Monday, 8 February 2016

Jesus - before, now and then (part 2)

The actor Richard Harris is one of Limerick’s most famous sons.  He explained that ‘Jesus is not just a word that I use to swear with.’  Indeed he isn’t.  He is the man who has turned the world upside-down and inside-out.  What was so special about him?
Jesus was born to a virgin
I was going to begin by saying that no one else has been born to a virgin.  However, with modern methods of IVF that may no longer actually be true.  But he was not born with the aid of a man.  He was conceived by the Holy Spirit.
Belief in the virgin birth goes back to the book of Isaiah, where we read that a virgin or young woman) will give birth to a child, and he shall be called Immanuel (meaning ‘Yahweh with us’).  Both Matthew and Luke confirm this in their birth narratives.
The concept of Jesus being born to a virgin began to be attacked to the eighteenth century, and there is a great deal of scepticism about this important doctrine.  I was listening to the radio and recognised the voice of an old friend, a theologian who seems to no longer believe in the virgin birth.  Personally, I can’t understand why this is so hard to accept.  If we look around at creation and see the fingerprints of God, why do we not think that God could create a child without the aid of a father?
The virgin birth matters because it points to an important reality.  Jesus is uniquely both God and human.  His mother was a woman, and yet he is uniquely the Son of God.  He is the only one who can stand as God’s unique Saviour, who dies before the God as a sacrifice for humanity.
The Hidden years
If I was writing a biography of a famous person I would include plenty of details about his childhood.  However, the gospels only include one story about the boy Jesus.  Yet there are things we can gather about how he grew up.
He was an older brother (cf. Mark 3:31), he was conscious of his relationship with his heavenly Father (Luke 2:49), he was obedient to his parents (Luke 2:51), he learned a trade from his step-father and he grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men (Luke 2:52).
His baptism
While the gospels do not tell us much about Jesus’ childhood they spend most of their time on the three years of his public ministry. This public ministry begins with Jesus being baptised by John the Baptist.
The baptism of John signified the forgiveness of sins.  But why would Jesus need to be baptised if he had never sinned?  In Jesus’ baptism he was identifying himself with sinful humanity, as he would later do by dying on the cross to take the punishment for our rebellion.
The words spoken by the Father at Jesus’ baptism are significant.  ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased’ (Mark 1:11).  These words echo Psalm 2, a psalm which speaks of the enthronement of God’s king.  It appears that at this time the Father was installing the Son as king of his kingdom.
Tempted in every way, yet without sin
Following Jesus’ baptism he was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1).  Jesus was being tempted to take a different path than the one that would lead to the cross.  Whereas Adam failed when tempted in the garden of Eden Jesus remains obedient.  When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time (Luke 4:13).
The writer to the Hebrews reminds us that because [Jesus] himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted (Hebrews 2:18).  Wayne Grudem explains, ‘If Jesus had not been a man, he would not have been able to know by experience what we go through in our temptations and struggles in this life.  But because he has lived as a man, he is able to sympathize more fully with us in our experiences.’ He was tempted in every way yet he never sinned (Hebrews 4:15).
A ministry of compassion and truth
Jesus was often moved by compassion.  In fact there is a word used in the gospels, that is translated ‘compassion’, that is only ever used there of Jesus, or people who act like Jesus, such as the Good Samaritan and Father of the Prodigal Son.  He was uniquely compassionate.  He was also a teacher of unshakable conviction who taught with unique authority.
He performed many miracles.  He healed people and drove out demons.  But preaching was central to what he was about.  He said to Simon and his companions “Let us go somewhere else—to nearby villages—so that I can preach there also. That is why I have come” (Mark 1:38).
His preaching focused on the kingdom of God.  This kingdom is not a geographical area, but rather God’s reign over God’s world.  The prophet Isaiah had proclaimed the good news that God would establish his reign personally.   Jesus preaches that this time has arrived.  In his ministry God’s reign is been seen.
The appropriate response to the teaching of King Jesus is to repent and believe the good news (Mark 1:15).  Jesus calls from lives where we live simply for ourselves and to live under his loving rule.   We now live and speak as ambassadors of King Jesus!
As those who live under the Lordship of Christ we will want to imitate his compassion.  We should be moved when we see suffering around us.  Yet we must also remember that he came to share a message.  If we are slow to speak the good news we are ignoring humankind’s greatest need, which is to be restored to God.
Jesus knew that he was God
I am not sure which famous atheist it was who said that if Jesus thought that we would worship him as a god he would turn in his grave.  Yet the clear testimony of the gospels is that Jesus did believe he was God.
He did things that only God can do.  When a paralysed man was lower through roof by his friends Jesus looks at him and declares¸ “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  This prompts some teachers of the law, who were sitting there, to think to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that?  He’s blaspheming!  Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:6-7).
Jesus calms a storm by simply speaking a word to it.  This prompts the disciples to ask, “Who is this even the wind and the waves obey him?” (Mark 4:41).  The Psalms say that it is only God who can calm a storm.  ‘You are ruler over the surging seas; when its waves mount up, you still them’ (Psalm 89:9). 
When Jesus told his Jewish opponents that Abraham had seen his day, they exclaimed, “You are not fifty years old . . . and you have seen Abraham!”(John 8:57).  He responds, using the very words that God had used when he identified himself to Moses at the burning bush; when God explained, ‘I AM who I AM’ (Ex. 3:14). “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58).  His opponents knew the significance of this claim as can be seen by their reaction: … they picked up stones to stone him . . . (John 8:59). 
Near the end of John’s Gospel the risen Jesus appears to Thomas. John records that Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28)—it is fitting that this gospel that had opened declaring Jesus to the Word who was God (John 1:1) should end on a similar note, with a declaration of Jesus’ divinity.
Jesus came to die
While the gospel writers give us little about Jesus’ early life, focus on three years of public ministry and give detailed attention to the events surrounding his death.  Mark devotes six of his sixteen chapters to the week leading up to the crucifixion.  A chaplain in an Irish University told wrote in the college paper that the death of Jesus is not the crux of Christianity, nothing could be further from the truth.
Understanding Jesus’ death is essential to understanding his life.  Jesus saw himself as the suffering servant of Isaiah 53.  He taught his disciples saying that “the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and his give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).  In the Garden of Gethsemane we can see the agony as Jesus anticipates the cross.  He shuddered not just at the physical pain that awaited him but at the fact that he would be separated from his Father’s presence, and prayed “Abba, Father . . . everything is possible for you.  Take this cup from me.  Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36).  The cup that Jesus is referring to is the cup of God’s wrath that is spoken of in Isaiah 51:17.  Jesus was going to endure the full weight of God’s righteous anger at the rebellion of humankind.   The apostle Paul would later summarise the whole of the Christian message by saying, ‘I preach Christ crucified.’
Conclusion – Jesus in perspective
John Lennon once claimed that the Beetles had become bigger than Jesus.  Pele once said that there were three icons everyone recognised—Pele, Coca Cola and Jesus Christ.   The truth is that Jesus is like no one else that has walked the earth. 

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