September 22, 2019 Sermon
Back to Basics:
First Scripture Reading: Matthew 1:18-25
18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
Second Scripture Reading:
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.”
41 Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.”
Message – “Back to Basics: Jesus”
He was born.
He lived a while and made some friends…and some enemies.
I suppose you could look at the basics of Jesus’ life and conclude he was pretty much just like everybody else…if you looked at his life through a particular lens.
However, even though the Bible shares Jesus’ story as one that INCLUDES these same basic elements that are inclusive of almost EVERYONE’S life, the Bible also does something else, something more….something that COMPELS us to answer the question Jesus asked of His original followers…even before His death and resurrection: “Who do you say that I am?”
We’re in the third sermon in this series about the basics of our faith, and today we explore the basics surrounding the One whom Ron Allen calls “the heart of the church.” We explore Jesus.
You might be tempted to think that every Christian thinks exactly the same way about Jesus, perhaps even that every Christian thinks exactly what YOU think about Jesus…but I doubt very much that’s the case. Indeed, even when we DO agree agree to use certain words about Jesus: Messiah, Savior, Son of God, Lord, and others, we don’t always mean the same thing when we say these words.
Just as we’ve discussed that God’s people have all different kinds of notions about God, and that God’s people get their different notions from differing perspectives about the many sources of God’s revelation offered to us…I hope you can open your mind to the possibility that there are a great many ways to think about Jesus. Today, much like I did a week ago with the topic of God, I will help you explore and consider what you believe about certain essential aspects of Jesus and why what you believe matters in the regular course of your life. I’ll try to focus on the aspects of Jesus that might be most important for you to consider when having a conversation with a non-Christian or un-churched friend…which is one of the primary goals of this sermon series.
Aspect #1 – Jesus as the Christ. To be a Christian is to proclaim Jesus as the Christ. After all, that’s what it means to be Christian, to be a follower of the Christ. That’s right, “THE Christ.” Y’all, Christ is not Jesus’ last name; you probably know that. In the time of Jesus, a Hebrew man would have been identified by his father (Jesus, son of Joseph) or his hometown (Jesus of Nazareth). This is why the Bible records people, even demons, identifying Jesus as “Jesus of Nazareth” and even one instance of Jesus being identified as “Joseph’s son.”
So…why do WE identify Him as “Jesus Christ?” The simple answer is this: that’s how the biblical authors typically referred to Him. Even though people and otherworldly beings in the narrative referred to Jesus as Jesus of Nazareth or Joseph’s son, the people who wrote about Jesus tended to call Him “Jesus Christ.”
The longer answer has to do with WHY. I said before that Christ isn’t a last name…but, what is it? It’s an identifier, you could call it a title, that corresponds to the Hebrew word “Messiah”. Sometimes this Greek word gets translated into English as “Messiah”. Take our reading from Matthew 1, for example. The NRSV reads:
“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah…”
The Greek word used in that verse is actually Christous…the same word that is typically translated “Christ”.
I mention this to help teach you that “Christ” is an anglicanized Greek term for the Hebrew concept of Messiah. But, what is “Messiah”?
As it turns out, there are two definitions of the word: there’s the original definition and then there’s what the word or concept came to mean over time.
Originally, “Messiah” meant “anointed” or “God’s anointed”, and, in fact, that’s the translation used for most OT uses of the word. But, what does “anointed” have to do with Jesus? When God called a king to rule over God’s people, God called a prophet to anoint the king…so, to call someone “anointed” or “messiah” was akin to saying God called and anointed that person to be the king of God’s people. There were lots of kings of God’s people in the OT, so the word appeared with frequency.
Here’s where things get interesting. Almost 600 years before Jesus was born, the last of God’s people in the Promised Land were exiled, and the rule of kings in the line of David ended…as rulers on the throne, anyway. But God sent prophets to foretell the coming of a new king in the line of David who would be anointed by God to rule over God’s people. Over the ensuing 600 years, God sent a multitude of prophets to tell the people what kind of king this Messiah would be…and the term Messiah came to mean not just ANY king anointed by God but rather THE king God had been promising to send.
Now, I’m not telling you that this is what every Christian means when they call Jesus “the Christ”, but I’m more than confident this is what the biblical authors meant; Jesus was the long-awaited king sent by God to fulfill the Messianic prophecies.
Why does this matter for us? Oh my, I can’t even begin to tell you how much. Folks, so many Christians I know focus on the New Testament almost exclusively to understand who Jesus is, what it means that Jesus is the Christ, and what Jesus means for their lives…even while GOD’S description of Jesus as the Messiah/Christ comes from the OLD Testament. So this matters as a call to get more in touch with the WHOLE of scripture to understand Jesus…so that maybe we’ll see Him as MORE than the guy who stands there and tells us we’re A-OK, even when we live in ways that are almost completely opposed to what Jesus was about. But there’s one more way Jesus as Messiah matters to our everyday lives that I want to mention. Folks, the earliest followers of Jesus identified as Jews, not as some separate group…because “Messiah” was a Jewish concept. It truly would behoove us to get more in tune with our Jewish roots, to get more connected to the rituals and traditions and even ways of thinking and living that came before and prepared the way for all that we know.
