Throughout the Gospels we read of the various responses of the people to Jesus. Some loved Him. Others hated Him. Some worshiped Him. Others plotted to kill Him. Some were amused by Him. Others were annoyed by Him. Some gave up everything to follow Him. Some even gave up their lives instead of giving up their faith in Him. Others denied Him when following Him became too intrusive and inconvenient. The responses to Jesus, in His day, were all over the board. I don’t think anything has changed from that day to this day.
There are those in our day who become indignant when the name and claims of Jesus are brought up. Their faces become flush, the veins in their neck stick out, and they are armed for battle against anyone who would desire to speak to them about Jesus. Then there are those who claim that Jesus is like King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. He’s the stuff of legend and myth. The stories of Jesus are fine children’s stories as long as they are kept in Sunday school or an Awana class on a Wednesday night, but let’s not make too much of them since all sensible people know that He never existed. I believe that the largest group of people in our society is made up of those who believe that Jesus lived; they believe that He was a great teacher, philosopher, humanitarian, revolutionary, and leader, but He was not God. They are fond of Jesus, admire Jesus, respect Jesus, but their admiration is of Jesus the “person.”
One person who embodies this mindset regarding Jesus is the late Charles Templeton. Charles was friends with Billy Graham. The two men preached together. In 1946 they traveled throughout Europe preaching the Gospel with Youth for Christ, but then Charles began to have doubts. He entered Princeton Theological Seminary to try and find answers to his questions, but within a decade, in 1957, he announced that he was agnostic. In 1996, suffering from early Alzheimer’s, Charles Templeton wrote his memoirs, “Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith.”
Mr. Templeton was in his 80’s when he agreed to sit down with Lee Strobel and be interviewed for Mr. Strobel’s book, “The Case for Faith.” The two men talked about a wide range of subjects, but when Lee Strobel asked Mr. Templeton about Jesus, his whole body language changed. Lee said that the old man let down his guard, relaxed, and began to speak as if he were speaking about an old friend. Let me share some of their conversation with you. Mr. Templeton began.
‘He was the greatest human being who has ever lived. He was a moral genius. His ethical sense was unique. He was the intrinsically wisest person that I’ve ever encountered in my life or in my readings. His commitment was total and led to his own death, much to the detriment of the world. What could one say about him except that this was a form of greatness?’ Lee Strobel said, ‘You sound like you really care about him?’ ‘Well, yes, he is the most important thing in my life,’ came his reply. ‘I…I…I…,’ he stuttered, searching for the right word, ‘I know it may sound strange, but I have to say, I adore him!’ ‘…Everything good I know, everything decent I know, everything pure I know, I learned from Jesus. Yes…yes. And tough! Just look at Jesus. He castigated people. He was angry. People don’t think of him that way, but they don’t read the Bible. He had a righteous anger. He cared for the oppressed and exploited. There’s no question that he had the highest moral standard, the least duplicity, the greatest compassion, of any human being in history. There have been many other wonderful people, but Jesus is Jesus…’ ‘Uh…but…no,’ he said slowly, ‘he’s the most…’ He stopped, then started again. ‘In my view,’ he declared, ‘he is the most important human being who has ever existed.’ That’s when Templeton uttered the words I never expected to hear from him. ‘And if I may put it this way,’ he said as his voice began to crack, ‘I miss him!’ With that tears flooded his eyes. He turned his head and looked downward, raising his left hand to shield his face from me. His shoulders bobbed as he wept… Templeton fought to compose himself. I could tell it wasn’t like him to lose control in front of a stranger. He sighed deeply and wiped away a tear. After a few more awkward moments, he waved his hand dismissively. Finally, quietly but adamantly, he insisted: ‘Enough of that.’ (Strobel, Lee. The Case for Faith.)
Charles Templeton’s words may very well stir your heart and bring a lump to your throat, but we need to remember, Jesus never claimed to be any of the things Mr. Templeton so admired about Jesus. Jesus never claimed to be a teacher of morality, an ethicist, or wise sage…He claimed to be God incarnate.
