"Who do you say I am?"
It's the question Jesus asks his disciples in Matthew 16.
And that really is the question isn't it? That's probably the most important question in the history of questions.
And how you answer that question will have a bigger impact of the course of your life than probably anything else.
It is the starting point of the gospel.
We're starting a series that will go through the month of December that we've entitled "Chase the Light" - Talking about the Light of Jesus, come to earth, which we would call 'The Incarnation' and how that light illuminates both our understanding of God and our understanding of who we're called to be.
So when a Christian says "The Gospel" most people will think of Jesus dying on the cross for our sins. And that's absolutely the core and center of the gospel, but that gospel is not just the story of Jesus's death. The gospel is the good news story of Jesus's life, death, and resurrection.
And it all begins with the incarnation.
The word Incarnation comes from the Latin word "Incaro" which means "In meat".
So if you eat chili "con carne" that's chili with meat.
So Jesus is God CON CARNE. God with meat.
It's God not just creating mankind and then stepping back to see how the whole thing unfolds. Kind of a "set it and forget it" God. No it's God BECOMING like this own creation to bring us the Good News of God's plan of redemption.
That's the incarnation.
The Central Miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation. Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this.
When we say "The Gospel", we mean the core message of Jesus. And what was the core message of Jesus? What IS the gospel?
Well of course you can answer that question in one word: Jesus.
But if you wanted to expand on it a little, you could say something like this: (And this is where we're going during this series)
And that's where we're going in the series.
(Turn - John 1)
And what I hope to show you is just how deeply relational the gospel is. The ultimate goal of the gospel is relationship.
Some people think of the gospel like a legal contract.
It's like "If you'd like you could enter into a business agreement with God where he will transfer your sin to Jesus as per the contract." - Is there a sense of that? Yeah totally. Just like there's a 'legal contract' side of marriage. But if you ONLY see marriage as legal contract, you'll miss the point of marriage.
And in the same way, the gospel, if you remove from it the relational piece, then you miss the heart of what God is really trying to do. Because it's core, the gospel is about relationship.
3 Simple points for this week:
First: The Incarnation shapes our understanding of God
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)
With God, was God.
He was with God in the beginning. (John 1:2)
See what he did there? He changed a “The” to a “He”. Verse one it’s “The word” and then it verse 2, he refers to the word as a “he”.
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:3)
Wait, him?! Who's he talking about? I thought we were talking about "The Word". We are. The word made flesh, he's talking about Jesus
In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. (John 1:4)
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5)
So here John says that in the beginning was The Word, and the word was the light of all mankind.
What's he talking about here? He's talking about Jesus. That gets real clear as you keep reading.
He (Jesus) was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. (John 1:10)
He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. (John 1:11)
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
So here John is painting a picture of Jesus coming to earth, the incarnation, and how in some way, that brings with it light to the whole world.
"The Word became flesh!" In this simple, but sublime enunciation, we have the whole gospel comprehended in a word. The incarnation is the key that unlocks the sense of all God's revelations. The incarnation forms thus the great central fact of the world. (John Williamson Nevin - The Mystical Presence)
It's hard to overemphasize the world altering impact of the incarnation. It changes EVERYTHING.
In the Old Testament God the father speaks to us plenty. He speaks to prophets, he speaks to Moses from a burning bush, he speaks directly to Adam and Eve. He speaks directly to Cain. On and on. But once the incarnation happens, God the father speaks to mankind only twice. 3 times total, once to Jesus, and 2 to mankind.
And what does he say? When the Father "actually uses his voice" (deep voice), and I don't know how you imagine the Father's voice being. I definitely think it's a James Earl Jones type voice. Definitely deep. Think Darth Vader, less breathy, more compassionate, but definitely deep.
And he only speaks to us twice. Entire New Testament. In both cases, what does he say?
He says is that he loves Jesus and that Jesus is his son, and he's pleased with Jesus. And then at the transfiguration he says:
… “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5)
In the New Testament the only thing that God the father has to say to mankind is Jesus is his son, listen to Jesus.
So it's not that Jesus and the Father come from different viewpoints. No, Jesus is doing the fathers will. Jesus is God's show and tell. Not just his tell, his show and tell.
When we see the love of Jesus, we don't just see the love of Jesus, we see the love of the father, and the spirit.
And we don't just see the Father's love for Jesus, we see Jesus's love for the father. Time and time again we see Jesus's heart is to obey the father, and serve the father, and please the father.
So baseline point as we're talking about the relationality of the gospel, is that God has within himself, relationship. Perfect intimacy.
Jesus is talking to his disciples, and now he's telling them that it's his time to leave.
He says something super interesting:
You know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:4)
I love Jesus's communication style, I love his creativity. He starts the conversation by TELLING THEM they already know something. He's not teaching them something new, he's telling them that they already know something.
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (John 14:5)
This is too funny. Jesus says "You know where I'm going." And Thomas says "Nu uh!!! Do not!!!"
Jesus says "You know where I'm going" Thomas says "No we don't!" - Who's right?
I'm gonna say always go with Jesus.
I'm gonna say that Jesus knew that Thomas knew something that Thomas didn't know he knew.
Thomas knew the way to heaven. But he didn't know that he knew it.
The point of confusion is this: They were expecting Jesus to show them A WAY to heaven. See that's what religion always does: Do THIS THIS and THIS, and you'll get to heaven, or paradise, or nirvana. You just have to learn THE WAY.
