Rev Dr Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Toowoomba Church; Message on Jesus Snapshots 02; Date: 8 November 09

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The God Crucified

 

Who was Jesus? Do you know him? Would you have recognized the truth about Jesus – would you have received him – if you had seen him with your own eyes (two thousand years ago when he walked the earth)? This morning – in this church – are you getting a handle on Jesus by looking at his people and hearing their testimony about him? Who was Jesus and who will know him? Let me ask you another question: Are you humble?

One book in the Bible begins with these words – John 1:1-18 – I read: “In the beginning was the Word [Jesus is here called ‘the Word’] and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of people. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it … The true light that gives light to every man [woman and child] was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn – not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God … The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us … No one has ever seen God, but the only Son, who is truly God and is closest to the Father, has shown us what God is likeThree more verses – John 3:16-20: “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. For God … (sent his Son) to save the world through him … [However,] this is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.”

Not much here makes sense. The Bible – without any exception – clearly teaches that God is one – Deuteronomy 6:4 – I read: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Ephesians 4:6: “One God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Yet, at the same time – and the previous passage is a prime example for this – the Bible also teaches that Jesus is the Son of God which comes with the understanding that the Son of God was also God with God (his Father). I quote again from our first reading: “ … the Word was with God, and the Word was GodHow can that be? How can anyone be open to this? Another Bible verse says – 1 Corinthians 8:6: “ . for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and [how can there be an ‘and’] there is but one Lord [one ‘Lord’ being used here as in many other instances (according to all Bible commentators) as the very title of God himself – instead of God’s proper name ‘Yahweh’ in the Old Testament], Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live

Who would have expected that there is one God but more than one person? There is the Father and the Son and – we will not expand on this today – there is also the Holy Spirit. Three persons – each one of them God – yet, they do not add up to being three Gods. They are one and God is one. Complicated! Therefore, again the question: Who was Jesus and who will know him? Are you humble?

Then – making this even more confusing – how can Jesus Christ – the Son of God – God himself – how can he become a man – how can all of God (the creator of the cosmos – the inventor of light years) be contained in a tiny human body? Yet, this is what the Bible says – John 1:14 – again from our first reading: “The Word [Jesus Christ] became flesh and made his dwelling among us … ” So also Romans 8:3: “ … [Jesus Christ, God’s] own Son in the likeness of sinful man … ” Hebrews 2:14: “ … [Jesus Christ] shared in . humanity … ” Hebrews 4:14-15: “ … just as we are – yet was without sin

How can this be – how can you expect any sane person to believe this – it confounds the mind – and – further still – if Jesus Christ was indeed God the Son, how could people have missed his coming? I come back – once again – to our opening Bible reading. From a thinking person’s perspective – not much is making sense here. I read again – John 1:3-5: “Through him all things were made … In him was life, and the life was the light of people. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it … ” John 1:9-10: “The true light that gives light to every person was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him

Something seems to be seriously wrong with the logic of these verses. If Jesus was indeed the light that was coming into a dark world, how could people not recognize him? How can any light not be seen in darkness? How much light does it take to be noticed in darkness? Just imagine that we are in this church at midnight and just imagine that all of the windows were sealed and we would be sitting here in pitch-black darkness, how much light would have to be generated so that we can all see it. [Take out a match and light it. Show it to the congregation and say:] “This would be enoughIf Jesus was indeed the genuine article – God with God (the Father) – then he should have been recognized by the darkness.

Yet, most people missed him and so may you miss him – if you are not careful. How humble are you? This is the key: humility. The truth is that God did come to be a human on earth – he came – but – as much as this was intended to light up the world – at the same time God – on purpose – was also hiding from sinful people. As awesome as the package was – God made them – makes you – look at something plain – someone of flesh and bone – someone that was weak and even died – on a cross. God was crucified. God was crucified and the cross was the ultimate hiding place. You don’t look at a tortured body and blood running down from wounds and someone suffocating in agony – and expect to look at God. God is almighty and – by definition – according to human wisdom – God cannot die (he is eternal) – yet Jesus did.

Are you humble? God is – God was – beyond what the human mind can fathom. I read another few verses from the Bible – Philippians 2:5-11: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross … ”

God is not asking you to do anything that he wasn’t prepared to do himself first. Humble yourself as he did. This morning – be prepared to take another look at your God – who came to earth – humble in human form – [from a certain perspective hiding in human form] – Jesus Christ: born in Bethlehem into a poor family, raised in the small peasant village of Nazareth, crucified in Jerusalem.

In the past – and so often in the present – pride gets in the way of faith and therefore we knock him back. God is so fascinating. On the one hand, God the Son was hiding in full view of everyone when he came as a human person but, on the other hand, he was not shy in drawing attention to himself and continually blowing his own cover, if people only wanted to discover who he was. What I am talking about is miracles. Jesus did not flash his divinity in the way he looked but he performed miracles – many of them – and he expected a leap of faith in response to them.

