Christianity 201

February 15, 2018

Seeing Jesus: Time to Clean Our Glasses?

The effect of seeing Jesus clearly makes a dramatic difference and clears up partial misunderstandings or complete misunderstandings as to who he is and why he came.

by Clarke Dixon

Reading through the Gospel of Mark you may notice a reticence on the part of Jesus to fully reveal his identity. For example:

27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. Mark 8:27-30 (emphasis added)

Peter gets it right, Jesus is the Messiah! But the disciples are to keep that fact to themselves. We also see the reticence of Jesus to reveal his identity at his “transfiguration” on the mountain. There Jesus’ identity is made even more clear:

2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. . . 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. Mark 9:2-4;7,8

Jesus here is confirmed as being more than just the promised Messiah. He is also in some way superior to the law, as represented by Moses, and the prophets, as represented by Elijah. You can imagine the excitement of Peter, James, and John who I’m sure couldn’t wait to tell the others about what they had just seen! But then . . .

9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean. Mark 9:9-10 (emphasis added)

Why the secrecy? Why didn’t Jesus just tell everyone who he really was on the first day of his ministry? The reason is quite straightforward. Jesus kept his identity quiet because partial understanding can lead to misunderstanding. People had a partial understanding of what to expect from the coming Messiah. Such a partial understanding of the Messiah could quickly turn into misunderstandings about Jesus.

It may have escaped our notice, but is surprising nonetheless, that “Messiah” was not at the top of the list for the identity of Jesus in the mind of the public. Let us read again:

27 [Jesus] asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” Mark 8:27,28

While Peter gets it correct, “the Messiah” was not even on the list for people generally, never mind at the top. Why? Because in expecting the Messiah, the people were expecting something different than Jesus. They were expecting a focus on the Kingdom of Israel along with a message of doom for the Romans. Jesus was instead teaching about the Kingdom of God along with a message of repentance for Israel.

Even Peter, immediately following his confession of Jesus as the Messiah, displays this partial understanding:

Mark 8:31-33 (NRSV) 31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Peter is thinking on human things, like the Kingdom of Israel and taking back the land from the Romans. A suffering then dead Messiah is not going to help with that! If Peter is going to misunderstand Jesus’ role as Messiah, everyone else is too.  Jesus immediately tells the people to “deny themselves and take up their cross and follow” (v.34) The Messiah was expected to tell them to “pick up the sword and follow”.  A cross meant death by Romans rather than death to Romans. What kind of Messiah would lead us toward our deaths?! Only following the resurrection of Jesus would it all start to make sense.

Since a partial understanding of the Messiah would lead to terrible misunderstandings about Jesus, he keeps quiet publicly about his identity until less than a week before his death.

So what does this have to do with us today? Most people you rub shoulders with know something about Jesus. However, it may be a partial understanding, which can lead to a misunderstanding. Let us consider a few examples:

Partial understanding: Jesus was a great teacher. True!
Misunderstanding: We should only go to Jesus for wisdom.
Full understanding: Jesus is also God the Son, the Saviour. We go to him not just for wisdom, but for salvation.

Partial understanding: Jesus was a prophet. True!
Misunderstanding: Jesus was just one prophet among many.
Full understanding: Jesus is also God the Son, unique in his teaching, his miracles, his claims. He is the only one who could reconcile us to God, and the only one who did.

Partial understanding: Jesus was a man. True!
Misunderstanding: Jesus was only a man.
Full understanding: Jesus is fully man, but also fully God.

Partial understanding: Through Jesus we are saved from hell, from separation from God. True!
Misunderstanding: Salvation from hell is all we need to think about, care about, or sing about.
Full understanding: We are not just saved from the consequence of sin; separation from God, we are also saved from its power as we walk in the Spirit.

This last one is an insight from John Stonestreet and Brett Kunckle in their book A Practical Guide to Culture.
Partial understanding: In Jesus we are “saved from . . . “ True!
Misunderstanding: Now that we have been saved from something, there is nothing for us to do.
Full understanding: We are also “saved for”. We are saved for for relationship with God, and for good works in our relationship with the world and everyone in it.

Do we allow a partial understanding of Jesus lead to misunderstanding? Do we see clearly who Jesus is? Perhaps it is time to clean our glasses.

(All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)

The full sermon can be heard here.

See other sermons in this series at Clarke’s blog; look for entries in January and February, 2018

February 8, 2018

Who Then is This Jesus?

by Clarke Dixon

And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Mark 4:41

When Jesus stills the storm, the first question of the disciples was not “could this be the a prophet?” or “could this be the promised Messiah?” What had just happened was completely beyond what was expected from either a prophet or the Messiah. It was not just that the wind suddenly died down, which could be chalked up to coincidence, but that the sea went into a “dead calm” (Mark 4:39). The sea does not respond to a drop in wind in that way. Who simply speaks and nature responds? Well there is Genesis 1 which is our first clue.

