Christianity 201

June 9, 2021

The Three Identities of Christ

I want to say at the outset that this is not about “the names of Jesus,” or “the names of Christ,” though it certainly overlaps that discussion greatly. Furthermore, it’s not so much about specific titles or names at all, as two of the three categories here offers multiple options.

The two times I attended Young Life meetings, the speaker said it’s quite important when looking at the Jesus narrative to see the different people taking place in each scene; even to imagine yourself as part of the action. In one story, there’s a blind man, his parents, the Pharisees, Jesus, the disciples, the crowd, etc. You can read the story through the eyes of the crowd, and then go back to the beginning reading the story through the eyes (no pun intended) of the blind man.

We see that even generalizations about ‘the crowd’ are difficult. In one scene they are throwing down palm branches to welcome his unusual entrance into Jerusalem; in the next scene they are shouting, “Crucify, Crucify.” But is the ‘they’ the same in both cases? Many a sermon has been preached about how fickle the masses can be, and how when the tide of opinion about Jesus shifted after his arrest, they turned against him. However, this is important: Were those the same people?

There’s a lot more going on in that story. Why did the people just happen to be lined up along the road? Why did they just happen to be carrying palm branches? Do you see the problem? The complexities in the Jesus narrative are huge and this is what makes his life so captivating, and why, if you’re willing to put some effort into it, you can never stop studying him without learning something new each time.

So what are the identities referred to in today’s title?

Last night I watched a short education video about how the 50 American states got their names. There, I learned two new terms: endonym and exonym. The first term is the insider name that a particular place, group, or linguistic community uses as their self-designated name for themselves, their homeland, or their language. Insider terminology. The second is the designation that everyone outside the group or place uses. Wikipedia’s example is that “Deutschland is the endonym for the country that is also known by the exonym Germany in English and Allemagne in French.” The differences aren’t always simply translation. In these racially sensitive times, one would be advised to carefully consider the terms their using for people of a specific ethnicity. In reference to one term, I once heard someone say, “We can say that to each other, but you can’t say that about us.” That’s the endonym/exonym distinction.

I mentioned this to my youngest son in an email last night, and he quickly came back with the terms emic and etic. The former refers to research done on a particular group (their norms, folklore, opinions) from the perspective of someone within the group, or a behaviorist or social scientist who has embedded themself within the group. The latter term is a perspective or conclusions based on research conducted among people outside the group as to how they perceive the group or the group’s involvement in a particular situation.

So naturally, I couldn’t help think of this exchange.

NLT.Matt.16.13 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.”

So first, Jesus asks his closest followers, ‘What’s the word on the street about me?’

Next he gets a rather diplomatic answer. “Some say…” (italics added). Were the Pharisees and Saducees included in that opinion poll? Or were they out when the pollster called? What about those who had been followers in the past, but left after the “hard sayings” or were earlier part of the “he is out of his mind” persuasion? (John 6:60 and Mark 3:31 respectively.) Verse 14b, if it existed might say something like, ‘…and others say your teaching is too stringent, your standards are impossible; and some think you’re either deceived or plain nuts; and the Pharisees are writing blog posts about how they are sure you’re a false teacher.’

So if we look at the crowd identity that Jesus has, there are multiple answers.

Then he asks them, ‘So what about you guys?’

I would expect there might have been some silence between verse 15 and verse 16. They’d seen the miracles, they’d heard the teaching. If the timeline in Matthew is correct, none of them had witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus. That happens one chapter and six days later. But we know from the fuller story that Judas isn’t all in and Thomas has a bent to skepticism.

Peter’s response reminds me of the kid in Sunday School who always knows the right answer. In the days that follow, Peter’s declaration will be put to the ultimate stress test. If Peter really believes Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God, then what does that mean when the heat is on him personally and the opportunity to distance himself from that messiah presents itself?

So with the crowd and with the disciples we see the potential for a variety of answers.

But what’s the third identity, if we’re saying there are three?

Well, we’ve already covered it. It’s the identity that Jesus has when he speaks of himself. Who do people say that the Son of Man is?

The dichotomy of endonym and exonym or emic and etic breaks down here because there is another party to this analysis, Jesus himself; the one who is so “other;” which leads to a discussion of how he is so holy; what he knows about himself, who he is, how he was with God and was God, how he is before all things and in him all things hold together, and how he is about to show three of them some of his glory in the mountain transfiguration which follows in the next chapter.

But instead of titles and names that might terrify those first century followers, he chooses a less threatening-sounding and prophetically significant reference to the Book of Daniel, the Son of Man.

For more on that, you need to check out this 5½ minute video from The Bible Project. (See below.)

So who do you say Jesus is?

The Son of Man


Make it personal: About an hour after creating this, I realized its similarity to another teaching I heard when I was younger. Each of us also has three identities. There is how we see ourselves; how others sees us; and how God sees us. What God thinks of us is singular, but our self-analysis and that of our friends may include a multiple of adjectives depending on how we present ourselves in different situations to different people.

