Preaching and Worship Resources about Jesus Christ
Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, and the promised Messiah. By his first-century atonement for human sin, he is the world's Savior. Because "all things have been created through him and for him" (Col. 1:16) he is also the world's Lord. In his incarnation, the Apostles' Creed testifies, "he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to hell. The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty. From there he will come to judge the living and the dead."
"The Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel" (Isa. 7:14).
"Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isa. 53:4 - 6).
"[Jesus said,] `Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one'" (Matt. 6:9 - 13).
"With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples" (Mark 4:33 - 34).
"[Jesus] asked his disciples, `Who do people say that I am?' And they answered him, `John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.' He asked them, `But who do you say that I am?' Peter answered him, `You are the Messiah'" (Mark 8:27 - 29).
"When the men had come to [Jesus], they said, `John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?"'. . . And he answered them, `Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them'" (Luke 7:20, 22).
"No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known" (John 1:18).
"[Jesus Christ] was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification" (Rom. 4:25).
"In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us" (2 Cor. 5:19).
"Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:5 - 11).
"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created . . . all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. . . . And through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross" (Col. 1:15 - 17, 20).
"[Jesus Christ] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2).
Points to Ponder
Name above all names: In an essay of limited length, it's impossible to say all that's significant about Jesus Christ. He is, after all, so important in human history that time itself breaks at his birth. Things are "before Christ" or "after the Lord," BC or AD. Even the recent secularizing terms BCE ("before the common era") or CE ("the common era") change only the wording, and not the dates. Jesus Christ is so important that people are named for him and swear by him. He is the head of the Christian church, incorporating almost a third of Earth's population. He is a dominant figure in Western art and literature. He has influenced numerous political movements and economic systems. He has inspired countless relief agencies and educational institutions. For the last two thousand years, his name has been more known by more people than any other name. He has also been multiply exploited to prop up pet causes. He has been packaged as a businessman, a socialist, a revolutionary, a pop psychologist, a success preacher, and even as a football player ("Drop-kick me, Jesus, through the goalposts of life"). People who have something to sell instinctively reach for the name that is above other names.
The eternal Son of God: In the Nicene Creed, Jesus is "the only Son of God, begotten from the Father before all ages, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made; of the same essence as the Father." The Creed concentrates more on Jesus's divinity than on his humanity because it is combating a heresy that denied his divinity. Nonetheless, it also does claim that "he came down from heaven; he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary, and was made human" He is the eternal Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, who became incarnate to be the Savior for the world. "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son" (John 3:16).
He was made human, so we can know him. But he's also true God from true God, so we can't comprehend him. He's God with us, so he's local, but he's also God with us, so he's way beyond us. True God, and yet true man. One person, two natures. The infinite within the finite. God in the flesh. God with, perhaps, seasonal depression and an overbite. The mediator of the whole creation who hammered nails in his dad's carpenter shop, and, maybe, once in a while, hammered his thumb instead and yells with the pain of it.
In Scripture, Jesus fits into the history of redemption as the promised Messiah. The Old Testament prophets speak of this mysterious figure. They speak of a particular person who will inaugurate a new age in which God will redeem God's people. Sometimes they speak of the one to come as if he would be a warrior-king. As David had slain the Philistines, so the Messiah, the new David, will slay God's enemies (Isa. 63:1 - 6). Alternatively, the one to come will be a man of sorrows, slaughtered like an animal for the sins of others (Isa. 53). He will be a victorious king or a suffering servant, or maybe both, but in any case he will be "anointed" (in Hebrew, Messiah). Like kings and priests, he will have oil poured over him as a sign that God has picked him out for special work. Or, like a prophet, the Messiah might be anointed with the very Spirit of God (Isa. 61:1; Luke 4:18). The Messiah would be the greatest of men, a twig growing out of the trunk of King David that would eventually dwarf David himself. Or else, as the prophets sometimes put it, the one to come would be a twig growing out of the Lord (Isa. 4:2). The Messiah would be called "Mighty God" or "God-with-us" (Is. 7:14). In other words, the Messiah might be human, or he might be divine, but in either case he would save his people.
What few imagined is that the Messiah would be both human and divine. Nobody foresaw explicitly that God would come in the flesh. By the time of Jesus's birth, most of his contemporaries were looking more for a man than for God, and more for a political champion than for a suffering servant. They wanted somebody who could get Rome off their back and Caesar out of their hair. They were looking for a man who could become their king. What they got was their King who had become a man — the Son of God incarnate.
