Who Is Jesus?

“Who Is Jesus?”

December 30, 2018

Pastor Lucas Bitter

Intown Lutheran Church (Atlanta, GA)

John 1:1-14

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not understood it.

6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

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

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

The old man sat in his office, tired.  He had seen so much in his life.  

Think for a minute about the way most people prefer to retire today – maintain their current standard of living, stay in a familiar place surrounded by familiar things, and if they do travel its either to visit their grandkids or head to their condo in Florida.  

This old man in the office was living far from the ideal retirement.  But he wasn’t complaining.  In fact, he still had important work left to do.  Rummaging amidst his things, he found a pen and a blank scroll, sat down at his desk, and began to write a history.  The events he wrote about had happened more than 50 years ago. . . .and yet he still remembered all the details just as clearly as if it had happened yesterday. 

Back in the days when Jerusalem was still standing . . . .when Tiberius Caesar was Emperor of Rome, and Herod Antipas was tetrarch of Galilee. . . . a Jewish man from Nazareth began attracting a lot of attention.  He traveled throughout the countryside, preaching sermons to massive crowds of 10,000 or more people, healing the sick, and casting out demons.  He made incredibly bold claims that he was the Bread of Life, the Light of the World, the Good Shepherd who would lay down his life for this sheep, the One with the power to raise the dead on the Last Day.  He claimed to be the long-awaited Messiah, the only Way to God the Father, and in fact to be so divine himself that he could honestly say, “I and the Father are One.”

Historically, there is no doubt that Jesus of Nazareth had made some bold, incredible-sounding claims.  But here’s something more even more incredible: the old man writing this history believed every single one of them, completely and without reservation! 

It wasn’t because he was growing senile in his old age.

It wasn’t because he had been deluded by the writings of earlier historians.

It wasn’t because he had become obsessed with a bunch myths and legends and superstitions about Jesus that had cropped up over the years.

It was because he had been there.

Back in the days when Jerusalem was still standing, John had walked with Jesus.  He had talked with Jesus.  He had been one of Jesus’ 12 disciples . . . and he had seen everything.  He had witnessed literally thousands of miracles, in public and in private.  He had glimpsed the dazzling glory of heaven shining off of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration.  He had sat next to Jesus at the Last Supper, watched Jesus die on the cross, and granted Jesus’ dying wish of taking care of his mother after he was gone.  Then 3 days later on Easter morning, John had seen the empty tomb with his own eyes.  That night he saw the risen Jesus, touched him with his own hands, and watched him eat a piece of boiled fish to prove he was really alive.  A few weeks after that John stood on the mountain with the others and watched Jesus ascend into heaven, after giving the command that his disciples were to go and preach the gospel to all nations.

John didn’t just know the facts of Jesus’ life, he knew the man himself –  the ins and outs of his character, his personality, his sense of humor, the things he believed in and stood for.  I think you could make the case that almost nobody on this earth knew Jesus of Nazareth better than the Apostle John did. 

Now 50 years later, John picks up his pen and begins writing his gospel.  Through both his own words and the words of many other eyewitnesses, he pleads with his readers to come to the same conclusion about Jesus that those original 12 disciples did: this man was the Son of God.

John begins his eyewitness testimony about Jesus with the verses of our gospel lesson for today.  You might expect a story about Jesus to begin with his birth in Bethlehem . . . . . but John’s history of Jesus starts way, way earlier.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.

How could Jesus make the claims he did?  How could Jesus do all the miracles he did?  How could Jesus rise from the dead like he did?  In the very first verse of his gospel John tells us the answer.  Jesus is “the Word,” through whom the entire word was created.  In Jesus was life, which gives light to all mankind.  Jesus wasn’t just “with God”. . . . . Jesus “was God.”  All the way back at the creation of the world.

But shortly after the creation of the world, the world fell into sin. . . .and so God made a plan to save it.  And that plan involved the Eternal Word becoming flesh and living among people.  The Son of God would become a man.  And he would provide a pathway through which fallen mankind could still enter heaven.  He would be like breath of fresh air to a suffocating world.  Like a drink of fresh water to people dying of thirst.  Like a light, shining in the darkness.

But there was just one problem.

 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. 

10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.

 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 

Even though Jesus entered the world through the Jewish nation as promised, was born of a virgin as promised, was born in a manger as promised, did miracles as promised, and specifically told people that he was the Son of God as promised. . . . the leaders of his own nation were so skeptical and unbelieving that they were the ones who handed him over to be crucified.

50-some years later, even though Jesus had risen from the grave and appeared to hundreds of people, even though the gospel message had been spread far and wide throughout the Mediterranean world, even though the Christianity was thriving in the face of violent persecution from the outside. . . . some churches were beginning to crumble on the inside, plagued by false teachings like the one that said Jesus was not really God but only a man.

And today, though the Bible has been incredibly well preserved and translated into all the main languages of the world, even though the name Jesus Christ is extremely well known in our country, for the majority of people that baby in the manger is not the main point of the holiday.  He’s a side note, a religious flourish, alongside the main attractions of shopping and cookies and presents and Santa Claus.

“The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”

Why?  In every single age, why does the Son of God get such a bad reception?

The answer is simple.  It’s because he was coming to a sick planet. 

If all the people on earth were spiritually “well,” the exciting news that the angels sang to the shepherds in Bethlehem would quickly have been spread all over the earth.  “The Son of God is here!”  This event would immediately have become everyone’s top priority, and the whole world would have rolled out the red carpet to meet their newborn king.

