Article of Faith #2 – “Jesus Christ”

Article of Faith #2 – Jesus Christ
Date: Sunday, June 13, 2004
Author: Rev. Jonathan K. Twitchell

Despite the somewhat bizarre weather we’ve had of late, it appears as though Summer is finally on its way.  Friday was my last day of volunteering in the school lunchroom until next fall, as the Cape  Elizabeth students will be on summer vacation beginning Tuesday afternoon.  Even though summer vacation is on its way, I’m going to take a moment to talk about different styles of teaching.

Teachers often use different tools and methods to get their lessons across.  Some will lecture, others will assign hands-on projects.  Some teachers give multiple-choice quizzes, others assign essays.  Some teach using visual aids, while others provide time for students to work out problems.  It is said that we retain information better the more senses we can use to process the material.  If we hear it, that’s good, but if we hear it, see it, recite it back, and experience it first-hand, that’s even better.  Teachers will often use multiple approaches in order to reinforce the material, so that we may learn.

Most teachers use some sort of examination, not only to evaluate the students, but to help them process and retain the information.  When we work through the material in an examination, we are more likely to remember it, because we thought more closely about it, as we tried to remember it and relate it to other topics.  Some teachers are less formal in their examinations, relying instead on a series of questions and answers, dialoguing with the student to gauge their level of understanding.

Perhaps it was that sort of examination that the teacher Jesus was giving Peter in Matthew chapter 16, beginning in verse 13:

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

14They  replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

15“But  what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”   

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

17Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven;  whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.

The Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ .

This passage really gets to the heart of the matter, doesn’t it?  Jesus doesn’t beat around the bush with Peter , but goes straight to the most important question Peter will ever be asked: “Who do you say that I am?”

That question and its answer formed the basis for church teaching from that point on.  After Jesus ascended, the Apostles and the early Christians continued to wrestle with the question: “Who do we say that Jesus is?”  Who was Jesus ?  What does it mean to say that He was the Christ ?  What does it mean to say that He was the Son of God?  Was He God?  Was He human?

As the Apostles began to spread the Gospel message, it was important that they had a clear understanding of who Jesus was.  Indeed, in order to explain His death and resurrection, they had to explain who He was.  In order to make sense of the events they had experienced, they had to first explain why Jesus was more than just a good teacher.  Jesus question, “Who do you say that I am” is a question that has been central to all of Christian teaching throughout the centuries.

Without a doctrine of “who Jesus was,” we might as well abandon this thing we call church.  If we don’t understand who Jesus was, then it really doesn’t matter what we believe about His teachings or about His death and resurrection.  If He was just another good teacher, then Christianity is no different from any other world religion.

But, we know who Jesus is.  It has been taught to us from the very beginning, that Jesus is the Son of God.  Peter identifies Him as the “ Christ , the Son of the Living God,” and it is that confession of faith upon which all of Christianity stands.  Without that rock, our faith crumbles, for it is based upon sinking sand.

Peter begins that statement by affirming that Jesus is “the Christ,” which is Greek for the Hebrew word for Messiah.  The most basic meaning of those words is “Anointed One.”  And yet, this is more than an affirmation that Jesus was anointed for a specific task or purpose.  This was more than affirming His “Lordship” or “Majesty.”  While there were many lowercase messiahs in Jewish history, there is only one Uppercase Messiah.  Peter didn’t state that Jesus was one christ among many, but that He was “The Christ.”  He was to be the deliverer, to set His people free.

Peter goes on, to not simply affirm that Jesus was The Christ, but that He was somehow divine.  We’re not sure how well Peter understood this affirmation, but he plainly states that Jesus is “the Son of the Living God,” indicating that Jesus is more than just another rabbi or good teacher, but that He is also Divinely sent from God.  Perhaps for the first time, we begin to see that the disciples are starting to understand the nature of Jesus as divinely-human.

Later, the Apostles all used different means to teach the nature of Christ to their followers and to those they were evangelizing.  Some of the early writings are plain and simple, some provide a logical argument, others provide a picture or an image.  As we look at the ways in which the Apostles wrote about Jesus , we recognize the earliest examples of Christian teaching on the person and nature of Jesus .

One of the most quoted passages on the person and work of Jesus can be found in the Gospel of John, chapter 1.  John uses the image of the ‘logos’ or the ‘word’ to communicate that Jesus is truth.  But not only does John communicate that Jesus is truth, he shows us something about what we call ‘the Incarnation.’  Hear these words from the Gospel according to John , chapter 1:

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning.

3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

6There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that  through him all men might believe. 8He himself was not the light;  he came only as a witness to the light. 9The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.   

10He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God– 13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

15John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, “This was he of whom I  said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’  ” 16From the fullness of his grace we have all received one  blessing after another. 17For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.

We learn from this passage some very important details:  First, Jesus (the Word), was fully God in the beginning.  Jesus was eternally existing prior to the creation of the world.  Jesus did not somehow come into being when He was born in that Bethlehem stable.  To those who might teach that Jesus was just a good teacher, we realize that He was so much more than that…He was God—“The Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Secondly, we see that Jesus took on human flesh to dwell among us, for the purpose of making known God’s glory to the creation, which had never seen God.  Jesus didn’t merely appear to be human, but He actually took on human flesh, was born as a baby and grew up.  He was not a phantom or figment of their imagination, but an actually human being.  And yet, at the same time He remained fully divine.

That is the mystery of the incarnation—that Jesus was fully-divine and fully-human.  He wasn’t half-and-half, but fully both.  While our human minds probably don’t fully understand how that is possible, it is what was affirmed from the beginning.  It is reflected in the teaching of the New Testament, and in the formulation of the early creeds.

