Who is this Man? (Why Jesus?, week 1)

May 2nd, 2011

Calling ourselves Christians doesn’t mean we know the Christ we claim to follow. It is easy to contrive our own version of Christianity when getting to know the real Jesus risks confusion, controversy, and life call.  Here is a man who shattered all preconceptions of how a Messiah was supposed to talk and act. Do you really want to know this one whom we dare to believe is God with us? If so, the invitation is yours. Join us as we begin this message series asking the most important question you will ever address: Why Jesus? Who is this man?

Now we live in an age of religious pluralism and moral relativism, so I really want to be intellectually honest during this whole series. I do not want to attack any other religion or be negative about any other religion. I want to do this in a very open kind of way, but how can we say that Jesus is unique from all of the other religious leaders in the world? [On screen, images of Moses, Mohammed, Buddha, Confucius, Joseph Smith, Ron Hubbard, and several gods of Hinduism: Brahmin, Shiva, Ganesha.]

What makes Jesus unique? Now one thing we can say--and you are not going to get any much argument on this one by the way--is that Jesus is a historical person. I am surprised at how many other religions even incorporate Jesus into their religion or write about Jesus in their history. When I was in Darfur a little more than a year ago, we were on a boat on the Nile river and I said to one of my Muslim friends, "I have been reading the Koran and I noticed in the Koran that it talks about Jesus. And the Koran says that Jesus had a virgin birth. The Koran says Jesus never died. And that he ascended into Heaven."

My friend said, "oh yes, you can’t be a good Muslim and not believe in Jesus. Jesus is one of God's 25 prophets."

If you say that Jesus is credible then you have to say his teachings are credible, right? And the core of Jesus' teaching was about himself. He said these kinds of things that we don’t see other religious leaders saying. He said "I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes through the Father but through me." That is a pretty radical kind of statement. He said things like, "to see me is to see God. To know me is to know God. To deny me is to deny God," Jesus said. And then you have the witness of the first Christian Community, the early Christian Community. In the 4th chapter of Acts we read this: "Salvation is found in no one else for there is no other name under Heaven by which we must be saved."

Now, because Jesus is obviously one of the most influential persons who ever lived in history, the Bible is the most widely published book, the most widely purchased book throughout history, many people will fall back on, “Well Jesus was a good moral teacher”. You will hear that with a lot of people, "I don’t believe Jesus was God but I believe Jesus was a good moral teacher." Here is what C. S. Lewis said about that: He said you can’t say that Jesus was just a good moral teacher, because if Jesus was just a good moral teacher then he lied about his most important teaching, his identity, who he claimed to be. So he was either a liar, which means his is not a good moral teacher if he wasn’t who he said to be, or he is crazy. I worked for a year on the psych unit at the University of Cincinnati; there were crazy people who thought that they were Jesus Christ. So he could be crazy or as C.S. Lewis said, there is only one other option, he was who he said he was, the Risen Lord of the Universe. You only have those three choices: liar, lunatic or Lord.

Open your Bibles to gospel of Matthew, the 13th chapter, verse 53.

"When Jesus had finished these parables he moved on from there. Coming to his home town he began teaching people in their synagogue and yet they were amazed. Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers? Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn't his mother's name Mary? Aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? Aren’t his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all of these things? And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, only in their own towns and their own homes are prophets without honor and he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith."

I have often thought, when you talk about science fiction and time travel, what period would you want to go back to? I would want to go back to the time that Jesus was on earth because I have convinced myself if I could only have witnessed a couple of those miracles, just let me be there when Lazarus came from the tomb. We read in many of the miracles that there were crowds around. Let me be there for the feeding of 5,000. If I could have just witnessed some of those miracles then believing wouldn’t be too hard. Have any of you ever felt that way? These people witnessed the miracles and they still rejected Jesus. As a matter of fact, we will read that he did some miracles and after he did miracles, crowds asked him to leave. Now whats the problem? Jesus wasn’t who people expected.

Now when you picture God what is your picture? During this series we are going to have a lot of talking time, sharing time with each other. When you picture God, what are your pictures of God? When you pray, what pictures of God do you hold in your head? Help me out. [People spoke up with "light," "power," "thunderstorm."]  These are all extraordinary things, not ordinary. But what people see in Jesus is not the extraordinary.

