Last week, we started a conversation about fundamental truths of life with a simple question, “Who is God?” We worked out an answer believing that, “God is the Creator of all life who imprinted His image of goodness and love upon us and with great love continually seeks us; desiring that we would love Him and be good to one another.” I asked you to use this past week to meditate on our belief and to put that belief into practice by loving God and being good to one another. What you believe matters enormously. Our beliefs become evident in our behavior. How we behave determines what our life will be.
In our journey through fundamental beliefs, we began with God and now, as a Christian outpost in the world, we need to come to terms with our next simple question, “Who is Jesus?” I watched a video the other day that asked this question, “Who is Jesus?” Here are some of the replies.
- He was born on Christmas Day
- He was a guy, groovy like Gandhi
- He was a man with long hair and a beard
- He is “fictionary”
- He was a guy who was probably made up
- He is kind of a guy people have in their imagination to help them cope with things in their life
- I think he really existed and was a little bit crazy
- He is my savior
- He is definitely somebody to live by
- He is a savior sent by God to pay for our sins so that we can have eternal life
- He was a man who lived a long time ago and had some good ideas
- He is just someone out there and I believe in him. He is someone you have to pray to him and have faith that he is there. I do not know how to describe him.
“Who is Jesus, indeed?”
“Who is Jesus,” may be at first a simple question that is difficult to answer and we may not know where to begin. Instead, let us say we started out by me asking you a much simpler question to answer, “Who are you?” Given that question, I suspect most of us would respond with our name. Depending on the circumstances in which the question is asked, we add to that our profession or a title. If we were at the scene of a traffic accident and a police officer asked, “Who are you?” we might answer, “I am a witness.” We meet hundreds of people who tell us who they are and we accept their response on face value. There is no need to see if their own testimony is true. Go to a restaurant and the server will come to your table and say, “Hello, my name is George and I will be taking care of you today.” We accept their testimony. In some cases, we do not accept someone’s testimony of their identity until evidence confirms it is true. In my prior 33 years with the US Government, every five years I filled out page after page of questions seeking information about me from me to answer the overall question, “Who are you?” Then armed with my responses, government investigators fanned out across the country to see if what I said was true. The government then used random drug tests and polygraph examinations throughout my career to supplement its investigations. My testimony alone to the question, “Who are you?” was not sufficient. The government needed its own evidence to confirm what I said about myself was true.
How does our discussion on answering the question, “Who are you?” help us to answer the question, “Who is Jesus?” It helps because we can begin by examining Jesus’ answer to the question, “Who are you?” and then see what evidence confirms his answer as true.
From our New Testament reading in the prologue to the Book of Revelation, the author, presumed to be the Apostle John, writes about the revelation of Jesus Christ. In those opening lines, John records these words of Jesus, “I am the Alpha and the Omega.” John later wrote in Chapter 22 of Revelation Jesus’ words, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end." Jesus uses here a phrase, an idiom, indicating He is complete. Using the Greek alphabet, He simply says there is nothing that precedes Him, the alpha, and there is nothing after him, the omega. He is the beginning and the end. This sense of completeness is not a new concept. The Old Testament book of Isaiah, we have the words from God, “I am the first and I am the last.” Jesus’ testimony then is that God and he are complete, the first and the last. For that to be true then, God and Jesus must be one. In an interview then, we might initially respond to the question, “Who is Jesus?” by saying, “Jesus is God.” While this answer helps make the connection between Jesus and God, it may not be helpful to many seeking understanding; so we must press forward.
As we look closer at our passage from Revelation, we read John giving glory to Jesus as he “who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood.” Blood is a physical substance suggesting there is another dimension to Jesus beyond being God, who is Spirit. As we look elsewhere for Jesus’ testimony, we come to a scene on a hill called Golgotha. There we find Jesus nailed to a cross and looking down at those around him. He saw the woman who was his mother and a disciple whom he loved. He said to one of the women, “Woman, this is your son.” To the disciple, he said, “This is your mother.” A short while later, those surrounding Jesus believed he was dead but a soldier seeking evidence pierced Jesus in the side with a spear. Water and blood flowed from him. The evidence from the testimony of Jesus, through his words to his mother and through his body itself, was that Jesus was human; a person. Then “Who is Jesus?” We must then add to our answer, “Jesus is the personal union of God and man.” Knowing Jesus lived a human existence is powerful and helpful to us because then we know he personally understands the challenges of life. For others, this is a hard concept, God and man, so we must continue forward to see what else Jesus says to bring comfort to all.
In Revelation, 1:5, we read again that John called Jesus, “the faithful witness.” What then do we find in Jesus’ own testimony about being a witness or prophet. In the Gospel of John, Chapter 8, we read that the Jewish leadership was upset with Jesus. John wrote, “25 They [Jews] said to him [Jesus], “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Why do I speak to you at all? 26 I have much to say about you and much to condemn; but the one who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” Jesus testimony is then that he speaks words he heard as a witness, a prophet, or messenger sent from God. Jesus’ testimony is courageous because he delivers these words as he faces a hostile crowd bent on killing him. Jesus’ testimony then is that he is a willing messenger.
