Wednesday, February 12, 2014

According to Luke: Who is Jesus?

Luke 3:15-22   (NRSV)
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, added to them all by shutting up John in prison.
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

As we begin in earnest out journey through Luke's Gospel we need to ask ourselves the question that Luke really begins his Gospel with:
          WHO IS JESUS?

When I began in the ministry 30 years ago, the answer to that question was simple to. 

Jesus --- was --- is the Messiah.

What did that really mean? --- to be honest, I am not sure I really knew --- but I didn't care.

That's what I was taught --- and I had no idea that I could question that.

As I began to read the Bible and to actually study it, the answer to the question became very different.
·         There was the Jesus that I learned about through the church --- the Jesus of Sunday School and popular Christian culture

·         But I began to notice that the Jesus I was taught in "the church" was not always the same as the Jesus that I encountered in the Bible.

If you do a goodsearch on WHO IS JESUS, you can find many interesting and intriguing websites.

One of the most interesting, and one that came out near the top comes from a website called allaboutjesuschrist.

It begins with this admonition
Who is Jesus, and why is it important for us to know? We live in an age of religious pluralism and moral relativism. The popular spiritual philosophy, especially after the events of September 11th, is that all religious belief systems, as long as heart-felt, are equal. Pick one and follow it sincerely, and you’ll get to Heaven. That’s what the world believes, but Jesus teaches otherwise. Therefore, we need to examine who Jesus is by looking at some of the questions people frequently ask about Him. The answers are found in the Bible, the historical evidence people have trusted for over 2000 years.

It offers three things about Jesus
          1.       Jesus is 100% man
          2.       Jesus is 100% God
          3.       Jesus is the ONLY WAY to heaven

And it argues that those statements are all found in the Bible.

I hope that in the last few weeks you have taken the time to read the Gospel of Luke --- Is that what you found?

Unfortunately, those statements are doctrines created by "the Church: and are not statements found in the Gospels and certainly not in Luke's.

In 1906, a man by the name of Albert Schweitzer published a book in German that was revolutionary at the time. 

My hunch is that most of you know of Albert Schweitzer for being the "mother Teresa" of his day for his missionary medical work in the wilds of Africa.

What you might not know is that Schweitzer was an accomplished musician as well as excellent biblical scholar.

The book he wrote was called (in English when translated in 1910) was The Quest of the Historical Jesus

The purpose of this work was to discover what we could really know about the "historical Jesus."

James Robinson, in the Introduction to the English translation of the book writes:
“The search for the Jesus of History — as an activity distinct from faith in Jesus Christ — is a phenomenon of modern times.  It began with the Enlightenment, toward the end of the eighteenth century and dominated critical thought throughout the nineteenth century.”

Schweitzer concludes that one cannot really know the Jesus of History — the only Jesus we can know is the “spiritual Jesus”. ----- The Jesus that faith has passed on to us.

Reza Aslan in his bestselling book: Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth writes:
It's a miracle that we know anything at all about the man called Jesus of Nazareth. . . .  the gospels are not, nor were they ever meant to be, a historical documentation of Jesus's life.  These are not eyewitness accounts of Jesus's words and deeds.  They are testimonies of faith composed by communities of faith written many years after the events they describe.  Simply put, the gospels tell us about Jesus the Christ, not Jesus the man. . . . In the end, there are only two hard facts about Jesus of Nazareth upon which we can confidently rely: the first is that Jesus was a Jew who led a popular Jewish movement in Palestine at the beginning of the first century CE; the second is that Rome crucified him for doing so.

E.P. Sanders, writing in The Historical Figure of Jesus tells us:
Most scholars who write about the ancient world feel obligated to warn their readers that our knowledge can be at best partial and that certainty is seldom attained.  A book about a first-century Jew who lived in a rather unimportant part of the Roman empire must be prefaced by such warning.  We know about Jesus from books written a few decades after his death, probably by people who were not among his followers during his lifetime.  They quote him in Greek, which was not his primary language, and the differences among our sources show that his words and deeds were not perfectly preserved.  We have very little information about him apart from the works written to glorify him.” (Preface p. xiii)

“Nothing survives that was written by Jesus himself.  The more or less contemporary documents, apart from those in the New Testament, shed virtually no light on Jesus’ life or death, though they reveal a lot about the social and political climate.  The main sources for our knowledge of Jesus himself, the gospels in the New Testament, are, from the point of view of the historian, tainted by the fact that they were written by people who intended to glorify their hero.”  (p. 3)

“The gospels report Jesus’ sayings and actions in a language that was not his own (he taught in Aramaic, the gospels are in Greek), and they place each piece of information into a setting devised by his followers, usually by followers at one remove.  Even if we know that we have his own words, we would still have to fear that he was quoted out of context.” (p. 4)

For many of us, trying to figure out just who Jesus IS, is almost like trying to put together a puzzle.  A very difficult and multi-pieced puzzle.