At Charles Templeton’s funeral, his son, Brad, stood to give the eulogy for his father. In the eulogy, Brad said, “To his dying day, he expressed his admiration for Jesus the philosopher, whom he regularly declared to be, though not god, the greatest man who ever lived.” Simply admiring Jesus is stopping short of what is due Him…He is worthy of our worship.
The assertions I’ve just made about Jesus, that He was God incarnate and worthy of our worship, may seem a stretch to even some of you who have declared yourselves to be followers of Jesus. I hope that today’s lesson and the enablement of the Holy Spirit will open your eyes to the truth of what I’ve stated. Let’s read our Scripture found in John 5:16-24.
16 So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. 17 In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” 18 For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. 19 Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed. 21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. 22 Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him. 24 “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. (John 5:16-24 NIV)
Jesus breaking the sabbath was just the beginning of His problems with the Jewish religious leaders. Jesus could have simply apologized for what He had done, He could have quoted the rabbis that it was permissible to do works of mercy on the sabbath, but instead of doing either of these things Jesus equated Himself with God. In John 5:17-18 we read,
17 In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” 18 For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. (John 5:17-18 NIV)
The Jewish rabbis, who were so consumed with observing the sabbath rest, had determined that God was always at work and yet never broke the sabbath because all of His work was within His domain. Remember last week when I shared with you the 39 categories of work that were not permissible on the sabbath? The last one listed is, “one who carries an object from one domain to another.” Since all of heaven and earth is God’s “domain,” God is not breaking the sabbath. The religious leaders knew what Jesus was saying. He was “making himself equal to God.”
God’s Work is Jesus’ Work
Jesus made it clear to the religious leaders that whenever they saw Him at work, they were watching God at work. Jesus didn’t do things on His own, He didn’t seek to emulate the Father, but He did what He did in perfect accordance with the Father’s will. In John 5:19, Jesus said,
19 Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. (John 5:19 NIV)
The Son acted in perfect accord with the Father’s will. The Bible may not mention the word, but it certainly teaches us about the Trinity—the God who is three in one. The three persons of the Godhead—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not three, but one God who is distinguished by what They do. The Father sent the Son into the world for our redemption. The Son, Jesus, submitted Himself to the Father. That is why Jesus said, in John 5:30,
30 By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me. (John 5:30 NIV)
Jesus is the Second Person of the Trinity, He is God, and yet He willingly submitted Himself to the Father. Jesus didn’t just act while He was alive and living among people on planet earth. We read in Scripture that the preexistent One was active in the Creation. Turn with me to Colossians 1:15-20 and I’ll show you what I mean.
15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And 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. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and 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. (Colossians 1:15-20 NIV)
“The Son, Jesus, is the image of the invisible God.” As people watched Jesus work, teach, and interact with the people of His day they were watching God at work.
The Author of Life
All of the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day knew that God alone could give life, heal the sick, or raise the dead. That’s why they were so indignant when Jesus said, in John 5:21,
21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. (John 5:21 NIV)
Throughout the Hebrew Bible we find reference after reference to the belief that God alone can give life and God alone can raise the dead. In Deuteronomy 32:39 we read,
39 “See now that I myself am he! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand. (Deuteronomy 32:39 NIV)
There is an interesting story in 2 Kings 5 about the commander of the king of Aram’s army, Naaman. Naaman was highly respected by the king, he was a soldier’s soldier, but he had leprosy. Through a turn of events some of Naaman’s soldiers had taken some Israelites captive. One of the young Israeli girls became a servant to Naaman’s wife. She told her about a prophet in Israel who could heal Naaman’s leprosy. Naaman told the king who said, “Go, I will send a letter to the king of Israel for you.” In 2 Kings 5:6-7 we read,
6 The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.” 7 As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!” (2 Kings 5:6-7 NIV)
It wasn’t just the religious leaders who knew that God alone gives life, heals, or has the power to raise the dead; even the king of Israel possessed this knowledge. The difference between Jesus and Elijah, or any other prophet or apostle who acted on God’s behalf was this: Jesus didn’t act as a representative of God—He was God incarnate giving life to whom He wished and even raising Lazarus from the dead.