Now what has really plagued Christianity, what has plagued many religions, is a Greek philosophy called--now I am going to get all seminary on you here--it is called platonic idealism. It's a kind of dualism; there is this clear separation and distinction between the spiritual and the physical, so the physical is bad, it is corrupt, is dirty, is smelly, and the opposite of physical is spiritual, which is good, which is complete. So according to all of the influences that have permeated even Christianity, all of life is lived in this journey to escape the physical body and obtain the higher levels of spiritual. You see that in Christianity, a lot of people say, "hey I am going to die they are going to plant my body in the ground and my disembodied spirit will go to heaven. Man, that is Greek; it is not a Hebrew/Christian kind of Bible.

So what is so amazing then is that the gospel comes along and says the Word became flesh. This was abhorrent to people who see flesh as bad. I mean think about body. What is body? Think about the body and you know body fluids and everything about the body you know there is disposable waste, and you have to feed the body, and the body has aches and pains, and the body gets old, and there is blood and aging and Alzheimer’s and death. But the Word became flesh.

The physical is not bad even Romans 8, please hear me, Romans 8 says the spirit is renewing your body. The spirit is.  In the apostle’s creed say we believe in the resurrection of the body. I don’t care if you have been cremated or whatever, God can put all of these molecules back together. There will be a resurrection of the body and we will stand in our bodies before God on a day of judgment and those who are resurrected to life will receive new bodies and the others will be to eternal death. So you see for all people this idea of how can the body be good. I mean if we even did a survey in the room right now, and I asked if you like your body, probably about 60% of the people would find something wrong with their body. Or what they would change on their body.

Now what has also impacted our ideas of God is a word that we use, it is a Greek word, but we get the word stoic and since the body and emotions and pain and all of that kind of stuff is bad, big boys don’t cry.  Have you ever heard that expression? What is wrong with men who cry? Did any of you hear that kind of crap growing up? Right. We see God as stoic, which means to devoid of emotion. So here we have Jesus. What did Jesus do? It is the shortest verse in the Bible. What is it? Jesus wept.

"Now, come on," these people are saying, "we see you pulling off all these miracles and stuff, we wonder where you get that but we knew you. We grew up with you. We went to school with this guy and let me tell you this guy was not outstanding in any single area." You know how it is wherever you came from, if you grew up like I did in a town of about 10,000 people, a suburb of Cincinnati, and everyone in that town knows you from the time you were in kindergarten, they know your stuff. You have heard me say it before, in first grade, we were only allowed to go to the restroom after lunch. You couldn’t raise your hand. Mrs. Cole; the lunch room monitor would not let you go, so I wet my pants in first grade lunch room. And she made me stand in the middle of the lunch room in one of those old green army color waste cans with my heavy corduroy pants on standing there to try to dry out, which took about 3-4 days. And I went to my 40th reunion and people in my class are still telling me I peed my pants in first grade. Jesus did this kind of stuff too. You better believe me, he did everything in human development that we go through and that is why I was so glad when I went to college: no one knew me. It was like a fresh start.

So what we read here is that because Jesus was so ordinary and our pictures of God are anything but ordinary, Jesus was offensive. You see, God is easier to live with as an unseen spirit than when God becomes flesh. When Jesus becomes flesh, then I can’t create a God in my own image. As long as God is an unseen spirit I can make Jesus anything I want Jesus to be. If I am a republican I can make Jesus a republican. And I can use Jesus to defend my political views, what ever you are, liberal, conservative, whatever. Mother Teresa said it best. She said many of us are guilty of believing in a Jesus of our imagination and not the real Jesus, the true Jesus, the resurrected Jesus, and the Lord of the Universe. So you know when we make Jesus the same thing we want to be.

Here are some of the ways that people and artists have painted Jesus through the centuries. Whatever cultural context you come from becomes your picture of what Jesus looks like. It is amazing. We got on the internet and started reviewing movies. There is "Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter". There is a Kung-Fu movie. There is a Mexican wrestling film, and it is a musical. That is its description. And now I am even hearing, can you believe this? Oh, Lord Jesus save us in our hour of need. Oh. I am hearing preachers today talk about making Jesus this manly image that wasn’t a wimp and you know, kind of like a Chuck Norris Jesus. We make Jesus in our mind, and it is anything other than what the Bible depicts Jesus was like.

