October 19, 2014

Who was Jesus?

Passage: Isaiah 42:1-9, Luke 6:27-36


The person, nature and theology of Jesus have

become big issues in the church today.

The Jesus Seminar has given us new

insights into the life and thought of Jesus.

It’s good for us Christians to go back to Jesus and

to reconsider his words and actions.

Men, and especially women, are seeing

Jesus again for the first time.

My thinking about Jesus and my faith in Jesus

have changed over the years.

But, no matter how much my theology has changed

I still follow Jesus; I’m one of his disciples.

There are as many different Jesuses as

there are disciples of Jesus.

I worshipped in a United Church and there was a

a picture of Jesus - white, blond and blue-eyed.

I entered a Roman Catholic church and there was Jesus - thin, beaten, bleeding, dying on a cross.

I remember a preacher, in a sermon, telling us that

Jesus was exactly 6 feet tall, even though the

Bible says nothing about Jesus’ body.

In the Caribbean I saw a black Jesus in the chancel.

We know Jesus was a Jew and was never a Christian

but most Christians don’t believe that.

I said that in a sermon many years ago, and

a woman told me she had never heard that

before and could not believe it now.

An archaeologist, using the skull of

a first century Jew, reconstructed

what Jesus might have looked like.

A pious Christian said she couldn’t believe that sculpture represented Jesus because he looked like “the kind of guy who couldn’t make it through airport security.”

She complained Biblical scholars made Jesus into

“a bisexual, cross-dressing, whale-saving, tobacco-hating, vegetarian, African Queen

who actually went to the temple to lobby for

women’s rights.”

(I see nothing wrong with any of those things).

Jesus was not a sweet, popular, cuddly guy.

He didn’t attract everybody; he had many enemies.

He was a peasant who often spoke out against the

ruling class.

He was allied with the Pharisees, but often upset them

with his radical views.

Josephus was the only one who wrote about Jesus

outside our Gospels.

Our four Gospels disagree about many major issues

in the life of Jesus and they do not give us a

comprehensive picture of Jesus.

We get snippets from the life of Jesus

and we build our theologies of Jesus on them.

We have only one Gospel, but four/five versions of it.

The life of Jesus has too much meaning to be

limited to only one account of it.

Each of the four Gospels gives us a

different look at Jesus.

No matter how hard we try,

we cannot synthesize the stories of Jesus.

The Gospels are not history;

they’re not objective accounts;

they’re not dictated by God.

Each Gospel is written by an author who

saw Jesus in a unique way.

Each Gospel tells us what was important to

the author of that Gospel.

For example, Mark, the first Gospel written,

gives us very few speeches by Jesus,

gives us several geographical mistakes,

gives us stories about Jesus’ dense disciples.

Matthew teaches us through the sermons of Jesus.

Matthew sees Jesus as another Moses.

Matthew focuses on new rules and regulations.

Luke was the historian

who emphasized the suffering poor,

the rejected outcastes,

the downcast women.

John was entirely different than the other three

because he spoke about Jesus as divine,

because he was against “the Jews,”

because he had Jesus making claims

for himself which are hard to believe.

In other words, we don’t have an agreed-upon picture

of Jesus among the earliest Christians.

Jesus defied definition.

Nobody could capture Jesus with words.

Jesus wasn’t even very religious.

Seldom did he speak about God.

Instead he told stories

which you had to apply to God or not,

which you had to read God into,

which you had to figure out for yourself.

So who was Jesus?

And more important, who is Jesus to you today?

What we know about Jesus are not all historical facts.

But the things we know about Jesus are true.

Let me give you an example of what I mean.

Imagine a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald.

In one hand he holds the Canadian Pacific railroad.

In the other hand he holds the province of Quebec.

He embraces the entire map of Canada -

from Newfoundland to British Columbia,

from Amherst Island to Baffin Island.

On his back he proudly wears two flags -

the Union Jack and the Maple Leaf.

But none of those items is literally true.

Sir John A. MacDonald did not build the C.P.R.

He was not the leader in Quebec; that was Cartier.

Canada did not stretch from Newfoundland to

British Columbia or from Amherst Island to

Baffin Island when he was Prime Minister.

The Maple Leaf flag did not exist during his time.

But the statue would be true because Sir. John A. Macdonald was behind all those symbols.

He was the inspiration for the new nation of Canada.

He got us started.

He empowered the C.P.R. to unite us.

He made Quebec feel part of our Canadian nation.

Sir John A. Macdonald was the leader of the founding

fathers of Canada.

In the same way we tell stories about Jesus which

may not be literally factual but which are true.

Did Jesus walk on water?

Did Jesus turn water into wine?

Did Jesus multiply the loaves and fishes?

Did Jesus give sight to the blind?

Did Jesus calm the stormy sea?

Did Jesus raise Lazarus from three days in the grave?

You may believe those things literally happened

but I cannot.

And yet, I agree with you that those things tell us

great truths about Jesus.

That’s the important thing -

not whether those stories actually happened but what those stories mean.

I suspect, that while we might disagree as to

whether those stories tell of historical events,

we’d agree as to what they mean.

Jesus walking on water signalled that he could walk

all over Leviathan, the evil monster of the deep.

Jesus turning water into wine showed that he came to

bring new life and joy out of ordinary things.

Jesus multiplying the loaves and fishes revealed that he was the bread of life and that without him our spirits would go hungry and we would die of starvation.

When Jesus gave sight to the blind he was saying that

through him people would see the truth.

Jesus calmed the seas because he revealed that in him

the power of God was greater than the

power of nature.

Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead displayed his

power over death to give new life to those who

put their trust in him.

Above all else the Gospels portray Jesus going to those

who were hated, despised, rejected.

