January 12, 2020
If you are a fan of the Christian writer C S Lewis, you may recognize my sermon title from his writings; Liar, Lunatic or Lord? And of course he is referring to Jesus. This morning, I want to look at the claims made about Jesus the Christ and see where we need to come down as we examine the evidence. And I want to start way back at the prophet Isaiah and what he wrote about the coming Messiah.
Today's passage speaks of the coming Messiah as God describes him thru Isaiah. First, Isaiah quotes God talking about the Messiah: “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations... a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth;” There is a lot to highlight in this paragraph. God takes delight in Jesus who came to earth as a servant. So many of the Jews looked for a Messiah to defeat those who had conquered them. They hoped for the Messiah to bring all the forces of heaven down to drive the enemies out of Israel. Jesus did come to earth in power, but not like the conquerors who came crushing the people under the force of their numbers and strength. God describes the Son as so meek and mild that he wouldn't even break a bruised reed nor quench a dimly burning wick. In other words, God's servant would not come, did not come, destroying the things of their world but with a power that would not hurt the disenfranchised or those who were hurting. Jesus came as one of the disenfranchised, as one who was poor in material goods but wealthy in the things of the spirit. He came not to bring military victory, but justice.
That's an interesting word, justice, It means many things to many people. To some it means punishment for those who have done wrong. For others it means lifting up those who are suffering. The World Vision definition goes like this: Biblical references to the word “justice” mean “to make right.” Justice is, first and foremost, a relational term — people living in right relationship with God, one another, and the natural creation. From a scriptural point of view, justice means loving our neighbor as we love ourselves and is rooted in the character and nature of God. As God is just and loving, so we are called to do justice and live in love.” Do justice and live in love- to the very best of our abilities- with God's help. Jesus was just in all his dealings, so we always do well to look at his life and his words to determine where we come down on justice.
Jesus came with meekness, but not with weakness. His inner power showed through in all he did. He did not fight evil with evil. He did not return insults with insults. He did not answer oppression by bringing oppression. He took the evil, the pain, the sin of this world and defeated it with the power of mercy and grace. And while his victory is complete, the kingdom is not yet fulfilled. Verse four encourages us all, “He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth;”
Verse 5 brings a change of perspective. Instead of talking about the Messiah, God now talks to the Messiah. “I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” You may recognize this passage as it is quoted in the gospels. Matthew quotes this in chapter 12, verses 18-21,but not word for word,
“Here is my servant, whom I have chosen, my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
19 He will not wrangle or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. 20 He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick until he brings justice to victory. 21 And in his name the Gentiles will hope.” We recognize that Jesus is fulfilling this prophecy, the Messiah, the Christ.
That brings me to my title for today, from the writings of C. S Lewis. There are people who say good things about Jesus as teacher and healer, but deny that he was the Messiah. Here is Lewis's response to them: “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 the 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. . . . Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God. (Mere Christianity, 55-56)
Who is Jesus was the question in those early days of the church. The book of Acts is the story of the first days of the Christian church. In today's reading, we hear from the apostle Peter who had traveled to Caesarea to the house of a gentile named Cornelius. Peter had finally become convinced that the Gentiles were also included in the call of the Messiah. So he gave this sermon verifying that the Jewish Messiah, Jesus, is savior for all: “Jesus Christ... is Lord of all... God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power... he went about doing good and healing... for God was with him. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Isaiah testified to the Messiah. Peter, who knew the man Jesus as well as anyone in this world, was totally convinced that he was the Messiah. In our gospel, John the Baptist recognized Jesus as the Messiah at his baptism. Have we truly recognized and accepted that Jesus is who he said he was?
We live in a time and place that allows much freedom in what we believe. It really is not a terribly big challenge to claim the name of Christian today. It is a challenge to live out the day to day call to serve in the name of Jesus, but that's not what today's sermon is about. It is about making firm the decision of who Jesus is.
I want to close with the story of Alexander Vladimirovich Men, a Russian Orthodox priest, theologian, biblical scholar and writer on theology, Christian history and other religions. He baptized hundreds if not thousands; founded an Orthodox open university; opened one of the first Sunday schools in Russia as well as a charity group at the Russian Children's Hospital. His influence is still widely felt and his legacy continues to grow among Christians both in Russia and abroad. He was murdered early on a Sunday morning, on 9 September 1990, by an ax-wielding assailant.
I want to share excerpts of an interview held about 2 months before his death, where he discussed this need to decide who Jesus is. Interviewer Mark Makarov asked him, "Need one be a Christian, and if so, why?"
“There’s one single answer to that, I suppose, and it boils down to this: that people have always looked for God. It is a normal human condition to be engaged somehow or other with something higher. Look at the time of Stalinism, Maoism or any other "isms" and you will see that when people have God forcibly taken from them, they still seek for a pseudo-god. Idolatry takes the place of true faith but the instinctive yearning for God still remains. Though why need one be specifically Christian?
It seems to me that nothing proves the uniqueness of Christianity, nothing except one thing alone, namely, Jesus Christ. For I’m convinced that each of the founders of the world religions speaks truth to us. Let’s remember what they said. Buddha said that he had achieved a state of absolute detachment after prolonged and difficult exercises. Can we believe him? Yes, of course we can. He was a great man and this was his achieve-ment. The Greek philosophers spoke of the intellectual difficulty of attaining the idea of God and of the spiritual world. This is true. Or Muhammad, who said that before God he felt himself to be as nothing, that God took him and revealed himself to him and that before God he felt he was nothing more than a gnat. Can we believe him? Of course we can.
But alone among all these teachers is one who speaks in his own person as if for God himself: as John has it: “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30). Not one of the great teachers of the world’s religions ever said anything like that. That then is the only occasion in history when God revealed himself through a real person in some absolute fullness. This is the event we have in the Gospels.
Every religion is a path towards God, a conjecture about God, a human approach to God. It is a vector pointing upwards from below. But the coming of Christ is the answer, a vector coming from heaven towards us. That’s why Christianity is unique, because Christ is unique.”
The questions put to you today, is Jesus a liar? When he said “I and the Father are one,' was that a lie? Is Jesus a lunatic, one of those who claim to be God because of mental illness or delusion? And the answer for me is that you shall know him by his fruits, and his fruits were healing and love and mercy and grace and power. Is Jesus Lord? We proclaim this; do we live like it? Are we comforted by it? The Messiah came with a spirit of gentleness, justice, truth, grace. A bruised reed he will not break; a bruised spirit he will not abandon. Jesus gently picks us up when we fall, and encourages us to pick up those who fall around us. Jesus, the Christ has come and will come to fulfill God's goodness and grace. May we remain strong in our faith and live with and for our Lord. Amen.
Hymn: Does Jesus Care? 416 HLC