I want you to look at a passage. Here is the other thing that makes Jesus unique, that we have to ask ourselves about, there are hundreds of old testament prophecies concerning the Messiah that are like spot on, including things like that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Go back to Isaiah 53. It gives the description of what the Messiah will be like. Remember this is like 800 years before Jesus was born. Isaiah 53 we will begin right in the first verse, you with me? Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? So right there we get this why are most people going to miss it? "He grew up before him like a tender shoot and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him. Nothing in his appearance that we should desire him." He was not homecoming king, nor was he the quarterback, or probably never played football. "He was despised and rejected by others, a man or suffering and familiar with pain. Like one from who people hide their faces he was despised and we held him in low esteem."

Doesn’t that sound like someone you hung out with in high school? Can any of you relate to this? No, this can't be God. It is amazing if we look at the 5th verse. "He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was on him, by his wounds we are healed." It is amazing when we openly and intellectually look at who this person is. Now we have all of these hundreds of Old Testament prophecies that were written before he was ever born. Now Isaiah, when you read about this, this was a kind of person that was not held in honor in his home town. This messes with my images of Jesus. First of all, Jesus wasn’t white! Who knew? He wasn’t credentialed. Why did I waste all that time in seminary, Jesus? It messes with our class structures. Look at how we divide things up, upper class, middle class, and lower class. So how does God show up? How many of you saw the movie Bruce Almighty? God shows up as a Janitor, Morgan Freeman. Let’s just watch a little clip of it.

God: Alrighty then. There we are, its good. It’s goooooood. It’s a wonderful thing; no matter how filthy something gets you can always clean it right up. Do you want to see a miracle son?  Be the miracle. 

Bruce: Wait, are you leaving? Yes I see that you can handle things now. But what if I need you? What if I have questions?

God: That’s your problem Bruce, that is everybody’s problem, you keep looking up.

I thought about that line, "that is everybody’s problem; you keep looking up." You are looking for God in the extraordinary instead of the ordinary. And that is why we are missing him. That is why we miss him.

When God shows up in the flesh you can’t make Jesus who you want him to be, you know? It is just so much easier to believe in a God I can’t see. I can personalize my faith and have it my way, right? I can have discipleship without a cost. I can have faith without obedience. But when God shows up in the flesh I can’t rationalize, I have a decision to make, and I can’t waiver between two opinions. I like the story in Matthew 19. Go to Matthew 19 with me.

Matthew 19, this is the scripture, you have heard me use it many times and I wrestle with this continually because I so want to rationalize and reinterpreted what God tells me to do. Sometimes I want to say, "God you don’t really mean that I should do that, it‘s just like a symbol or a metaphor, right?" when God says I should do it. Look at the 16th verse, 19th chapter of Matthew. You know the story.

A rich young man came up to Jesus and asked Jesus, "teacher what good thing must I do to get eternal life?"  "Why you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only one who is good. If you want to inherit eternal life, keep the commandments. And the guy says which ones? And Jesus starts listing commandments and then the guy jumps in, he said "all of these I have kept since I was young, what do I still lack?" That is dangerous question to ask Jesus; especially because he just cut Jesus off and didn’t let him finish the commandments and the next commandment was thou shall not covet. And Jesus says if you want to be perfect--do any of your versions say complete? It is a better translation because the Greek word is the word saved, which means complete, or well, or whole. So it uses the same Greek word for save. He says if you want to be perfect, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor.

Now if I am standing in the same room, I am leaving the room real quietly at that point because Jesus is telling that dude that, but I don’t want to give him time to tell me this. And what is interesting is Jesus had dinner with a lot of wealthy people and he didn’t tell everyone to sell all their possessions but he is telling this dude to sell all of his possessions. That’s why I am leaving the room really rapidly in this case. He said sell your possessions and give to the poor, and always we are going to see that the poor are closely connected to the heart of God. You will have treasure in Heaven and then come follow me. When the young man heard this he went away sad because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, "truly I tell you, it is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven." Now you see, when we look at this, this passage, I want to say Jesus didn’t really mean for me to sell everything I have, he just means for me to pretend like I don’t have it. Don’t we find ways to do that? But you see when the real Jesus, the true Jesus, not the Jesus of your imagination is standing right there with you, you can't mess your way through this thing. Now when you look at this, it just seems too radical, it seems too demanding, it messes with our theological formulas, you know we’ve got an easy theological formula, all you’ve got to do is believe and be saved. This complicates things. I can’t have the gospel on my own willful terms. So we begin to see that just seeing the miracles, seeing the empirical evidence of the things Jesus did isn’t enough because people still rejected Jesus.

