A Man Called Jesus
October 10, 1999
Listen to this Sermon
“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.” These 13 words by the Apostle Paul contain a world of truth about Jesus Christ. They tell us that he is fully God. In him we find “all the fullness of the Deity.” The word “fullness” speaks of the essence of God’s nature. The word “Deity” means that in Christ we see God himself fully manifested. These words also tell us that he is fully human. He appeared on the earth “in bodily form.” He was not a ghost, a vision, or some ethereal apparition. He possessed flesh and bones and a true human nature just as we do. In short, this verse teaches us that Jesus Christ is the complete revelation of God to man. To see him is to see God.
I begin my sermon with this crucial verse because I want to make an arresting point. Not everyone who believes in Jesus believes what I have just said. This came home to me last week in a surreal experience while I was watching television one afternoon. While surfing through the channels, I happened to find a broadcast of what appeared to be a large church convention of some kind. After listening for a while I was struck with how familiar it all seemed to be. The people in the audience seemed just like the people I preach to every Sunday. The music sounded like our hymns. And the speakers mentioned Jesus and God in reverent tones. It occurred to me that a person who didn’t know better might think this was a broadcast of the Moody Founders Week. But it wasn’t. After listening closely, I realized I was watching the General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, i.e., the Mormon Church.
Then it all became clear. The music and the words sounded similar but oddly different. The speakers mentioned the gospel but it wasn’t the gospel we preach at Calvary. When they talked about Jesus and God, the words were the same but the meaning was quite different. I could imagine that an uninstructed church member might be easily confused.
Runners on Lake Street
As I pondered that experience, my mind recalled the words of Jesus in Matthew 24:4-5, “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.” Jesus himself warned that the last days would be marked by great spiritual confusion. Religious leaders will claim to be followers of Jesus, yet their claims will be false and their teaching will be a snare to many people.
On Sunday morning, Lake Street in front of our church was blocked off for the annual Frank Lloyd Wright 5K and 10K runs. I stood on our steps at 8:15 a.m. and watched as several hundred runners passed by our front doors. The thought occurred to me later that those runners comprise a good cross section of America. Suppose we took a microphone and asked 100 runners at random, “Who is Jesus Christ?” What would they say? I’m sure we would get a variety of answers: “The Son of God,” “My Lord and Savior,” “A good man,” “A misunderstood rabbi,” “A mythical figure,” “The founder of Christianity,” “A revolutionary leader,” “A great prophet,” “A miracle worker,” and “The one who came to bring us all together.”
You can find people today who will give every one of those possible answers. Does that surprise you? It shouldn’t. When Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say I am?” they replied with four different answers (see Matthew 16:13-14). Even when he walked on earth, people were confused as to his true identity. Some thought he was a prophet, others a great political leader, still others thought he was John the Baptist come back to life.
Who is Jesus Christ? In this post-modern age, many people would rather not answer that question. They like Jesus but don’t want to worship him exclusively. They lump him together with other notable religious leaders, such as Moses, Confucius, Gandhi, Buddha, and Mohammed. Such people have a Mt. Rushmore religion. When they look up, they see four or five faces peering down from heaven. Jesus is one of the faces they see. Pick the one you like and worship him, they say.
Questions to Ponder
As I prepared this sermon, several questions came to mind. I don’t confess to know the precise answers but they seem very important nonetheless. Since the gospel is the “good news” about Jesus Christ, we cannot preach the gospel without mentioning him in one way or another. Here are my questions…
What precisely must a person believe about Jesus in order to be saved?
How much of the truth about Christ must a person understand?
How little can a person believe and still be saved?
How much can you be wrong about Jesus and still be saved?
In the end only God can answer those questions because only God can judge the human heart. I do not doubt that some people will be in heaven who had a defective understanding of Jesus Christ. And others who had a “correct” theology will be in hell. But that doesn’t mean theology doesn’t matter. To the contrary. It matters immensely because we are not saved by faith in faith, but by faith in Jesus Christ. Sometimes people talk about faith as if it were some kind of fuzzy feeling based on sentimental notions about God. But that is not saving faith. The faith that saves is faith that rests on the right object—the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus himself makes clear that what we believe matters to God. In Matthew 7:21 he explicitly declares: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” Some people who worked miracles and cast out demons in Jesus’ name will not make it. They will claim to know him, but he will say to them, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:23).
It’s not enough to believe in Jesus. You must be certain that the Jesus you believe in is the right Jesus. In a world of spiritual counterfeits, your eternal destiny depends on knowing the Christ of God who is revealed in the New Testament.
Who is Jesus Christ? Or to borrow a phrase from television, Will the real Jesus please stand up? Here are seven statements that summarize the biblical teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ.
