship God and God alone”. During many exorcisms demons cry out "What do you want with us Son of God?” It is ironic that they
recognized His divine nature before those who claimed to be on the right side of the spiritual equation!
At the time of His crucifixion we read that “When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, "Surely He was the Son of God!" (Mat 27:54)
Throughout the New Testament letters we see how the earliest church preached the message that Jesus Christ was God's Son, uniquely related to God. “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” (Hebrews 4:14). John's first letter explains the whole purpose of his testimony. “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1Jo 5:13 NIV)
Jesus didn't just tell people how they could find everlasting life. He actually claimed to give life Himself. John 6:40 "For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die...'" (John 11:25)
In his famous book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis makes this statement, "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 a man who says he is a poached egg--or he would be the devil of hell. You must take your choice. Either this was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.”
A key passage, that appears in Matthew, Luke and Mark's gospel, is the moment when Jesus asks the disciples “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13). The disciples offer some stock answers. Some say you are like John the Baptist, here to teach us how to turn back to God, or maybe You are a wonder worker like Elijah... here to confront the powers of evil, of maybe you are a prophet like Jeremiah, here to challenge social corruption and call us to holiness!
Jesus turns the question completely around and makes it ultra-personal. "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" In any journey of Christian discipleship that is the ultimate question every one of us needs to come to terms with. There comes a point when other peoples opinions are useless. That moment when you are put on the spot and God speaks to your heart and says, “Look, I know what everybody else is saying about me. But what about you?Where are we in our relationship?”
For those first disciples it was a scary moment. They had heard His claims. They understood that to identify Him as being more than just what 'everybody else was saying about Him, meant they were being called into a deeper level of commitment than they had ever dared imagine. It is only Peter who has the courage to make this declaration. Matthew 16:16 “Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."
I encourage you, particularly if you have never done so, to allow God's Spirit to search your heart with that question, “Who do you say I am?” Set against the background of our generation with all its different options for belief, from secularism to atheism and materialism, from Islam to Buddhism to communism, whatever background in which you find yourself, consider looking closely at Christ and letting Him ask you that question, “Who do you say that I am?”
C.S. Lewis, said there were only four realistic responses. I think actually there's five. The fifth is that you can dismiss the whole story of Scripture as being made up stories and claim that Jesus never said all that stuff in the first place... but really, given the evidence, that fifth option is simply not realistic.
The four remaining options are that Jesus was just a good man, that He was a mad man, that He was a bad man, or that He was exactly who He claimed to be, the Son of God who came to bring the gift of God's salvation to all creation.
JUST A GOOD MAN
Throughout history there have been amazing moral teachers and philosophers, many of whom walked the talk and have left us great examples to follow. But none have had the influence that He has had. His teaching was different. Sometimes He would preface it by saying, “You have heard it said, but I tell you...” He taught with an authority that those who listened recognized. The way He acted was different. He didn't just talk about loving, He embodied love and redefined it.
His abilities were different. Who else fed 5000? Who else walked on water? Who else appeared on a mountaintop with Moses and Elijah? His life was a fulfillment of Scripture. We have talked while studying the Story of an “Upper Story” and a “Lower Story”. In Jesus the “Upper Story” of God's purposes steps into the “Lower Story” of our lives.
And as we have seen, the claims He made for Himself were different than those made by any other. He was way more than just a good man! The quote I gave earlier from Lewis concludes with the observation... “But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.”
Whilst lunatics can attract a following, they usually create other lunatics. Charles Manson turned his disciples into murderers. Hitler released a vein of cruelty in people through fear and nationalistic propaganda and scapegoating his opponents. Stalin lifted up communism as an answer to inequality, whilst lifting himself up into a position of towering dominance and control.
Scripture does claim that the foolishness of God is greater than the wisdom of humankind, but such divine foolishness is a glorious thing to witness! Jesus inspired people to be better than they believed they could ever be. He took everybody from fishermen to prostitutes, from slaves to rulers, and released in them a potential that they never dreamed existed. That is not the work of a mad man but a healer. So was he a...
A fraud could never have pulled off all the miracles He performed. He called out the dishonest and the hypocrite and the player. A fraud would never give His life for His beliefs in the way that Jesus did. His humility was real. His grace was amazing. His breadth of welcome was outside of anything anybody had ever experienced. He became the standard against which all others are measured.
The only other option, if He was not just a good man, nor a mad man, nor a bad man is to conclude that …
HE WAS EXACTLY WHO HE CLAIMED TO BE.
Peter declared “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." That answer changes everything. Jesus tells Peter that was the right answer.
Chapter 25 of “The Story” concludes with Jesus entering into Jerusalem, welcomed by Palm Sunday crowds chanting “Hosanna, Hosanna” and asking themselves “Who is this?” Jesus spends much of the final week of His life teaching in the temple. Those who had their minds set against Him could not see beyond the labels of mad, bad and dangerous. One of His own decides to betray Him.
The stage is set for the hour of darkness. Although God repeatedly throughout history gave the nation of Israel clues that the Messiah would come, for the most part they missed the fact that Jesus was God's provision for restoring their relationship to all that God promised for their lives.
Canon Michael Green writes; “What are we going to make of this claim laid before us, that Jesus is Son of God? In the light of His character and teaching, His behavior and miracles, His fulfillment of prophecy and His astonishing claims, what are we going to say? He backed the whole thing up with a death such as the world has never seen, and, unlike any other person before or since, a resurrection from the grave.”
It all takes us right around to that very personal and very probing question that Jesus invites us to consider “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” To God be the glory! Amen.
The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.