Is Jesus Really the Life?

14864420641_2e255d74ee_bWhen Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, an event we commemorate with Palm Sunday, we hear about two distinct groups. First there are those enthusiastic about his presence, and especially now as he demonstrates by the manner of his entrance his own claim to be the Messiah. They were hoping for the coming messiah and all indications were that yes, this Jesus just may well be him. The other group is made up of the religious leaders and they are not happy with Jesus at all. Many of them are also hoping for the messiah, but they are hoping and expecting that when the messiah comes he will not look and act like Jesus. Instead he he will look and act a lot more like them. There is actually a third group of people present in Jerusalem on that day. There was a multitude who did not show up to see Jesus. Perhaps they had not heard, perhaps they didn’t care, or perhaps they had heard something and were interested, but not interested enough to let Jesus take them away from their plans for the day.

With regards to Jesus, people still fall into these three categories. There are those who are enthusiastic about his presence and seek to honour him with theirs. There are those who reject Jesus as Messiah, Saviour, Lord, and may be active in trying to convince others likewise. These are religious leaders today, even if they are strongly atheistic, they are still religious leaders. Then there is the third category, those who really have not given Jesus much thought at all.

Why does Jesus bring such division among people? Has there ever been another person of history who has caused such a stir, causing people to fall, or rather dive, into camps based on their estimation of him or her? No, and as you read the New Testament the reason becomes clear. There has never been another person in all of history who makes such bold assertions as Jesus does about himself.

We have already seen that Jesus has claimed to be the way and the truth, but today we are looking at perhaps the grandest claim of all, “I am the life” (see John 14:6). When Jesus claims that he is the life, he is claiming to be the source of life. He does not say “I am a source of life,” or “I have some advice about how to live a good life,” but “I am the life.” He has said this before, in fact not too many days before when his friend Lazarus lay dead in a tomb. Jesus arrives at the scene very late, much to the chagrin and astonishment of those who know Jesus could have healed Lazarus and kept him from death. Jesus finally shows up and has this conversation with Martha:

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world (John 11:23-27 NRSV emphasis mine)

Martha recognizes that Jesus is in fact the hoped for messiah, but she does not seem to grasp that he is more than that. He is the “resurrection and the life.” Jesus has raised people from death before, but that always happens fairly soon after death. Sceptics could point to resuscitation which is more a case of restoring life, than giving it. But Lazarus has been dead for four days. Decomposition has already begun:

39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days. (John 11:39 NRSV)

If Lazarus is raised from the dead, this is no mere resuscitation, a bringing back of what was momentarily lost, this is something only God could do: breathe new life in. By saying he is “the life” Jesus is making a very bold claim indeed.

The religious leaders very quickly got together following the raising of Lazarus to plot the death of Jesus. If Jesus could be killed, then his pretensions to being the messiah would be squashed. However what they did not know was his death was God’s way to secure eternal life for His people:

But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” 51 He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God. (John 11:49-52 NRSV)

By raising Lazarus from the dead Jesus backed up his statement “I am the resurrection and the life.” By being raised from the dead himself following his crucifixion, Jesus backed up his statement “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

There are those who do not believe that Jesus is alive, or the life. There are those who haven’t given it much thought. Then there are those who are enthusiastic about Jesus. They cannot keep quiet about him. In fact it was the crowd that had seen Jesus’ power to give life that stirred up the excitement about Jesus when he rode into Jerusalem:

So the crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to testify. 18 It was also because they heard that he had performed this sign that the crowd went to meet him. (John 12:17-18 NRSV)

Are you like the religious leaders, seeking to make Jesus disappear? Or perhaps you are like the many who have not given his identity much thought? I pray that if you don’t already know that Jesus is the life, that you will, and so become a witness to the living and life-giving Christ.

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Jesus: Ordinary or Extraordinary?

15684608376_791ca50f0c_nJesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6 NRSV)

Many people believe Jesus to have been an extraordinary person. However, the emphasis is often on the ordinary part of extraordinary. In other words, though a profound figure of history, he is just like you and me in most respects.

When Jesus says “I am the truth” he is pointing to his identity with a  focus on the extra part of extraordinary. This includes the following:

  • Jesus is the Messiah
  • Jesus is Lord
  • Jesus is the Saviour
  • Jesus is the Son of Man, described in Daniel 7
  • Jesus is the Son of God, but moreover is  God the Son

We are none of these things.

Each of these affirmations and more we learn from the life and teaching of Jesus himself in the Gospels. These are also affirmed in the letters and other writings of the New Testament. There are those who like to cast doubt on such a high view of Jesus. They do this in the following ways:

People cast doubt on the truth of Jesus by saying his divinity is a fabrication of the Church. Very few historians insist that Jesus never existed, but there are those who say Jesus existed, but the extra-extraordinary account of Jesus we find in the New Testament was made up by Jesus’ disciples. The biggest weakness of this view is that the disciples and other early Christians had no motivation to make Jesus more extraordinary that ordinary. They did not get rich by their teaching about Jesus, or even popular. If anything they got themselves persecuted and killed. There simply was no motivation to make Jesus up.

People cast doubt on Jesus by saying that Jesus was a legend that developed over time. They say there was a historical figure named Jesus, but over time his legend grew so that eventually he was thought of as being more extraordinary than ordinary. The weakness of this view is that there was not enough time between the life and teaching of Jesus and the writing of the New Testament documents. Legends require time, and the writers of the New Testament documents were writing so close to the events they could point to the existence of eye witnesses. In some cases they are the eyewitnesses. In all cases they are close companions to eyewitnesses.