I. He had a supernatural entrance into the world.
We know from the Old Testament that many details of his coming were predicted hundreds of years before his birth. Isaiah predicted he would be born of a virgin and Micah identified his birthplace as Bethlehem. Galatians 4:4 tells us that he came “in the fullness of time,” which means that God so arranged the circumstances that he was born at precisely the right moment in precisely the right way. The great creeds of the church use this sentence to describe his birth: “He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.” Although we often speak of the “virgin birth,” the real miracle took place nine months before Bethlehem when the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary and created within her womb the divine-human Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. The fact that he was born of a virgin means he had an earthly mother but no earthly father according to the flesh. No one else has ever been born in this manner. His coming to the earth was supernatural in origin.
II. He was God in human flesh.
Theologians use the word “Incarnation” to describe this truth. It means that when Christ was conceived in Mary, God the Son took on human flesh. Though he was God, he added humanity without subtracting from his deity. He was not half-God and half-man but fully God and fully man, two natures united in one person. He was fully human in every respect, yet without sin. As he grew up he went through all the stages of normal human growth and development. John 1:14 tells us that “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Hebrews 1:3 says that Jesus is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.” The first phrase means that Christ is the “shining forth” of God. He is to God what sunlight is to the sun. The second phrase means that Jesus Christ bears within himself the exact stamp of the divine nature—like a die being stamped into a piece of metal. When he was born, he was called Immanuel, “God with us.” To use an old phrase, Jesus was the Son of God and God the Son. That is why when Thomas finally saw the resurrected Christ, he fell on his face and cried out, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).
III. He is the standard of absolute righteousness.
When Jesus Christ walked on the earth, he was perfectly righteous. This speaks to two sides of his character. On the negative side, he never sinned in thought, word, or deed. He is the only “Perfect 10” who ever lived. All the rest of us have fallen far short of perfection, but not Jesus. There was no sin outwardly because there was no sin inwardly. He was without fault and without evil. He never did anything wrong, never broke any laws of God, and never deviated in the slightest degree from the path of God’s will. On the positive side, this means he perfectly fulfilled God’s Law. Just as the first Adam sinned and all humanity fell with him, even so Christ came as the “last Adam” who through his obedience to God won salvation for all those who follow him.
IV. He did things only God can do.
He made amazing claims and then backed them up with amazing deeds. He repeatedly claimed equality with God. He said that he was “one with the Father” and that to see him was to see the Father. He spoke with divine authority: “I am in the living water,” “I am the light of the world,” “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” He even claimed the ability to raise himself from the dead. People who are only vaguely familiar with Jesus tend to underestimate this part of his teaching. They like to take him as a great moral teacher while discounting his (to them) more outlandish claims. But as C. S. Lewis remarked, a person who talked like Jesus talked, if he wasn’t who he said he was, wouldn’t be a good teacher. He would be liar, or a lunatic, or the devil of hell, or something worse. You can’t have Jesus without dealing with his claims of deity.
He backed up those claims by repeatedly demonstrating power over the forces of nature, sickness, and death. He even claimed the power to forgive sins. This is what initially got him in trouble with the Jewish leaders. They rightly saw this as virtually claiming to be God but they drew the wrong conclusion. He claimed to forgive sins because he was indeed God in human flesh.
V. He died as a sacrifice for our sins.
All of us know the end of the story. Though innocent of all wrongdoing, he was crucified as a common criminal. Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, three times declared, “I find no fault in him.” The Bible says he died as the just for the unjust, the innocent for the guilty, the good for the bad. He died as our substitute, standing in our place, taking our punishment, bearing our own sins in his own body. With his own blood he paid the full price for our disobedience. In so doing he completely satisfied God’s righteous demands and enabled God to be merciful to sinners who come to him in Jesus’ name. Through his death we are set free from the penalty of sin forever.
VI. He proved his claims by rising from the dead.
Before he died he repeatedly predicted his death and his resurrection. Nothing that happened came as a surprise to him. He knew it all and saw it all long in advance.
Late on the evening of Good Friday his followers tenderly took his dead body from the cross. Wrapping him in graveclothes, they laid his corpse in a borrowed tomb not far from Skull Hill, the place where he died. On Saturday the Romans, the Jews, and the Disciples agreed on only one thing: Jesus was truly dead. Because of fears that someone might disturb the grave and remove his body, an elite squad of Roman soldiers stood guard at his tomb, which was sealed and covered with an enormous stone.
That was Saturday. Early on Sunday morning, when Mary and the other women came to the tomb, they planned to anoint his dead body. But instead they found the soldiers unconscious on the ground, the seal broken, the stone rolled away, and angels guarding the entrance. The angels announced that Jesus had risen from the dead. The women were confused and frightened and reported to the men that the tomb was empty. Later that day, and many times over the next 40 days, Jesus appeared in bodily form to his disciples. Then he ascended into heaven where he now sits at the Father’s right hand.