Now that I’ve mentioned Lazarus, do you remember how Jesus responded to Martha when she was grieving the death of her brother? She told the Lord that she knew her brother would live when the resurrection took place on the last day. Jesus said,
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26 NIV)
Jesus not only claimed to be able to raise the dead, He said, “Lazarus come forth!” (vs. 43) and Lazarus got up from the grave, folded his grave clothes, and walked among the living once again. Jesus not only claimed to have the power to raise the dead to eternal life, but He also made it very clear that life as God intends is found only in Him. In John 10:10 Jesus said,
10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10 NIV)
Jesus Has the Authority to Judge
In John 5:22, Jesus said, “Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son,” This statement by Jesus would have been even more evidence to the religious leaders that Jesus was blaspheming the name of God. And, if they were right, He would have been worthy of any punishment they pronounced against Him.
The Hebrew Bible is very clear that God is the Judge of all the earth. In Genesis 18:25, as God is preparing to bring His judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham says to God,
25 Far be it from you to do such a thing–to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25 NIV)
In Deuteronomy, as Moses is preparing the people to cross over into the Promised Land without him, Moses rehearses all of the things they have been taught up to that point. Moses reminds them of the charge given to their judges. Read along with me from Deuteronomy 1:17.
17 Do not show partiality in judging; hear both small and great alike. Do not be afraid of anyone, for judgment belongs to God. Bring me any case too hard for you, and I will hear it.” (Deuteronomy 1:17 NIV)
In the New Testament, in Acts 17, Paul was mixing it up with those in Athens who liked to share their philosophical ideas at the Areopagus. Paul saw an altar with the inscription, “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.” Paul used that inscription to share the Gospel with all of those who had gathered. He talked about the ignorance of those who worshiped idols and images made with hands and then he said,
30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31 NIV)
Now, some may say, “But that’s what Paul said about Jesus. Paul may have identified Jesus as the man God has appointed, but what if Paul was wrong?” That’s a great question and I’d like to answer it by letting you know that Paul arrived at his conclusion because of statements Jesus made about Himself. Let me give you an example. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus gives us the only picture of the final Judgment that He ever shared. In that vivid picture He painted for us, He said,
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. (Matthew 25:31-32 NIV)
Now can you see where Paul got his idea that Jesus is in fact the One God has appointed as the Judge of all the earth? It needs to be said that this is not the primary reason Jesus came to earth. Jesus Himself said,
17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:17-18 NIV)
Jesus came to save those who are lost, those who are separated from God because of their sin, and He has made the way for all of us who will accept Him. Scripture is unequivocal in its declaration that when Jesus returns He will not return as Savior and Reconciler, but as Judge.
Honoring Jesus is Honoring God
As the second Person of the Trinity, Jesus is worthy of all honor and glory that is due to God. Once again, Jesus is not a rival to God, but He is God incarnate. That is why Jesus could say,
23 that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him. (John 5:22 NIV)
Today, we see many people ascribing honor and glory to themselves. High profile people want others to recognize their elevated status. We hear all the time how some of these folks, when pulled over by the Police, will say, “Don’t you know who I am?!” Those of us who are not “high profile” seem to possess the same need to be known, to be recognized, and to feel significant. Jesus never elevated Himself, He never set Himself apart from the crowd, instead He humbled Himself, but the Father has “exalted Him to the highest place.” This is what we read in Philippians 2:9-11. Read along with me.
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11 NIV)
I wish we had more time to take a look at all of the Scripture that teaches us that Jesus was more than any man who has ever lived. Not that He was more moral, more compassionate, more god-like, more philanthropic, or wise. He was certainly more than any person who has ever lived in these areas, but these are the things those who admire Jesus list as His commendable qualities. When I say that Jesus was more than any man who ever lived, I mean that He was God incarnate. The God of all creation entered the womb of a young virgin, lived among us facing ridicule and persecution from every corner, and then willingly gave His life for us—His blood shed for our redemption. You can say lots of things about Jesus, but if you stop short of saying that He is God then you’ve failed to truly recognize Him for who He is. C.S. Lewis put it this way.
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.)
Will you fall at His feet and declare with Thomas, “My Lord and God!” or will you continue to admire Him from a distance? You and I have to decide. Won’t you fall on your knees and worship Him this very morning?
Britton Christian Church
February 9, 2014