This week I heard on the radio that Sidney Crosby is already on the front cover of some magazine and already has product endorsements. I suspect he is on his way, young as he is, to becoming famous like Lemieux and Gretzky. There are many people whose names we recognize because they are famous. Most of us have heard of Alexander the Great, Hitler, Ghandi and many others. Of all the famous people in history, I wonder who is the most famous. Whose name is known by the most people? I wonder if it would be Jesus?
Another famous person, probably well known mostly in Canada, is Terry Fox. Last week, we were reminded again of what he accomplished when they held the Terry Fox run. What he did lives on as people continue to raise funds for cancer research in his name. In a much more significant way, what Jesus did lives on as we celebrate the four great festivals of the Christian year(Christmas, Good Friday, Easter and Ascension Day). These four festivals remind us of the four great events of Jesus life and each one of them tells us about who Jesus is and what He has done for us.
Because we celebrate these festivals (except Ascension) so much, we know a lot about Jesus. But the truth we know about Jesus has not always been that obvious. Over the millennia, many different beliefs have arisen regarding Jesus. In the early centuries of the church, the Docetics, taught that Jesus was fully God and his appearance as a man was not real, it was simply an appearance. In other words, Jesus was not fully a man. On the other side, during this same time, the Ebionites believed that Jesus was a man who was adopted into the Godhead by the descent of the Spirit. In other words, they believed that Jesus was not fully God. In 1929 and 1930 Robert Eisler published, in German, two volumes entitled Jesus the King Who Did Not Reign. He argued that Jesus was a revolutionary whose campaign against Rome failed. I have read material that comes from the last few hundred years in which writers have proclaimed their understanding that Jesus did not actually rise from the dead.
Over against these and other teachings, we as members of the Evangelical Mennonite Church have searched the Scripture and have declared what we believe about Jesus. Our Confession of Faith indicates that “We believe that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God. He became man, being conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He is fully God and fully man, yet without sin.
“We believe that Jesus Christ, the divinely appointed Substitute, provided the only atonement for sin by shedding His blood. Through his death he defeated the Devil, enabling people to be set free and to be reconciled to God. He arose from the dead, bringing life and hope. He ascended to the right hand of the Father. There He rules as Lord and lives to intercede for those who come to God by Him (Isaiah 7:14; 53:5, 6; Matthew 1:20-23; 28:5; Luke 1:35; John 1:1, 14; Romans 1:4; 5:8-10; 6:2-4; I Corinthians 15:20; II Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 2:4, 5; Colossians 2:15; Hebrews 2:9, 10, 14; 7:25).”
It is important to know and believe the truth about Jesus because our salvation depends on it, but probably for most of us these things are so fundamental that we don’t really question them. We have celebrated the festivals about Jesus so often and have been taught these truths so well that there is nothing really new here. But is it really about what we know? Is knowledge about Jesus, grasping the truth of Jesus all there is? In a conversation with a person from our church this week, I was encouraged to realize once again that knowing these truths isn’t enough, what we really need is a passion for Jesus. Has our heart grasped the wonder of His amazing work for us to the point that we are deeply in love with Jesus?
Why does the life and work of Jesus draw us into a passion for Him? Let us look at the four truths which are celebrated in the four great festivals of Christianity in order to be drawn once again to have a passion for Jesus.
I. Because In Jesus, God Became A Man
Our confession says: “We believe that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God. He became man, being conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He is fully God and fully man, yet without sin.” This is the truth which we celebrate at Christmas. In it we are taught some important truths about Jesus. The essence of it is incarnation which means that God became a human being. It reminds us that Jesus Christ, the second person of the Triune God came into this earth. The way in which He came was through the work of the Holy Spirit who caused Him to be conceived in a human mother, Mary, who, at the time, was a virgin. The aspects of this truth that are important are that Jesus was fully God and became fully man, yet as man he never sinned and so was the perfect man.
We understand these truths to be Scriptural. A number of the verses which are listed with the confession of faith speak about these things. I would like to highlight just a few. John 1:1 reminds us that Jesus is fully God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Matthew 1:20-23 is one of the passages which tells us how God became a human being in Christ. “But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”
Whenever we walk through a mall in December, we hear these truths sung. But for most people and often for us, they go in one ear and out the other. John 1:14 reminds us why this is such an amazing truth and why this truth must draw us to a passion for Jesus. There we read, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” When Moses received the law, he carried with him the glory which came from being in the presence of God. It was so amazing that the people could not stand it and Moses had to wear a veil over his face. How much more amazing to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ! How awesome to realize that God left the glories of heaven so that He could come to be with us! How wonderful to understand that in Jesus, God’s love has been poured out into the whole world. We have seen the face of God, it is the face of Jesus and it is a face of love.