For instance, Jesus had a religious conversation with a woman from Samaria and in the middle of the conversation Jesus asked the woman – John 4:16: “ … Go, call your husband and come backShe replied – John 4:17: “I have no husbandwhich led Jesus to perform a miracle, that is: to reveal to her in a supernatural way the truth – what no stranger could have known about her under normal circumstances. He said to the woman – John 4:17-18: “ … You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite trueThe woman – confronted by this miracle – responded how we are all meant to respond. She began to wonder whether she should place her trust in him – John 4:28-29: “ … leaving her water jar, the woman went back to town and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?’” John 4:39-41: “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I ever did.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believersThe miracle of Jesus opened the door to a leap of faith which was then further confirmed by the power of Jesus’ teaching. [Cf. John 3:2-3: “He came to Jesus at night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.’ In reply Jesus declared, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again’” (John 8:42,47; 11:40). John 7:17: “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.”]

More from the same Bible book. Jesus made much of the miracles which he performed – John 10:25-26: “ ... The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe … ” (cf. John 10:32). John 10:38: “ … even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” John 14:11: “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.” John 20:30-31: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (cf. John 2:11,23; 3:2; 4:39; 9; 10:21; 11:45; 12:18; 15:24; 16:30; see also John 13:35; 17:23).

Jesus Christ – the man – looked ordinary – even though he was God – but the miracles which he performed – signs and wonders – were to give away his identity. However – in your own experience – (what would you say) – do miracles work in building up faith? Not always. Miracles seem such a surefire method to blow Jesus’ cover – how can you not worship when the supernatural happens – yet, people can. Why? Because no matter what happens, unless you are humble, you will not submit to God.

About three months ago a young mother told me on Wednesday night at the Station St Community Centre that God had been speaking to her and that she had heard the voice of God. She heard him like you are hearing me now. Wow. What did God say to her? He told her that she had to make a choice. She was a Christian but had been drifting away from God and now God said to her: “You have to make a choice. Either follow Satan or me. Know this. I will always love you. You have a gift and I will take care of you. I will always love you. Make a choiceI asked her: “When was it that God spoke these words to you?" She answered: “Three weeks ago.” “And have you made a decisionShe shook her head and said: “I am working on it

I could not believe my ears. How can God speak to you in an audible voice – and you know that it was him – yet, the miracle has no impact. Even then you are not doing what God says. Why? Because – many a sinner – does not want to change. Sin is attractive and we say: “I do what I wantWe are proud – not letting any miracle change us.

A few years ago a young man from our congregation worked in a warehouse. He was walking down an aisle when he had the strong inner impression: “StopHe was looking ahead at where he was going – the precise position where he would be – and was thinking: “Don’t be in that spotHe turned and was walking away when he heard a loud bang. A fifteen litre drum had fallen from one of the shelves – from eight meters height – onto the very spot where he was heading before. God had saved him by a miracle. Yet, would the miracle be enough to have him totally surrender to God – in absolute obedience in all matters of life: work, going to church, reading the Bible, prayer, dating, marriage and family life. Would such an experience have been enough for you? No. The young man has not given up on God but – despite the miracle – he is not more on fire than the rest of us and the memory of the miracle even fades and – therefore – momentary pressures still manage to undermine God – our faith in him.

Last year another young mother went to a healing seminar, was prayed for with the laying on of hands, fell to the floor under the power of the Holy Spirit and then spoke in tongues. At the time she was amazed, saying in a daze: “This does not happen to LutheransHealing came into her life and for the next few days she could not stop smiling. She was so full of joy that her colleagues at work asked her: “Did you get married or somethingYet, this experience did not break through everything and today she is no longer coming to worship. How many times is a miracle not enough? What does God have to do that it is enough for you and me? We realize: “He is God and I’m not. He’s in charge – not me

Still another testimony. Two years ago my friend Pastor Peter Steicke went on a mission trip to Uganda – a whole group of Lutherans from the church in Paravisata, SA. At the end of one service – after three hours – the team began to pray for the congregation. Peter was tired but he prayed for an older man who was completely blind. The president of the Lutheran church in Uganda served as his interpreter. He prayed for the blind man three times and after the third time the blind man opened his eyes and – Peter says that he will never forget the look on the man’s face – to his utter amazement – the old man had perfect vision. A miracle had happened – the greatest healing miracle in our denomination so far (as far as I know). A few months later the president of the Lutheran church in Uganda met our General Church President in another African country. He told him about the miracle and thanked him for Pastor Peter Steicke. Yet, the miracle made no impression. To this day the story of the miracle is unknown or suppressed – no invitation to share the testimony at any pastors’ conference, no reporting among the leadership (a few weeks ago I talked to a member of the General Church Council who had not heard of the miracle even though the Council meets in Adelaide where Peter is), no write-up in any magazine or newsletter. Why? Wouldn’t you shout the healing of a blind man from the rooftops? “He was blind but now he sees. Praise be to Jesus ChristWhy does this not happen? Because Pastor Peter Steicke has not been popular among the established church – talking too much about the Holy Spirit and change. Only we (all of us) don’t want to change. Our pride is making us dig in, so that not even a miracle is going to get us out.

