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Lombard CRC

Is Jesus Really God?

A news story last week said

people were upset with Google

because their Amazon Echo device, Alexa,

couldn’t answer the question, Who Is Jesus?

I tried it here this morning

but all Alexa said was,

I’m having trouble connecting to the internet!

I guess that happens to the best of them.

I can only say that if you really want to know

who Jesus is,

you won’t find the answer on the internet!

There are better ways.

This is a question you have to answer,

not a question someone else can answer for you.

And the answer doesn’t come

by supposing or assuming or googling,

but by responding to the presence of Jesus

in your life.

 

Frederick Buechner shared once

about a failed novel of his.

He tried, he says, to present Jesus

from the memories and hearts of those

who really knew him,

but even that seemed to restrict who Jesus really is.

It seemed he could describe only the distance we feel for this one who loves us

and who we desire to love

even as we fail at loving him.

 

On one page Mary Magdalene says

in response to those who ask her to talk about Jesus:

‘How could I tell it?

‘If I were to paint on the wall a picture of his life,

I would put in the sea, the villages,

the paths and pathless hills and lowlands

we traveled with him.

I would put in the slow, brown river,

the wedding, the fishermen friends and the storm, the little scoundrel in the tree.

I would put in the lady his mother.

I would put in the one he called the Rock

with his brawn and bluster.

I would put in the treasurer

with his eyes flat and bright as coins.

‘But where you might expect to find him himself,

I would leave the wall bare and unpainted.

At the center of the picture

there would be an empty place,

and the shape of the empty place

would be the shape of my life without him.’

 

The shape of the empty place

would be the shape of my life without him . . .

That’s our first step in answering the question,

start from that place of emptiness and loss

that beckons us to seek out God.

 

Ever since Jesus walked the earth as God-with-us, God made human,

people have had opinions about who he is.

Mark  8 - 27 Jesus and his disciples went on

to the villages around Caesarea Philippi.

On the way he asked them,

“Who do people say I am?”

28 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist;

others say Elijah;

and still others, one of the prophets.”

29 “But what about you?” he asked.

“Who do you say I am?”

 

So that is the question.

The one that matters most for you and me is:

who do you say I am?

But it’s not about opinion,

it’s about responding to the revelation.

You can’t skirt the question

by saying he was a good man,

a wise teacher,

a gentle healer,

but nothing more,

because attached to all the good things he did,

the wise teachings

that inform our wisdom even today,

and the merciful healings,

are self-statements like:

If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.

I and the Father are one.

Those who watched and heard him knew

he made himself equal with God.

 

Jesus doesn’t leave the question up to us;

Jesus makes himself known.

In one sense that’s what the Bible is about.

The pages are filled with people

who had encounters with the living God.

In Acts 9 Saul who took the name Paul

meets Jesus on the road to Damascus

and in that meeting comes to know Jesus is God.

 

Saul was a Pharisee, opposed to Jesus,

and actively seeking to arrest,

punish and even kill Christians.

His opinion before this encounter with Christ

was that Jesus was a false prophet.

After, convinced Jesus was alive,

resurrected from the dead,

he is changed forever.

 

To me, this is the only proof that matters.

There are plenty of resources out there

that give proofs that Jesus is God.

Books like A Case for Christ by Lee Strobel.

And dozens more by respected scholars.

But the grace and truth that matters

is experiencing the living Lord who

was crucified and is risen.

 

Look at Saul who became Paul.

He thought he was a good man.

He dedicated all he did to God.

He was zealous to guard God’s name.

In Philippians 3 he says before he met Jesus

he thought he was faultless.

And so do most people today when it comes

to the question, Is Jesus really God?

 

But for all he did to convince himself

he knew who Jesus was,

when the living God meets him on the road

he cries out in fear:

who are you, Lord?

 

He didn’t know.

he didn’t know God

because he didn’t really know Jesus.

Until we know Jesus in all grace and truth

we won’t know God either.

For Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead,

is your Lord and God.

The resurrection is proof.

What changed Paul was meeting Jesus

in his death and resurrection.

He knew Jesus had died – had been crucified.

A criminal’s sentence.

A sinner’s death.

No way in Paul’s mind this could be the Messiah,

that this could be God.

But then, Jesus meets him on the road –

Paul’s road, Paul’s way;

how he thought he lived the righteous life.

But he wasn’t being righteous;

he was being religious,

and there’s a difference.

Now he knew he was dead wrong.

Jesus was alive.

Risen from the dead.

And Saul was dead.

The old way of Saul’s life was a dead-end.

The death and resurrection of Jesus

in which God graciously redeemed Israel’s story,

now became Paul’s story,

Paul’s new way of life.

