Christianity 201

January 11, 2018

Jesus. An Ordinary Person?

by Clarke Dixon

Who is Jesus? This question is the most important question we could ever face. It is a much more significant question than; “Do you like organized religion? Do you like Christianity? Do you like church and find it relevant?”

Many suggestions are put forward, but they fall into only three categories:

  1. Jesus is fictional. He is a figment of someone’s imagination.
  2. Jesus was an ordinary person. He became extraordinary in people’s minds sometime after his death.
  3. Jesus is no ordinary person. In Christian thinking, he was, is, and always will be extraordinary, being God incarnate.

Out of these three options, this question is really only a choice between two of them. If you think that Jesus is pure fiction, then most of history, and especially all of ancient history must be seen as pure fiction also. People who really want Jesus to go away may be comfortable with that, but most historians are not. If you are being consistent in matters of history, there is really only one question: Is Jesus an ordinary person, or an extraordinary person?

The first chapter of Mark will help us know how Mark, at least, would answer that. Consider:

  • In the very first verse Jesus is no ordinary person, but is the Messiah (Christ) plus the Son of God:

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Mark 1:1

  • In verses 2 and 3, the prophecies quoted refer to the coming, not just of a prophet, or king, but of God Himself. These are understood to be pointing to Jesus:

2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’ ” Mark 1:2-3

  • In verse 7, John the baptizer knows he is not worthy of Jesus, stating that he is not even worthy to do the task of a slave. Jesus is on another level entirely:

He proclaimed, The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.” Mark 1:7

  • Continuing on with John the baptizer, in verse 8 we need to ask who can baptize with the Holy Spirit except God Himself?

I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Mark 1:8

  • In verse 11 Jesus is referred to with a title that would only previously be applied to the king of Israel, or the nation as a whole. We are to understand that Jesus is king, and in some way representative of all Israel. Also, where the kings and and the nation were prone to failure, Jesus gets it right:

And a voice came from heaven, You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Mark 1:11

  • In verse 13 when Jesus is tempted in the wilderness for 40 days we are to think of the 40 years God’s people spent in the wilderness before entering the promised Land. They spent that long in the wilderness because, unlike Jesus, they fell to temptation and sinned:

He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Mark 1:13

  • In verse 18 Jesus is the one who is worth immediately leaving everything to follow:

17 And Jesus said to them,Follow me and I will make you fish for people.18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. Mark 1:17-18

  • In verses 21 and 22 the teaching of Jesus was extraordinary:

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Mark 1:21-22

  • In verse 24 Jesus is identified by an unclean spirit as “the Holy One of God”.  The spirit knows that Jesus is extraordinary and has power over evil:

23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out,What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” Mark 1:23-24

  • In verses 25 and 26 the spirit is under Jesus’ authority:

25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, Be silent, and come out of him!26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. Mark 1:25-26

  • In verse 27 the people recognize that not only does Jesus teach with authority, his word has authority. This reminds us of Someone else Who spoke with authority and had extraordinary results (see Genesis 1):

They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another,What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” Mark 1:27

  • In verses 40 and following the compassion of Jesus is extraordinary. Notice how Jesus touches the leper before healing him. Something no ordinary person would do!

40 A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him,If you choose, you can make me clean.41 Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him,I do choose. Be made clean!” Mark 1:40-41

Is Jesus an ordinary person or an extraordinary person? Mark certainly knows him to be extraordinary!

Mark was not one of the 12 disciples, so we might ask how would he know? As a Christian I can point to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but I wouldn’t expect a non-Christian to be convinced by that. However, we can appeal to history. Mark was known to be a close companion of Peter and to have written down the Gospel based on Peter’s testimony and preaching. Peter, of course, knew Jesus very well. Mark’s interest in Jesus may have been stirred prior to Jesus’ crucifixion as some scholars think that he may be the young man who fled naked at the arrest of Jesus in Mark chapter 14. Further, in the process of settling on which books were authoritative for the Church, the early Christians only considered writings that were known to be closely associated with eyewitnesses, the apostles. Mark wrote his Gospel account while eyewitnesses were still alive, so his facts could be checked. All the New Testament documents, dating from closer to the events than make grand fictions possible, say the same thing as Mark chapter 1. Jesus is no ordinary person.