This year we have had so many testimonies at Living Grace. A few months ago Lenna shared how God had healed her of emphysema. This happened in our midst. Her lunges were in bad condition but now they are restored and she is no longer taking any drugs. Then, Helen was scheduled for a shoulder operation. She was on a waiting list but the procedure was urgent because the condition was worsening and at some stage any operation would come too late. The pain did not let her sleep at night. But in one of our services – during the singing – God healed her. Vicki told us how God prompted her to help a pregnant woman whose car had stalled. No other driver stopped to help them and when Vicki attempted to push the woman’s car on her own – up the hill and round a corner – the car was moving without any effort on her part. An angel did the pushing for her. An absolute miracle. We have had many testimonies like these but – let’s be honest – have they made an impression? Have they changed us? Have they made us more faithful? Have they led us to redouble our efforts in making Jesus number one in our lives – only living for him?

This is how people around Jesus responded. Just one example from the Bible. Jesus had opened the eyes of a man that was born blind. Everyone heard about it, yet not everyone was happy. Not everyone was humble enough to accept Jesus and his miracles on his terms – not ours. Some said – John 9:16: “ … This man is not from God, for he does not keep the SabbathSome had the proud conviction that God would not allow any healings on the Sabbath day and no miracle would make them reconsider. Then, people tried to question that any healing had in fact taken place, saying to the parents of the man – John 9:19: “ … Is this the one you say was born blind? … ” There was an aggressive unwillingness to learn anything new – John 9:29: “We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes fromAnyone that spoke the truth was discredited – John 9:30-34: “ … ‘We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’ To this they replied: ‘You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!’ And they threw him out

I sympathize with Jesus’ opposition when they struggled with comprehending the mystery of his identity – God in a human person. For instance, John 5:18: “For this reason they [original: the Jews] tried all the harder to kill him … he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal to God” (cf. John 10:33). But Jesus – in the same Bible chapter – confirmed again the root cause of all the opposition against him: Pride. He said – John 5:44: “How can you believe if you accept praise from one another [a good – proud – reputation before each other], yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God” (cf. John 12:43)?

Who was Jesus and who will know him? How humble are you? There are miracles – pay attention to them – but – coming to the last segment of this message – and this is important – do not expect miracles to dazzle you every day. Miracles are an invitation to put your faith in Jesus Christ – the Son of God – but then our relationship with Jesus Christ is one of faith. Miracles punch through – blow the cover – of Jesus’ identity but the God who is hiding in a man – who is hiding on a cross – is – even now – hiding from you – at times. Do not be surprised.

Watchman Nee makes the following observation [abbreviate and tell in your own words – share your own observations]: “We know that the Lord at the commencement of our spiritual walk normally comforts us during those times we suffer on His behalf. He causes the unbeliever to sense His presence, see His smiling face, feel His love and experience His care in order to prevent him from fainting. When the believer apprehends the mind of the Lord and follows it He usually gives him great pleasure. Although he has paid some price for following the Lord yet the joy he obtains far surpasses what he has lost and hence he delights to obey His will. But the Lord perceives a danger here: upon having experienced comfort in suffering and happiness in heeding His mind, the child of God naturally looks for such comfort and joy the next time he suffers or obeys the Lord’s will or else expects to be helped immediately by His comfort and joy. Hence he suffers or does the Lord’s will not purely for His sake but for the sake of being rewarded with consolation and happiness as well. Without these crutches he is powerless to continue. The will of the Lord becomes inferior to the joy which He bestows at the moment of obedience.

God realizes His child is most eager to suffer if he is comforted, and is delighted to follow His will if he is accorded joy. But God now wishes to learn what motivates him: whether he suffers exclusively for the Lord’s sake or for the sake of being consoled: whether he heeds God’s mind because it should be heeded or because he derives some joy by so heeding. For this reason, after a Christian has made some progress spiritually God commences to withdraw the consolation and delight which He gave him in the hour of suffering and obedience. Now the Christian must suffer without any ministration of comfort from God: he suffers externally while feeling bitter inwardly. He is to do the will of God without the least thing to stimulate his interest; indeed everything is dry and uninteresting. By this process God will learn precisely why the believer suffers on His behalf and obeys His will. God is asking him: are you disposed to endure without being compensated by My comfort? Are you ready to endure just for Me? Are you amenable to perform labour which does not interest you a bit? Can you do it just because it is My purpose? Will you be able to undertake for Me when you feel depressed, insipid and parched? Can you do it simply because it is My work? Are you able to accept joyfully physical suffering without any compensation of refreshment? Can you accept it because it is given by Me?

