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Who is Jesus Really - Man Myth or Messiah?
It's THE question. In fact, it's the biggest question facing the world today. Was Jesus a man, myth or Messiah? Historical footnote or historical turning point? Religious guru or God revealed? Opinions swirl about this mysterious manger-born man. Walk into any bookstore and you'll see shelves lined with conspiracy theories threatening to unravel the very fabric of Christian faith. Do you have a clear picture of who He is? More importantly, can you articulate why you believe the way you do? In this series, Chip Ingram unveils the true identity of this mystery man from the pages of Scripture. So before you marginalize Him as a mere man, write Him off as a myth, or embrace Him as Messiah, you should discover who He is - really.More from this series
I was in Peru, this was about twenty years ago, playing basketball with a good friend and we and we were traveling and playing all the national teams throughout South America.
And so we are in this bus, there is no one else on the road, we come to this checkpoint, and these guys have machine guns.
And so a guy gets out and then he comes back in, he goes, “We can’t leave the country.” We said, “What do you mean, ‘We can’t leave the country’?” He said, “We can’t leave the country. No one is leaving the country. They have orders.”
And we thought, we’ve got major games all the way down the coast. We have about a six hour drive down these mountains. All of us got together, put our arms around together, and we prayed. And then the director said, “Okay, guys, we’ve prayed. Now…” And he walked over there and we’re all over there. [Unintelligible speaking] And I’m talking some other language, Spanish. And they go before and the translator. And then all of a sudden, these guys look at us, turn like this, the thing goes up, and we go right through and the director gets on.
And we said, “Coach! What did you tell them?” He said, “I have never done this before. I told them we were royal ambassadors to the King of kings and the Lord of lords. We were on assignment, we’re here from Jesus Christ, and Jesus has sent us to tell these other people about Himself and they needed to let us through. And we didn’t have any discussion. They just walked in and pushed the button and the thing went up.”
Now, it’s amazing, when you make a bold proclamation about the truth and Jesus was toward the end of His ministry, and He wanted His disciples to understand His true identity. And so near the end of His ministry He wants to make sure these disciples really understand who He is.
And so toward the end, He takes them to this place, Caesarea Philippi, where there are multiple cults and Satanic worship. And in that backdrop, He asks them two penetrating questions. We pick it up in Mark chapter 8. “Jesus went out, along with His disciples to the village of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way He questioned His disciples,” penetrating question number one, “Who do people say that I am?”
And their answer was, “Well, some think John the Baptist; others Elijah; others, one of the prophets.” Now He is going to zero in. It’s not what they think, He looks at them and He’s going to say, “Okay, who do you say that I am?”
And Peter made a bold proclamation. “You are the Christ.” The other gospel writers say, “You are the Christos, You are the Messiah, You’re the Anointed One, You’re the Deliverer of Israel, You’re the Hope that we have been waiting for, You’re the One who has prophesied about hundreds of years, You are the One who is going to take the shackles off of our country, You will save us from our sin, You are the Christ, You’re the Answer.”
And Jesus would say to Peter, “You didn’t get that one on your own. The Father has revealed it.” And then He warns them not to tell anyone.
And I got thinking about this because the issue, both then and now, is: Who is this Jesus? Peter’s confession was based on, think of this, less than three years of observation, teaching, and living with Jesus.
He grew up like every other little Jewish boy. And he knew the social pressures and he understood the implications. If you would, at this point in Jesus’ ministry say He’s the Messiah, you were kicked out of the synagogue.
He understood the implications for his family, for his future, for his business. And when Jesus looked him in the eye and asked him, “Who do you think I am,” bam! Bold proclamation.
After this proclamation, Jesus would soon be put to death, He would rise from the dead. Then for forty-days in a resurrected body, resurrected but recognizable, a body that could go through walls, a body that would eat regular food, a body that was not bound by time or space, He would appear to over five hundred eyewitnesses over a period of forty days, and talk to them about the coming kingdom and the coming rule.
And then He would ascend. And after He would ascend, this commission was given, before He ascended, to go into all the world and tell people there is good news! Don’t go convince people, you don’t have to make people feel guilty, tell them there is good news. The Messiah, the Savior of the world has come, the sins of all men of all time have been forgiven, and tell them the happy or the good news that Christ has come. The Messiah came.
And if you will receive the free gift of eternal life, it’s free, He paid for it. Now go into all the world and tell everyone. And after they hear, then make sure that you baptize them. Not just simply getting wet, of course that, but allow them to move from that community into this new supernatural community called “the Church.”
And don’t have them just make decisions, but make sure then you teach them everything that I taught you so the way they think and the way they drive and the way they live and the way they spend their money and the way they parent and the way they love their kids and the way they respond to their neighbors will be just like Me, because a student, when he is fully trained will be just like his teacher. So teach them all the things that I have told you, and I am going to be with you.
And now imagine that, they get that, and now we have sixty more years, plus or minus. And in these sixty years, the Church is exponentially multiplied like crazy. We have, literally, at this point in time, millions of Christians. In the first, probably, six weeks of the Church, maybe eight weeks; three, four months, there was over one hundred thousand believers in Jerusalem alone.