After 2000 years skeptics have never provided a sufficient answer to this question: What happened to the body of Jesus? No one ever found his dead body because by Easter Sunday it wasn’t dead anymore. There is no other reasonable answer than this: Jesus Christ actually, literally, and physically rose from the dead. And from that day to this the Christian church has made the resurrection a cornerstone of the gospel message. When Christians gather on Sunday, they declare to the world, “He’s alive!”
VII. He will one day return to the earth.
With this final fact we move from the distant past to the not-so-distant future. There is yet one more event in the “career” of Jesus Christ. One day he will return to the earth. He promised to return—”I will come again”—and the time is coming when he will keep that promise. He will come just as he left—visibly and bodily. His coming is not merely spiritual but actual and literal. This is truly an astounding thought. The same Jesus who was born in Bethlehem is coming again. The same Jesus who grew up in Nazareth is coming again. The same Jesus who turned water into wine is coming again. The same Jesus who walked on water is coming again. The same Jesus who healed the nobleman’s son is coming again. The same Jesus who raised Lazarus is coming again. The same Jesus who entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday is coming again. The same Jesus who wept over Jerusalem is coming again. The same Jesus who was betrayed by Judas is coming again. The same Jesus who was whipped, beaten, scourged, mocked, and condemned to death is coming again. The same Jesus who died on Calvary is coming again. The same Jesus who rose from the dead on Easter Sunday morning is coming again. The same Jesus who ascended into heaven is coming again. Kind of blows your mind, doesn’t it?
That’s what we mean when we say that Jesus is coming again. The actual, historical figure who lived 2000 years ago on the other side of the world is returning to the earth one more time.
He must return to reign as King over the world that rejected Him. When he returns he will vindicate his saints, raise the dead, judge the wicked, restore Israel, and establish his kingdom on the earth. Although no one knows the day or the hour, all the signs point to this fact— Jesus is coming soon. Therefore, let God’s people be ready because Jesus Christ could return at any moment.
The Christ We Need
Let’s now wrap up this message with a simple thought. Only the Christ revealed in the pages of Holy Scripture can save us. But the Jesus of the Bible is not the only “Jesus” in the marketplace of ideas. There are many others, but they all suffer one huge weakness. A human Christ cannot save. A mythical Christ cannot forgive. The deconstructed Jesus of liberal theology has no power to transform the human heart. A great moral teacher can set a good example but he cannot curb the inner impulse to evil. The blood of an ethical teacher cannot wash away our sins. The world needs the Christ of the New Testament. He and he alone can do the helpless sinner good.
We need a Christ we can love, serve, adore, and worship. And we need a Christ we can preach with confidence to the nations. Is it not a solemn thought to consider that there will be people in hell who believed in the wrong Jesus? By all means, make sure you are not among their number. And when you preach the gospel, preach the full truth about Jesus. When people say, “I believe in Jesus,” ask them which Jesus they are talking about. In this world of spiritual deception, we must not assume anything. Preach the Christ of the Bible and people will be saved. Preach any other Christ and you will only help damn their souls.
These are strong words. But I am persuaded strong words are needed in times like these.
Where Else Can They Go?
The Christ of the Bible must be the center of our message. What else do we have to offer the world? If people are looking for something to join, they can join the PTA. If they are looking for a place to go, they can buy a ticket to see the Bears at Soldier Field. If they want good music, they can listen to the Chicago Symphony. If they want to listen to a lecture, they can take an evening course at Triton College. If they want to meet people, they can join a bowling league or do the Frank Lloyd Wright 10K run.
If they want their sins forgiven, where else can they go?
If they want to find a lasting purpose in life, where else can they go?
If they want eternal life, where else can they go?
If they want their guilt removed, where else can they go?
If they want answers to their deepest questions, where else can they go?
If they want to know what happens after death, where else can they go?
As Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). In Jesus Christ we find the answers to the deepest needs of modern man. What our friends are looking for they can find in Jesus. For in him “all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.”
We have the answer. His name is Jesus Christ.
We have the hope of the world. His name is Jesus Christ.
We have the Savior of mankind. His name is Jesus Christ.
We have the One who lifts every burden. His name is Jesus Christ.
We have the way, the truth and the life. His name is Jesus Christ.
We have the Alpha and the Omega. His name is Jesus Christ.
We have the water of life. His name is Jesus Christ.
We have the bread from heaven. His name is Jesus Christ.
We have the giver of eternal life. His name is Jesus Christ.
We have the One who was, and is, and is to come. His name is Jesus Christ.
We have the Savior who died for the sins of the world. His name is Jesus Christ.
We have the victor over the grave. His name is Jesus Christ.
We have the risen, ascended Son of God. His name is Jesus Christ.
We have the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. His name is Jesus Christ.
Let us exalt him, let us praise him, let us proclaim him to the ends of the earth! Amen.