Who is Jesus (and Why Does He Matter)?
This question is asked during the second Alpha Session and is the most important question to answer ever.
At its most basic understanding, a world without Jesus is completely different from the world as we know it. Everything about our existence today is contingent upon the reality of Jesus. Without Jesus Christ, there would be no Christmas, no Christianity or Christians. Our holidays and calendars would be completely different. So much of what we do and who we are depends upon who Jesus is.
Jesus has had such an impact on our world that the church developed its own calendar based around the life of Jesus. The church year does not begin on January 1, but on the First Sunday of Advent, the season where we anticipate the coming of Jesus, culminating in Christmas – his arrival. After Christmas is the season of Epiphany, the season where we reflect on Jesus as the manifestation/appearance (epiphany) of Jesus to humanity as the Son of God. Jesus reveals himself to us (in the CTW I incorrectly identified this Sunday as the first Sunday of Epiphany which is not true. Epiphany officially starts on January 6th, which is Monday). After Epiphany is the Season of Lent, where we remember the sufferings of Christ and what he endured for our sakes. This culminates in Good Friday (Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross). Lent ends as Easter begins, the season commemorating the resurrection of Jesus and his victory over sin and death. After the season of Easter is Pentecost, when Jesus sends the Holy Spirit upon his disciples. In this we reflect on how Jesus carried on (and carries on) his mission and ministry through the church. The time between Pentecost and Advent is considered “Ordinary Time” in most church calendars. Yet even this time is meant to encourage us to reflect on the life of Christ between the major events. Beyond this, that Sunday is the day we gather for worship is based on the fact that Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday.
Over this past season of advent, in our morning services, we looked at Christmas through the eyes of an investigative journalist to discover the truth of who that baby in a manger was over 2000 years ago. During that series we looked at that exact same question in the mouth of Jesus himself “Who do you say I am?” And as we had unpacked only a week prior through the gospel of John who Jesus is: God in human flesh, come down to earth. The entire New Testament is filled with the assertion that to know Jesus is to know God. John tells us that “The Word [God] 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” (Jn 1:14). Later, John reports the words of Jesus: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9). These words are spoken by Jesus to Philip after he asks Jesus to show him the Father. This should be a comfort to us today to know that even someone who was with Jesus 24/7 didn’t always get it. But perhaps the most concise theology of the New Testament on Jesus’ identity comes from Colossians:
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Jesus is “the image … of God … For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him”. To see Jesus is to see God. To know Jesus is to know God.
But How Well do we Know Jesus, Really?
Often when we talk about Jesus, we tend to focus on his birth and incarnation (Christmas), and his death and resurrection (Easter). These are central to our identity and to the Christian faith. Without them we would have neither. But if, as we notice above, Jesus reveals God to us, is this all there is to know about God? What about the other sections of the gospels covering Jesus’ teaching, ethics, miracles, and conversations? Are these secondary to his incarnation, death, and resurrection? Or are they just as important? Consider, for example, the common observation that Jesus seems so different from the God of the Old Testament – how can we consider them to be the same? What does Jesus reveal to us about God that the Old Testament does not? Needless to say, knowing Jesus is a big deal.
I remember as a new Christian reading the New Testament and starting in the Gospels. I was fascinated and frightened by Jesus all at the same time (for example, when he says “if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it in the fire”, I thought ‘Is he serious?’). 20 years later he still has the same effect on me (though I’ve grown in my understanding of that particular teaching since). If we are to understand anything about our faith or our world at all, we need to have a correct understanding of who Jesus is. A misunderstanding of who Jesus is has resulted in some of the most horrendous theology and terrible heresies. Hence, again, the need to really understand him.
But are we only expected to understand Jesus? Is it enough to suggest that we simply have to believe certain things about him in order to live the way he calls us to live? If that were true, could true differences of opinion really exist in the church? That is, if it’s only about having the right theology/ideas, why do we see such differences in how to interpret the words of Jesus? I think we must acknowledge that it is not enough to simply have the right ideas about Jesus, but to know him intimately. But how do we do that?
Within the context of his teaching of the coming of the Holy Spirit, Jesus has the following to say to his disciples: “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me” (Jn 14:23-24). Jesus is not interested in us having the right ideas about him, he wants us to know him intimately: to love him. If we love him then we will obey him. If we love him, God will come and “make [his] home with [us]” through the Holy Spirit. Can we all say without any hint of doubt that we truly love Jesus, that we truly know him enough that we do love him?
A Year with Jesus
If we are honest, I think we all can say that we are woefully deficient in the knowing Jesus department. (If we don’t think so, we’ve got even bigger problems to deal with). So, what would a look like to spend a year with Jesus? I mean this both literally and figuratively. How would your life change if the real flesh-and-blood Jesus came and lived with you for a year? How is it any different knowing that he is living with you in your heart in pretty much the same way?
The concept for ‘A Year with Jesus’ comes from two places. Initially, the idea came when a colleague told me many years ago of a book he read The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs – a secular Jew who tries to follow every rule in the Bible for an entire year as literally as he possibly can and his reflections on that experience. It is not so much the book itself as the concept and title that caught my attention. (I haven’t read it, so don’t necessarily take this as an endorsement). The second inspiration comes from another book, a devotional by Eugene Peterson (author of The Message Bible translation), entitled A Year with Jesus: Daily Readings and Meditations (I have this one on order with Amazon).
So, for the liturgical year of 2020 (it has already started), we will be spending our Sunday mornings with Jesus as he reveals himself in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. At times we may bounce around, at others we will slow down and work through a section of a gospel at a time. But the basic principle is the same: let’s spend a year with Jesus and see what he does with us.
Thus, we begin this coming Sunday with a series on the Kingdom Parables of Jesus. Parables are stories using concrete and familiar ideas to explain non-concrete or unfamiliar ones. In this sense, Jesus himself is the ultimate parable: using something concrete and known (himself) to help us understand something unfamiliar: God and his Kingdom. Jesus uses a lot of parables in his teachings. Matthew Chapter 13 contains a series of parables that all tell us what “the kingdom of heaven is like” and we’re going to unpack a few of these over the next several weeks.
As we work our way through the gospels this year, we will be attentive to what Jesus reveals to us about ourselves with respect to the key themes identified in our vision: being authentic, spirit-filled, disciple-making followers of Jesus.
An Additional Challenge
Separate from the weekly readings assigned prior to the sermons I have an additional challenge to us as a congregation: to read through the gospels in their entirety at least 3 times between now and the beginning of Advent. This works out to 1 chapter a day, Monday-Saturday (breaking for Sundays), starting on this coming Monday, January 6. This should have you done by the beginning of November, so there would be some space in there to miss the odd day.
I’m looking forward to spending a year with Jesus alongside you!