The Gospel of Jesus Christ

Jimmy JoSermons, Thinking about TheologyLeave a Comment

Today will be our final day in this New Year’s series addressing questions and suggestions from the congregation.  I recognize that there are a number of topics that we are skipping, and I apologize for that.  But I hope the dialogue that we’ve been trying to have will continue – in whatever contexts we find ourselves. 

I will say that a couple of people suggested/requested that we look at the book of Hebrews.  And that will actually be our next book study, beginning the 2nd Sunday of March.  So in a sense, we will be continuing to take your suggestions as we think about God, Salvation, and the kingdom life. 

So the topic we are looking at today was suggested as follows: “Jesus Christ/YAHWEH.  Who is this God?  Who is He?”  And with apologies to the person who submitted this, I had some trouble interpreting what the actual question is.  So I will attempt some reflections that are based on this, but I might only be taking it (the submission) as a leaping off point, and I hope you’ll forgive me if I miss the point or intent of the original submission. 

It will likely also be obvious that this is potentially a massive topic and it is impossible to talk about everything, and impossible to address all the nuances in a way that will be satisfactory to everyone.  Nevertheless, we will give it a try. 

So what I want to focus on today, when we think about “who is this Jesus,”  is the idea that Jesus Christ is the revelation of God.  And we’ll talk about a few aspects of this, recognizing again that we can’t talk about all of it.  In order to guide our reflections, we will take a look at three passages from the New Testament that talk specifically about Christology – that is, the study or theology of Christ. 

So, to the first passage.  Again, we will be beginning a study of the book of Hebrews in a couple of weeks time.  And the opening verses of Hebrews say: 

1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.

Hebrews 1: 1-4

We will obviously discuss this passage in more depth when we do our study on Hebrews.  And Hebrews as a whole has a lot to say about Christology.  But for the sake of our conversation today, I just want to point out how this passage highlights Jesus as “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of [God’s] being,” which are kind of two ways of saying the same thing (or very similar things).  Essentially, what it’s saying is that when we see Jesus, we see God.   

Jesus Christ, God very God, fully God, God incarnate, is the fullest revelation of God to human beings.  And again, there are a lot of aspects to this; there are a lot of different ways we could think about this.  But I want to highlight what is indicated in this passage:  That is, His atoning death and His exaltation. 

And what this says to me is that in Jesus’ death, we see something of the character of God, the very nature of God.  And in His death, we see the great love that God has for us, for all of creation.  And it’s not just love for love’s sake – that is to say, it’s not some warm and fuzzy feeling, some ill-defined desire to make nice with the prodigal children.  Rather, the love of God for us is informed by God’s holiness. 

What I mean is that God’s holiness is such that sin cannot in any way be countenanced.  The holiness of God, the righteousness of God, and the justice of God demands that sin – all that which is against God – must be dealt with.  But God’s great love for us means that it is dealt with by the son of God dying on the cross.  In Jesus, we see the extent to which God is willing to go to redeem us. 

And so, because of the restoration of creation accomplished on the cross by Jesus, He is seated at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.  He is exalted because he has made whole that which had been broken.  This is the Jesus that we serve.  This is the Jesus that we worship. 

The second passage that I want to look at, to reflect on, is the well-known prologue of the gospel of John.  John 1:1-14 says: 

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcomeit.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1: 1-14

The whole of the John’s prologue is a profound statement on Christology, but the focus of my reflection is on vv. 9-14.  Of course, there are many other passages we could consider, but this passage reminds us of the humanity of Jesus.  John says:  “10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” And…”14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

We cannot overstate the importance of Jesus’ incarnation.  As we will read later in Hebrews, “Heb. 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”  That is, Jesus’ role as our priest and intermediary, His sacrifice on our behalf, depends in large measure on his humanity, shared with each of us.  It’s a basic tenet of atonement theology that in order for Jesus’ death to be effective in paying for our sins, Jesus needs to be human. 

But what the prologue of John also tells us is that there’s a gap between Jesus and the rest of humanity.  John says that though Jesus took on full humanity, “the world did not recognize him,” and “his own did not receive him.”  And what that says to me (and this is just how I reflect on it – not that this was John’s intent), is that there is a shortcoming in human beings that we do not recognize Jesus for who He is – as fully God and fully human.  And what I want to suggest is that human beings don’t recognize God become human among us because we’ve lost the sense of what it means to be truly human.  Because of sin, we are seeking to be like gods instead of embracing what it means to be human. 

So the third passage that I want to reflect on is Jesus’ temptation.  As we know, after Jesus’ baptism, he went to the wilderness to fast and was tempted by Satan.  According to the account in Matthew: 

1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be temptedby the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    and they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

Matthew 4: 1-11

Now various folks have interpreted the temptations in various ways, but Henri Nouwen, for example, says that Jesus’ was tempted to be relevant, to be spectacular, and to be powerful.  And as we noted, in resisting each temptation, Jesus quotes a relevant scripture to refute Satan.  However, again following Nouwen (though he is not unique in this), the true resistance to temptation may actually be found prior to the wilderness – at Jesus’ baptism.  In Matthew 3, we read: 

16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Matthew 3: 16-17

In short, and here I’m again following Nouwen, Jesus was able to resist Satan’s temptation because He knew who He was as God’s Son, God’s beloved.  The allure of power, the allure of relevance, trying to find His identity in anything else was unnecessary and ultimately meaningless because Jesus’ sole identity was as the beloved of God. 

This was the essence of Jesus’ humanity.  This was the foundation, the source and the goal of Jesus’ humanity.  To be human, to find personhood, meant embracing one’s belovedness by God. 

It is because God loves us that He created us.  It is because God loves us that He saves us – that He sent His Son to die for us.  It is because God loves us that He sustains us.  It is because God loves us that we have a hope and a future. 

The good news of Jesus Christ is that in Him, we can discover what it means to be truly human, to be truly a person, to be truly ourselves as the beloved of God.  When we are loved – when we are truly loved – we become free.  When we are loved, we are secure.  When we are loved, we are able to be who and what we are truly meant to be. 

This is the good news of great joy.  Who is this Jesus?  What is the significance of Jesus Christ?  Jesus Christ reveals the fullness and glory of God.  Jesus Christ reveals what it means to be truly human.  And Jesus Christ reveals what it means to be truly known and loved by God – and this is where I can truly find myself. 

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