MASH; boy drowning; child in pig barn?
As we contemplate the wonder of that reality, we cannot let it go as an interesting truth. We must let it stir our hearts to a passion for Jesus. Do you love Him because He came from heaven to earth?
II. Because Jesus Died In Our Place
The second great Christian celebration is Good Friday which reminds us of the death of Christ on the cross. Our confession of faith declares this truth when it says, “We believe that Jesus Christ, the divinely appointed Substitute, provided the only atonement for sin by shedding His blood. Through his death he defeated the Devil, enabling people to be set free and to be reconciled to God.”
What wonderful truths we find here. The message of the gospel is that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Since all have sinned and since “the wages of sin is death” we are all under condemnation. Our confession indicates that Jesus is the “substitute” who took our place. The wrath of God fell fully on Jesus so that our sins could be forgiven. Revelation 12 has a cartoon like picture of cosmic proportions which speaks about an enormous red dragon and a woman who has a child. The picture in that passage reminds us that something of world wide significance happened when Jesus died on the cross. In a daring and amazing move it was through death that Jesus defeated the devil. He destroyed the kingdom of evil and established in its place the kingdom of righteousness. As a result we are given the possibility of being freed from the kingdom which has held sway in our world and which is marred by sin and ends in death. Instead, we are able, through faith in Jesus to leave that kingdom and come into the kingdom in which we can have friendship with God, leave our life of sin and enter into life which is eternal.
These are also amazing truths and truths which are well supported by Scripture. Once again the confession of faith identifies a number of Bible passages which clarify these things. Isaiah 53:5, 6 is one of the most amazing, not only for its clarity, but for the fact that it was written long before Jesus was even born. It says, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Romans 5:8-10 is a wonderful explanation of the love of God demonstrated in Christ’s death. We read, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”
Colossians 2:15 is another of the passages which remind us of the cosmic victory which has taken place in Christ when it says, “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
James S. Hewett tells the following illustration, “Billions of people were scattered on a great plain before God's throne. Some of the groups near the front talked heatedly--not with cringing shame, but with belligerence. "How can God judge us?" said one. "What does He know about suffering?" snapped a brunette. She jerked back a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number from a Nazi concentration camp. "We endured terror, beatings, torture, death!" In another group a black man lowered his collar. "What about this?" he demanded, showing an ugly rope burn. "Lynched for no crime but being black! We have suffocated in slave ships, been wrenched from loved ones, toiled till death gave release." Far out across the plain were hundreds of such groups. Each had a complaint against God for the evil and suffering He permitted in His world. How lucky God was to live in heaven where there was no weeping, no fear, no hunger, no hatred! Indeed, what did God know about what man had been forced to endure in this world? "After all, God leads a pretty sheltered life," they said.
“So each group sent out a leader, chosen because he had suffered the most. There was a Jew, a black, an untouchable from India, an illegitimate, a person from Hiroshima, and one from a Siberian slave camp. In the center of the plain they consulted with each other. At last they were ready to present their case. It was rather simple: before God would be qualified to be their judge, He must endure what they had endured. Their decision was that God should be sentenced to live on earth--as a man!
“But because He was God, they set certain safeguards to be sure He could not use His divine powers to help Himself: Let Him be born a Jew. Let the legitimacy of His birth be doubted, so that none would know who is really His father. Let Him champion a cause so just, but so radical, that it brings down upon Him the hate, condemnation, and efforts of every major traditional and established religious authority to eliminate Him. Let Him try to describe what no man has ever seen, tasted, heard, or smelled--let Him try to communicate God to men. Let Him be betrayed by His dearest friends. Let Him be indicted on false charges, tried before a prejudiced jury, and convicted by a cowardly judge. Let Him see what it is to be terribly alone and completely abandoned by every living thing. Let Him be tortured and let Him die! Let Him die the most humiliating death--with common thieves.
“As each leader announced his portion of the sentence, loud murmurs of approval went up from the great throngs of people. But when the last had finished pronouncing sentence, there was a long silence. No one uttered another word. No one moved. For suddenly all knew -- God had already served His sentence.”
Do you ever stare at the cross? I don’t mean the cross of gold you wear around your neck or the cross which your neighbor may have put on his lawn. I mean the cross on which Jesus is hanging. Have you ever put a cross of nails in your pocket and walked around with it during the day to remind yourself of the sacrifice of Christ on your behalf? As you stare at the cross, with Jesus on it, is your heart drawn towards Him in love? Does Christ’s great gift invite you in to a passion for Jesus? How does your life change when you are in love?
