Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Welcome back, looking at the divinity and humanness of our Lord today. Hope it will inspire you to ask that question that Jesus presents to His disciples ‘Who do say that I am?’ and then to meditate on your response.
Sermon No 67
Who Do You Say That I Am? A question to consider
A sermon preached by Roger Laing (Parish Evangelist) on Sunday 4th March 2018 at the 8 & 10 am Eucharist Services at St. Paulinus Church, Crayford, Kent. (Based on John 2:13-22)
One of the fundamental questions that we all must wrestle with in terms of our own personal faith is the question about Jesus and who He was? And who He is?
‘Who do you say that I am?’ was a question that was posed in Matthews gospel by Jesus to His disciples (in the region of Caesarea, Philippi, which is in the modern-day area of the Golan Heights), which was answered by Simon Peter, who replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God’ (Matthew 16:23 NJKV)
And it is this question that I want us to reflect on this morning. For if Jesus was in this place here, right now, (of course He is a spiritual sense), and asked you that same question, what would your reply be?
It is a question that is at the very heart of our faith, and is a question that must be considered, and a conclusion drawn, in order that we might come to faith in Jesus, or alternatively we have to dismiss Him completely as a fraud! For there is no other credible alternative! As CS Lewis put it in his book ‘Mere Christianity’, Lewis uses what became known as the ‘Trilemma’ argument where Jesus is either ‘Lord, liar or lunatic!’ (CS Lewis, Mere Christianity)
I was prompted to reflect on this very question myself recently, in the context of other faiths, and how difficult it can be on two counts, firstly in coming to a conclusion in the first place about who Jesus was, and secondly, if we are to say that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, then where does that leave us in terms of other faiths and how we might relate to them or with others of no faith.
Yesterday (Saturday 3rd March 2018), a great man called Billy Graham was laid to rest in the presence of over 2,000 mourners including the American president at his home in Charlotte, USA.
Now Billy Graham was perhaps the most influential preacher and evangelist of his generation, maybe even of all time. And it is difficult now to imagine the influence that this man had in the prime of his life, for at his height, he filled stadiums such as Wembley to capacity with people eager to hear his message of salvation.
Billy Graham was an extraordinary man of God and conducted many rallies throughout his life and these rallies become known as ‘crusades’, a term that seems quite outdated now and even offensive to others.
His headstone, will be inscribed, at his own request, with the words, ‘Preacher of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.’ And will also refer to a passage from the John’s gospel, which states, ‘Jesus answered, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me’ (John 14:6) Powerful words, which really leave little room for debate as far as Graham was concerned at least, on who Jesus was.
His daughter Ann Lotz, when asked about her father’s passing said, that her father’s death had an important meaning and is quoted as saying these words, ‘I believe that this is a shot across the bow from heaven, I believe God is saying, wake up church. Wake up world. Wake up Ann. Jesus is coming’ (quote from AFP, BBC News 02/03/2018)
Now this might sound a little over dramatic but bear in mind the current world events and news in general over a range of subjects such as sexuality and gender and how they might affect our core beliefs and doctrines. And all this exasperated by the plethora of other faiths on offer to anyone seeking an alternative spiritual experience, making any decision on that most important of questions, ever the more difficult.
Our gospel reading that we heard this morning tells us of Jesus and how on His arrival in Jerusalem attends the most holy of places in the Temple for the feast of Passover. (a festival that commemorates the deliverance of the Jews from slavery in Egypt, when the angel of death ‘passed over’ Jewish homes whose doorposts were sprinkled with blood – Exodus 12:23-27)
And it is through this account that we get a good glimpse of Jesus and who He was on many different levels.
Now just one of those levels that I want to concentrate our minds to this morning is the real humanness of Jesus, leaving aside any divine attributes for a moment, it is that humanity that can help in bringing his divinity into focus.
One of the big debates over many centuries was the issue of who Jesus was and the connection, if any, between any humanness and a divine nature, and this relationship went onto be known, in theological terms, as the hypostatic union. A phrase taken from the Greek word hypostasis, meaning the ‘substance’ of Jesus, or in other words, How Jesus was made up.
Our current doctrine and belief is that Jesus was a person who was fully God, yet fully man at the same time. Now this union is quite a difficult concept to figure out, let alone try and explain it to others, and it is precisely why, the nature of that union defies human comprehension, that this union is sometimes referred to as the ‘mystical union’.
But what ever we call it, as Christians we must accept that Jesus, as well as being divine, did have an element of humanness. And nowhere better was it displayed here in this passage from John when Jesus cleanses the temple.
So, what do we see? Well we see an angry Jesus, a passionate Jesus, and what appears to be a violent and determined Jesus. We see a Jesus that reflects the behaviour that on first sight, we might see on any night out in a city centre environment. A behaviour that doesn’t appear very ‘godly’?
This is a Jesus that displays all the character traits of a human just like you and me. This is not the Jesus that we commonly see portrayed in Christian literature, healing the sick or sitting amongst the homeless and hungry distributing food.
As a police officer we tend to see things from a slightly different perspective, so to try and put the passage into a more contemporary scene, I have imagined the scene in terms of a typical 999 call for assistance, which would probably go something like this.
Control – Sierra Oscar 22 are you available for an I graded call? (immediate response)
Officer – Yes, go ahead
Control – We have a report of a large disturbance at the Jewish Temple on Pilgrim Street. Access will be via the Huldah gates in Southern Wall
Officer – Yes, no problem, any further details?
Control – Yes, we have a number of calls on this one, with reports of a man going wild and behaving aggressively towards others inside the temple, possible mental health issues. There are animals running free and damage being caused to property.
Officer – Received, Any information on any suspects?
