Bible Readings: John 1.1-14; I John 1.1-2.2; Heb 1.1-3
“I just don’t get it” agnostics often say to me at the university or on desert retreats, “about Jesus. ‘God’ I can get, sort of, but the Jesus thing, God-and-man, I can’t understand it.” Apparently, because they do not understand it all, they feel they must remain ‘agnostic’. Others say they can never ‘know for certain’, and so remain un-committed, that is, unable to launch into Christian action or short changed on spiritual depth.
As a consequence, Christians who have not thought about their faith tend to agree – yes I see what you mean – and so forfeit their Christianity in favour of something else. Xty is about Jesus. This sermon addresses that question in one way only. How can we talk about Jesus being the fully God-fiuly human one?? What does it actually mean?
I am not addressing the arrogance of the wearers of bumper stickers. “I think therefore I am an atheist.” IT attempts to claim that the only people who have had anything to say during the entire enlightenment since Descartes’ “I think therefore I am” are atheists. There are t-shirts and bumper stickers designed by the atheists to intimidate us and shut us up. So, how can we speak sensibly? How do the Christians think about Jesus?
I am consciously stepping off from the terrific sermon last week of Rick Pekan about the mission of Jesus, that is, his achievements in Incarnation, Salvation and Restoration. I am trying to equip you all for a confident life and witness. Today, do not try to stay with all the logic just let it wash around you – I hope to make you swoon.
As Rick described and as the Uniting Church basis of Union believes Christianity is about Jesus Christ, about worship and witness with Him. It is not generally about “the divine” or “spirituality”, and it si specifically a New Testament tradition. Mercifully, therefore, our agnostic’s question is keeping us honest. What do we mean by the God-man thing?
What shall we say to our agnostic friend on this matter?
This what we can say first.
“You are right, we can NEVER fully know the God-man thing, but we can know enough.”
I will go through three points about that: Fully God. Fully man. Putting the two together.
1a.How can anyone be FULLY God?
Why is this a hard question? Well, tall about God is usually cut off by words that are “infinite” and “omni-something”, effectively cutting off the conversation into generalities at best. I would like to be less simplistic and start with a reasonably good and understandable statement about a Christian God.
1.We generally know that God is spiritual. God exists in a non-material, parallel, timeless dimension, a kind of cosmic white-matter.
2. God is not an object, however. A personal God can choose to enter our dimensions or hold back, like someone who watches us walk past from their front garden.( Humans expelled themselves from that garden!)
We can go a lot further.
3.God has been understood to be infinite, and other very abstract omni-words BUT he is also quite particular in goals and character.
4.He has chosen to reveal himself by actions and interactions within human history BUT he is also mysterious beyond any containment in our little human thought boxes.
5.He is all powerful, yes, that matters somewhat yet through Jesus we know that more importantly he is all loving so he holds back on power.
6.He fills all creation with his glory yet is hidden from direct view with the physical eyes, and hidden from our other eyes by our habit of willful blindness.
This would all be news to our agnostic probably, her views being mostly shaped by adolescent information from school assemblies or television programmes. But even so, we haven’t been able to prove yet what is ‘fully god’, so they are staying agnostic.
But wait a minute. All these knowledge-statements above are quite ordinary, and not special. Our knowledge of God is limited, yes, but so is our knowledge of nearly everything else –
· all our ideals are conditional upon having the wisdom when to apply them,
· our knowledge of any one person is often surprised,
· there are books on the infinity buried in the number zero,
· how do you explain a vacuum,
· where do you directly see gravity apart from its influence on objects,
· millions of songs say that we do not fully understand love and beauty and goodness and all the really good stuff that we use and operate every day. Not knowing all is not the same as not knowing enough to act. The issue is whether you will take the risk in trust upon what you do know. OR, in biblical language, live on faith.
