The Only Question that Matters…

The Evangelical Methodist Church says: “We believe in Jesus Christ, who is both God and man; His virgin birth, His sinless life, His substitionary and redeeming death, and His physical resurrection.” Again, this statement is the concise communication of Article II of the Articles of Religion that guide the doctrine of the EMC. As with the doctrine of God, the Father Almighty, the doctrine of Jesus Christ the Son is equally difficult to parse in one blog post.

But, I’m always up for a challenge, so…

Did you know Jesus took the first public opinion poll? In Matthew 16: 13 – 20, Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do people say I am?” The interesting thing is, pollsters have been asking that same question ever since. The disciples gave varying responses: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or another prophet.

Today, we might find responses like “God among men,” or “human but divinely called,” or “a good, moral teacher.” There are others, but now as then, the answers are varied. Does it matter who we think Jesus to be?  Well, it mattered to Jesus.  So much so that he asked his disciples the question. For them and for us, it’s really the only question that matters. All else in our lives revolves around how we answer that question. How do we answer?

Jesus

Jesus is the Greek version of the Hebrew Yeshua, which means, “God is Savior.”  Joseph and Mary gave him the name in obedience to the command given by the angel Gabriel when Gabriel announced Jesus’ conception.  God was working in Jesus to bring salvation to His creation.  We believe Jesus is our salvation.  Through Jesus, we have fellowship with the Father, we are redeemed from the bondage to sin, and we know we have security in heaven with him.  But there is more.

Christ

Jesus is also the Christ.  This is the title Peter gave to Jesus in Matthew’s gospel.  Christ in the Greek literally means “anointed one.”  It, too, is a transliteration of the Hebrew word  “Messiah”, which means “anointed one.”  Christ is not Jesus’ last name.  It is a title given because of who he is and the role he fills.

Jesus understood his role as Messiah.  He is/was the divinely anointed king sent to usher in God’s kingdom on earth.  Not, however, the Kingdom the Jewish nation was looking for. The Jewish nation was looking for a king who would deliver them from the political bondage they were in, and would establish a political kingdom ruled from Jerusalem by God. Not much different than what we see in much of the Middle East still today. Jesus understood the Kingdom of God was not established by physical force and violence, but through love, humility, and service.

Too often, we’re looking for the wrong Jesus. We’re looking for the one who will save us from our circumstances. We make bad decisions, then go running to Jesus crying, “Save me!” That’s not the real Jesus. He didn’t die to change our circumstances. He died to change us. He died to reconcile us to the Father through himself. Sin is that which separates us from God. He died to forgive our sins, and rose to give us new life, eternal life, which is not necessarily length of life, but quality of life.

When Jesus began his earthly ministry, he walked into the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth.  He took the scroll of the day, opened it, and read these words:

Luke 4:18-21

    “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

        for he has appointed me to preach Good News to the poor.

    He has sent me to proclaim

        that captives will be released,

        that the blind will see,

        that the downtrodden will be freed from their oppressors,

        [19] and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”

        [20] He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. Everyone in the synagogue stared at him intently. [21] Then he said, “This Scripture has come true today before your very eyes!”

We believe, as Evangelical Methodists, that Jesus is both “Savior” and “Messiah.” Like the people in the Nazareth synagogue, there are many in the world today who don’t know quite what to make of Jesus.  Let us not be so timid. We know who Jesus is. Yet there is still more to unpack in this powerful doctrine.

Lord

Jesus is Lord.  When we proclaim “Jesus is Lord,” it can fix your life, but it will sure mess up your day! “Jesus is Lord” was the confession of the early church, and it is the confession that continues with us today. What does it mean for Jesus to be Lord?  For the early Christians, it meant that he was sovereign over their lives, that their lives had become subservient to his.  It literally meant their lives were no longer their own.