 

But how about you and me?

How do we meet the living Lord Jesus today?

Pauls’ story in Acts 9 goes on

to give us an awareness, a hope, a certainty

of how this happens,

how it is happening to even you today.

 

Jesus knocks Paul off his high horse

of human pride and self-sufficiency.

He reveals Paul’s blindness to reality in Christ

with the blinding brilliance of

Christ’s risen Lordship,

and then Jesus says,

‘why do you persecute me?’

‘I am Jesus who you are persecuting.’

How can that be?

Saul isn’t coming after Jesus,

he’s coming after Jesus’ followers.

He’s persecuting men and women,

boys and girls, who believe Jesus is God and Savior,

as happens even today.

But Jesus says he is being persecuted.

 

Because Jesus is alive again,

his promise is true and sure:

I am with you to the very end.

So Jesus is fully with you and me in suffering.

He shares in our pain.

And this tells us we meet Jesus in suffering and loss,

when we choose to suffer for and with another

in Jesus’ name.

There, in a holy and merciful way,

we meet the living Lord Jesus.

 

Saul is led by the hand to Damascus

and suffers blindness for three days.

The Lord sends one of his believers, Ananias,

to Saul, to share in his suffering.

The Lord tells Ananias to go to Paul.

Ananias objects,

Lord, this man is coming here to arrest and kill us.

Ananias goes, tho afraid,

and in one of the most understated verses

in the Bible,

Ananias comes to Paul,

and lays a trembling hand on him,

and says the healing word, Brother . . .

an enemy has become a brother.

 

By the power and love of the risen Christ Jesus.

Although Ananias is free to protect himself

and live to secure his life,

instead of acting for himself first,

he converses with Jesus through

Paul’s experience of a sort of death;

death to Paul’s old ways and self-righteousness.

Although he is afraid of Paul

and wants nothing to do with him,

he doesn’t refuse the call to help him in his loss,

and instead shares in Paul’s loss

with the restoring presence of Jesus.

It looks like Ananias

has a living conversation with Jesus

as he is called to share in and minister to Paul

in his suffering with Christ’s grace and blessing.

See?

Ananias encounters Jesus as he

shares in suffering for Jesus’ sake.

 

And what is Paul now to do

since he knows Jesus is God?

Jesus says, I’ve chosen him,

he will serve the gospel,

I will show him how much he must suffer for me.

 

How do I answer the question,

Is Jesus Really God?

How do I know in truth who Jesus is?

He reveals his divinity and Lordship to me,

he shows himself died and risen again,

at all those moments when I

experience the loss of dying to something

either I held dear or another did,

and then I choose to deny myself,

and pick up my cross.

In those life experiences as I confess,

or find the courage to pray,

or lament, or even trust that

in my or your pain or loss

Jesus is present.

I can encounter the living Lord there.

 

When Ananias risks himself to take on

another’s hurt by responding in mercy

he walks and talks in relation to God:

and that God is the risen Lord Jesus.

 

And notice this man Ananias is not an apostle,

he isn’t one of the pastors Paul mentors

like Timothy or Titus,

he’s just your garden-variety Christian.

So this revelation is for you and me, too!

 

Philippians 2:1-11 outlines

how to live out this story of God.

Jesus lived out this story,

by faith we follow Jesus,

even in his death and resurrection.

 

Look at Philippians 2:6-8

6 Who, being in very nature God,

    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

7 rather, he made himself nothing

    by taking the very nature of a servant,

    being made in human likeness.

8 And being found in appearance as a man,

    he humbled himself

    by becoming obedient to death—

        even death on a cross!

 

Andrew Root describes it this way:

although (x) not (y) but (z).

Though Jesus is God

he doesn’t use his power to his advantage

but instead becomes one of us

in order to die for our salvation.

 

The Lord met his enemy,

Saul the Pharisee,

and then ministered to him in his loss thru Ananias,

and then called Paul to suffer for Christ’s name.

There Paul knew who Jesus really is:

God-with-us.

When I share in the death of another –

not just physical,

but any loss or sacrifice or dead end

or failing or trouble,

when instead of hiding or securing myself

or judging another,

I share in your hurt for Jesus’s sake,

then the risen Christ is there

and Jesus Lord and Savior

brings a newness not of our own making.

 

Andrew Root says:

Christianity and the Christian church and faith

aren’t about getting another

to accept a message from long ago,

but rather about participating in

the living presence of God together with them,

right now.

 

Our relationships—

where we truly see other persons

and share their circumstances—

are the revelation of God's presence in the world.

