If you attend here regularly, you know we talk about these things:
· The only way to make our sins right and find true peace with God is by accepting Christ’s generous offer of grace and forgiveness.
· Christ can heal the wounds of sin
· The Holy Spirit works inside of us we are increasingly molded into the image of Christ.
· Our lives take on a meaning and purpose because of Christ in us, the hope of glory
· Christ alone is worthy of our worship.
But this only happens is Jesus is who He claimed to be. If Jesus was not real, or if he lied or was confused about who he was, then Christianity has nothing to offer that you can’t find in another worldview, a self-help shelf or a bottle. But if Jesus was who he claimed to be, then He matters in ways that nothing else does.[i]
This is what I want to address today – the reality of Jesus Christ. It is the foundation on which everything else is built. If we have grown up in church or been a Christian for a while, we can lose sight of how fantastic the biblical claim about Jesus really is.
· God made a good world; all of us have broken it. Over and over, we do the kinds of sinful things that destroy peace (shalom) with God, with others, and within.
· In an incredible act of love and grace, God came to earth as a human being in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, who died to save us from the penalty of our sins and restore peace between us and God. [ii]
· Then Jesus raised himself to life, demonstrating His power to do what He claimed He could do and showing us that because of Him, the dead can live again.
If you think that’s a fantastic claim today, so did those who lived with Jesus.
The Jews had been waiting for a Messiah (a Savior) since David. Time and again they ended up overrun and enslaved to other nations. By the first century, they had spent several hundred years convinced that the Spirit of God had been removed from them. They expected two key things from their Messiah: defeat the enemy and liberate Israel (in Jesus' day, that was Rome), and purify / rebuild the temple. Plenty of people claimed they were, in fact, this promised Messiah.
1. Judas Maccabeus160's BC, entered Jerusalem at the head of an army, purified the temple, destroyed altars to other gods, but was eventually killed in battle.
2. Judas (of Galilee),founder of the Zealots, led revolt against Romans AD 6 (Acts 5). It failed. He was crushed brutally.
3. Theudas (mentioned in Acts 5.36) claimed to be a Messiah, and led about 400 people to the Jordan River, where he would divide it to show his power. He was stopped and executed in AD 46.
4. The Anonymous Egyptian(Jew), with 30,000 unarmed Jews, did a reenactment of Exodus around AD 55. He led them to the Mount of Olives, where he claimed he would command the walls around Jerusalem to fall. His group was massacred by Procurator Antonius Felix, and he was never seen again.
5. Simon bar Kokhbaca. 135), founded a short-lived Jewish state that he ruled for 3 years before being defeated in the Second Jewish-Roman War. 580,000 Jewish people died.
No wonder John, while in jail awaiting his death, sent a message to his cousin, Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” This was John the Baptist, who once announced Jesus as, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”He needed to know if Jesus was the real deal. He had seen pretenders.Jesus replied by quoting Isaiah 29, which was about the coming Messiah:
“Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. And blessed are those who do not take offense in me.” (Luke 7)
That last line seems odd, but remember that the Jews were expecting a Messiah with a sword. When Jesus was received with palm branches when he entered Jerusalem, this was a not-so-subtle indication that the people thought he was Zealot, a Warrior King.This was not the case. In fact, Jesus left the judgment parts out when he quoted Isaiah’s Messianic passage to John. He basically told him, ‘Don’t let who I am compared to what you thought I should be trip you up.”[iii]
Then, the crucifixion. This appears to be a stunning setback suggesting that he was just another failed messiah. He had not freed them from Roman rule and had not restored the Temple as they expected. Now he was dead and his followers were hiding. And yet three days after Jesus’ death this incredible movement begins.
· The early Christians claimed they had seen a Resurrected Messiah at a time when no one believed that individuals would be resurrected. The Greeks thought the soul would finally be rid of the body. The Jews believed in the coming Resurrection where the entire world would be renewed, but they did not believe in the personal resurrection of individuals.
· They didn’t appoint a successor (which was a normal thing to do when a supposed Messiah died)
· The early Christians said they had more hope than ever before, not because Roman rule was gone but because they had been offered life in a Kingdom that was not of this world.
· They claimed that Jesus had set them free from a much greater problem than Roman rule – the just and eternal consequence of their sin.
· They claimed that the community of the church was now the temple in which God’s Spirit would dwell, and it was being restored as the people in it were transformed into the image of risen Christ who was at work inside them through His Spirit and His word.
· They changed their view of God into a Triune one (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). They went from, “The Lord our God is one” to, “The Lord our God is Three-in-One.”