Why did Jesus do that?

Because, as John tells us,

“God so loved the world (everybody) that

he gave his only son.”

Why did God give his chosen son?

Because God wanted to put divine love into action.

Look, we’ve debated the role and purpose of Jesus,

but all the stories about him state that he is

beyond all description, but at the same

time he is the embodiment of that

for which we all yearn.

I like what Amy Jill Levine says about Jesus.

(Amy Jill Levine is a Jewish woman who teaches New  Testament at a Christian theological college).

Amy Jill Levine says that even though the Gospels don’t always agree about Jesus, we get a good picture of what Jesus was trying to promote.

Jesus gathered disciples - followers.

He attracted crowds by healing and teaching.

He was testy, edgy, provocative.

Some people wanted to kill him.

Others wanted to make him king.

Jesus dedicated his life to

loving enemies,

forgiving enemies,

healing enemies.

Above all, he was committed

to serving God,

to suggesting God’s way,

to getting people to follow God.

People were so impressed by Jesus and by what he did

that they saw God in him.

They did not think that he was God.

No Jew would ever consider any man to be divine.

But they saw that God so filled up Jesus

that God was acting through him.

They called Jesus “Son of God,” but many people

were called “Son of God” to indicate their intimacy with God.

Jesus was one of the great “Sons of God.”

Some Christians went even further and claimed

that Jesus was divine because he had been

born of a virgin.

They didn’t realize that the Hebrew word in Isaiah

meant “young woman” not “virgin.”

But they wanted Jesus to be born of a virgin because

every great man or foreign god was born of a


Here’s another way of thinking about Jesus.

One writer says that Jesus today is walking around

oppressed by layer after layer of clothing.

For 2,000 years we’ve put layer after layer of clothes

on Jesus and we’ve turned him into somebody

very different from the man who got into

the water to be baptized by John.

We’ve laid on Jesus

political clothing,

economic clothing,

cultural clothing,

church clothing.

Jesus is so bogged down by the clothes we’ve put on him that we can’t see the real man.

As a result we claim that Jesus sends men to war.

We say Jesus rejects immigrants, especially Orientals.

We declare Jesus hates homosexuals, even though

Jesus never said anything about homosexuals.

The time has come to divest Jesus of all those clothes,

to remove all the crap we’ve laid on him,

to take off the layers of tradition,

to lift off our ideas and theologies

and get back to the Jesus

who stood in the water to be baptized by John.

Easy to say; hard to do.

How do we remove from Jesus some of our favourite





I have to stand up with all of you and say,

“Let’s talk about Jesus. Let’s share our views about Jesus. I have to be ready to withdraw my theology if you can convince me I am wrong, but you must be ready to do the same.”

Would it not be wonderful if in the church we

could talk that way to one another?

Unfortunately I find that while I can live with and love

those who take the Bible literally they cannot

live with and love me.

I can live with and love those who take the Bible literally because I know I might be able to learn something from them.

I don’t agree with them now, but I find that

we both follow and serve the same Jesus.

Unfortunately, one of those who disagrees with me said to me once, “Your God is not my God.”

If that’s true, then I’m concerned for that person

because the Jesus I know and follow loves

everybody and is ready to search for

and to save everyone.

I believe we Christians, although we differ in

our theological views, are all following Jesus.

One thing most New Testament scholars agree on -

and they don’t agree on much - is that Jesus’

main aim was the Kingdom of God.

Jesus wasn’t concerned about

“pie in the sky when you die.”

Jesus wasn’t talking about life beyond the grave

so much as he was talking about life

here and now.

Jesus didn’t speak much about the future in heaven;

he spoke about a political state here and now.

Jesus contrasted the Kingdom of Caesar with

the Kingdom of God.

According to the Kingdom of Caesar, Might was Right.

Rome ruled by force of arms.

People who lived in the Kingdom of Caesar had

no rights,

no choices,

no power.

They lived under the oppression of Rome.

The Pax Romana, The Roman Peace,

was not really “PEACE.”

The Roman Peace was

the absence of rights for the people,

the absence of freedom for the people,

and the absence of power for the people.

The Kingdom of God was the opposite.

In the Kingdom of God there would be

rule by love and justice.

In the Kingdom of God the budget

would not be for war; it would be for peace.

In the Kingdom of God, the rich would not be first;

the poor would get first concern.

In the Kingdom of God,

the healthy would not get all the attention.

The sick would get first claim on

our money,

our time

and our expertise.

In Jesus’ time Rome was not the kingdom of God.

The Christians turned everything upside dow and employed all the adjectives used to describe Caesar to point to Jesus.

Jesus was Lord.

Jesus ruled the world.

Jesus was the son of God.

Jesus was the saviour.

All those things the Romans had said about Caesar.

No wonder the Romans had

to get rid of the Christians.

The Christians were stealing all the Roman claims.

The Christians were replacing all the Roman attitudes.

The Christians were turning Roman theology upside       down.

The Christians, by usurping all the Roman claims,

were saying,

“Rome is not the kingdom of God.

Rome is not the will of God.”

The Gospels kept asking,

“Whose kingdom will you choose?”

Today we’re asked,

“Whose kingdom will you choose?

The Kingdom of Canada or the

Kingdom of God?

The Kingdom of militarism or

the Kingdom of God?

The Kingdom of profit and money

or the Kingdom of God?”

The struggle I have, as a follower of Jesus, is that I

have to live in

the Kingdom of Canada,

the Kingdom of militarism,

the Kingdom of Capitalism, money, and  power and

still try to proclaim the Kingdom of God.

I fail too often, I know.

That’s why I want everyone in the church to follow Jesus - so that they’ll not be on the wrong side

but will stand with Jesus, the Lord, the

one who best represents God.