If all the people on earth were spiritually “well,” there would have been no false teachings about Jesus circulating around the New Testament churches, and thus no reason for John to even write his gospel when 3 other perfectly good gospels about Jesus’ life had already been written.

In fact, if all the people on earth were spiritually “well,” Jesus have never had to come into our world and take on human flesh and die on the cross in the first place.

But the people of this world are not spiritually “well.” 

“All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.”

 “The sinful mind is hostile to God.  It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.”

All of us are born sick, born blind, born unable to see things as they truly are.  We cannot see how it would actually be best for God, not us, to be in charge of our lives.  We cannot see how at would actually be best to put the needs of others ahead of our own.  We cannot see how selfishly we are actually living on a day-to-day basis.  And we do not realize what a massive rebellion all of this constitutes against God.

 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not understood it.

Navigating this life on our own and expecting to make it to heaven at the end is like navigating a minefield in the middle of the night and expecting to reach the other side alive.  It’s dangerous.  It’s suicidal.  It’s impossible.

So God turns on the lights.  If we had room for a 4th reading this morning, I would have included this amazing passage from 2 Corinthians.  The Apostle Paul writes, “God, who said ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.”  In other words, the same God who created light from nothing at the beginning of the world is the God who creates faith from nothing in the hearts of people.  The way he does it is he doesn’t give up.  He just keeps sending people his gospel message over and over – using books like the Gospel of John –  until the Holy Spirit clears our vision and helps us to see Jesus for who he actually is: the safe and certain path to heaven.

In the first 9 weeks of the New Year we will be walking through a series called “The Remarkable Life of Jesus.”  As narrated by John and the other gospel-writers, we’ll see Jesus displaying unusual wisdom as a child.  We’ll see him being publicly recognized by God at his baptism.  We’ll see him defeating Satan in the wilderness, and performing all kinds of miracles, and shining his glory on the Mountain of Transfiguration.  As we walk through these and other events, we will realize from 9 different angles the amazing truth about who Jesus really is.

He’s God.  He’s also a human being.  And he’s both those things at the same time.

That miraculous double identity may be impossible for us to understand, and yet it’s what was exactly what was necessary if Jesus was really going to save us.   God and the human race had been disconnected by sin.  The only way for them to be reconnected again was by a mediator with a foot in both camps. 

In order for Jesus to relate to us, and understand where we’re coming from, and sit with us in our trouble and sorrow, he needed to be a real person. 

  • A real person who had to trust in God during the tough times of life, instead of taking things into his own hands.
  • A real person who experienced real feelings, like sickness and loneliness and pain and loss.
  • A real person who knows what it’s like to face temptation.
  • A real person who could face sin’s final penalty of death.

And yet if Jesus were just a person he could not have been our Savior.  In order to save us and rescue us and lift us from the trouble and sorrow of this life to eternal life in heaven, he also needed to be true God.

  • True God who could live a perfect life with no sin – the only perfect life that has ever been lived. 
  • True God who could make his death on the cross count for something bigger than himself – in fact, to distribute it to people all over the world. 
  • True God with the power to absorb a whole eternity of hell in just one afternoon on the cross. 
  • True God with the power to rise victoriously from the dead just 3 day later.

God and the human race had been disconnected by sin.  The only way for them to be reconnected again was by a mediator with a foot in both camps.  And so God himself became that mediator in the person of Jesus Christ, joining us in our world so that one day we could join him in his.

John explains that beautiful news in this way: 12 To all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

I think that passage shines so beautifully in our world today, where so many people come from broken families.  God’s ideal building block for society – the family unit of a father, mother, and their children living together in harmony – is completely crumbling and falling apart.  Today’s families are so fragmented that many people are left wondering what it even feels like to be part of a functional family.  I don’t know the story of every family here today, but I do know this.  vv. 12-13 contain a beautiful promise for everyone.  These verses assure you that no matter who you are, no matter what your upbringing was like, no matter what scars or baggage or trauma or emptiness you might have because of your earthly family, by faith in Christ you have now been adopted into a heavenly family that is absolutely perfect.  You have a Father in heaven who does far more than an earthly father, or mother, could ever do.  He listens and he cares and he comfort and he always has time for you.  He defends and he provides and he protects and he always does what’s best for you.  And one day when your life on this earth comes to an end, your perfect Father in heaven will give you a perfect inheritance.   Eternal life with him.

And that life will be so wonderful that it will make up for all the shortcomings of this one.

The Apostle John, sitting in his office in Ephesus and working on his gospel, had had nothing close to what we would consider an ideal life.  He had been chased from his country, spent years in exile, lost his friends, endured all kinds of hardships.  And yet he considered himself as blessed as anybody on the face of the earth – not just because he got to see Jesus – but because by God’s grace he got to see Jesus for who he actually was

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

John saw Jesus for who he actually was: true God and true man, our perfect Savior.  And John wrote his gospel so that you could see the same thing. 

At the very end of his gospel, after telling us about the resurrection at Easter, and how Jesus appeared to his disciples so clearly that even Doubting Thomas finally believed, John takes a moment to add a powerful footnote.  He says at the very end of chapter 20, 30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these words are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

May God grant that exact thing to each one of us here today.  Ears to hear the Word of God spoken through his messenger.  Eyes to see Jesus for the perfect Savior that he is.  And hearts to trust in him to bring us to eternal life.

God grant it, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.