Let us take a moment and summarize what we have stated so far:  Jesus is the Christ —the Messiah.  He is the ‘anointed one,’ sent from God to set the people free.  He is fully divine, yet fully human.  He is clearly more than a good teacher—since He is God.  At the same time, He is not simply a phantom or image, but has really taken on flesh-and-bones.  God put on human flesh to dwell among us.

The doctrine of the Incarnation is one of the most important doctrines of the Church.  We understand that Jesus never stopped being God when He put on human flesh, but that He did accept some of the finite limitations of that flesh.

And yet, it is not enough to have a philosophical discussion about the nature of Jesus , if we fail to remember what it is that He did.  For many of us, it is impossible to separate the Person of Jesus from the Work of Jesus, for they seem so intertwined.  The Work of Jesus is an integrated expression of the Person of Jesus, as He lived out for us who He was.  It is for that reason that you will so often hear the phrase “The Person and Work of Jesus,” as though the two are inseparable.

One of the clearest summaries of the Work of Jesus can be found in Peter’s comments at Pentecost, as recorded in Acts chapter 2, beginning in verse 22:

 22“Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23This man was handed over to you by God’s set  purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 25David said about him:

     ” ‘I saw the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.
26Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will live in hope,
27because you will not abandon me to the grave,
nor will you let your Holy One see  decay.
28You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your  presence.’
29“Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch   David  died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30But he was  a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one  of his descendants on his throne. 31Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the   Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. 32God  has raised this   Jesus  to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. 33Exalted to the  right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34For David  did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,
” ‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
35until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.” ‘
36“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

Peter takes two passages written by King David , points out that David could not possibly have been writing about himself, and teaches them that David was prophetically writing about Jesus the Christ .  In so doing, Peter makes Messianic claims about Jesus , and summarizes the work of Jesus life: that He did many miracles and wonders, was put to death, raised from the dead, and has ascended into Heaven.  These words should remind you of a song that we sang today: “From heaven to earth to show the way, from the earth to the cross my debt to pay, from the cross to the grave, from the grave to the sky, Lord, I lift Your Name on high.” Simply put, this is what Jesus did.

And so, we have looked at the Person of Jesus (who He was) and the Work of Jesus (what He did).  What remains for us is to understand why.

If you recall last week’s lesson, you will remember that God is Holy Love.  The Triune Nature of God gives us a picture of who God is, that He is relational, love, and giving of Himself.  Since God, by nature is relational, it only makes sense that Love would flow from Himself in order to reconcile mankind to Him.  Only then could He also be in relationship with His creation, whom He loves.

Jesus , the God-man, came to reconcile you to God.  He put on human flesh in order to reveal God to you, and to allow you to be in relationship with Him.  Perhaps Paul expresses it best when he writes these words to the believers in Colosse—Colossians 1, beginning in verse 15:

15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16For  by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and  invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17He is before all things, and in him  all things hold together. 18And he is the head of the body, the  church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making  peace through his blood, shed on the cross.   

21Once  you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.

Or, we might say: “He became like we are so that we might become like He is.”  Indeed, that is the fundamental reason for the Incarnation—to restore you and me to right relationship with God.  Through Jesus ’ death, we can be restored, and presented as holy in His sight.  That is good news!

We are in the very beginning part of a study through the Articles of Faith of the Church of the Nazarene.  The second article of faith deals specifically with the Person and Work of Jesus the Christ.  In your bulletin, you can find this article of faith, along with the scriptures in which these truths are found.  I encourage you to take time this week to look up those scriptures, and to be reminded of the “Story of Jesus.”  As I read this article to you, you will hear statements expressing His divinity and his humanity, and you will hear statements describing what He did while He was among us.

We believe in Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Triune Godhead; that He was eternally one with the Father; that He became incarnate by the Holy Spirit  and was born of the Virgin Mary, so that two whole and perfect natures, that  is to say the Godhead and manhood, are thus united in one Person very God and very man, the God-man.   

We believe that Jesus Christ died for our sins, and that He truly arose from the dead and took again His  body, together with all things appertaining to the perfection of man’s nature, wherewith He ascended into heaven and is there engaged in intercession for us. 

While the theological discourse on the nature of Jesus is important, without a practical application I suppose it might not really matter.  And so, I ask you this: “Who do you say that He is?”  When it comes right down to it; that is the question that each one of us must come to answer on our own.  We cannot simply be content in the knowledge that Peter has already answered the question.  We cannot merely accept the answers that our parents gave.  Nobody else can answer the question for us.  The question is: “Who do you say that He is?”  Can you, with Peter , assert that “He is the Christ , the Son of the Living God?”  Do you recognize His divinity and His humanity?  Do you confess faith not only in His person, but in His work on the cross?  Do you place your faith alone in Christ —His death and His resurrection—for forgiveness of your sins?

If you can make those affirmations this morning, then I invite you to affirm your faith together with us as we recite the Apostle’s Creed as found in your bulletin.  After affirming your faith, you will be invited to come and partake at His table—which is set for His children.  He makes an invitation for you to come be an adopted child of the King, and by coming you affirm your faith and accept that invitation.

Jesus asks you: “Who do you say that I am?”  If you truly believe these truths, I invite you to answer Him by affirming our faith together, through the reading of the Apostle’s Creed.

I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth;
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
He descended into hades;
the third day He rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy Church universal,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.  Amen.

Benediction: 1 Timothy 6
And may He keep you “without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15which God will bring about in his own time–God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.”