Today, we continue taking a look at the foundations of our Christian faith. How are we doing that? We are taking a look at an ancient creed called, “The Apostle’s Creed.” Remember that this creed came into play during the 4th century to combat heresy (or false teachings) about Christianity. So while it was not written by the apostles, it contains the very core of their teachings.
Last week I said there are seven core values listed in the creed, however upon closer examination, there are just six. Five of the statements are quick one line statements, and one of the statements has ten sub-statements to it. The Apostle’s Creed has ten statements regarding Jesus Christ. For many in the early church, this was the most controversial part of Christianity. Therefore, several councils were held to hammer out these doctrines. This is one of the reasons that the Nicene Creed is similar but has an even longer section on Jesus Christ.
The controversy about Jesus did not end in the early five centuries of Christianity. The fact that there is so much controversy, points out to us that Jesus must be important. So, who is Jesus?
Over the centuries there have been a myriad of responses to that question, and precious little agreement. Ask any two people who Jesus is and you’re likely to get three responses.
- Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said that “the word ‘Christianity’ is already a misunderstanding—in reality there has been only one Christian and He died on the Cross” (The Anti-Christ, 39).
- Camille Paglia called Jesus “a brilliant Jewish stand-up comedian, a phenomenal improviser,” and said, “His parables are great one-liners” (Harper’s magazine, March 1991).
- American poet Ezra Pound called Jesus “a heroic figure not wholly to blame for the religion that’s been foisted on Him” (quoted by Humphrey Carpenter, A Serious Character, part 2, chapter 13).
- Mohandas Gandhi called Jesus “a man who was completely innocent,” and referred to Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross as “a perfect act” (Non-Violence in Peace and War, vol. 2, chapter 166).
- Former Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev said “Jesus was the first socialist, the first to seek a better life for mankind” (London Daily Telegraph, June 16, 1992).
- Former Beatle John Lennon said, “Jesus was all right, but His disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me” (London Evening Standard, March 4, 1966).
Whatever one’s opinion about Jesus, it would be difficult to disagree with novelist H. G. Wells, who said, “Jesus Christ is the most unique person of history. No man can write the history of the human race without giving first and foremost place to this penniless teacher of Nazareth.”
Indeed, he is correct. Our measurement of time is divided by this Jesus. The time before he existed is marked as BC and the time after is marked as AD.
With this I ask you this question, “Who is this Jesus?” As we’ve already seen, this question has baffled men and women for centuries. How you deal with it makes all the difference.
Our look at who Jesus is will span two weeks. Today we want to look at his divinity (or Jesus is fully God.) Next week we will look at the rest of the statement which includes his humanity (Jesus was fully human while here on earth.) To help us understand this more, let’s go to Matthew chapter 16:13-18.
13 When 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.
You see, that that controversy over who Jesus is and was is nothing new. Even while He was here on earth people didn’t know who he was. Jesus was called many things while on earth: Lamb of God, Son of God, King of Israel, Rabbi, Teacher, Beelzebub, Christ, Friend of sinners, demon-possessed, a prophet, a glutton , and a blasphemer. Here the disciples even offer a few more words. “Some say you’re Elijah, some say John the Baptist and some say your Jeremiah the prophet. Jesus wasn’t satisfied at their answers. He asks, “Who do you say I am?” It’s important to note the location of where Jesus asks this question. They were in the city of Caesarea Philippi about twenty five miles northeast of the Sea of Galilee. The population was not Jewish and they prone to pagan worship practices. Caesar worship permeated the city which was also the home of fourteen temples of Baal. The most revered god in this region was Pan, the universal god. It was here at the crossroads of pagan worship that Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say I am?” It’s an important question because men and women have been asking the question for centuries. It’s a perennial question.
It’s not only a perennial question, it is a personal question. Everyone seems to have an opinion of who Jesus is. As Jesus asked the questions to his disciples that day, he wasn’t only interested in the crowd’s opinion, he really wanted to know what His disciples thought. Jesus needed to know. He needed to know because these disciples were the future of the new church Jesus was about to establish. There is no room for middle ground. Jesus said that he who is not with Him is against Him and no one can serve two masters.
There are really only four answers to this question of who Jesus is. To say that Jesus was a great man, a prophet even, is to admit you have never read His words. What are the four possibilities?
Jesus was a Legend. First, you may conclude that Jesus was a legend. There was never really any such person as Jesus. It’s just something folks made up, and the legend has been going on for centuries. If you take this position, you are probably in a very small group today, because there is more evidence, more historical record, more textual proof, and more data for the existence of Jesus Christ than for almost any other person in history.
Jesus was a Liar. Second, you might conclude that Jesus was a liar. Jesus was deceiving people left and right, you may say. He had this incredible ability to completely fool thousands of people in His day through crazy antics and impressive (but not real) healings. The greatest lie was His supposed resurrection. Quite imaginative, even if it is not true. Even more impressive is the fact that all but two of His twelve disciples were killed for following Him. Would you die for a lie? Really now, Jesus could not have been a liar.
Jesus was a Lunatic. But maybe Jesus was a lunatic. Only a madman would say the things Jesus said about Himself. Only a lunatic would be genius enough to fool so many people. But isn’t that an even harder argument to accept than to believe what He said about Himself? How will you explain the miracles, the words of love, and the empty tomb? No, Jesus wasn’t crazy. He was not a liar, nor was He only a mirage or a legend.
Jesus is Lord. The forth conclusion is all that is left: Jesus is Lord. When you come down to this as the only viable option, it becomes very personal, doesn’t it? As Jesus looked around that little band of men for an answer, He caught Peter’s eye just as Peter began to answer, “You are the Christ.” At that moment, Peter made a declaration that would follow him for the rest of his life. The answer to this question would define Peter’s reactions in hundreds of situations yet to come. Peter’s answer would even help to settle the question of where he would spend eternity.
And so this perennial, personal question comes to a point. Who do you say Jesus is? Can you say as Peter did, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.“ Even now there are those who want to play down the Christ portion of the declaration.
On Keith Drury’s website, there is a wonderful article entitled, “I’ll take Jesus, Hold the Christ.” Here’s what he says,
“The Jesus story presents a wandering peasant teaching profound lessons in how to live life meaningfully. This Jesus showed love and acceptance to all kinds of people and was a perfect example of tolerance and compassion. This Jesus worked the fringes of society and spent most of his time with the outcasts. He was eventually killed by none other than the leaders of organized religion, who are the bad guys in this story. This Jesus story is both a romance and a tragedy—he was a really good man we all liked who was framed by the people with power. The bad guys in this story are religious and the heroes are all rebels and outsiders led by the radical religion-hating Jesus. The lessons are about how to treat others and live a meaningful life. The Jesus story gives a model or example to follow in the genre of WWJD.”
There’s something terribly tragic if this is how we view Jesus. Jesus Christ was not just a man who told neat stories and modeled a life for us to live. (These are true) But He is also the Christ, fully God, fully Divine. “…He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, was crucified, dead, and buried; he ascended into Hades and on the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from where he will judge the living and the dead.” We cannot forget that Jesus Christ, the son of God, humbled himself to a human form and died a cruel death on a cross by his own creation. He shed his blood and his body was broken for the redemption of humankind, the very ones who killed him. He died and most importantly, He rose again. No other figure in human history has risen from the dead.
You have an important question in front of you this morning. Who is Jesus? What you do with that question makes all the difference. Can you say as Peter did? “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” If you can say that, have you surrendered your life to Jesus, placed your life in his hands. The answer determines your eternity. If you haven’t surrendered your life to him, perhaps today is the day to confess your sins, repent, believe and receive him today. It will make all the difference.