Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
January 22, 2003
'Who do you say I am,' asks Jesus
Christmas challenges us with the most important question of our lives: "Who do you say I am?"
We can run from this question by burying ourselves in a spiral of shopping and work that leaves no time to reflect on what we are celebrating. We can run from the question by claiming we need to be more tolerant and that this is not Christmas, but Wintervaal or some other secular season to let one's hair hang down.
But if we have a shred of self-reflection, we will look at the baby in the manger and ask, "Who is he? Is he a wise religious teacher? Is he a compassionate miracle worker? Is he a mystic?"
Reflect on those questions and you will see that, at heart, he was none of the above. Jesus was certainly a wise teacher. He knew the Hebrew Scriptures through and through. He surprised the people of his day with his revolutionary interpretations of those Scriptures.
But Jesus had the nasty habit of forgiving sins and saying he was the Son of God. The religious leaders tried to stone him for identifying himself with God, not extol him for his wisdom. These were not nasty men. They were people who knew what Jesus meant. It meant that if Jesus were the Son of God, they would have to bow down and worship him, praise him for his glory and radically alter their religion and their lives to give him the glory that was his due.
It was impossible for them. They knew he was a carpenter's son; how could he be the Son of God? It was preposterous.
Jesus was a compassionate man. He healed the sick, made the blind see and fed the 5,000. His miracles naturally drew people to him, each seeking to be healed or to witness the unexplainable. But Jesus said this was not his real mission - it was not to meet the material needs or wants of everyone in Israel. His mission was to suffer and die and, on the third day, rise from the dead. These miracles were signs, signs that he was the Son of God.
Nor was Jesus what is popularly seen as a mystic. Jesus did not preach inner enlightenment. He asked us to forgive others as we would be forgiven. He said, "Whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to me." He did tell us to pray. But the prayer he showed us was one of asking for God's forgiveness and of asking for God's help. Jesus did not extol individualism. He urged individuals to get active and, with God's help, bring mercy and healing and forgiveness to the world around them.
So, what are we to make of such a man? We are left with two choices: Either he is a crackpot or he really is the Son of God. There is no middle ground. We cannot put Jesus in the same category as other religious leaders - Buddha, Moses, Mohammed, Lao Tzu or Confucius. Either he is a madman or he is the Son of God.
And if he is the Son of God, our lives need to change. We need to devote ourselves to the worship of this God who made us and who gave his life so that we can be freed from the heavy burden of sin. We need to live pure lives and turn away from everything that leads away from a closer life with God. We need to treat everything else as dross unless it helps achieve the main goal of our lives - to share in making God's kingdom more real.
Jesus' closest followers had no doubt as to his identity. He is the Son of God. They were so sure of that fact that they endured ridicule, persecution, imprisonment, torture and finally death to remain true to their belief in Christ the Saviour.
Today, around the world, many people are doing the same. They are forsaking the easy way because they are convinced with every fibre of their being that Jesus is the Holy One and that all real life comes from him. In North America we are fed other propaganda or have our minds glazed over so that we don't face the most important question of our lives. But it doesn't go away. And the baby in the manger confronts us with it again: "Who do you say I am?"
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