· They worshipped Jesus at a time when worship of a human was blasphemous to the Jews and potentially traitorous to the Romans – which meant they had to be willing to die.
Why? What had happened to cause them to confidently make this claim? [iv]
It was the belief that Jesus had resurrected. He had shown He was the Christ, God in the flesh, by showing his mastery over death.
It turned “heartbroken followers of a crucified rabbi into the courageous martyrs and witnesses of the early church. This was the one belief that separated the followers of Jesus from the Jews and turned them into the community of the resurrection. You could imprison them, flog them, kill them, but you could not make them deny their conviction that “on the third day he rose again.” - Michael Green
Several years later, after a miraculous conversion that moved him from a killer of Christians to an apostle of Christ, Paul would write that the power and hope of Christ’s Resurrection is meant to bring us to life.[v]
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world… all of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts…because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus…” (Ephesians 2:1-10)
We are all in need of a Savior. As in the days of Jesus, today there are plenty of false Messiahs that arise, what Neil Gaimans calls “American Gods”: a new tax system, a higher minimum wage, better health care, bigger paychecks, the Keto diet, doctors, lovers, good jobs, good looks, influence, power, money, things…
These are substitute saviors.They claim to be able to free us from loneliness, from despair, from self-loathing, from meaninglessness. They do, in fact, offer something that will make us temporarily happy and may even be good– that’s the draw.
But substitutes will never set us free in the ways that matter most. They will never cleanse this temple from the stain of sin. They won’t free us from the sin that oppresses us. They don’t give our lives meaning. They don’t make us right with God. And when they fail us, we will appoint a successor that will let us down again. We know this. We’ve all been through the cycle.
If we really believe that something other than Jesus can save us, it will destroy us. If we look to our spouse/friends/jobs/money/. Health/sex/relationships, we will eventually become angry, cynical, disillusioned, hopeless. We will always think, “I can do better – I must, because I am still not happy. There’s a better savior out there.” And we will never find the solution, because substitute saviors cannot save us. They were never meant to. Titanic made the compelling nature of this lie powerful: “He saved me in every way I could be saved!” said Rose. No, he didn’t.
The prophet Jeremiah notes that the people “had forsaken [God], the spring of living water, and dug broken cisterns that hold no water.”That’s the problem with giving small “s” saviors a capital “S”. Little temporary saviors can only save us in little temporary ways. They may be cisterns in that they hold some kind of refreshing water, but they are broken cisterns in a broken world; they will run empty. We will remain thirsty.
Jesus offers to us what he offered to the woman at the well in Samaria: spiritual, refreshing water that raises us out of sin, despair and death and never run dry. In fact, the very things that were once a sign of the deadness and despair of sin can be the very things that are a testimony to the life-giving power of Christ. As Tim Keller says, because of Christ we are offered the hope that one day “everything sad will come untrue.”
The Crucifixion shows us how much God is willing to sacrifice for our good. The Resurrection of Christ shows us that Jesus has the power to do what He claimed. We, who are sinful, broken and so often wondering if there is any hope, have an answer.
“God so loved the world, that He gave His Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:16-17)
This is the heart of Christianity, and it is the hope of the Resurrection we will celebrate next Sunday.
RECOMMENDED RESOURCES ON THE PERSON AND WORK OF JESUS
Cold Case Christianity,J. Warner Wallace
The Reason for God, Timothy Keller
Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis
The Case for Christand The Case for the Real Jesus,Lee Strobel
The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus,by Gary Habermas and Mike Liconna
The Jesus I Never Knew,Phillip Yancey
What if Jesus Had Never Been Born?D. James Kennedy
Jesus Among Other Gods,Ravi Zacharias
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis (fiction)
The Sin Eater, Francine Rivers (fiction)
A.D. 30, Ted Dekker (fiction)
The Gospel of John(movie)
The Passion of the Christ(movie)
There was a symbolism to this that can be missed. It was a common custom in many lands in the ancient Near Eastto cover the path of someone thought worthy of honor. 2 Kings 9:13 reports that Jehu, king of Israel, was treated this way. The palm branch was a symbol of triumph and of victory, in Jewish tradition, e.g. Leviticus 23:40and Revelation 7:9. 1 Maccabees 13:51 (written around 100 BC) records a similar event: “On the twenty-third day of the second month, in the one hundred and seventy-first year, the Jews [led by Simon Maccabeus] entered it [the fortress of Jerusalem] with praise and palm branches and with harps and cymbals and stringed instruments and with hymns and songs, because a great enemy had been crushed and removed from Israel.” (https://www.biblestudytools.com/rsva/1-maccabees/13-51.html)
[i] By way of contrast, the historicity of the founder of other world religious does not carry the same level of importance in other major world religions. Buddhism does not rise and fall on the historical reality of Siddartha – which is good, because the earliest records start 2 to 3 centuries after his death, and some of the trusted manuscripts appear 1,000 years later. Hinduism does not rise and fall on the reality of anyone. It is not based on historical truth, but revealed principles. (If fact, it sees history as a weak point for other religions, because they become falsifiable.) Islam does not rise or fall on whether or not Mohammed rose from the dead, or was who he claimed he was. He was a prophet, not a Savior.
