January 20-21, 2018
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Why I am a Christian
Part 2: Incomparable Jesus
The Big Idea: I am a Christian because of Jesus. Jesus is the most compelling and influential person who ever lived. His claims, His life, and His impact set Him apart from everyone else.
I told you last week how I became a Christian at age 13. Shortly after, another 13-year old at our little church in Sweet Home, Oregon, took me under his wing. Nat encouraged me to read the Bible. When he saw that my Bible was the King James Version my grandmother had given me, Nat gave me a modern translation: Good News for Modern Man (known now as the Good News Bible). He told me to start at the beginning of the New Testament with the gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—because they tell the story of Jesus, and Jesus is the center of our faith. It was great advice! I read through Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; and then did it again; and then did it again. I was captivated by Jesus. There is no one like Him! And I’ve only become more convinced of that since then. Why am I a Christian?
The Big Idea: I am a Christian because of Jesus. Jesus is the most compelling and influential person who ever lived. His claims, His life, and His impact set Him apart from everyone else.
I am a Christian because of Jesus. Last weekend we talked about how Christianity makes sense of the universe and our lives within it. Good stuff; important stuff. But when I wrestle with my faith, I don’t go there first; the first place I go is to Jesus. I am a Christian for lots of good reasons, but the most important is Jesus. How do I explain Jesus? Who is this man? This is the most central and critical question of all.
Once, after a long day of speaking to crowds and healing the sick, Jesus turned to his small band of brothers and said, “Let’s go to the other side of the lake.” So they got in a nearby fishing boat, raised the sail, and headed across the 7-mile wide Lake Galilee. Jesus lay down in the back of the boat and quickly fell sound asleep. Suddenly, a violent storm blew down from the hills that surround the lake, and the waves were threatening to swamp their boat. The disciples bailed for all they were worth, but it was a losing battle, and these seasoned sailors were afraid for their lives. So they shook Jesus awake: “Don’t you care that we’re about to drown?”
Jesus stood up and rebuked the wind and told the waves, “Shhh. Be still.” And suddenly it became completely calm. Now the disciples were even more terrified and said to each other, “Who is this man? Even the wind and waves obey him?” Is nature big? Someone bigger than nature is in the boat!
Who is this man?
That is the question that Jesus’ followers asked themselves over and over. To answer that question, we’re going to look at three things: the claims of Jesus, the life of Jesus, and the impact of Jesus.
- The claims of Jesus.
The first thing to consider about Jesus is what He thought about Himself. Before we can answer, “Who is this man?” we need to answer, “Who did Jesus think He was?” We need to start with the claims of Jesus.
I want you to know that Jesus wasn’t crucified for what He did. He was crucified for who He claimed to be. First-century Jews were fiercely monotheistic. There was one God, and He was not a man. To claim to be God, or to claim the powers or prerogatives of God, was blasphemy, and in Jewish culture, was punishable by death. This is why they killed Jesus: for blasphemy, for claiming to be God. You can open your Bible to almost any page in the four gospels and read the red letters, the words of Jesus, and you’ll find Jesus making outrageous claims about Himself. They are everywhere. Here is a sampling.
Jesus’ teaching pointed to Himself. Other great religious leaders pointed to God, or to truth, but Jesus alone pointed to Himself—over and over.
Matthew 11:28–30 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Come to Me. Learn from Me. Take My yoke. I will give you rest. Jesus offers Himself as the cure for a weary soul.
Matthew 10:32–33 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.”
Jesus made Himself the issue: whoever acknowledges Me.
John 5:39–40 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
Jesus tells His Jewish contemporaries that eternal life is not in the Scriptures, but in Him! The Scriptures are about Him, and they must come to Him to have life! One more (of many…)
John 6:35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Come to Me and you’ll never go hungry; believe in me and you’ll never be thirsty. Who says this kind of thing?