We would want to know more though. What is central message? We find Jesus’ testimony is the Gospel of Luke on this point. Jesus said to a crowd of people from his hometown that He was fulfilling this message, these words, in their presence, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Think about His words. Suppose you were a prisoner and were just unexpectedly set free. Do you think you would be joyful? Suppose you were blind and suddenly could see. Do you think you would rejoice? Suppose you saw no future, no life beyond finding the next scrap of food and unexpectedly a banquet is set before you. Do you think you would have hope? It is this sense of joy and hope Jesus declares He is bringing as the willing messenger. The street interviewer asks us, “Who is Jesus?” We might now respond, “Jesus is the personal union of God and man who serves as the willing messenger of God’s joy and hope for us.” The central message of Jesus is about good news.
While it is uplifting to our spirits that God chose to give us a message of joy and hope. We humans are really only capable of producing happiness; a sense of positive or content feelings generated through a variety of ways. “The difference between shallow happiness and a deep sustaining joy is sorrow. Happiness lives where sorrow is not. When sorrow arrives, happiness dies. It can’t stand the pain. Joy, on the other hand, …can withstand all grief.” Joy and hope are eternal gifts from God. However, unless we live rightly, these Godly gifts are just ideas. We humans need ideas played out in the life of another person for them to become real. Therefore, we go back to Scripture and find in our passage from Revelation that John described Jesus as a king who made us to be a kingdom. As a king, Jesus set the framework for life in the kingdom. He set the model for behavior but he was far different from an earthly king who rules by force. Jesus’ self-testimony behavior found in joy and hope was this, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart” [Mt. 11:29]. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” [John 10:11]. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” [Jn. 15:5]. Finally, Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life” [Jn. 14:6]. Jesus humbles himself to guide us in life; that is the kind of king he is and the type of behavior he leads us to imitate. He loves us sacrificially. He leads us. He reassures us that his way is true and yields life lived in joy and hope. As we build our answer to the question, “Who is Jesus?” we realize that in Jesus, he gives the divine message of joy and hope and then leads us in human ways to live our life in joy and hope. We, therefore, would need to update our answer to the interviewer’s question, “Who is Jesus?” perhaps in this manner. “Jesus is the personal union of God and man who serves as the willing messenger of God’s joy and hope for us and the loving mentor who leads us to abundant life.”
Listening to our response, we might be satisfied that we have helped others understand, “Who is Jesus?” We have. However, our response is self-testimony from Jesus. As I said earlier, the self-testimony of someone waiting on us in a restaurant does not require proof. The self-testimony of someone working in a national security position requires substantial proof. What then is required for someone whose self-testimony is that He and God are one? How great must the proof be when that same person says, “Your sins are forgiven.” “Follow me?” In our New Testament reading, we have a starting point. In prologue to Revelation, we read Jesus described as the “firstborn of the dead” and as he who “freed us from our sins by his blood.” The first phrase, “firstborn of the dead,” suggests to us that Jesus lived, died, and lived again. The second phrase, “freed us from our sins by his blood,” suggests that there was purpose in Jesus’ death and it was to serve us.
As we go back into Scripture, we read that Jesus provided some important self-testimony about these critical points. He said to his disciples, “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am.” Those words are powerful words to speak, “I am who I am.” Those words represent the unmistakable identity of God. Moses, standing before the presence of God asked, “What name shall I give to the people who sent me?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” With the divine power and presence of God in a human frame, what things did Jesus intend to tell his disciples ahead of time to evidence his name? These words are just part of Jesus’ testimony of what was to come, “One of you will betray me.” “Peter, you will disown me three times.” “Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.” Jesus testimony paints a powerful picture of what was to come. However, it is still just his testimony. What testimony is there that validates the authenticity of what he said? It is this. After Jesus told these things to his disciples, Jesus was taken by force from them. He was beaten, flogged, nailed to a cross, stabbed in the side with a spear, died, and buried. “19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.” Jesus had said, “I am one who testified for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.” The resurrection of Jesus validates all claims he ever made because it demonstrates the power of God in Him. Because Jesus rose from the dead, it means that all of Jesus’ words are true. Therefore, what we read in gospels are true. Jesus came to intercede for us. He came from God to bring us back to God. He came to take our sins and in return give us eternal life with God.
“Who is Jesus?” What would you say?
- He was born on Christmas Day
- He was a guy, groovy like Gandhi
- He was a man with long hair and a beard
“Who is Jesus?” I think we could confidently answer the interviewer’s question, we could answer a question from a neighbor, and we could start a conversation with someone with great confidence. “Jesus is the personal union of God and man who willingly serves as the living messenger of joy and hope for us, the loving mentor who leads us to abundant life, and the resurrected mediator taking our sin and giving us eternal life.” This week, I encourage you to take time to pray about “Who is Jesus?” and imprint the answer to that question on your heart, act in a manner that makes your beliefs real, live a life that expresses joy and hope at every opportunity, and make evident your testimony to others. Amen and Amen.