This is a practical cross by which the Lord reveals to us whether we are living for Him by faith or living for ourselves by feeling … “ (Watchman Nee: The Spiritual Man, Volume II, Virginia 1968, p243-244).

The Bible calls this process – this hiding of God at certain times – the testing of faith. I read from the Bible – Deuteronomy 13:3: “ … The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul.” 1 Thessalonians 2:4: “ … God . tests our hearts.” James 1:2-3: “Consider it pure joy … whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance

The testing can be severe – so much so that RT Kendall talks about a “betrayal barrier” and writes: “There comes a time, puzzling though it may be, when God seems to betray those he loves … When God told Abraham to leave his own country and come to the land of Canaan where God ‘gave him no inheritance … not even a foot of ground’ (Acts 7:5), he must have felt betrayed. When God told him to sacrifice his son Isaac, he must have felt betrayed. When Joseph refused to sleep with Potiphar’s wife but got accused of trying to rape her – and was slammed into prison – he must have felt betrayed by God. After all, for doing the right thing he gets punished! When Moses left Pharaoh’s palace but was rejected by his fellow Hebrews, he must have felt betrayed. This list goes on and on. The ultimate sense of betrayal is when Jesus cried out on the cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Matthew 27:46); he must have felt betrayed. All these broke the betrayal barrier, and so can we. It comes by never, never, never giving up” (RT Kendall, Out Of The Comfort Zone, London: Hodder & Stoughton 2005, p31-32).

Martin Luther experienced much of what seemed like God betraying him. Before the biggest day of his life – when Martin Luther – a lonely monk from a nondescript town – would on his own face the combined forces of church and state in Europe – stand up for the truth of God’s Word – in the face of the death penalty, the night before the trial he was reduced to pacing back and forth in his cell, crying out: “O God, are you deadNo angelic visitation. No congratulations. No sense of God. Only silence. But the next day he uttered those words that changed history: “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. AmenHe broke through the betrayal barrier.

Martin Luther writes about repeated attacks of terror – spiritual temptations: “ … [these terrors] were so great and so much like hell that no tongue could adequately express them … In such a situation, God appears terribly angry, along with all creation. At such a time, there is no flight, no comfort – inside or out – only accusation of everything … All that remains is the stark-naked desire for help and a terrible groaning, but [the soul] does not know where to turn for help … Nor is every corner in the soul not filled with the greatest bitterness, with dread, trembling, and sorrow” [Timothy J. Wengert, “‘Peace, Peace … Cross, Cross’: Reflections on How Martin Luther Relates the Theology of the Cross to Suffering” Theology Today 59 (Summer, 2002), p195].

All of this led him to say that “he who does not know Christ does not know God hidden in suffering”. [“I did not learn my theology all at once. I had to brood and ponder over it with increasing depth. My temptations have led me to my theology, for one learns only by experience.”] God chose to reveal himself in becoming a man – a human person – Jesus Christ – who then died on a cross. God – in his case and our own lives – “wished [and wishes] to be recognized in suffering”. [We may also consider the experiences of those mentioned in the Bible chapter of Hebrews 11 – verses 17-40: “ … All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance … By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice … By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt … Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated – the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. They were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised … ”]

The Christian life is not all about miracles as important as they are. I give you one more Bible reference – 2 Chronicles 32:31: “ … God left him [that is: King Hezekiah] to test him and know everything that was in his heart.” This morning – be humble (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18-31). Pay attention to a miracle when it comes but then recognize God the Son who “became flesh” and was hiding in Jesus (the man) – even died on a cross. Do not be surprised when suffering is also coming your way and the testing of your faith. God is still with you and he still loves you.

The stakes are high. If we are humble, then this is what we get – I come back to three verses from our opening Bible reading – John 1:12-13: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn – not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.” John 1:16: “From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after anotherWhat is at stake is whether we become the children of God or not. Can you – this morning – receive Jesus even though he seems to be hiding so that your mind cannot understand everything? Can you be encouraged by the miracles – then take the plunge – and put your trust in him – receive him – hand over your life to him – Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who “became flesh” – a human person – and “made his dwelling among us”. Be humble and believe. Amen.

 

[Another astonishing reality: As God was hiding in the miracle-performing Jesus Christ, so he is now hiding in the miracle-performing church (us) because now we are the ones who are meant to communicate the Father to the world – John 14:11-14: “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”]

 

[Judgement: John 9:39; 12:37-43; 15:24-25.]