Imagine if I did. “Come to me; I’m the cure for your weary soul. Believe in me and you’ll never thirst. The whole Bible is about Me—come to Me for life.” You’d think I was crazy. Yet Jesus said these things—over and over.
Jesus claimed to be God in clear and unmistakeable ways. For example, He repeatedly claimed powers or prerogatives that only God has.
- He claimed that He could forgive our sins.
- He claimed that He would be our judge at the final judgment.
- He taught His followers to pray to Him, and He accepted their worship.
- He claimed that we must honor Him as we honor God.
And of course Jesus did things that only God can do:
- Turning water into wine.
- Calming a storm.
- Walking on water.
- Healing the sick.
- Raising the dead.
I’m only scratching the surface here—these claims are everywhere in the gospels. And it was these claims to be God that got Jesus crucified.
John 5:17–18 In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” 18 For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
Why did they want to kill Him? Because He was making Himself equal with God.
John 8:58–59 “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” 59 At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.
Why did they want to stone Him? Because He claimed to be God. He used the Jewish name of God, revealed to Moses in Exodus: “I am that I am.” Jesus said that before Abraham was born—1500 years before—“I am.” They understood clearly what He was claiming and wanted to kill Him for blasphemy.
John 10:30–33 “I and the Father are one.”
31 Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, 32 but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”
33 “We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”
Why did they want to stone Him? For blasphemy, because He claimed to be God.
You can open your Bible to almost any page in the four gospels and read the red letters, the words of Jesus, and you’ll find these kinds of outrageous claims. They are everywhere. C.S. Lewis famously wrote in Mere Christianity:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
Jesus made claims only God can make. Is there any evidence to back Him up?
- The life of Jesus.
There has never been anyone like Jesus. He is unique.
Jesus was unique in His words. Once, the religious leaders sent guards to arrest Jesus. They came back empty handed and said, “No one ever spoke the way this man does.” (John 7:46) The teaching of Jesus was revolutionary. He spoke of God as His Father, and our Father too. He taught us to pray not to a distant deity, but to “Our Father.” No one had ever taught that before.
When the religious leaders scolded Jesus for hanging out with irreligious people, He told them a story about a father with two sons. The younger son told his father that he wanted his share of the family estate now—basically, he told his father, “I wish you were dead.” His father gave him the money, he moved far away and wasted everything in wild living. When a famine hit, this young man was reduced to abject poverty. In his despair, he came to his senses and realized that the hired hands on his father’s farm were living better than he was. So he resolved to go home and ask his father to take him back, not as a son—he didn’t deserve that—but just as a hired hand. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, every day that father was scanning the horizon, hoping that lost son would return. So when he saw the boy in the distance, he was overjoyed, and ran and threw his arms around him and kissed him. The boy began his rehearsed apology, but the father interrupted him and said, “Quick, get some fresh clothes for my son, and the family ring for his finger, and fire up the barbecue because we’re going to have a party! My son is home!”
Jesus taught us that our Father loves us and is looking for us and will welcome us home with open arms.
When a woman was caught in adultery and dumped at his feet for judgment, Jesus said, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”
When asked, “Who is my neighbor?” by a man who wanted a very narrow definition, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. He taught us that we’re to be a neighbor to whomever we meet, even if that person is different, even if that person is an enemy.
Jesus claimed that His teaching superseded the Jewish Scriptures. “You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’ but I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
No one ever spoke the way this man does. Who is this man? Jesus was unique in His words and…
Jesus was unique in His deeds. He calmed the storm. He healed the sick. He touched the untouchables. He raised the dead. He fed the hungry multitudes. He forgave sinners.
Once He told a paralyzed man, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” Right away, the religious leaders asked the appropriate question: “Who is this man? Who does he think he is? Only God can forgive sins.” Jesus, knowing their thoughts, asked them, “Is it easier to say to a paralytic, ‘your sins are forgiven’ or ‘get up and walk’? I will show you that I have authority to forgive sins.” Then He told the man, “Get up and walk.” And he did! Jesus forgave his sins and healed him. Who does this?