The New Testament writers borrow widely to describe Jesus: Trying to describe the novelty of the incarnation, the New Testament writers borrowed from every source they could think of. They borrowed from wisdom literature and prophecy; they borrowed from history, poetry, and apocalypse. They strained to describe one who was "the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being" (Heb. 1:3) and simultaneously a particular Jew, the son of Mary, and a man who had not especially impressed the people he grew up with (Mark 6:1 - 6).
Working all their sources, the inspired writers of Scripture tell us that Jesus is the Son of God, Son of Man, Lord, and Christ. He is word and wisdom, the second Adam, the end of the law, the light of the world. He is high priest and apostle. Fulfilling prophetic promises, he is both King of kings and also the suffering servant who was obedient all the way to death on a cross. He is both the sacrificial lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep.
Jesus's mission was to die. As these last examples show, Jesus's mission was to die. The shadow of the cross fell across his cradle. The only Son of God was born in Bethlehem in order to absorb the inevitable penalty of human sin. Of course he came to do more than that — much more. The Scriptures offer multiple reasons for his coming. He came "to destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8). He came "to deal with sin" and to fulfill the law (Rom. 8:3 - 4). He came "to seek out and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10). In his longest reach, he came "to gather up all things," or "to reconcile . . . all things" to God (Eph. 1:10; Col. 1:20). The Scriptures use a riot of terms and images to describe the force of Jesus's work, but one way or another they all say that Jesus Christ came to put right what we human beings had put wrong by our sin. Thus, he came in order to be "the atoning sacrifice for our sins" (1 John 4:10) and "to give his life a ransom for many" (Mark10:45).
Why was atonement so necessary? The main reason is that we human beings can't atone for ourselves. Our sin is great; our power to make up for it is meager. In fact, we often refuse even to admit our sin. Like the people described in Jeremiah, we deny wrongdoing. If our sin gets exposed, we feel humiliated, and if we have to confess it, we feel mortified. So we avoid these things if we can. Trussing up our dignity with the temporary walls of self-deception, we avoid penance because we think that penance — the discipline of submitting ourselves to the due penalty for sin — is disgraceful.
Jesus Christ entered the world to offer the penance we refuse. It's not that he confessed his own sins, of which there weren't any. It's that he acted like a repentant sinner. He got himself baptized, like every sinner. He absorbed accusations. He accepted rebuke without protest. He endured gossip about his choice of friends and his eating and drinking habits. Especially near the end, Jesus endured the kind of mockery that shreds a person's dignity. And then, at the end, he died slowly on an instrument that the Romans had adopted to kill their enemies, and first to humiliate them. And so on Good Friday, Christians observe the death of a perfect penitent, one who stood under the misery of the world's sin, who absorbed evil without passing it on, and who therefore cut the terrible lines of lawlessness and revenge that have looped down the centuries.
The centrality of the resurrection: That was Friday. But "the third day he rose again from the dead" in the central event of the Christian religion and of all human history. Christians who make this confession are talking not about the resurrection of faith in the disciples, or of hope in the women at the tomb, or of tulips in spring. They are confessing the real resurrection of a horribly dead Jesus. As the Apostles' Creed says pointedly, "he was crucified, died, and was buried."
The Lord is risen! But on the third day, in a spectacular miracle, Jesus Christ rose from the dead and changed the history of the world. The first message of the gospel, a message with power to straighten the spine of every believer, is simply this: "The Lord is risen." "He is risen indeed!" Preaching, sacraments, evangelism, Christian social action — even worship on Sunday instead of on Saturday — all center on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. To the desperate and bewildered, Christians say, "The Lord is risen." To doubters, Christians say, "The Lord is risen." To martyrs who sing to God while their enemies set them on fire, "The Lord is risen." To poor people who first suffer the indignity of their poverty and then the desolation of being blown out of their houses by hurricanes or washed out by floods — all because they are too poor to build anything on habitable land — to these people, Christians say, "The Lord is risen."
The platform for everything: Proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus isn't nearly everything Christians have to offer the world, but it's the platform for everything they have to offer. Every Christian hospital, college, orphanage, media ministry, counseling service, political party, relief agency, and AIDS clinic builds on this platform. Christian hope builds on this platform. In fact, a Christian's hope rises with Christ because Christians see in his resurrection that God's grace cannot be defeated, not even by death itself.
|Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.|