 

March 23, 2016

Jesus, Some Greeks, and Your Agenda

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , ,

•••by Clarke Dixon

As Jesus enters Jerusalem he is faced by many people who want much from him. There are the crowds shouting 

Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—
the King of Israel (John 12:13 )

They were waving palm branches, often a symbol of victory in ancient times, but in the hands of Jews living in a land occupied by the Romans, a symbol of a coming victory, and therefore symbol of rebellion. That is what they want and expect from this miracle working Jesus, the leading of a rebellion to kick the Romans out.

The Pharisees also want something from Jesus:

The Pharisees then said to one another, ‘You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.’” (John 12:19)

They already do not like Jesus for his blasphemous teachings and religiously incorrect acts. Now they are worried that things will become too exciting and the Romans will come and shut the city down. They want Jesus to disappear, or at least be quiet. If only he would just teach some nice things and do some nice miracles, at the proper times of course, so not on the Sabbath, then everything will be okay. How some things never change as many people, Christians and non-Christians alike, would prefer a quiet unoffending Jesus.

Then there are the Greeks who come to see Jesus:

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus. 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. (John 12:20-22)

What do they want from Jesus apart from the opportunity to meet him? We don’t know, we are not told. And we do not hear about the Greeks ever again. They almost seem to stick out in John 12 like sore thumbs, as if they have nothing to do with Jesus entering into Jerusalem on His way to the cross. Indeed it once bothered me that Jesus “answered” Andrew and Phillip but then seemed to go on teaching without really responding to the Greeks at all. That was my misunderstanding. As we read on we do find out what Jesus wants Phillip and Andrew to tell the inquisitive Greeks. In fact, while the crowds and the Pharisees are looking to get something from Jesus, in responding to the Greeks Jesus makes known what God wants for them, and from them.  Let us see what he has to say;

“Jesus answered them [Phillip and Andrew], ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified’” (John 12:23 )

In referring to himself as the “Son of Man” Jesus is taking us back to Daniel 7 where Daniel has a vision of four beasts, each representing an empire marked by inhumane leadership. But then,

13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14 NIV italics mine)

In this vision the oppressive kingdoms of the world are replaced by the good and Godly Kingdom of the Son of Man. The Good News coming through Israel and through this one Jew, Jesus, is Good News for all the world. Tell the Greeks that. This is a blessing the Lord has in store for them.

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:24)

Jesus is about to declare that he will be killed. His death will bear much fruit, it will bring many blessings worldwide. Tell the Greeks that. Through his death Jesus will bear much fruit, so much in fact that all the world will be invited to eat of it.

Whoever serves me, the Father will honour (John 12:26 )

The “whoever” is very important here. It is not “God’s set-apart people, the Jews who serve me,” it is not “people from a certain ethnic and/or religious background who serve me.” It is “whoever serves me, the Father will honour.” Tell the Greeks that. The opportunity is coming for them to know the blessing of being honoured by God.

Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. (John 12:31)

We normally think of judgement in negative terms, but the judgement of the oppressors of the world and the driving out of Satan, the current ruler of this world, is a good thing for all the world. Tell the Greeks that. Jesus has come not to rid Jerusalem of Romans, but to rid all the the world of evil.

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. (John 12:32-33)

Death by crucifixion was in view here and we therefore have an admission by Jesus that the Romans, the very people the crowds are hoping Jesus will kick out of the land, will see to it that he dies. The startling bit is that having been killed Jesus “will draw all people” to Himself. Yes, all people, even the Romans who crucified him. Yes, all people, even the Jewish religious leaders who led him to Pilate.  Yes, all people, even the crowds who misunderstood him. Yes, all people, including the Greeks who were asking to see him. Tell the Greeks that. Let them know God has a plan of salvation for them. Jesus has entered into Jerusalem so that the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Good News of God’s love, can go out to all the world.

These are the things that God wants for the Greeks. These are the things God wants for you.

But Jesus also speaks about what God wants from the Greeks:

24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour. (John 12:24-26)

Dying to self. Bearing fruit. Changed priorities. Serving and following Jesus. Tell the Greeks these are the things God is wanting from them. Don’t tell them to become observant Jews. Tell them to center their lives on Jesus. That is what God wants from them. That is what God wants from you.

As Jesus enters Jerusalem there are a lot of people wanting a lot of things from him. We often talk about Jesus entering into our hearts. Perhaps we do the same thing as the crowds, saying something like “Now that you are here, let me tell you what I want.” What if we were the Greeks in John chapter 12? Do we come to Jesus with an agenda, with a list of what we want? Or do we come with a blank sheet and pen in hand ready and waiting to hear what God wants for us, and what God wants from us?

(All scriptures are taken from the NRSV unless otherwise stated)

January 22, 2015

Longing for the End of Tyranny, Injustice, Inhumanity and Oppression

Today’s thoughts from Clarke Dixon are very timely.  To read this on his blog click the title below. You can leave comments here or there, but if you comment at Clarke’s blog he is more likely to read it sooner. We really appreciate him allowing us to use his material on a weekly basis.