Because God has become human,

gone to the cross suffering our estrangement,

and overcome it with resurrection.

‘And I am with you to the very end . . .’

Because Jesus Christ is a person, died and risen,

we experience the transcendent God

as we meet our human neighbor personally

in loss and in hope.  

In standing with and for the other person

whom Jesus Christ stands beside,

I encounter Christ as I see

the mystery of another’s humanity,

as I recognize that I cannot possess him or her,

but must love him or her

as I confess the love of Christ for us both.  

In encountering the other

I meet the one, Jesus Christ,

who is for and with us both.

 

So how can I answer,

Is Jesus really God?

 

Altho you’re busy with so many commitments

and don’t have time for your co-worker,

you decide to put aside your own agenda,

to minister to her with time and a listening ear.

 

Altho you feel your spouse has taken you for granted,

instead of reacting to your feelings and emotions,

you see your spouse in the promise you made

and show respect and love

without looking for anything in return.

 

Altho you are concerned about your financial needs, you hear of a neighbor in great need,

hearing her story of loss,

you prayerfully put aside your own fear,

and offer some financial help to bless her in her loss.

 

Because you remember that Jesus died

for the sin of the world,

and each person is made in his image,

you confess your lack of empathy and compassion, and decide you will learn more about

the sin of racism in our country,

maybe by reading a book,

or by daring to ask a person of color you know

about their perspective.

 

Tho we live in a culture

that separates sex from love and marriage,

and you can do whatever you want sexually today

in the name of freedom,

instead you trust in the wisdom of God,

and remember your body is a temple

of the Holy Spirit,

and so prefer to be obedient to God’s commands

to keep the marriage bed pure

and refrain from sexual immorality.

 

Tho you know you are way too obsessed with alcohol, or drugs, or gambling, or pornography,

and you think you can hide your addiction,

even tho you risk being embarrassed to say so,

you join an aa group,

or seek help to battle your addiction.

 

In each situation there is some loss,

but faith believes Jesus is present with us

in those losses,

so when we join another in her or his loss,

to serve or help in Jesus’ name,

Christ is there in his resurrecting power

bringing something new:

a new grace,

a new deliverance,

a new rescue,

a new hope,

a new healing,

a new situation . . .

not of our own making,

but God’s power to save.

 

Why don’t we do this naturally?

Because we have been convinced

to have as little as possible to do with loss.

To put others ahead of ourselves

is a loser’s life.

And that’s why so many don’t know Jesus

for who he really is,

and why so many more

rely on personal opinion

and shape Jesus

to fit their own desires and their idols

of safety and self-sufficiency.

 

But the cross assures us

that’s where we’ll experience the true God

who loves us so much he gave himself for us.

For Jesus was vindicated by the Father

for his obedience to death on the cross.

And his name,

his life,

his presence

is above all others in love, mercy, truth and power.

We don’t have control over our daily deaths

or losses,

but we do have control over what we give

our lives for.

The way of Christ was vindicated

as the way to true living.

 

Jesus died and rose again,

made in his image Jesus meets us in our deaths, spiritual, material and otherwise,

to bring resurrection,

and we give him glory,

by serving others in his great name.

 

Once after a funeral I led,

as we were talking together after the service,

one family member said to me:

“I could tell you really knew grandpa.”

It was a compliment to me;

it was a comfort to the family that I knew this man

as a brother in Christ,

as a family member, as a friend.

But the comment made me think:

Do people say that about me when it comes to Jesus?

Of all the things people have said to me

in times of witnessing,

in times of sharing in their joys and sorrows,

after sermons,

I haven’t heard this one.

But I’d like to.

What if on Sunday as people are walking out the door after the service,

someone didn’t say, ‘Nice sermon’

but instead said, ‘I can tell you really know him.’

 

The shape of the empty place

would be the shape of my life without him . . .

start from that place of emptiness or loss.

There we can know him in all his saving grace.

 

Jesus taught:

‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Just as Jesus appeared in his birth as a helpless child

that the world was free to care for or destroy,

so now he appears in his resurrection

as the poor one, the prisoner,

the stranger in need,

and the one who is sick and in suffering.

 

In suffering and loss,

in shared pain and prayer,

in the togetherness of hope and a yearning for healing,

there the risen Lord Jesus is present

to prove he is God with us.

 

The risen Jesus said to Thomas,

who wouldn’t believe until he touched his wounds,

and saw the risen Jesus,

to him and to us Jesus said,

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.

Frederick Buechner:

There is no place on earth

too outlandish to find him . . .

blessed are they who have not seen as Thomas saw,

and yet with the eyes of their yearning and faith

have seen enough.

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