III. Because Jesus Brings Us Life And Hope
Three days after the celebration of Good Friday, we celebrate Easter, which should probably be better named Resurrection Day. Our confession of faith says, “He arose from the dead, bringing life and hope.”
I have often tried to imagine what it was like for the disciples on those days. What would it have felt like for them when they saw Jesus draw his last breath. Until then, given what they had seen in Jesus, they may have hoped that perhaps he would respond to the taunts of the Pharisees and thieves to come down from the cross, but when the spear was thrust into His side, they knew that it was over. Darkness, hopelessness and loss would have been complete. Now it was truly over. Can you imagine what it was like three days later when there was first a hint and then more information to suggest that Jesus was alive again. And then, when they saw Him, can you imagine the radical change which took place in their hearts? Why should the wonder of the resurrection be any less amazing for us today. It is still the only time in all of history that someone who was dead and buried came to life again.
Scripture is unequivocal about this truth. I Corinthians 15:20 affirms, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead…” Not only has Christ been raised from the dead, but that reality is applied to us in that same passage when it says that He is “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Therefore, as Ephesians 2:4,5 indicates, “…because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”
I Corinthians 15 asks, “death where is your sting.” The resurrection answers “it is removed.” Does the understanding of the risen Christ propel your heart forward into a passion for Him? Does knowing that Jesus is alive encourage you to be filled with an everlasting joy and an ever present hope? Does the understanding that we do not serve a dead historical figure, but a living Lord fill your heart with a deep and wondrous passion to throw your whole self upon Jesus? How do our priorities and hopes change because of this love?
IV.Because Jesus Intercedes For Us
The final part of our confession of faith says, “He ascended to the right hand of the Father. There He rules as Lord and lives to intercede for those who come to God by Him.” The truth expressed here is not often celebrated by us, which is a pity for it too expresses a deep and significant and currently relevant truth about Jesus. Ascension Day falls on a Thursday and we have let it pass by many years, but its truth is as much a part of the message about Jesus as the other celebrations.
Jesus did not stay on earth after His resurrection. Forty days later, he ascended into heaven with the promise that He would return. In the meantime, Jesus has not forgotten about us. Not only are we left with the Holy Spirit, which we will talk about next week. Not only are we left with the promise that He will come back again, which we will also talk about later. We are left with the assurance that right now He is interceding on our behalf. When God sees the sin in our life and His justified wrath rises, Jesus is right there to say, “my death has covered that sin” and God’s wrath is turned away. When Satan accuses us before the Father, Jesus is right there to declare – “this one is my child, I died for her, Satan’s lie has no place here.”
How wonderful these things are! Hebrews 7:25 anchors these truths in Scripture when it says, “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.”
When people are apart, sometimes a distance begins to develop between their hearts. That cannot be true in our relationship to Jesus. He is present with us by His Spirit and He is interceding for us in His Father’s presence. As you realize this wonderful truth, Does the knowledge of what Jesus is doing for you right now bring you to love Him deeply? Since Jesus is on our side now, how do we express our love for Him?
There is a commercial on TV which pictures a romantic scene of a young man and a young woman looking up into the night sky together on a starry night. It is romantic and is intended to make our hearts beat a little faster for the beauty of a couple in love. Until the guy looks over at the girl and suddenly the girl is gone and a sandwich is in her place. He would rather have a sandwich than get to know his girlfriend. Not exactly romantic love!
A while ago Jake and Bertha’s son was married in Albuquerque, NM. At the reception, one of the questions asked was how many miles did they travel in one year in their courtship. Jeremy said that 20,000 miles was not far out. Evidently there was more than romantic love there. There was sacrifice, there was a growing commitment, which resulted in marriage. Where there is love, that love will be evident in life.
The truth about Jesus is well known to us and I do not think that there is much debate about exactly who Jesus was and what he did, at least not among us. So as we are reminded about these truths, they must touch us at a level much deeper than our minds and our understanding. The truth about Jesus is so amazing, so wonderful that I must ask each one of you to ask yourself, do you have a passion for Jesus? Do you love Him more than anything else in the world? When John wrote Revelation, the message from heaven to the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2:4 was “You have forsaken your first love.” What about us? I exhort myself and plead with you, “let us love Him!” Let us allow the truth about Jesus to draw us to a passion for Jesus.