Hear me say ‘trust’ and not ‘leap in the dark’, usually spoken as a misquote of Kierkegaard. Faith is NOT based on nothing but wishfully believing; faith is like getting in an aircraft for a journey. Who of us has ever circled the aircraft checking everything before boarding for the journey? We know enough to trust ourselves to this vehicle. Knowing Jesus is like that.
Yes, God is known and remains unknown, and this way of knowing is very ordinary .
So we can say that Jesus is fully God. We have gathered enough data – He is one with the Father, lord of the sabbath, conveys God’s glory, He is the author of life, the Logos of creation, who was with God and was God, the great “I am”. He is the bread of life, the light of the world, and it is the risen Jesus to whom Thomas said: “My Lord and My God”. In Him all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form, he pre-existed in the form of God, was often worshipped and even prayed to.
Here is a long list of bible references, to which we could add themes and stories (verse-quoting is not enough):
1. John 1:1 – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
1. John 1:14 – “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
2. John 5:18 – “For this cause therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.”
3. John 8:24 – “I said therefore to you, that you shall die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you shall die in your sins.”
1. Note: In the Greek, “He” is not there.
4. John 8:58 – “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.’”
1. Exodus 3:14 – “And God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’; and He said, Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”
5. John 10:30-33 – “I and the Father are one.” 31 The Jews took up stones again to stone Him. 32 Jesus answered them, “I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?” 33 The Jews answered Him, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.”
6. John 20:28 – “Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
7. Col. 2:9 – “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.”
8. Phil. 2:5-8 – “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
9. Heb. 1:8 – “But of the Son He says, “Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom.”
1. Quoted from Psalm 45:6, “Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of uprightness is the scepter of Thy kingdom.”
10. Matt. 4:10 – “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Begone, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.”’”
11. Matt. 2:2 – “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him.”
12. Matt. 2:11 – “And they came into the house and saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell down and worshiped Him; and opening their treasures they presented to Him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.”
13. Matt. 14:33 – “And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “You are certainly God’s Son!”
14. Matt. 28:9 – “And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him.”
15. John 9:35-38 – “Jesus heard that they had put him out; and finding him, He said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered and said, “And who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you.” 38 And he said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped Him.”
16. Heb. 1:6 – “And when He again brings the first-born into the world, He says, ‘And let all the angels of God worship Him.’”
17. Acts 7:55-60 – “But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; 56 and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears, and they rushed upon him with one impulse. 58 And when they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him, and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And they went on stoning Stephen as he called upon the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” 60 And falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” And having said this, he fell asleep.”
18. 1 Cor. 1:1-2 – “Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, 2 to the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.” (The phrase, “to call upon the name of the Lord” is a phrase used to designate prayer.)
1. 1 Kings 18:24 – “Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, He is God.” And all the people answered and said, “That is a good idea.”
2. Zech. 13:9 – “And I will bring the third part through the fire, refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are My people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’”
19. Rom. 10:13-14 – “for ‘whoever will call upon the name of the Lord’ will be saved.” 14 How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard?” (Paul is speaking of calling upon Jesus. (The phrase “Call upon the name of the Lord” is a quote from Joel 2:32)).
1. Joel 2:32 – “And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered: for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the LORD hath said, and in the remnant whom the LORD shall call.” (LORD here is YHWH, the name of God as revealed in Exodus 3:14. Therefore, this quote, dealing with God Himself is attributed to Jesus.)
20. Isaiah 44:6 – “Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God besides Me.”
1. Rev. 1:17-18 – “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, 18 and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.”
Jesus is worshipped – Jesus said to worship God only, yet He receives worship. Jesus is prayed to, He is the First and Last
From this data, Jesus is clearly a God-being.
We know this because he was raised from the dead by God – to approve his bold claims.
What claims are those? He said he came from God and was returning to God. He performed well-reported miracles of power not just over sicknesses like a shaman but victorious over evil spirits and control over nature. He forgave sins as God alone can do, as he said, he comes to ransom us from our sins. He loves the whole world which requires quite an extensive reach, and existed before Abraham, who lived 1800 years previously. Jesus was regarded as greater than Moses, who in closeness to God was the top of the tree up to that day.