People cast doubt on Jesus by saying that the events of Jesus’ life are to be understood metaphorically. On this view Jesus is more ordinary than extraordinary in that he did not really rise from the dead or do miracles, but the accounts of these things point in a poetic fashion to some religious truth. However this fails to take into proper account the various genres that scripture is written in. For example, there is poetry in the Bible that ought to be taken metaphorically, such as “The Lord is my rock” (Psalm 18:2 NRSV). But there are passages that clearly are meant to be taken as historically true. The accounts of the life and events of Jesus’ life including his death and resurrection are clearly in this category. The early Christians of the New Testament believed all this to be historically true rather than mere metaphor.

There are also those who have rejected Christianity without giving much thought at all as to what is true about Jesus. Though I cannot remember the who, where, or when, I can remember being shocked when reading a blog post about Christian music. I was not shocked by anything the author said about Christian music and even agreed on certain points. What shocked me was how the post ended with “that is why I no longer call myself a Christian.” I remember wondering to myself what Christian music really had to do with the acceptance or rejection of Christianity. And many people will give many reasons as to why they accept or reject Christianity. But there should really be only one reason to do either, and that is our response to Jesus as the truth. Do we believe him to be Messiah, Lord, Saviour, Son of God and God the Son, or not? Is he extraordinary, with the emphasis on the “extra” part and so not at all like us because we are not Messiah, Lord, Saviour, Son of God and God the Son? Or is he extraordinary with the emphasis on the ordinary part, so just like you and me in all the important ways?

When we say “Jesus is the truth” we recognize certain things to be true about Jesus’ identity, but we also recognize certain things to be true about our own identities: If Jesus is the truth, then we are sinful people in need of salvation. 

8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us (1 John 1:8-10 NRSV)

If we are not sinful and in need of God’s rescue, then there was no need for Jesus to come and do what he did. Believing Jesus is the Saviour goes hand in hand with believing we are sinners in need of a Saviour. There are many people who would say that Jesus was an extraordinary figure in history with the emphasis on the ordinary because it is just too hard for an intellectual person to believe otherwise. However, methinks often it is the corresponding belief about ourselves, that we are sinful, that is the less palatable belief. For if we are sinful, then we must be very ordinary indeed.

Jesus said “I am the truth.” An extraordinary claim by an extraordinary man.

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Why is Jesus the Only Way?

5956100464_f30bbe8e3f_nJesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6 NRSV

There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12 NRSV

Why is Jesus the only way? Jesus himself taught this, as did the first Christians. To believe otherwise is to depart from a Biblical Christianity. But why did it have to be this way? Why can’t God just make it such that all sincere believers of anything, or something, or nothing in the case of a sincerely good atheist, are all on a path to God?

Revelation chapters six and seven are helpful in understanding this. In Revelation chapter six we have a vision of the opening of six seals. With the opening of each of these seals terrible things take place. This is symbolic of the judgement of God against sin, and let’s just say that it does not go well for the sinner. It culminates in a desire to escape the judgement of God:

15 Then the kings of the earth and the magnates and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb; 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” Revelation 6:15-17 NRSV emphasis mine

We should take a moment here to recognize that many people, Christians included, do not like to hear about the “wrath” of God. It makes God sound like he is terribly, well . . . judgmental. But let us consider that the wrath of God is the expression of the justice of God. While we don’t like hearing about wrath we recognize that justice is good. When justice is missing in the world, we long for it, we work for it, we pray for it. If justice were missing in God, we very soon find ourselves longing for it. The wrath of God, the expression of God’s justice is part of the glory of God. To ask God to express no wrath would be to ask God to have less glory. Wrath is part of the goodness of God. God is perfectly just. God cannot be perfectly just and turn a blind eye to sin no more than a judge can be perfectly just and pay no attention to the evidence just because he or she happens to like the defendant.

Revelation six therefore speaks to us about the justice of God, that yes, sin carries consequence. The chapter finishes with a question: when God’s justice is expressed, “who is able to stand?”

Now let’s move to chapter seven where we find there is a

great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” Revelation 7:9-12 NRSV

This sounds more positive! And did you notice something about these people? They are “standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” They are standing! On the day of God’s wrath, on the day God’s justice is expressed, who is able to stand before the throne? These people are. Who are these people? Good question, in fact it is asked:

13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” Revelation 7:13 NRSV

If we were John how might we have answered that question? Many might say things like “these are good people, nice people who are good to others, they are able to stand on the day of justice,” or “these are people who were sincere in their religion, no matter what religion it was.” John, however, does not attempt an answer, he asks the one who knows the answer:

14 I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Revelation 7:14 NRSV

Here we have the reason that Jesus is the only way. In Jesus the perfect justice of God meets the perfect love of God. No one comes to God the Father except through God the Son, because He is the only One through Whom the perfect justice of God could be expressed in a way that saves sinful people. This justice and love comes together at the cross. No one else could pay the penalty of sin for us, because everyone else has their own sin on their heads. Except Jesus, He is the only One who could stand in our place while the perfect justice of God is expressed. And He is the only One to ever have claimed to do such.

There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12 NRSV

Because of Jesus, people are able to stand on the day of God’s wrath, the day His perfect justice is expressed.

But this still sounds very exclusive to some people. However, notice how wonderfully inclusive this vision is. It is a “great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” No one is excluded on the basis of race, gender, status, or nationality. God’s love knows no boundaries. You can be included in that multitude through repentance and trust. But perhaps it is your love that has boundaries? Perhaps it is not God’s love for you that is in question, but your love for God? If this is the case, I hope you will dig deep and consider your response to God’s offer of salvation through Jesus. I hope you will be found standing.

24 Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, 25 to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Jude 1:24-25 NRSV

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