Sunday, October 8th's fabulous message “Jesus, the Son of God” by Rev. Toni Carmer continuing week 25 of a 31 week study of “The Story – The Bible as One Continuous Story of God and His People.”
Jesus, the Son of God
First United Methodist Church, October 8, 2017
Pastor Toni L. Carmer
There are some huge questions that you and I have to answer in life. We start asking them when we're pretty young, and we keep working on them, sometimes responding in different ways as we grow and experience life. Questions like, What will I do or be when I grow up? What kind of training or education will I need? Where will I receive it? Where will I live? Will I marry? Who will I marry? Will I have children?
Underneath these questions are some other ones, perhaps more basic questions, that influence how we respond to everything else: Who am I? What are my values? What do I believe? What about my faith? Do I believe in Jesus? Who is he to me? Will I follow him? And if I do, how will that shape my life?
In the 25th chapter of The Story, we read about Jesus, the Son of God as revealed in each of the Gospel stories. We read about how the followers of Jesus and others experience him, and what they come to know and believe about him, as they listen to him and watch him…and then, how they respond.
Sometimes I wonder how I would have responded. I think of those first century believers, and I wonder if I would have been a skeptic, or would I have followed him? You and I have this benefit of history and knowing how the story continues… And yet each of us still need to answer for ourselves: Who is Jesus? Who do we believe him to be? Are we following him? Are we allowing our lives to be shaped by him?
Today our conversation begins as Jesus gathers his disciples together in the area called Ponnino, home to the Greek god Pan. They are near Caesarea Philippi, once an area of Baal worship, and as a Roman City, it is a place where Caesar is worshipped as a god. Syrian gods are also a part of the life of those living in the surrounding villages.
It is within this cross-section of ancient religions where Jesus asks his followers: "Who do the people say I am?"
They start offering him the things they've heard: Some think Jesus is John the Baptist, alive from the dead. Others think he is Elijah. Still others think he is one of the other prophets from days gone by—Jeremiah, perhaps?
Jesus then asks them more directly: Who do you say that I am?
Peter answers first: You are the Messiah.
But what does that mean?
Peter is confident and to the point. He's been watching Jesus, he's come to know him: he has seen what Jesus can do, he has listened to him, he follows Jesus closely. He understands. Or does he?
What does "Messiah" mean to Peter? Is he convinced that Jesus will be the great liberator who will free the people of Israel from political tyranny? Does he have triumphant power in mind when he thinks "messiah?" Or something else?
Jesus responds to Peter's assertion by teaching the disciples; he talks about suffering, rejection and death. The two pieces don’t fit together for Peter: triumphant victory and death. He takes Jesus aside, he actually scolds Jesus for saying such things. But having already been offered, and having already rejected the role of a triumphant messiah by Satan in the wilderness, Jesus looks at Peter and says to him and the other disciples: Get behind me, Satan. God's ways are greater than what we can see and what we can know here and now.
Jesus then calls the crowds to them, and begins to teach them along with the disciples some hard lessons that aren't so easy for them to understand: Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the world, yet forfeit their soul? (Mark 8:34b-36).
Who is Jesus? He is the Messiah. But what does that mean?
Six days later, Jesus, along with Peter, James and John are at the top of a high mountain. As Jesus prays, the appearance of his face changes, and his clothing becomes a dazzling white. He is transfigured before them. Then Moses and Elijah appear and they talk with Jesus. The disciples are incredulous/amazed by what they were seeing, and Peter, as always, is the first one to find his words: Let's just stay here, build booths/dwelling places for each of them! At that, a cloud appears and they hear the voice of God saying, This is my Son, who I have chosen: listen to him.
Then just as suddenly as they had appeared, Moses and Elijah are gone; now Jesus and Peter and James and John are again by themselves at the top of the mountain. As they descend the mountain to join the others, Jesus warns them, as he had earlier, not to tell anyone. He talks again about rising from the dead. Don't tell anyone what you've seen until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.
Who is Jesus? He is the Messiah. He is the Son of God. He is the Son of Man. He is the one who will die and then will rise again.
Perhaps one of the more perplexing times that Jesus seeks to teach is in the synagogue with the Pharisees that we read about in Chapter 8 of John and beginning on page 357 of the Story. The controversy begins as Jesus tells the people that he is the light of the world: I am the light of the world (he says); whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life (v. 12).
The thing is, the Pharisees think of the light of the world as being God. They begin an interrogation of sorts, but as Jesus explains his relationship to God, they can't understand. They're firm/they're convinced in what they believe, and what Jesus is telling them just doesn't compute. He continues, telling them that their Father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of his coming, and then he proclaims, "Very truly I tell you, before Abraham was born, I Am!" (Mark 8:58). I Am, you may remember, is the name that God instructs Moses to use in referring to God while speaking to the people of Israel during the exodus. Hearing this from Jesus, the Pharisees have only two choices: to either fall down and worship Jesus on the spot because they believe him and recognize him to be God, or else to pick up stones to stone him for speaking blasphemy. They choose to pick up the stones, but Jesus hides himself and leaves the temple grounds.
Who is Jesus? He is the Messiah, the Son of God, the Son of Man. He is the one who will die and then rise again. He is I Am. He is God in the flesh.
In John 11 and on page 358, we read the story of Lazarus. Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha are friends of Jesus, and the women send word to Jesus that Lazarus is sick, expecting that he will come and heal him. Jesus delays his return by two days, telling his disciples that the sickness will not end in Lazarus’ death, but will instead, reveal God’s glory.
The disciples aren’t excited to be returning, Bethany is close enough to Jerusalem where stoning has recently been an option, but Jesus isn’t concerned…he knows his ministry will last as long as God wants it to last. He tells them that he is going to raise Lazarus.
They still don’t understand. Thomas bravely announces that he is ready to fight if needed, he will gladly die alongside Jesus…
Upon their arrival, they learn that Lazarus died 4 days ago and has been placed in his tomb. Martha comes to Jesus, telling him that she knows that if he had been there, her brother wouldn’t have died. Jesus says to her, “I am the resurrection and I am the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and who ever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Martha says yes. She believes. She proclaims that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.
Her sister Mary then goes out to Jesus, telling him that she, too, like her sister, knows that her brother wouldn’t have died if Jesus had been there. Together, along with the other mourners at their home, they walk to the tomb, where Jesus calls for Lazarus to come out, and he does.
Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who raised Lazarus from the dead, the one who would himself, after three days live again.
In our Story study on Wednesday evening, Susan Wautelet passed around the table 8 pages of names for Jesus from scripture that she had found online; ways the biblical writers and Jesus himself described this one who was long anticipated, hoped for, and often misunderstood. The names came as people saw, experienced, learned and discovered who he was; they’re descriptors of what it means for him to be the Messiah, the Son of God. In that list that Susan brought there were names from A to W (sorry, no Z’s), 105 in all, with 30 in the OT and 75 in the New.
Some of those names you can guess; they may make perfect sense to us: Jesus as Advocate, teacher, physician, or friend. Others may seem a bit more obscure, like Adam (as in the second Adam from 1 Corinthians 15), Blessed and Only Potentate (I Timothy) and Rose of Sharon (Song of Songs). But the name, really, by which we call Jesus, is less important than the role in which you have invited him to play in your life.
Peter and others called Jesus Messiah because of what they had seen and heard and learned by following him. I wonder, who would you say that he is? Who is he to you?