December 15, 2013

Who is Jesus?

Today’s sermon title seems obvious, doesn’t it? Who is Jesus? He is the basis for the Christian faith. He is the Son of God that was born in Bethlehem. We celebrate his birthday and coming at Christmas. He came to save us from our sins. Easy stuff!

But if you were to ask 100 people “Who is Jesus”, you might get a lot of different answers. Some may give you a relational description like Son of God, Shepherd, and God in the flesh. Others might describe him by his role such as Savior, sacrificial Lamb, or Redeemer. And still others could explain him through his actions like the One who died and resurrected, a miracle worker, prophet, etc.

If you remember last week’s message, I mentioned that John the Baptist was a voice in the wilderness preparing the way of the Lord. And though we didn’t get into the specific baptism of Jesus, John addressed Jesus by saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and do you come to me?” Matt 3:14.

Today’s text comes 7 chapters after last week’s Gospel reading. John has been arrested and thrown into prison by the Romans for stirring up the masses with his message of a new King (the Messiah). John the Baptist had his own set of disciples (students) that he had been teaching about the Messiah’s return. At this time in Scripture, we don’t know how long he had been in prison, but he has been there long enough to begin questioning his understanding of Jesus. Who is Jesus? Is he really the Messiah?

So John sends his disciples to Jesus to ask “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” This is the same John the Baptist that told Jesus he was not worthy of baptizing the Messiah in the Jordan River. What is going on? Why would John start questioning who Jesus is?

There are two things that are important to remember. First, it is easy for us to assume Jesus is the Son of God 2,000 years after his life. But at the time, this was a man who looked no different from any other working class guy, born to a teenager, teaching about God in a very different way than the Jewish understanding of faith, and is walking into synagogues and stating that he is the Son of God. Let’s not kid ourselves, in today’s world Jesus and the disciples would probably be considered another extremist group that most people would ignore. We are no different today than the people in Scripture.

The second point is that the Jewish people expected the Messiah’s coming to be that of a religious hero, coming down from the clouds of heaven, conquering and defeating the Roman Imperial Army, and bringing the Kingdom of heaven to Jerusalem. Jesus’ message of love, compassion, and mercy was far from expectations! Where was the Divine power? Where was the judgment against the enemies who imprisoned and tortured followers of Christ?

So the messengers of John ask Jesus, ‘Are you the One or are we supposed to be looking for someone else?’ When we think about it, they weren’t asking a crazy question.

Who are you Jesus? What do you mean that we are supposed to forgive those who have wronged us? How can you allow bad things to happen to good people? Where are you when we are going through overwhelming times and see nothing but darkness and feel nothing but despair? Who is Jesus? Are we anymore sure than John? And if we are absolutely sure that Jesus is who he says he is and has done what he said he did, why are we so hesitant to acknowledge him in public?

Jesus responded, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

Paying attention to details is really important in reading Scripture. Notice how Matthew describes Jesus’ first sentence…tell John what you HEAR and SEE. He considers hearing the Good News to be of higher priority than viewing his miracles. Why? It is not his miracles that save us! Jesus was not the only miracle worker. Remember Moses and the plagues on Egypt? He turned his staff into a snake, he changed river water into blood, and split the Red Sea. Jesus did not want to simply be known as a miracle worker. There was more to him than that.

But another important point is shared in Jesus’ response. “Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” In Mark chapter 6 we read,

“He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us? And they took offense at him.”

The Greek word “skandalidzo” (skan-dal-id-zo) is translated offense in this text. It is where we get the word ‘scandal’ or ‘to scandalize’ from. So what does it mean to ‘take offense at him’? Other translations describe 1) to put a stumbling block in the way, 2) to entice to sin, 3) to cause a person to distrust, 4) and to cause one to judge unfavorably of another.

The people in Jesus hometown described by Mark didn’t trust him. They took offense at him meaning they publically denounced him, intentionally disputed his authority, and boldly disrespected him. Even the righteous Pharisees planned to trap Jesus in his teachings when John described them as a ‘brood of Vipers’ in last week’s lesson. Blessed are those who take NO offense at me.

While John questioned whether Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus acknowledged John as the greatest of prophets and he does the same with us. When we turn away from Jesus, he does not turn his back on us. Who is Jesus? He is God, he is true love, unselfishly giving his own life, our mediator in the midst of our sins, passionately providing for our needs, and our hope today and forever. Amen.