By Acts chapter 8, they are persecuted and they spread throughout the world. It is multiplying at such a rate, almost like cancer, if you were in the Roman establishment, that they begin to persecute it and persecute it and persecute it and they said, “These are the people who are turning the world upside down. These are the people who put a stop sign in history and all of history is moving in a new direction around that itinerant preacher, and they claim He came back from the dead.”
And now, sixty-some years later, an emperor called Domitian is doing everything he can to eradicate these people. And he is killing them and persecuting them and making it illegal to even be a Christ follower, as it is in many parts of the world.
And he persecutes them and he kills them, and here’s the question I thought. Sixty years later, you, John the apostle, were there and you heard Peter when Jesus said, “Who do you say that I am?” And you heard Peter’s confession.
And now sixty years later, all of your buddies are dead, they have all been martyred, you have watched the Church go from twelve men minus one to this revolutionary movement around the empire, and now Jesus is being attacked, His identity; His Church is being attacked; it’s seeking to be eradicated; and the question would be, “Hey, John, who do you say Jesus is now? Who do you think He is? What’s He really like? What information, what unveiling? We get the general picture, we know He’s the Messiah, but, John, who do you say that He is?”
The answer is in Revelation chapter 1, verses 4 to 8. He’s on the island of Patmos. This is the revelation of John. Revelation is apocalypse. Remember? It means to unveil something.
See, they had a picture of Jesus, but it was black and white, if you will. Accurate, like a polaroid picture. You can see who it is, but with a little bit of time, you know how it gets clearer and clearer and clearer and clearer? Now, over the last sixty years, as the Church is growing, God is going to give a much clearer picture.
John’s job is to unveil or uncover or take the lid off of who Jesus really is in more fullness.
And so John writes, and the author John writes to whom? The seven churches in the province of Asia. These are actual churches. If you study it carefully, you find that, John, why he chose these seven churches, we’re not sure. But they were on a common trade route. And he addresses, in chapter 2 and chapter 3, each one of these specific, known churches as though he were traveling on that trade route.
And what’s the message? The message is pretty simple. “Grace and peace to you.” He takes this word of Greek: Charis. Unmerited favor, the blessing of God, the goodness of God, the love of God, grace.
And then he takes this Hebrew, the shalom, and he puts them together and he says, “The goodness and the love and the grace of God, the unmerited favor towards you, and His blessing.” Shalom means “peace.” But it’s more than just peace, it means “wholeness.” It has the idea that all would be well with you. It’s living under the face of God, and in His pleasure and His protection.
And so imagine what this would mean if you were running for your life and hiding in caves and your mom or your dad or one of your brothers, they wrapped animal skins around him, last week, and he went into the Coliseum. Or you heard about what happened to your cousin, Larry, when he was put on one of those poles and they put tar on him and he was a human torch for one of Domitian’s cocktail parties.
And now you need to know, who is Jesus? And the Gnostic movement has just started. It comes from the Greek word for Gnōscō. It means a higher learning or a higher knowing. And they were saying that Jesus never came in the flesh and they were saying that there was this higher experience that you can have. It was a New Age type thinking.
And John wrote his gospel five or six years earlier to tell the Gnostics, in one of his little epistles, that, “No, no, no, no, no! Jesus came in the flesh! He was real! He was flesh and bone.”
And so you have all these questions and God’s message, now through John, is grace and peace.
Well, who is this message from? Notice it’s from, “Him who is and who was and who is to come.” Who could that be? Remember when God visited Moses and He says, “I AM that I AM,” the “to be” verb: Yahweh?
This is what he is saying. “I have no beginning; I have no end.” The One who is, who was, and who is to come. The I AM that I AM is sending this message through John.
And not only Him, but it’s also from the seven spirits before His throne. And as you study this passage, a little later, you find that there are seven lampstands, which represent the seven churches. And in Isaiah, this idea of seven spirits has the idea of completion. It’s a reference to the Holy Spirit.
And here is the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit operating in each of these churches. And so this is a message from God the Father, this is a message from the Holy Spirit. And then, third, it’s from Jesus Christ.
And so this is a pretty heavy message. The Trinity is laid out here. And now, how does it describe? Well, who is Jesus? Notice the three descriptive phrases: “He is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.”
See, John is going to reach back, and after these sixty years and after all that he has learned and his growth in grace, Jesus is now speaking and, remember? This came from God the Father. It came to Jesus, to an angel, to John to give to them and to us. Who is Jesus? One, He is the faithful witness. He is the truth teller.
Remember? The Old Testament promised there would be a prophet. The prophet would come. A prophet and a priest. This is the role of Jesus here. He tells the truth about God, He tells the truth about the world, He tells the truth about us, He tells the truth about the future, He’s a witness. The word is martyr. A prophet speaks the truth from God to us and a priest takes the truth and the needs of the people and brings it to God. He is the ultimate truth teller.