By the way…one thing it does NOT mean to call Jesus “the Christ” is that Jesus is God or even God’s Son. At least, that’s not what it meant during the time that Jesus lived. That notion that Christ is synonymous with a person of the Trinity – or part of God – came later. Which brings us to…
Aspect #2 – Jesus as “Son of God”. I’m amazed sometimes at how much we take it for granted that Jesus is the “Son of God”, even as we take it for granted that there is only one God. For some reason, in our modern faith, we don’t struggle with this so much…but, boy howdy, our faith ancestors did. All kinds of ideas that eventually were judged heresies result from these seemingly contradictory notions. And they ARE contradictory: are ANY of you the same being as your fathers? I sure hope not. How, then, could Jesus be the same being as His Father? Well, that’s a conversation for another time, but I hope it gets you thinking. I hope it gets you thinking that Jesus is somehow more directly associated with God than any other of God’s anointed, than any other messiah.
As the angel revealed prior to Jesus’ birth, Jesus would come to be called, to be known as “God with us.”
I’m not here to tell you HOW this is the case; I’ll leave it up to you. But just know that somehow, God calls you through the scriptures to consider what it means that Jesus was and is “God with us”?
- Does it mean Jesus is God, or even a part of God?
- Does it mean that Jesus was completely God but not at all human?
- Does it mean that Jesus was somehow God and human at the same time?
- Does it mean that God revealed God’s self more clearly through Jesus than through anyONE or anyTHING else in history?
These are the kinds of questions “Emmanuel” should call us to answer. And, of course, HOW you answer will have much to do with how you live. Understanding Jesus as God-in-the flesh so that God now knows what it’s like to truly BE human makes a difference in how you live and what kinds of things you can take to God. This understanding leads you to receiving great comfort from One who knows your plight and pain through experience. Alternatively, understanding Jesus as distinct from God…so that God’s understanding of humanity remains as observer rather than full member and co-experiencer will likely lead to a less personal relationship with God.
Aspect #3 – Jesus’ Primary Work. This, obviously, is a big category. So many people, so many Christians, understand Jesus’ primary work differently.
Perhaps you understand Jesus’ primary work as being to do that which is required to give you the chance – or even guarantee – of an eternal life with God after you die on this earth. If so, you might be tempted to minimize the importance of everything that happens here, apart from your acceptance of God’s gift offered through Jesus. You might even be tempted to drift away from God, God’s desires, and God’s ways once you’ve received this amazing gift…because, through Jesus, God has already DONE the one relevant thing Jesus will do for you in this life. Even though you’re grateful, this future thing hardly matters in the here and now. Some people might even be tempted to do all they can to leave this lifetime early, to do everything they can to get to a better place. And still others might do everything they can to get the word out about Jesus, to do everything they can to ensure others know about Jesus so they, too, can choose to secure an eternal future with God.
Alternatively, you could understand Jesus’ primary work as being what Mark described Jesus’ as doing in our second reading. These verses were a kind of catch-all for what came next. Jesus proclaimed God’s good news and told people God’s kingdom has come near. In other words Jesus’ work was to convince people to live in heaven, the place where God reigns, not just in some afterlife time but also right here, right now. If you believe THIS to be Jesus’ primary work, you’re likely to spend your life doing all you can to follow God’s way and will for the here and now and even get others to do the same. After all, the more people there are living as if God is king, the larger the kingdom of God on earth becomes, and the more you can enjoy this life…because, the kingdom where God rules MUST be better than the kingdom where anybody or anything else rules.
Or, perhaps you understand Jesus’ primary work as being to show us an example of how to live the best possible life…which is closely related to ushering in God’s kingdom but not exactly the same. Our reading from Luke provides an example. Jesus KNEW what he wanted: freedom from the pain and cruelty of the cross to come. But Jesus provided the perfect example of surrendering his own will and desires to God’s will and desires. And the results of Jesus’ getting his will aligned with God’s will continue on to this day:
- People came to know the love of a God who would give everything, even God’s Son, for us;
- People were saved – however you want to understand “saved”;
- God provided the miracle of resurrection, as a demonstration/reminder that God can and maybe even will wield such power on behalf of us…and to show the power of love and new life as being far greater than the power of hate and death.
Y’all, in so many moments of His life, not just the one from our scripture reading, Jesus demonstrated perfect obedience to God’s will and revealed the amazing benefits that result. If you believe this to be Jesus’ primary work, you will live your life doing everything you can to get your will aligned with God’s will: read scriptures, pray, worship regularly, partake of other spiritual practices, and live out of selfless servant love for others as much or moreso than you live out of selfish love for you and your family.
There are so many other ways you could view Jesus’ primary work, but I’ve got time to share just one more. You could view Jesus’ primary work as perfectly revealing God’s desires for people and from people. I didn’t include a scripture reference for this one because it’s a scripture I quote so often; it’s Jesus’ double love command:
“…love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind’…[and], ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Love is what God wants from people and for people. When we live out of love for God and others, we make God’s creation a BETTER place, and when all of us experience the love of everyone living out of love for God and others, we receive the gift of a most amazing life…THE most amazing life possible. If you believe this to be Jesus’ primary work, you will do all you can to love and as much as you can to avoid everything else. You might even have to turn off the news…and the gossip channels in your life…and so much of the stuff that surrounds you.
Wow! Did we cover a ton of ground today!
He was born. He lived a while. He made some friends and enemies. He died.
I suppose you COULD summarize Jesus’ life that way…but if you did you’d be missing just about EVERYTHING important about Him. As Christians, we must do more to understand who we believe Jesus is…and we must do more to live in accordance with who we SAY Jesus is. Because, even the slightest nuance in how you live impacts what you say you believe deep in your heart…and even the slightest nuance in what you believe SHOULD impact how you live.