Inhuman Empires and a Very Humane Ruler

There is a lot of bad news throughout the world with people seeking power through violence. Daniel had some bad news for God’s people in exile about successive beastly and violent empires:

In the first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head as he lay in bed. Then he wrote down the dream:  2 I, Daniel, saw in my vision by night the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea,  3 and four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another.  4 The first was like a lion and had eagles’ wings. Then, as I watched, its wings were plucked off, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a human being; and a human mind was given to it.  5 Another beast appeared, a second one, that looked like a bear. It was raised up on one side, had three tusks in its mouth among its teeth and was told, “Arise, devour many bodies!”  6 After this, as I watched, another appeared, like a leopard. The beast had four wings of a bird on its back and four heads; and dominion was given to it.  7 After this I saw in the visions by night a fourth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth and was devouring, breaking in pieces, and stamping what was left with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that preceded it, and it had ten horns.  8 I was considering the horns, when another horn appeared, a little one coming up among them; to make room for it, three of the earlier horns were plucked up by the roots. There were eyes like human eyes in this horn, and a mouth speaking arrogantly. (Daniel 7:1-8 NRSV)

Most Biblical scholars see these four beast as representing the four empires that were in control from the time of Daniel. The lion is Babylon, the bear is Persia, the leopard is the Greek conquest of Alexander the Great, the terrifying fourth beast is Rome. So far this is all bad news for God’s people. But in Daniel’s vision there is good news:

9 As I watched,
thrones were set in place,
and an Ancient One took his throne,
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames,
and its wheels were burning fire.
10 A stream of fire issued
and flowed out from his presence.
A thousand thousands served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him.
The court sat in judgment,
and the books were opened.
11 I watched then because of the noise of the arrogant words that the horn was speaking. And as I watched, the beast was put to death, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. 12 As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time.
13 As I watched in the night visions,
I saw one like a human being
coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One
and was presented before him.
14 To him was given dominion
and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one
that shall never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:9-14 NRSV emphasis mine)

The good news is the judgement of evil, and the appointment of a new ruler. The contrast of this new ruler to the old regimes could not be clearer, for where the beasts come up from the sea, the appointed ruler comes from heaven. Also, where the empires are described as beasts, and so inhuman, he is described as being “like a son of man,” so quite humane. With Daniel’s prophecy in mind let us move forward in time and see how things work out. Let us go to Jesus’ calling of Nathanael:

49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” (John 1:49-51 NRSV emphasis mine)

Here we are at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry and already Nathanael is speaking about the identity of Jesus: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Perhaps most were thinking that Jesus should rather be identified as “carpenter, the son of Mary, and perhaps Joseph.” So Nathanael’s confession of Jesus’ identity is very lofty indeed. But Jesus points the disciples toward an even sharper confession of identity: “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” The angels of God ascending and descending is a reminder of Jacob’s ladder and as such causes us to think of Jesus as the person where we meet God. Previous to Jesus that distinction was given to a place, the Temple. But we should also take note that Jesus refers to himself as “Son of Man.” Some will say that this an expression simply means “human being,” and so ,though Jesus uses it to refer to himself very often, perhaps he means nothing special by it. But notice how Jesus uses it once he is arrested:

Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” 61 But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”
62 Jesus said, “I am; and
‘you will see the Son of Man
seated at the right hand of the Power,’
and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven. ’”
63 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? 64 You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?” All of them condemned him as deserving death. (Mark 14:60-64 NRSV emphasis mine)

At his conviction Jesus confirms what he has been meaning by “Son of Man” all along. He is the ruler God appoints in Daniel 7. He is the one who will end tyranny and oppression. He is the one who will bring justice. He is the good news.

So what do we learn from this?

First, we must think about the identity of Jesus. Many people in our society see Jesus as being a great moral teacher and nothing more. Some suggest that Jesus never pushed himself as being more than a moral teacher, that his divinity is a fabrication of his followers. But had Jesus been a great moral teacher and nothing more would he have been crucified? Notice the tipping point that caused the High Priest to declare that Jesus must die; It was Jesus calling himself the “Son of Man” who would be “coming with the clouds of heaven.” It was his blatant reference to himself as the coming ruler Daniel 7 points to. Do you go far enough in your understanding of who Jesus is? Have you really considered the Biblical teaching that Jesus is “Son of Man,” “Son of God,” and “God the Son?” Have you considered the evidence that the Biblical teaching is rooted in the teaching of Jesus himself and is not a later fabrication? Have you considered how He fulfills the prophecies and promises of the Old Testament?

Second, Jesus is the solution to the problem of inhuman empires today. How many empires and nations across our world could we describe as “beastly?” If rulers everywhere were to follow the example and teaching of Jesus in the way of the cross, the way of love, this would be a vastly different world, a more humane one.

Third, people and nations may ignore Jesus and his teachings now, but they will not be able to in the future. Atrocities are happening around the world and we wonder “where is justice?” The book of Revelation also reflects the fulfillment of Daniel 7:

7 Look! He is coming with the clouds;
every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. (Revelation 1:7 NRSV)

Justice is on the way. So also is a ton of love.

The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20 NRSV)

And He Shall Reign Forever