See, these people are living in a world that is bombarded like ours. How do you know this is true or that is true or this group says that or that group says that? And John says, in the midst of this persecution, Jesus is the faithful witness. He is the truth teller about all things.
Second, he says he is the firstborn from the dead. He’s not just a truth teller; He is a trailblazer. He’s the very first one who rose from the dead and rose with a resurrected body. Other people were raised from the dead. Jesus raised some people from the dead.
But this is the first-fruits. Jot in your notes: I Corinthians chapter 15, verses 20 to 26. We’ll look at it in just a second. But He is the firstborn from the dead. It’s a picture that I’m thinking, What’s going to happen to me if I go into the lion’s den? How do I hang on to my faith in Christ? Who is He, really?
He is pictured as the pioneer who has the machete who is cutting through the jungle of adversity and pain and sorrow and sickness and all that you’re going through. And He has blazed the trail and He suffered and He was obedient and He died and He was raised from the dead in a resurrected body and He is the first-fruit. That means He is the first one and all who die in Christ will be like Him.
All who die in Christ will have His hope. All who die in Christ will have a resurrected body like He has a resurrected body. That you will have eternal life. And so He is the trailblazing Redeemer. He is the forgiver of our sins. He is the One who is the firstborn who has overcome – what? Death and Satan. You get that in the next line.
He says, “The ruler of the kings of the earth.” He is the ruler of both past and present. Colossians chapter 2, what do we learn? When Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead, is says He defeated Satan. We learn from Ephesians 4 He rendered sin’s power powerless in our lives. He gave us the power to overcome. And He obliterated death. The kings of the earth, the spiritual kings of the earth, the one who is the prince of the power of the air has been defeated.
And then, in present, as you read on through the book, you find the day will come, He will also be the ruler and the king of every earthly king who says, “Hey, I’m the one, I’m going to say the way the world is going to go.”
And so isn’t it interesting? You have the truth teller, does this sound familiar? He’s the way, isn’t He? He paves the path; He’s the way. And then the ruler of the kings of the earth – He is death’s defeater. So guess what He is? He is the life.
John 14:6, isn’t it? Isn’t that exactly what Jesus told His disciples? He gave it in a different order because they were saying, remember Thomas in John 14? “Lord, where are you going? We don’t know the way!” And Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” And here, John reaches back and no expands. What did that really mean?
Sixty years ago, it meant, “Here’s the big statement and what you can understand.” After sixty years, now John, in a fuller, color, vivid detail says, “You know what? I am the truth. You want to know what’s real about life, what’s real about the future, what’s true about you, what’s true about God, what’s true about Me? I’m the faithful witness. I have blazed the trail. All you’ve got to do is follow Me. Follow Me to the cross, endure and don’t give up, and as I have been raised you will be raised. There is always hope.”
And finally, He says, “I am the life. I am the ruler of the kings of the earth. Satan has been defeated. Death has been defeated. Sin has been defeated. And by the way, you know what? Domitian is no match for Me. Saddam Hussein is no match for me. Stalin and Hitler were no match for me. I am the King and the Ruler of the earth. However, you can know this as a reality, but you will not experience it fully until I return.” And so John is answering in pretty vivid form who Jesus is.
Then notice, after he says, “This is the message – it’s grace and peace. It’s from the Trinity. Who is Jesus? The faithful witness, firstborn from the dead, He’s the ruler.” Then he gives us three verbs of action. The last section told us who He is. This section lets us in on who He is by seeing what He has done, what He is doing, and what He will do.
Notice what it says. It says, “To Him,” reference back to Jesus, “who loves us.” And in your notes, write: present tense. It’s the only time this verb, used of Jesus, in the New Testament, is used in the present tense. It’s almost always, you know, “He loved us; He died for us.” This is now.
John wanted them to know, in the midst of their pain and their persecution and their suffering like he wants you to know in the midst of your rocky marriage and a struggle with your finances and your job that you don’t know how it’s going to come out, and terrorist and 9/11 and what might happen. He wants you to know, not, “He loved you.” He loves you. Present tense. Right now. The Faithful Witness loves you. The Life-giver loves you. The Pioneer who, like a machete cut out all the debris to pave a path for you, He loves you. He is for you.
Second, it says, “And has freed us from our sin,” – how? “by His blood.” And that’s in an interesting tense. It’s called aoristic in the Greek, and it has to do with something that happens in the past – punctiliar point in time – that happens in the past, that has ongoing implications in the future.
Literally, the word is He loosed you. You were bound by sin. You used to not be able to choose to do what was right. You were bound by sin. And when Christ, as that forerunner died on the cross and paid for your sin, He broke the power of sin and you were loosed from its power.
Now, you’re like me. You have the ability to choose righteousness, but sometimes you present your members as slaves to sin and you still do a lot of old, rotten, nasty stuff, just like I do.
You still think a lot of old, rotten, nasty thoughts. But you know what? You have been freed from its power and as we learn to love God and allow our minds to be renewed and you’re in community around His Word, little, by little, by little we begin to experience, in every day practice, the freedom that He has given us.