In words and deeds, the claims he made, the claims that others made about him, even the charges that were brought against him – they all point to the same mind-boggling reality that the believers have always struggled to put into words. Contrary to current media and theologians’ propaganda, I do not believe that the church evolved or invented this idea – we simply struggled to see the impossible that was happening before our very eyes and then we struggled some more to describe the experience. Every part of our limited brains and culture would try to fit Jesus into a box. Like our agnostic friend. But we resisted. Jesus in history and experience is too wonderful for that reduction.
No wonder we say he is fully God. No wonder we worship Him, mighty God, prince of peace, everlasting father. No wonder we call him our Saviour and our Lord, our lover and life and our coming deliverer.
AND because he is God, the risks that disciples need to take are safe with him – the risks in spirituality, the risks in generosity with money and time and words, the risks in ministry commitments, the risks in all of our lives and decisions and callings, the risks in giving forgiveness and peace-making, the risks in searching for truth and love and hope – all these are safe enough to trust because He is God.
1b The second step in understanding the God-man thing is to register the limits in how any human being can be FULLY understood? Let me give one honest example.
e.g. I have known my wife Margaret for half a century (she gave me permission to tell this story). I am madly in love with her so I have watched her closely and known her and seen her best and her … not-quite best. Married for thirty seven years, working together closely on household and child-rearing and ministry tasks, I know her better than any other person on the planet and… she is sometimes a complete mystery to me! Situation normal. All people are like this. Known and mystery, both.
Why is it so? It is not a barrier, dear agnostic friend, it is an adventure.
Look around you at the faces that you see. Every person has motives we cannot completely describe. The person next to you has their own way of thinking, their own package of emotions, ways of coping, and personality preferences.
Have you read how Isaiah and Psalms speak of how utterly precious fine gold is each person, the sacredness of our name, the awesome responsibility that we have been given for our neighbours?
I have come to believe that the inner space in each person is as wondrous as all of outer space. Our minds and emotions are the deepest oceans.
Step back and look at what we are describing here – To live our years in friendship, in marriage, in community is a long adventure, a voyage of discovery, of how each person reflects in their own particular way the Image of God. We cannot fully understand how that works, but we can understand. The mystery is the adventure, the reason to love one another – so that we can see the other. It is not the reason to stop.
So we CAN say that Jesus is fully human, and we have used terms like – the great high priest, son of man, messiah, the second Adam, the firstborn of the new Creation. Fully human, top guy.
And we know this because we have enough data that shows that he was born of a woman, eating and drinking, walking and weeping, living and dying, touching and welcoming, embracing and kissing, sleeping and praying. He moved house, had problems with his mother, felt anger and compassion, ran low on money now and then, loved the wildflowers and the birds. All that pretty normal. Not so average, he established an historically and globally new nationality with twelve new tribes, that is still growing after two millennia. He suffered from political compromises, spoke as a prophet, enjoyed his friends and called us his friends. He was a healer, teacher, rabbi and Jew. Simply human.
I have another page of bible verses to show this.
Yet he is NOT at the same level as Paul, Lydia, Mary, Moses, Esther, David, other saints, and other heroes. This man, this son of man, drew the adulation of the crowds and the anger of the egotists. None of his enemies or friends, try as they might, have uncovered a secret sin, a scandal or fatal flaw. No wonder we follow him as role model for our love. To be like Jesus is to be our best self. He is the pioneer or trailblazer (as Hebrews says) for our faith – fully human, fully alive, full of love, our brother and master, the light of life, the word of God.
The love songs for him will never cease nor the wondrous glance in prayer nor the thanksgivings for his endless gifts and grace. Why would we Christians let all this go just for a vaguely cosmic deity or just for the emotion that comes from “wonder”.
We know him, and have only begun to know him. The adventure unfolds before us.