So what is the problem? And what I want to say here, because you know my journey with Jesus has been a real intellectual stretch for me. But the main problem is not intellectual, you see the main problem, the main problem to faith is not an intellectual problem it is a heart problem. Now go back to Matthew 13 with me again. Go back to Matthew 13 and I want you to look at the 15th verse. What is it that people see but they don’t see? They hear but they are not hearing? This people’s heart has become callous, see the real problem is hardness of heart, it is resistance, and it is not intellectual doubt. "For this people's heart has become callous, they hardly hear with their ears and have closed their eyes, otherwise they may see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, in turn I would heal them." Now why did Jesus not heal many of the people? Because of the lack of faith, but the faith wasn’t intellectual, it was a calloused heart is why they are missing the power of God.

Now this is the purpose of the Lenten season. See the purpose of the Lenten season is for us to prepare ourselves for the reaffirmation of our baptismal vows on Easter. That is the purpose. You remember what baptism means? Baptism means buried: dead, buried, and out of the way. That is it no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me and is renewing my body. My body is not bad, he is renewing my body. He is renewing my mind. So there are three critical actions to open eyes of your heart:

One is repentance. Repentance is agreeing with God. As long as there is any, and this is what we are doing in this Lenten season, as long as there is any area of resistance in my life, that I am saying nope, nope, you can’t have this one Jesus, you can have everything else but you can’t have this, Jesus will remain hidden. See repentance is turning my back on anything that is not of God. So it is a season of repentance.

Secondly, to open the eyes of our heart means to connect to vital Christian community. Christ shows up today in a new physical body. Do you know what the new physical body that Christ has not assumed? The church.  The body of Christ this is why you just can't do Jesus on an individual basis. You know the day of the resurrection Jesus appeared to disciples that were traveling together on the Emmaus road and they didn’t recognize Jesus in his new resurrected body. As the disciples traveled, they stopped that night, they invited Jesus in to have fellowship with them and break together and it was in the breaking of bread that they recognized Jesus. So it’s so important not only this process of repentance which is continual but to be in vital Christian community. So on Holy Thursday we are going to be in our homes. If you are not in a cell group, we are going to have open homes in the Miami Valley area where we break bread together, have a meal together and have communion together in our homes. It is so important to me in my Christian life, my connection to vital Christians is vital to keep me going on this faith path.

And you know the third part that is so important here is our relationship and connection to the poor. Now what to you mean Mike? How do you see Jesus and the poor? Can you go to one more place with me in the Bible? Will you do it one more time? Matthew 25, Matthew 25 look at the 37th verse, 37th verse. Look at what Jesus has just gone through, I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty, now notice what the disciples say, verse 37, "the righteous will answer him, 'Lord when did we see you hungry and feed you or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go and visit you?' The King will reply, 'truly I tell you whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine you did it for me.'" That is right up on the wall in my study. So you know what we have to think about as we go forward in this journey of faith, it is a continual process of repentance. Connection to vital community and being in relationship with the poor, Amen?

Let’s pray. God help us to see you through the eyes of our softened hearts in a way that blows our mind, in a way that is extraordinary. Help us to look for you in each other, help us to look for you as we gather together and look for you as we serve one another. God don’t let this season go by without us being able to see you in a powerful and life changing way. To see the work of your son in our life, to see Jesus’ example be made real through us, in us, and all around us to everyone who knows us. God thank you for the beginning of this journey and yet I pray that you will send us out of here wrestling with why, why Jesus? Among all the other choices, why? We may not answer that questions today God but over the next six weeks we know that you are going to speak in powerful ways and so we thank you and we look forward to the opportunity of hearing from you. I thank you tonight for my sisters and brothers here who are my family, who surround me and who remind me of who I am and whose I am. In Jesus name we all say together, Amen.


Transcribed from Mike Slaughter's March 13, 2011 message. Copyright 2011 Ginghamsburg Church. All rights reserved.

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