Control – Yes, the main suspect believed to have caused the disturbance is an IC1 male, 5’ 10” tall, aged around 30 years old, slim build with full beard and wearing a white toga. The male is understood to be known as Jesus of Nazareth
Officer – Any intel on that male’s details?
Control – Yes, He is known not currently wanted, but often refers to himself as the ‘Son of God’ and speaks both Latin and Aramaic. but he does show warning markers and flashes ‘W’ Whiskey
Officer – Roger that, any weapons seen?
Control – Yes, a witness has stated that the suspect was seen armed with a weapon and has used that weapon against members of the public present.
Officer – In that case can I request one more unit and a taser unit be deployed to the scene asap?
Control – Yes, received, you have Trojan unit 52 en-route. ETA 4 minutes.
Officer – Roger that, making my way now.
So, picture the scene for yourselves on arrival, Jesus enters the temple and is angry. He is angry because the Temple, the most sacred and revered place in Judaism is being used as market place. It is filled with Jewish traders taking advantage of the festival and making as much money as possible selling animals for sacrificial purposes. And not only that, they are making further profit by utilising an exchange rate mechanism where only the Jewish or Tyrian coinage could be used, due to their higher silver content,
In His frustration, Jesus becomes so angry that he makes a weapon, known as ‘whip of cords’ and physically drives out the traders from the sacred space.
Jesus turns over the tables and sets the animals free. I guess it must have been an absolute chaotic scene!
And I suppose if I had’ve been deployed to a similar incident as a law- enforcer, I would probably be looking at arresting Jesus myself for a number of offences such as public order, criminal damage, assault and possession of an offence weapon. This was real life at the sharp end.
And so, this display of Jesus’ real anger and frustration can really connect with perhaps our own lives in facing the problems of this world on a daily basis, but this debate over Jesus’ ‘humanness’ is not something new, it has been present, as I have suggested throughout history, and if you want to look deeper into the argument then you would do well to delve into one of the more famous of those debates on the ‘substance of Jesus’ by looking at the 5th century show downs between two Bishops called Nestorius and Cyril.
However, I have highlighted the human nature of Christ primarily because it is an essential part of any study in order to draw any conclusion on who Jesus was and is.
For in this present world there are many religious groups that understand Jesus to be something quite different. And we need to be aware of those differences, if only in having a passing understanding of them and what they will argue, and try and persuade us to believe.
And I make no excuse in highlighting just two of those religious groups namely, Islam and The Watchtower Movement, commonly known as The Jehovah’s Witnesses (J. W’s). For contrary to what they might suggest, their understanding of Jesus is something quite different to that of the orthodox Christian faith.
Islam, for example, whilst recognising the existence of Jesus and revering him as a Holy Prophet, do not observe him as a divine being in any shape or form. In-fact on the contrary, the Qur’an clarifies this in chapter 5, verse 75 where we can read, ‘The Messiah Jesus was only a messenger: other messengers had gone before him. His mother was a virtuous woman. They both ate food like other mortals. See how clear we make these signs for them’ (Qur’an, chapter 5, Verse 75). So, the Qur’an in this and other passages contradicts Christian understanding on the basis that anything that has a need like a human being cannot be God (www.irera.org/jesus)
Likewise, the J. W’s, although like Islam recognise Jesus as a prophet, they do not believe either in His divinity, precisely because of what they purport to be his ‘created human nature’, and therefore conclude he cannot be equal to the Father. (pg. 41, What does the Bible really teach, JW.ORG)
There are of course many other religions, faiths and cults that conclude different understandings, and you can research them yourselves should you so wish?
But in this gospel reading as well as seeing quite clearly the humanness of our Lord, if we look beyond that physical display of anger and violence, we can see His divine nature too.
The nature of that anger, so clearly displayed, occurs because Jesus is so passionate for that reverence to His Father, and it is only He Himself that has the right and authority to regulate any worship to God.
And it will not surprise you to learn, that the act of cleansing the temple is foreseen too by the prophet Malachi in the late 5th century BC when he tells of the coming of Jesus, Malachi says, ‘And the Lord whom you seek, will suddenly come to his temple, For He is like refiners fire and like launders soap, He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver’ (Malachi 3:1-3)
But the key part of the passage that links both that human and divine natures comes right at the end of our reading when Jesus is questioned by the Jewish leaders about His authority and Jesus says, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up’ (John 2:19), Jesus of course was not talking about a physical temple of stone, as the Jewish leaders in their ignorance presumed, but he was referring to His own body by resurrection.
And there are of course other references to the divinity of Jesus scattered throughout John’s gospel. (John 10:30 we read ‘I and the Father are One’ (John 10:30), in John 14:9 we read ‘Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father’ (John 14:9) And to those that doubted Him Jesus said, ‘Even though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that the Father is in Me and I in Him’ (John 10:38)
So where do we go from here, if we truly believe Jesus to be the Lord? For I accept it does present some difficulty in today’s world, especially in communicating the gospel to other faith groups. Well consider it an opportunity, and never be afraid to speak of Jesus as Lord, to whoever that may be. And so, in consequence, interfaith dialogue becomes more paramount than ever in keeping that line of communication open, for Jesus is not just Lord of Christians, but He is Lord of all humankind.
At Billy Grahams funeral his son Franklin said, ‘The world with all its political correctness would lead you to believe that many roads lead to God, but that’s just not true. Jesus is the only way’ (https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/02/us/billy-gra-funeral/index.html)
Brothers and sisters, seek out the truth for yourself today, look at both the historical and documented biblical evidence and imagine that Jesus is asking you that question today, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ And hopefully you will conclude that Jesus is Lord of all.