The eyewitnesses to Jesus were all saying the same things: The teaching of Jesus was extraordinary, the miracles of Jesus were extraordinary, and the resurrection of Jesus was extraordinary. Also, the fulfillment of the promises, given to the people who have a long testimony of God’s involvement with them, is extraordinary. We have the advantage that 2,000 years later, we can say that the legacy of Jesus has been extraordinary. The positive impact of Jesus, on individuals and society alike, has been profound! To summarize, Jesus was no ordinary man, but is extraordinary. That God loves us enough to do what He has done for us in Jesus is extraordinary!

At the centre of Mark chapter one is this:

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying,The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Mark 1:14-15

Such an extraordinary person, such extraordinary love, demands a life that is anything but ordinary.

(All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)


Visit Clarke’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon, at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

December 6, 2012

Waiting on Emmanuel

Hebrews 1 (NIV) 1In 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.

Today’s post is a reblog from Benjamin Howard’s site, On Pop Theology. This is writer I was aware of a couple of years ago, but then rediscovered recently. I encourage you to bookmark him for some insightful articles and to click through for today’s look at Advent.

The season of Advent [began] on Sunday. If you’re unfamiliar with the Christian calendar, Advent is a time of waiting that takes place for the four weeks leading up to Christmas. It is a time of anticipation and reflection before we celebrate the arrival of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God With Us.
 

Advent

It’s one of my favorite times of the year because it’s both optimistic and reflective. It’s weighty, but it’s also beautiful.
 
Even more, I love the season because it allows the Church to focus on the Incarnation. I love talking about the Incarnation. I love talking about why God would become man, what that means for humanity, and how it should affect who we strive to be.
 
You see, I feel like in a lot of Christian traditions they view Jesus as a springboard to salvation. God became human so that he could die for our sins. To be a bit crass about it, the Incarnation was the Emergency Backup Plan for when humanity sinned. Sure, he told some nice stories and undermined the religious tradition for a bit, but the point of Christ was to be a sacrifice for the sins of humanity.
 
But I’m not so sure that’s true. In fact, I’m pretty sure that it isn’t.
 
There’s an idea prevalent in the Eastern Church that the Incarnation wasn’t something that God sketched out after humanity messed up, but was part of the plan all along. Essentially, even if humanity had done wonderfully, God still would have become man, Emmanuel still would have come, because God wanted to be with us.
 
In this telling of the Incarnation, it’s not a story about salvation necessarily, it’s a story about love and proximity. It’s a story that says God made us so that he could be with us and that the best way to be with his creation was to be part of his creation. The best part of being in love is being with the person you love. That’s the story we tell about heaven, in whatever way you describe it, so why shouldn’t it be the story we tell about the incarnation as well.
 
But I think the story is even more rich and beautiful and profound that God wanting to be close to us.
 
When I was a senior in college I did a project on Athanasius and his views of the Incarnation. Athanasius famously says that, “God became man so that we might become God.” This belief, often called divinization or theosis, argues that the reason God became human was so that humanity would have access to God’s divinity. God is with us so that we might share in the divinity of God.
 
Now, I’m willing to go one step farther, and I hope you don’t lose me here. I don’t know if there is a divide between humanity and divinity. We are told in Genesis that man is created in the image of God. Various points in the Bible, especially John, go to lengths to describe God as both human and divine. But what if being fully human, fully embracing what we were created to be is the same as being divine? What if Jesus is fully divine precisely because he is fully human?
 
What if in the Incarnation we are not being provided with a picture of a creator bending down to meet his creation, but of a creation rising up to meet its creator? What if God became man to show us the man could become God by embracing what humanity was created to be?
 
Then, like everyone, Jesus, fully human and fully divine, dies. I think that’s a part of the story we gloss over too quickly. In our need to feel catharsis and redemption, we too often forget that this redemption comes about in the form of resurrection, and that resurrection only comes through death.
 
Through the life and death of Christ we are told a story. It is not the story of how we are saved, it is the story of how we live, die, and live again. It is the story we are living, and it is the story we have yet to live. It is a story of anticipation and waiting and longing and hoping. It is the story of love and embrace and a God who empathizes through experience and not omniscience.
 
It is a story worth telling and it is a story worth re-telling. And so … we begin to wait on Emmanuel.
~Ben Howard