The question “who then is this?” is one that reverberates throughout the Gospel of Mark, including the passages that follow in Mark chapters 5 and 6.

Who then is this in 5:1-20 when Jesus casts out a legion of demons?

2 And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. 3 He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; 4 for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Mark 5:2-4 (emphasis added)

No one could ever subdue this man, and no chain could ever restrain him. Jesus does something far better than just subdue him. He frees the man. Who then is this who can do far beyond what anyone else only hoped to do?

Who then is this in 5:21-43 when a girl is raised from the dead?

41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. Mark 5:41-42

Who can restore to life except the One who gives life in the first place?

Who then is this in 6:7-13 when Jesus sends out the disciples?

He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. Mark 6:7

It is amazing enough that Jesus has authority over unclean spirits. It is even more amazing that Jesus can give authority to others also. Who then is this who has even the authority to grant authority?

Who then is this in 6:30-44 when Jesus feeds five thousand people with five loaves and two fish?

32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. Mark 6:32-33 (emphasis added)

The fact that Jesus will provide for such a great people in the wilderness takes us back to God’s provision of manna in the wilderness following the Exodus from Egypt. Who then is this who is acting out a scene from Israel’s story of being rescued by God?

As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. Mark 6:34 (emphasis added)

This brings to mind another chapter from the history of God’s people. In Ezekiel 34 God points out the failure of Israel’s leaders to shepherd the people. He has a plan to correct this:

14 I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. Ezekiel 34:14-15 (emphasis added)

Who then is this who shows himself to be the good shepherd?

38 And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. Mark 6:38-39 (emphasis added)

Here we have another reference to the Old Testament:

1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures . . . Psalm 23:1,2 (emphasis added)

Not only can the 5,000 relate to “I shall not be lacking” thanks to Jesus, but we should not miss the reference to being made to sit down on green grass. Who then is this who reflects Psalm 23?

Who then is this in 6:45-52 when Jesus walks on water? There is a rather odd moment with this miracle:

When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. He intended to pass them by. Mark 6:48 (emphasis added)

Though Jesus sees the disciples struggling, he intends to “pass them by”. That may seem quite un-Jesus like. However, I recently heard an insight from a Jewish scholar who saw the connection with the Old Testament. Moses had asked to see God’s glory but because of the holiness of God and the sinfulness of Moses, God protected Moses, then

The Lord passed before him, and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness . . . Exodus 34:6 (emphasis mine)

Who then is this who recalls how God passed by Moses at Mount Sinai in Exodus chapters 33 and 34? There is another point of contact with Moses:

49 But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; 50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Mark 6:49-50

While it is difficult to see in the English, in the Greek is as plain as day. Jesus in calling out to the disciples says more literally, “Take heart. I am. Do not be afraid”. The “I am” reflects the identity of God:

God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’ ” Exodus 3:14

“I Am” sent Moses. “I Am” is present in Jesus. Who then is this who reflects the identity of God?

Mark answers the question “who is Jesus” all the way through his Gospel. Jesus himself is the answer to the question “Who is God?”. He is the One Who calms the storms, Who destroys the demons, Who raises the dead, Who shepherds and provides, Who comes to us by the cross and says “Take heart, I Am, be not afraid”.

(All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)

Read more in the Gospel of Mark series at Clarke’s blog

August 11, 2017

Who Was Jesus?

As the Pharisees were regrouping, Jesus caught them off balance with his own test question: “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said, “David’s son.” – Matthew 22:42 MSG

In the part of Toronto where I spent the most time in my teen and twenties, there was conservative, King James Only church with a back-lit sign on their building which read,

What think ye of Christ?

The question is the first part of Matthew 22:42 — which the NIV translates as “What do you think about the Messiah? — which I’ve written about before here:

This is probably the question that should be on everyone’s lips at Christmas, at Easter, and other times as well; though you might choose a more modern rendering. The story is not content to have its hearers close the book on the final page. Rather, the book gets stuck open, simmering, percolating, demanding something of each individual with whom it comes in contact. It’s like a computer program you can’t shut down until you respond to a question in a dialog box. It stares at you, and goes, “Well? …Well? …What about it?”

Whenever you hear phrases like “great moral teacher” in reference to Jesus, you need to be aware that during his time on earth Jesus was a great teacher, the answer is selling Jesus short in so many ways.

So what answer are we looking for? The second part of I Corinthians 12:3 reads

…no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.

One online writer calls this The Litmus Test of True Believers. I would agree, but want to take this one step further. While certainly Jesus is Lord to me, I want to suggest the question is best answered with a general reply that goes further than my subjective view. After all, I’m human. I could pledge support to anything or anyone but that wouldn’t mean a whole lot to anyone other than other people who have taken up the same cause.