Just because we do nto fully understand it does not mean we do not commit or act. With just enough to trust in hope, the adventure then unfolds – bigger and better, backwards and upwards.
3.So what happens when we try pull all this together?
A couple of things. One an admission to keep us honest, the other a challenge to the agnostics and probably the atheists.
1. I can make the exciting admission that there is a kind of agnostic streak within true Christian faith. It is completely ordinary to acknowledge that we cannot fully understand how can Jesus can be both fully god and fully man. We can’t box God. Can’t box humans. Putting the two together doesn’t suddenly make it all crystal. BUT there is a simplicity and confidence that comes from knowing Jesus personally, as I know Margaret. How do we do this? Three short introductory procedures:
· He is unique , like we are all, yet he is unsurpassed. Go into the change-rooms at the beach and you will quickly agree that some mirrors are simply better than others. Jesus is the only true clear reflection of what God is like. Heb 1.1-3. Simply put: if you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus.
· We know this by the Spirit he sends upon us, which is in us who believe, who welcome his love. So welcome him. If you want spiritual depth, ask Jesus.
· We become inheritors of His grace and imitators of his life, when we share in his sufferings, when we walk in his walk, when we see him in those who are hungry and naked and imprisoned . If you want to know why you are on the earth, do the teachings of Jesus, and you will be met by him along the way.
Back to the big question. The agnostic’s questions are very welcome and are sometimes closer to the faith than the confident dogma of the people who have God in their box.
But the t shirt is an arrogant and ignorant admission by the atheist, on a par with “I play football so I am superior”. May I say: The truth is much more interesting than that.
Which leads us to the last thing we can say about the way we think about Jesus.
1. I have tried to show how this is a normal conversation. I am not claiming special privileges for what I am saying.There is however a huge challenge in admitting this. The Jesus thing, as I am describing it, is simply how reality is. The way we think about Jesus challenges every other way of thinking and every other academic discipline in every language on the planet. It is how Christians think, yes, but the reality of Jesus challenges us in four ways:
a In the face of Jesus, you have to act. He says we must not philosophise endlessly, sitting on the fence, for our end is coming and our life is wasted if lived to a false purpose. More importantly, others need now our acts of compassion. They cannot afford to pay for our armchair philosophies or our shallow charities. To walk the distance that makes the difference that is needed requires a source fo spiritual depth such as Jesus. This is a challenge to take a risk on trust. Heaven help any young person who cannot take on this challenge.
b.In the light of Jesus, our ego is de-throned. For the successful or highly intelligent or the beautiful people this can be deeply de-stabilising. There is the challenge of humility. Heaven help any one in human relationships at work and home who cannot manage this challenge.
c.In the truth about Jesus, reality involves a lot of thought about a lot of ordinary and extra-ordinary things. The challenge is to think a new thought, have a new frame. Heaven help any form of science or art which deliberately avoids this challenge.
1. In the loving face of Jesus we cannot remain isolated in a bubble of our own making. We have to acknowledge that we need more than self-made strength to build the love that builds the trust that builds communities of peace and justice. We need Jesus. Others need us to want Jesus. And he will respond freely to a half-baked, sort-of-doubting word of welcome.
WILL YOU BE GAME ENOUGH TO JOIN IN THIS CONCLUDING RISKY PRAYER?
Man Jesus, Lord Jesus, Christ Jesus,
With you here,
we see again that we are at the beginning of a great voyage of discovery.
we are ready enough to risk taking action,
To follow you in your ways.
we are ready enough to risk humility,
to subdue our fat relentless ego, to be lifted up from shame.
As far as we can see,
We are ready enough to risk a new thought,
open to possibilities, reach new dimensions by the Spirit you have given.
Among this local assortment of disciples,
We are ready enough to love in your way,
a way enscribed deep in the DNA of our universe,
though butchered by the willfully blind.
Here, now, today and ever onwards
Word of God, Lamb of God, Son of God, Son of Man
We love you.