In McLaren's book Everything Must Change he shares the story of a friend of his. 

His friend describes trying to put together a puzzle by looking at the box, but unfortunately somebody has put the puzzle in the wrong box.

We keep trying to put the pieces together using the wrong picture from the wrong lid
          some colors on the pieces don't seem to belong
          some shapes don't seem to fit

We might assume they were included by mistake and set the off to the side

We might try forcing some of the pieces to fit

Maybe we even take out some markers and scissors and "adjust" some of the pieces so that they will "fit"

We might even begin to think that the picture on the lid of the box is correct and the pieces are wrong!

That's the problem with our study of the Bible, I think, we try to put the pieces together using the wrong cover as a guide.  We let our Sunday School lessons and contemporary Christian portraits of Jesus guide us.

Today --- I want us to use Luke as our guide and see what he has to tell us about Jesus.

In the first three chapters, Luke tells us a great deal about Jesus.

In the annunciation --- Luke tells us right off the bat two things about Jesus:
          1.       He is not of mortal parentage
          2.       Quoting Luke (1:32) "
                   He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High "

Luke goes to great length to demonstrate that Jesus is greater that the "one" who believed, or at least claimed he was divine.

Caesar Augustus was ruler of the Roman Empire at the time of Jesus birth.  Claims were made that he was the son of god and divine

There is a tradition that Caesar Augustus' mother was worshipping at the Temple of Apollo when she fell asleep and was impregnated by the gods.

Luke wants to remind his readers that while many believe Caesar is the Son of God --- the real son is Jesus.

Then at his birth Luke tells us the story of the angels coming to the shepherds who are told:
Luke 2:9-12  (NRSV)
Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

So Luke wants us to know --- right from the start --- that Jesus is to be the Messiah (we will talk more about what that means on another Sunday).

Then we are told that Jesus is God's salvation (again, whatever that means).
Luke 2:30-32 (NRSV)
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
    which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
    and for glory to your people Israel.”

But he also tells us something important --- Jesus is not just for the Jews. 
This is going to play out repeatedly in Luke's gospel.

Chapter 2 ends with Jesus going to the temple as a boy.  He goes two different times and these stories are found only in Luke

The first is when Luke has Jesus presented in the Temple and two people encounter him
who was promised by God that he would see the Messiah before he died

Recognized Jesus as the redemption of Jerusalem

Finally, Luke has the story of Jesus coming to the temple as a 12 year old child who immerses himself in the temple sitting with the Rabbi's asking them all kinds of questions.

We are told that they were amazed at his understanding and answers.

It is here that Luke quotes Jesus explaining to his parents where he had been:
Why were you searching for me?  Did you not know I must be in my Father's house?" (3:49)

Again Luke tells us these stories so that there is no doubt in our minds as to who Jesus is.

Chapter 3 is all about John the Baptist and his relationship to Jesus.

Remember in chpt. 1 we were told that Jesus and John were cousins --- and many people seemed to be of the mind that John just might be the messiah.

But Luke goes to great lengths to demonstrate that John understood that he was not the messiah --- just one who would "prepare the way".

“I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

What is interesting is Luke does not say that John baptized Jesus.  We just assume it because it is in the other gospels.

Luke has John arrested before Jesus is baptized almost as a way to say emphatically --- John's ministry is over and Jesus' ministry has begun.

Chapter 3 concludes with a contrived genealogy through Joseph --- who we have already been told is not the father of Jesus.

But one interesting note about Luke's genealogy is that it goes back not to David ---- although it shows that Jesus is from David's lineage.  But it goes back to Adam.

That is because Jesus is the Messiah --- not just of the Jews --- but of all people.

Luke prepares us for the introduction to the ministry of Jesus by making sure we understand that Jesus is
·         Greater than Caesar Augustus
·         Jesus is Messiah
·         Jesus is salvation

The rest of the gospel --- Luke is going to show us what that means

No comments: