Happy New Year!
Today, we are going to kick off a new series of talks called Basic Christianity. I get to talk about my favorite subject: Jesus—who He is and what He did! And we’re going to celebrate with 100 people who are being baptized! It will be a great start to a New Year!
Several months ago, our teaching team sat down to plan what we would talk about on Sundays at Life Center. We decided to start the new year with a series on Basic Christianity. Remember a few years ago we did The Essentials? We used the Apostles Creed to talk about the core or essentials of the Christian faith. This series will be a shorter, more condensed version of that—six weeks instead of twelve. We are using Alister McGrath’s book, Theology: The Basics as a framework for our talks, and he used the Apostles Creed as a framework for his book. If you’d like to dig deeper, we have a few copies of this at the info center, or you can order it online.
Why do a series on Basic Christianity? It is important to know what you believe. It is important to be able to articulate what you believe. It is important to live what you believe. So we are going to try to explain the basics of the Christian faith so that you can understand them, explain them to others, and live them every day.
We’re going to read the Apostles Creed. A creed is a summary of the essentials or core beliefs of the Christian faith. The Apostles Creed is the oldest of the creeds, dating back to the second century. Every major branch of the Christian faith accept and use the Apostles Creed: Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox. So, let’s read it together.
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell. The third day He arose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church, the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting. Amen.
Notice that almost 2/3 of the creed is about Jesus. The creed has a Trinitarian structure—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (We’ll talk more about the Trinity in a couple weeks and answer all your questions about that!) The middle section of the creed, the section about Jesus, consists of 70 of the creed’s 110 words—63% to be exact. Why does Jesus get most of the press? He is the core, the center of the Christian faith. Jesus is what makes the Christian faith distinctly Christian. It’s all about Jesus—who He is and what He did.
The Big Idea: Jesus is the God-man who came to save us. (change outline)
Jesus is the center of the Christian faith—it’s all about Jesus, who He is and what He did.
Christology is the formal name for the study of Christ, and it is generally divided into two parts: the person of Christ—who He is; and the work of Christ—what He did. That’s what we’re going to talk about.
1. Who is Jesus? The God-man.
Who is Jesus Christ? That is the central question in Christianity, and some would argue, in all of history. Jesus Himself raised the question with His disciples.
Matthew 16:13-16 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
When Jesus asked what people were saying about Him, His followers offered four answers: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets raised from the dead. Ask people today who Jesus is, and you’ll get a variety of answers:
A good man.
A teacher of God’s law.
A reincarnated spirit master.
The ultimate revolutionary.
The messiah of Israel.
A first-century wise man.
Just a man, like any other man.
A misunderstood teacher.
A deluded religious leader.
A fabrication of the early church.
The Son of God.
The Lord of the universe.
All these are answers you might hear if you ask someone who Jesus is. “But what about you,” Jesus asked. “Who do you say that I am?” Peter spoke up and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And that is the answer Christians have given for 2000 years.
Christians have always insisted that there is something different, something unique about Jesus Christ. There have been many good men, many prophets, many teachers of morality. But Christians insist that Jesus is more than a good man, more than a prophet, and more than a moral teacher. In fact, Christians insist that He is more than human. We believe He is the God-man: fully God and fully man. We believe that God, the creator of heaven and earth, descended into His creation and took on human flesh and became a man, and that incarnate God was Jesus Christ. Jesus is the God-man.
This idea runs through all the New Testament. Let me give you some examples.
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The Old Testament starts, “In the beginning, God.” John starts, “In the beginning, was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Word was God? Who was the Word?
John 1:14 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.
The Word became flesh. The Word that was God became a man. The Word is Jesus, the God-man. Paul wrote:
Romans 1:3–4 regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.
Jesus had a human nature—He was a descendant of King David. He was also the Son of God as demonstrated by his resurrection. Fully human, fully God.
This presented a real difficulty for those influenced by the Greek thought that dominated Mediterranean culture. The Greeks thought of matter as essentially evil and spirit as essentially good. So the idea of God (pure good) inhabiting matter (pure evil) was unthinkable. Because of this, people rejected either Christ’s deity or humanity.
Some people insisted that Jesus wasn’t fully human. For example, there were the Docetists (from the Greek word dokeo, “to seem, or appear”) who said that Jesus only seemed to be human, but it was an illusion. When He walked on the beach, he didn’t leave footprints. God made Jesus appear to be human, but he wasn’t really.
But the disciples knew better. They lived with Him, listened to Him, touched Him and were touched by Him. They saw Him get tired and sleep, get hungry and eat, get thirsty and drink. They watched Him bleed and die. They knew He was human with a body just like ours. So John would write:
1 John 4:2–3 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. He was fully human.
And He was fully God. Just as some rejected His humanity, others rejected His deity. Perhaps the most famous of these was Arius, an Alexandrian writer who lived from 256-326. Arius drew a line between God the Creator and His creation, and he put Jesus on the side with the rest of creation. He said that there was a time when Christ did not exist, when only God the Father existed before creation. Arius said that Jesus was not divine, but was the greatest of God’s creations. He interpreted Biblical passages that attributed deity to Christ as merely intending to give him honor, much like we might say of a great athlete, “He’s like a god!” We don’t literally mean he’s a god; it’s just a way of giving honor, of saying he’s really a stud. Arius insisted that Jesus was fully man, but not fully God. Arius wasn’t the first to suggest this, but he intensified the debate and carried it to a church-wide audience.
Arius’ critics, led by Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, argued that Arius’ interpretation of the Bible was faulty, and that his view made much of the Bible incoherent. In 325 AD, the bishops were convened in Nicea (modern Turkey), where this issue was debated and Arius’ view was soundly rejected, although Arianism continued to thrive for years after the Council in Nicea.
Was Athanasius correct? Does the New Testament claim that Jesus is God? The evidence is overwhelming! There are at least ten passages where Jesus is called God; I’ve listed those on your outline. And there are many others were it is implied or understood. For example, the phrase “Lord Jesus” appears 103 times in the New Testament; this doesn’t count the hundreds of other times the word “Lord” is applied to Jesus. “Lord” is a word that the Jews of Jesus’ day reserved for God alone. The Jewish historian Josephus tells us that the Jews refused to call Caesar “Lord” because that title was reserved for God alone. And yet the New Testament authors, most of whom were Jewish, freely used it of Jesus. And the Christians, like the Jews before them, refused to call Caesar Lord because that title was reserved for Jesus. “Jesus is Lord” was the first creed, and was the equivalent of saying, “Jesus is God.”
Christians have insisted that Jesus is fully God. Where did they get this idea? From the evidence. What evidence? Let me lay it out for you.
First, His birth. Jesus’ birth is unique. The story is told in Matthew and Luke, and both make it clear that Mary was a virgin who became pregnant by the power of God. Both describe Jesus as the Son of God, and Matthew tells us that he will be “God with us,” and will save us from our sins, something only God can do.
Second, His life. No one ever lived like Jesus—without sin. Jesus asked His opponents, “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?” They couldn’t. (John 8:46) The author of Hebrews says that He was tempted in every way like we are, yet was without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)
Third, His miracles. Jesus did things that only God can do. He healed the sick, raised the dead, walked on water, stilled storms, and fed multitudes with a sack lunch. When He stilled a storm on Galilee, His followers asked, “Who is this? Even the wind and waves obey Him?” Conclusion: this is God!
Fourth, His teaching. Jesus’ teaching was unique. Most teachers cite other authorities; Jesus claimed to speak with own authority. Even His opponents admitted, “No one ever spoke like this man.” But the most important parts of His teaching are what He said about Himself. He made claims that no ordinary man could make. A couple examples:
John 8:58 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!”
“I am” was the Hebrew name for God. Jesus claimed to be God, to exist before Abraham was born. The Jews understood what He was claiming and picked up stones to kill Him for blasphemy.
John 10:30 “I and the Father are one.”
Jesus seemed to mean that He and the Father are one and the same. At least, that’s how the Jews understood Him and again picked up stones to kill Him for blasphemy.
John 14:9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
Philip asked Jesus to show them the Father. This is Jesus’ reply: if you have seen me, you have seen the Father. If you have seen Jesus, you have seen God!
These claims, taken alone, would be blasphemy or craziness. But when you add them to all the other evidence, they have to be taken seriously.
Fifth, His death. Jesus said that no one was taking His life, but that He was giving His life as a ransom for us. He wasn’t a martyr; He gave Himself as a sacrifice to save us. His death was the ultimate act of love.
Sixth, His resurrection. The ultimate proof that He was more than just a man was that death couldn’t hold Him. His resurrection “declared (Him) with power to be the Son of God.”
Seventh, His fulfillment of prophecy. All of this was prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus fulfilled dozens of Old Testament prophecies. The early Christians read the Hebrew Scriptures and saw Jesus everywhere. You can see this in all the gospels, especially Matthew.
The early Christians had to answer the question, “Who is Jesus?” It was the most hotly debated question of the first four centuries. And in the end, it became the litmus test of orthodoxy. In other words, you could be wrong about lots of other things and still be a Christian, but if you were wrong about Jesus, you weren’t a Christian. A Christian is someone who believes that Jesus is the God-man: fully God and fully man.
We’ve talked about the person of Christ, who He was. Now let’s talk about the work of Christ, what He did. Why did He come?
2. Why did He come? To save us.
That’s the short answer. Here’s what Jesus said.
Luke 19:10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.
The reason He came was to seek and to save what was lost. He came looking for lost people, to rescue us and bring us back to God. Paul put it this way:
1 Timothy 1:15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.
Why did Jesus come? To save sinners! Paul thought he was the worst; I know some people who could give him a run for his money—including me! Jesus came to save sinners, to save the lost. He came to save us. What does that mean?
We use the word “save” to mean two things: first, to put aside, to keep, collect, store up; second, to rescue. When we say Jesus came to save us, it’s that second meaning—He came to rescue us, to save our lives. The Bible says that we were lost and perishing, so Jesus came to find us and save us. The most famous verse in the Bible is all about God’s love. Say it with me:
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Do you know what word jumped out at me recently? Perish.
ILL: Rick Noll, my life-long associate pastor, was recently in Ethiopia working with our partners there. They are planting churches in very difficult places. When five church planters were martyred, they held a meeting and considered what to do. Five new families volunteered to take their places—at the risk of their own lives! What makes them willing to risk everything to share the gospel? They say, “so that not one will perish.” They really believe that people are perishing without God, so they are willing to do anything to bring God to them.
I heard that story and the next time I read John 3:16, the word “perish” jumped out at me. This is why Jesus came: to save us so that not one would perish.
2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
God doesn’t want anyone to perish—this is why Jesus came—so that not one would perish. Jesus came so that you wouldn’t perish, but have eternal life.
But are we really perishing? Do we really need to be saved? The Bible uses several images to explain our condition and God’s rescue; we’ll look at a couple.
An image from the courtroom: justification. To justify someone is to declare them righteous or not guilty. The Bible says that we are guilty of sin and stand under the judgment of God.
Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
All of us have sinned, and the penalty for sin is death. We are perishing. So Christ paid our penalty; He died in our place, so that we could live. He justified us and declared us righteous and set us free.
Romans 5:9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!
Christ died to pay our penalty and justify us and save us from the God’s wrath which we deserve because of our sin.
ILL: One winter’s night in 1935, Fiorello LaGuardia, the irrepressible mayor of New York, showed up at a night court in the poorest ward of the city. He dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench. That night a tattered old woman, charged with stealing a loaf of bread, was brought before him. She defended herself by saying, “My daughter’s husband has deserted her. She is sick and her children are starving.”
The shopkeeper refused to drop the charges, saying, “It’s a bad neighborhood, your honor, and she’s got to be punished to teach other people a lesson.”
LaGuardia sighed. He turned to the old woman and said, “I’ve got to punish you; the law makes no exceptions. Stealing is stealing. Ten dollars or ten days in jail.” However, even while pronouncing sentence, LaGuardia reached into his pocket, took out a ten-dollar bill, and threw it into his hat with these famous words:
“Here’s the ten-dollar fine, which I now remit, and furthermore, I’m going to fine everyone in the courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.”
The following day, a New York newspaper reported: “Forty-seven dollars and fifty cents was turned over to a bewildered old grandmother who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren. Making forced donations were a red-faced storekeeper, seventy petty criminals, and a few New York policemen.”