Who is this man? Jesus was unique in His words, His deeds and…
Jesus was unique in His life. It’s very difficult to be a public person without your faults becoming public. Yet Jesus was the most public person in Israel for three years running, and at the end of that time, no one could accuse him of wrong. Pilate tried him and declared him innocent. Jesus once asked his opponents, “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?” (John 8:46) Imagine a public figure asking his opponents that today.
Jesus lived a life of full surrender to His Father. He said, “I don’t do my own will, but the will of Him who sent me.” Even when facing an agonizing and undeserved death, He prayed, “Father, not my will, but yours be done.” He was utterly selfless.
Who is this man? Jesus was unique in His words, deeds, life and…
Jesus was unique in His death. He was falsely accused, unjustly tried, tortured and executed. But that is not what makes his death unique. Jesus made it clear that He was not a martyr, but a sacrifice. He said, “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” (John 10:18) He told his followers, “I came to give my life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)
On the last night of his life, while sharing a meal with his closest friends, he took bread and broke it and said, “This is my body, broken for you. Do this to remember me.” Then he took a cup and said, “This is my blood, shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins. Do this to remember me.” For 20 centuries his followers have been eating the bread and drinking the wine to remember that Jesus gave His life for us. We’re going to do it in a few minutes to remember that no one took His life; He gave it. He laid down His life so we could live.
Who is this man? Jesus was unique in His words, deeds, life, death and…
Jesus was unique in His resurrection. Do you know what the disciples’ reaction was to the news that Jesus was alive? Disbelief. They thought it was nonsense, and they simply didn’t believe it. Even when the resurrected Jesus appeared to them, their initial response was doubt, fear and disbelief. Why? Because people don’t rise from the dead. But Jesus did, and their stubborn disbelief was slowly overcome by His presence among them.
The first time that the resurrected Jesus appeared to them, Thomas was gone. When he returned and they told him they had seen Jesus, Thomas scoffed. “Unless I see Him myself, and touch the wounds in his hands and side, I won’t believe.” A few days later, Jesus appeared again and this time, Thomas was there. “Thomas, here I am. Touch me. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas fell to his knees and said, “My Lord and my God.”
Who is this man? It was the resurrection that ultimately convinced them that Jesus was no ordinary man. Of course, many people don’t believe the resurrection actually happened. They believe it’s a myth. Next weekend, I’m going to tell you why I believe it’s true—the evidence for the resurrection.
I am a Christian because of Jesus: because of Jesus’ unique claims, because of Jesus’ unique life, and because of Jesus’ unique impact.
- The impact of Jesus.
In 2012, Pastor John Ortberg wrote Who is This Man? The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus. It was my favorite book that year, and one of my all time favorites. I keep copies to give to pre-Christian friends who are asking questions about Jesus. In the book, Ortberg shows how Jesus’ influence has swept over history, shaping such diverse areas of culture as art, science, government, medicine, education, ethics, and community. He summarizes Jesus’ influence on maps and calendars; in how we view and value women and children; in how we treat the weak, infirm and marginalized; in how we view the individual; in marriage and sexuality; in education and learning; in politics; in humility as a virtue; in forgiveness and love of enemies; in overturning slavery, poverty, hunger and sickness.
Yale historian Jaroslav Pelikan wrote, “Regardless of what anyone may personally think or believe about him, Jesus of Nazareth has been the dominant figure in the history of Western Culture for almost twenty centuries. If it were possible, with some sort of super magnet, to pull up out of the history every scrap of metal bearing at least a trace of his name, how much would be left?”
Simply put, Jesus is the most influential man who ever lived. Let me cite just a couple examples.
Jesus introduced the revolutionary ideas of forgiveness and love of enemies.