In Philippians 2 — the section sometimes called The Philippian Hymn — Paul writes (or quotes; depending on how you understand this passage):

5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
6 Though he was God,

–I stop there in the middle of verse 6 because not all who show up in a church on Sunday would say that ‘Jesus = God‘ even though Jesus said it himself as quoted in John 14:

8 Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” 9 Jesus replied, “Philip, I have been with you all this time, and still you do not know Me? Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me?

Another time he reveals himself as “the Christ” the anointed one.

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

14 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”

15 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being.

Of course, if time permits, and you can remember a longer answer, you might answer this way as Paul does in Colossians 1:

16 For in Him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18 And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and firstborn from among the dead, so that in all things He may have preeminence.…

He is then,

  1. God
  2. My Lord
  3. His disciples’ glimpse of the Father
  4. The world’s awaited Messiah
  5. The universe’s creator and keeper

and so much more. So…

What think ye of Christ?

 


Because you never know who’s reading. You might ask why a blog called Christianity 201 would run a rather elementary article today and the answer is because you never know who’s reading. For the rest of us, success in the Christian life depends on sticking to the fundamentals. The ‘What think ye of Christ?’ question is one we need to ask ourselves from time to time.

Who is Jesus to me?

October 29, 2016

Words That Knock You Down

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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As we mentioned yesterday, devotions and studies here often begin with the words, “Today we return to the blog of ______ …” as we catch up with writers we’ve used in the same month, but previous years. Yesterday and today we’re taking the liberty of running two posts from B.J. Richardson at The River Walk. Click the titles to see these at source, you can also click the “merch” link to find out about owning copies of his studies in John’s gospel. Each devotional also has a related music video which you can see there.

Two Words

Jesus fully realized all that was going to happen to him, so he stepped forward to meet them.
“Who are you looking for?” he asked.
“Jesus the Nazarene,” they replied.

I am he,” Jesus said. (Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.)
As Jesus said I am he,” they all drew back and fell to the ground!
John 18:4-6

Read: Acts 14:21-28, Galatians 1:1 – 3:23

Relate: Ego Eimi. I exist. It is I. I am. However you want to translate it, the words out of Jesus mouth threw the others to the ground. Judas, the betrayer, was there. A delegation from the priests and the Pharisees was there in all their stuffily religious zeal. A detachment of soldiers was there armed to the teeth. It doesn’t matter. With two words, “I AM” they all fall down.

These men came to arrest Jesus. They wanted to control Him, to stop Him, to silence Him. They wanted to put Him in chains and take Him where He didn’t want to go. They thought they were in control of the situation. The religious delegates felt that they were the ones running the show. The soldiers felt they could handle anything that came their way. Judas thought… well, who knew what Judas was thinking. He clearly wasn’t. No matter. With two simple words, in Greek, “Ego Eimi” in English, “I AM” Jesus set them straight. The road He walked to the cross was completely and totally His choice. It was not forced on Him. He never lost control. What He did, Jesus did willingly.

React: Am I like the soldier? Do I think I can force the issue? If I have the right tools, the right weapons, I am the one in control? If only I am strong enough, if I undergo enough training or preparation, then I can be the one running the show. This is a popular lie from the world. If one has enough education, or self discipline, if one knows the right people then they can be the one running the show.

Am I the religious delegate? Do I think that by virtue of my self earned righteousness that I can be the one running the show? We would never couch it in those terms, but how often do those in the religious world buy into this lie? If only I pray more, or fast more, then God must listen to me. If I stop what I am doing and bow my head to the east with every call from the minaret then surely God will listen to me? If I read my Bible more often, how could I not earn His favor? How dare He deny my request?

Am I Judas? Everyone thinks I am a follower of Christ. I believe I’ve got everyone fooled. Even God. Even perhaps myself. Yet even as my words and my appearance is that of being a friend of God, with my actions I betray Him. I think I’ve got everything under control. I can stop doing it anytime I want. As long as I say I’m sorry, He has to forgive my most recent betrayal. I think that an apology has it covered and that repentance is far too radical a step. “I’m in control” I think as I betray Him with a kiss.

Then He speaks two words…
All illusions are shattered.

Respond: God, shatter my illusions. Knock me off my feet. That misconception of control, that idea of freedom, that I can do my own thing. Erase it from my mind. Forgive me for the audacity in thinking that if somehow I might be a little more righteous I might somehow control You. Forgive me for the temerity in thinking that I can be OK even as I betray You with my sin. Forgive me for thinking that I can run things with just a little more self discipline or force of will. You are in control. You are God. You are, “Ego eime.” Jesus, You are I AM.