[ii]The death of Jesus was understood by the early Christians as a fulfillment of a covenant God had made centuries earlier. When God made a covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15 (and following), he used the standard form of what was called suzerain covenant-making. In typical fashion, Abraham killed some animals, cut them in pieces, and arranged them to walk through. Typically, both parties or just the weaker party would walk through the dissected animals as a way of saying, “If I break our covenant, may this be done to me as punishment.” But then only God, the stronger party, passed through (as a fiery pillar) – but never made Abraham, the weaker party, do the same.
By passing through the slaughtered animal, God was saying that if He didn’t bless Abraham and honor the covenant, God – the stronger, initiating party - would have to pay the penalty. That alone would be unusual, but that wasn’t the most incredible point. God was saying that if Abraham doesn’t keep the covenant, God would pay the penalty for Abraham.
This was unprecedented. God was clearly not a consumer god, paying attention and blessing us because we made him happy. God was a covenant god, but completely different from the wealthy, powerful lords of earth. He gave the rules, established the penalty of rule-breaking, then committed to paying that penalty for everybody.
What kind of God would do that? A God who arrives in the person of Jesus Christ.On the cross, Jesus fulfilled the conditions of the covenant by paying Abraham’s penalty. We commemorate this every time we partake in communion – His body broken, His blood spilled. The covenant must be honored. Someone must pay for breaking the agreement.
Read more at “The Only Thing That Counts,” http://nightfallsandautumnleaves.blogspot.com/2013/10/the-only-thing-that-counts-galatians-51.html
[iii] There are at least two key reasons Jesus performed miracles.
Miracles confirmed Jesus’ divine mission
· He “manifested His glory” at the marriage feast in Cana, so his disciples “believed in Him.” (John 2:11)
· "Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through Him, as you yourselves know. (Acts 2:22)
· “Even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father." (John 10:38)
Miracles confirmed the message of the gospel (Hebrews 2:1-4; John 2:18-21; Matthew 12:38)
”Then the Jews demanded of him, ‘What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’ The Jews replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?’ But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.” (John 2:18-21)
“...This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to itby signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” (Hebrews 2:1-4)
“Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, take your mat and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . ." He said to the paralytic, "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home." He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!"” (Mark 2:9-12)
[iv]“If we are to think in first-century Jewish terms, it is impossible to conceive what sort of religious or spiritual experience someone could have that would make them say that the kingdom of God had arrived when it clearly had not, that a crucified leader was the Messiah when he obviously was not, or that the resurrection occurred last month when it obviously did not.” - N.T. Wright
[v]The key arguments against the Resurrection have taken several forms:
The disciples stole the body and lied. A bunch of Hebrew fisherman overcame the guards of the world’s most powerful fighting force ( guards who would have been killed for dereliction of duty). And why lie? The lie brought death and persecution in the most horrible ways. That’s an odd outcome. Usually liars lie for their benefit, not to bring harm upon themselves.
The Romans took the body. For what purpose exactly? Is there any reason they wanted people to believe that Jesus was alive? This upstart new religion caused them a lot of worry. They could have just produced a body and ended it right there.
Jesus swooned.The professional executioners of the day missed this one. Then after several days of being wrapped in a suffocating shroud, a shattered and tortured Jesus rolled away a stone that normally required multiple men on the outside where they had a handhold, then overcame the guards.
Mass hallucinations? The Bible records there were over 500 witnesses, many of whom were still alive when the original accounts were written. The Romans and the Jews wanted to discount the movement, but they didn’t. It changed people’s lives. Cowards became heroes, people gave their lives in the most horrible of ways. Sawn in half, crucified upside down, stoned, drowned, burned..... As Clark Pinnock said, “Hypocrites do not become martyrs.”
Substitution Interpretation. It wasn’t Jesus on the cross. This is generally the Muslim belief. “That they said (in boast), "We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah";- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not:- Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise.” — Qur'an, sura 4 (An-Nisa) ayat 157–158 Wikipedia offers a good overview with links to follow. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_views_on_Jesus%27_death#Substitution_interpretation