“This is so associated with Jesus that no less a thinker than German political theorist Hannah Arendt, the first woman appointed to a full professorship at Princeton University, claimed that forgiveness and love of enemies is a distinctively Christian contribution to the human race: “the discoverer of the role of forgiveness in the realm of human affairs was Jesus of Nazareth.””
You can trace the impact of Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness and love of enemies from the early Christians, to the Quakers and Amish (Forgiven, by Terri Roberts), to Desmond Tutu and the overthrow of apartheid in S. Africa; and from Tolstoy in Russia to Gandhi in India to Martin Luther King Jr in America. At the MLK rally on Monday, one of the singers reminded us that his title was “Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King”—that he was a Christian and a pastor first, and that Jesus was his inspiration and leader. I went home and read his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” an amazing document that models grace and truth and love towards his enemies. That started with Jesus.
Jesus influenced the arts—all of them. Ortberg writes: “Jesus had no place to lay his head yet became the primary shaper of architecture. We don’t know what Jesus looked like, yet he became the most recognizable figure in the world…the subject of more paintings and sculptures than anyone else. He never wrote a book, but he became the most written-about person ever and the greatest inspiration for global linguistic development. He is associated with only one unknown song but is the subject of more songs and music than any other human being. He is the only human being to have his own Grammy category—gospel music.” (p. 163).
Jesus is without parallel in the entire history of the arts.
Jesus’ teaching would eventually transform our understanding of human governments and politics. When Jesus was asked whether the Jews should pay taxes to the Roman government, He asked for the coin used to pay the tax. (We read this today—Saturday—in Luke 20 in our Bible reading plan.) “Whose image and inscription are on it?” He asked. “Caesar’s,” they replied.
Luke 20:25 He said to them, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
Ortberg writes, “The second half of this statement was going to change the world. The implication is that there were things that were not Caesar’s. The right to dictate worship did not belong to Caesar. The claim to ultimate allegiance did not belong to Caesar. The valuation of human worth did not belong to Caesar. The religious conscience of a single, powerless Israelite did not belong to Caesar. The title Lord did not belong to Caesar.
To Rome, the existence of the gods immensely enhanced Caesar’s authority. To Jesus, the existence of God immensely limited Caesar’s authority. The kingdom of Rome is not the kingdom of heaven. There is another sphere above Caesar’s, to which everyone—including Caesar—will give account. An untried idea is being put forward here—one we might call the separation of church and state. The original opponent of this idea was not the church; it was the state.” (pp. 106-107).
“Jesus’ vision of a sphere above political power would eventually change human kingdoms. Our understanding of limited government is part of his legacy. But first it got him killed.” (p. 102).
I’m just giving you a tiny taste—I encourage you to read Ortberg’s book. Nobody has impacted the world more than Jesus! Who is this man?
Now I turn the question to you. Who is this man? Who do you think He is? I encourage you: read the story for yourself. Read the gospels. (BTW: next weekend, I’m going to share why you can trust the gospels to be an accurate record of Jesus’ life and teachings.) Read the gospels, the first four books of the New Testament, the story of Jesus, and see who you think He is. I finish with this:
ILL: Eileen wanted nothing to do with God. In fact, when her daughter told her that someone at school had been talking to her about God, Eileen was so upset that she couldn’t sleep that night.
At midnight she went downstairs and picked up a Bible. She couldn’t remember the last time she had been to a church, nor had she ever opened a Bible on her own. When she opened it now, she noticed it was divided into an “old” part and a “new” part. She decided to start with the “new” part, figuring the book may have been updated.
So in the still of the night she sat on her living room floor and began to read the gospel of Matthew. By 3 a.m. she was in the middle of John’s gospel and found, as she puts it, that she had fallen in love with the person of Jesus. “I don’t know what I’m doing,” she prayed to God, “but I know you are what I want.”
He has that effect on people. Who is this man?
I am a Christian because of Jesus. I have the hope of eternal life because of Jesus. I believe in the God the Father because of Jesus. Who is this man? Like Thomas, I answer: My Lord and my God.