Guess what?  It means the same thing for us today.  It means that we have surrendered our lives to his.  He is sovereign over us.  It means we have been to the cross and left ourselves there.  We walked away from the cross, and we were no longer the same.  Our lives were no longer our own, but they belong to Jesus. “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Dietrich BonhoefferThe Cost of Discipleship Our fears, our doubts, our pride, our selfishness, our lust, our greed, our wants, our desires, our very will, are all left at the cross when we acknowledge Jesus is Lord.

Jesus acknowledged his place as Lord in John 13:13: “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because it is true.”  The angels announcing Jesus’ birth proclaimed him Lord: Luke 2:11 “The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born tonight in Bethlehem, the city of David!”  Thomas, on seeing the nail-scarred hands of Jesus after the resurrection proclaimed, “My Lord and my God!”  Paul and his colleagues also declared that Jesus was Lord when they were dragged before in Acts 17.

The biblical understanding of Jesus as Lord goes far beyond our simple confession.  Its affect reaches God’s entire creation.  The Bible speaks of a time coming when “Because of this, God raised him up to the heights of heaven and gave him a name that is above every other name, 10) so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11) and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philip. 2:9-11).

I believe the day is ever closer that we in the United States may have a cost to bear when proclaiming “Jesus is Lord.” It is easy enough to gather in like-minded crowds on Sunday morning to make that proclamation, but to now do so in the public square could be costly. And, it may become even more costly. I am concerned by the Supreme Court’s recent ruling to refuse to hear an emergency appeal from a Nevada church challenging the constitutionality of their governor’s order capping worship gatherings at 50 people, while allowing casinos to operate at 50% capacity. It is a sign that religious freedom is waning. Will we be up to the task in the western church? I wonder?

A Unique Birth

If Jesus is Lord, then we must accept, as a matter of faith, the unique circumstances of his birth.  We accept that he was mysteriously conceived by the Holy Spirit.  This simple statement reveals the true divine nature of Jesus.  He was born of God, and he was born God.  He is fully divine.  He is not some highly exalted person, but God in human flesh.  He was “Immanuel,” which means “God with us.”  Yet he was at the same time born of the virgin Mary, thus revealing his human nature.  He was the God-man, fully divine, yet fully human.  Through his birth, Jesus brought divinity and humanity together once and for all.

Has the mystery of the virgin birth been debated, even by Christians?  Yes, it has.  To deny either his mysterious conception and unique birth is to deny the very foundation  of the orthodox Christian faith.  To deny the virgin birth divorces us from the foundation of the past, and leaves us nothing but rubble for the future.  Jesus understood his unique relationship, and he communicated that relationship to his disciples.

A Unique Death

We accept his death, too, as the full final payment for the sins of the world.  The mention of Pontius Pilate locates Jesus in the historic record of humanity.  It sets in context the events surrounding his life and identifies the circumstances surrounding his life and death.

Jesus paid our sin debt, but also the sin debt for every person, but his work did not end there.  His resurrection is the one event that singularly defines the unique nature of Jesus Christ.  The resurrection is what makes Jesus special.  No other religious leader or founder ever made claim to the resurrection.  The empty tomb stands as proof that Jesus was who he claimed to be.  We believe he was taken away into heaven as witnesses watched, and later recorded the events they saw.  And if he is who he claimed to be, he sits today at the right hand of power of God the Father, pleading our case before the throne of grace.  And he will come again.

We have this assurance because Jesus is Lord.  It is all captured right there.  For Jesus to be Lord at all, he must be Lord of all.  C. S. Lewis captures, in his book Mere Christianity, the essence of our confession concerning Jesus Christ.  Lewis writes:

“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said wouldn’t be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic on the level with a man who says he’s a poached egg—or else he would be the devil of hell; you must take your choice.  Either this was, and is, the Son of God, or else a mad man or something worse.  You can shut him up for a demon, or you can fall at his feet and call Him Lord and God.  But don’t come up with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great moral teacher.  He hasn’t left that alternative open to us.  He didn’t intend to.”

Who do you say that Jesus is? Isn’t that the only question that matters? Not perhaps, as much as your answer.

Until next time, keep looking up…

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