Justice had to be served, and grace had to be given. Mayor LaGuardia managed to do both. God will too at the last judgment for all who have trusted Christ. We were perishing, deserving God’s wrath. Jesus paid our fine, and sent us out of court justified.
An image from the marketplace: redemption. In Biblical times, a person who was unable to pay his debts or simply provide for himself may have been sold as a slave. To regain his freedom, someone had to redeem him, or buy his freedom. The Bible says that we are all slaves to sin, and trapped in the clutches of a spiritual enemy determined to destroy us, the devil. We were perishing, so Jesus redeemed us and set us free.
1 Peter 1:18–19 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.
We were trapped in an empty way of life, but Jesus redeemed us. What was the price of our redemption? You were bought with nothing less than Christ’s blood.
ILL: Paul Harvey tells a story about Lieutenant Commander Edward Henry “Butch” O’Hare, the Navy’s number-one ace in World War 2 and the first naval aviator ever to win the Congressional Medal of Honor. Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport is named for him.
What Butch O’Hare became, however, was made possible because someone else paid a great price. That someone else was Butch’s father, Edward J. O’Hare, a slick lawyer for the gangster Al Capone. “Artful Eddie, as he was known, had money and power, but one day he squealed on Capone. The reason for this sudden change of heart? He wanted to give his son a break, he said. Before long, the mob silenced Artful Eddie with two shotgun blasts.
But because of Eddie’s courageous change of heart, his son Butch was accepted at Annapolis. Eddie’s confession and subsequent death satisfied admissions people that the family’s mob connections were severed. Artful Eddie paid with his own life for his son’s chance to make good…and now you know the rest of the story.
Jesus paid a high price to free you from the empty life you were stuck in. We were perishing—trapped in sin and emptiness—so Jesus gave His life on the cross to free us.
Why did Jesus come? To save us. We are perishing and we need rescue. We need to be saved.
ILL: Just a couple months ago, in October 2011, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake rocked eastern Turkey, collapsing buildings and killing hundreds of people. On Day 5, rescue workers pulled Ferhat Tokay, a 13 year-old boy, alive from the rubble. The boy had survived by drinking rainwater that seeped through the rubble. They found him unharmed after five days! The rescue workers were so excited! Why were they working round the clock? So that not one should perish.
It reminded me of another earthquake rescue.
ILL: In 1989, an 8.2 earthquake flattened much of Armenia, killing over 30,000 people in less than four minutes.
In the midst of the devastation and chaos, a father rushed to the school where his son was supposed to be, only to discover that the building was flat as a pancake.
After the initial shock, he remembered the promise he had made to his son: “No matter what, I’ll always be there for you.” Tears filled his eyes as he looked at the pile of rubble and debris that had once been his son’s school. It looked hopeless, but he kept thinking of his promise to his son.
He went to where the back corner of the building had been, where his son’s classroom had been, and started digging. Other weeping parents tried to stop him, to pull him off the rubble. “It’s too late. They’re dead. You can’t help. Go home.” And to each parent, he asked the same question: “Will you help me?” and kept digging.
The fire chief showed up and tried to pull him off the pile of rubble. “Fires are breaking out; explosions are happening everywhere. You’re in danger. Go home and let us take care of it.” This father asked him the same question, “Will you help me?” and kept digging.
The police came and said, “You’re upset about losing your son, but you’re endangering yourself and others. Go home!” But the father asked, “Will you help me?” and kept digging.
Courageously, he kept digging…alone. He had to find his boy–he had to know if his boy was alive or dead. Alone, he kept digging, for 8 hours, 12 hours, 24 hours, 36 hours…and in the 38th hour he pulled back a rock and heard his son’s voice. “Armand!” he cried.
“Dad? Dad! We’re down here. I told the other kids not to worry. I told them that if you were alive, you’d find me and save me, and they’d be saved too. I told them what you always told me, ‘No matter what, I’ll always be there for you.'”
It turned out that when the building collapsed, it had made a wedge, like a triangle. Fourteen students were trapped, but alive in that wedge. 14 students were saved because one father had a love for his son that wouldn’t be stopped.
Your Heavenly Father has a love for you that won’t be stopped. That’s why Jesus came and died on a cross. You were perishing, buried in the rubble of your own sin and rebellion. He came and found you and rescued you!