Look at what Jesus says:
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)
Some people read that and they think "Jesus says he's the only way to God? Kind of exclusive don't you think?"
And on one hand, if Jesus was just one prophet among many, him saying "The only way you can get to God is through me. Don't listen to those other guys." That would be incredibly exclusive.
On the other hand, if Jesus IS God, and the incarnation is true, then it makes perfect sense for Jesus to say "If you want to get to God, look no further. I am God come to you."
For example: If you want to get to know me, David, what's the best way to get to know me? You can learn ABOUT me by talking to other people, but the only way to get to know ME is by talking to ME.
And you might say "Geez David. That's so exclusive. Why can't there be other ways to get to know you besides you?" Sorry, that's not how it works. If you want to know a person, that person is the only way.
That's true for you too. If someone wants to get to know you, you're the only way to get to know you.
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. (John 14:16-17a)
So here talking about the Holy Spirit. He saying "As I go. I'm leaving you the Holy Spirit, who will represent my heart. Just like I represent the fathers heart, the Holy Spirit will come and represent my heart.
I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. (John 14:18)
Wait, Jesus says "I will come to you? I thought he was just saying it was time for him to leave." - Jesus is saying that he himself will come to us through the spirit.
This is where I want to camp out. Remember, Jesus here is talking about when the spirit comes:
On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. (John 14:20)
This verse reminds me of an MC Escher art piece.
I sure many of you are familiar with his relativity piece. (Pic)
Where one man's UP is another man's down, one man's left is another mans right.
And it kinda boggles the mind.
And so if you were to think about this verse.
So wait… Jesus is in the father and at the same time in us? YES
We're not God and we don't become God, that's not what he's saying.
Here's what I believe it's communicating.
This is a big concept. Lord help me to communicate it right.
Through Jesus, we're invited into a love relationship. But not a new love relationship, you're invited into a love relationship that is already happenings between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. You become grafted into a loving family that is already ongoing.
Let me see if I can illustrate this:
A lot of people think Christianity like this:
Through the work of Jesus, we now have relationship with HIM. And HE has a relationship with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. So Jesus sort of acts like a middleman between us and the Father and the spirit.
Now that's not totally incorrect. Especially when we talk about the atoning work of Jesus on the cross. There's certain a sense of this.
But this is NOT the right way to diagram where we as followers of Jesus are now.
A better illustration for our relationship with God is this: (pic)
Now, because of Jesus, we have a relationship with not just Jesus, but a loving relationship with the father, and a loving relationship with the Holy Spirit, where we're in Jesus, and Jesus is in the father, and Jesus is in us, and it's all made possible through the Holy Spirit.
And it boggles the mind, but it just speaks to the intimacy that we now have with God, through Jesus.
We know that through Jesus, God wants to meet us face to face. But that's a little challenging because he lived 2000 years ago.
It's difficult to have a fan to face relationship with Abraham Lincoln for example.
And now we just read about him in a book?!?! Seriously? A book?
Where's the face-to-faceness of a book? It all seems so academic.
And it's kind of paradoxical. Here's the paradox:
The incarnation shows us that God wants to meet us personally, not just textually. But the text of Scripture is our best record of Jesus and context for Jesus, and we need scripture if we are going to meet God in an authentic way.
So the scripture is not "Anti-relationship", no it provides opportunity FOR relationship.
Without scripture, you (you personally) would never know that God wants to meet with you face to face. And even if for some reason you did know, you would have no idea HOW to meet with him face to face.
And so even our Scripture reading is not centered around a book, or a contract, but around a RELATIONSHIP with Jesus.
The Holy Spirit moves through the text of scripture and the body of Christ (the church) so we can experience relationship with Jesus IN PERSON.
Which is to say "The Church"
So the same spirit that inspired Scripture is filling our brothers and sisters, and speaking to us through them.
God can speak directly to you through scripture. And God can also speak directly to you through a conversation with a Christian brother or sister.
When brothers and sisters gather around scripture together, wow. That's the sweet spot.
For the early church, reading and studying scripture was a community activity. Many of the early Christians couldn't read, so instead relied on having scripture read TO them.
And there's something really special about that dynamic. That the Holy Spirit would be speaking directly to us through scripture, and that same spirit is filling us and all the people around us. So now the Holy Spirit can communicate something to us through the text and then someONE inspired by the same spirit can come and confirm what the Holy Spirit was saying. So God can speak through others to me, but also God can speak to others through me.
And that again, speaks to the deeply relational dynamic of the gospel.
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (1 Corinthians 12:27)
Jesus was the word made flesh. And the word is still being made flesh in the body of Christ. - We do this collectively.
"Jesus continues his incarnation by dwelling in his people… The life of Jesus is still being manifest among people, but now no longer through an individual physical body, limited to one place on earth, but through a complex, corporate body called the church." (Greg Ogden)
And when you really start to understand that, it changes how you interact with people who are face-to-face with you.
I think part of growing in Christian discipleship is becoming aware of all the different ways God can speak to you.
And one of those ways is through our brothers and sisters.
So I can say that for me personally when I come into a room like this, full of people filled with the spirit, I try to become very attentive to what God might say to me through someone else.
How can I learn from you?
Jesus says that when we take care of those who are most hurting and vulnerable in our world, that Jesus counts that as taking care of him.
Because God may have something he wants to say to you through me. And I will not run away from that privilege.
As we close, I have a quick video I want you to watch. Some of you may have seen this. It's a commercial for a grocery store in germany.
They made this commercial to sell more groceries. I get that.
But I think they really made a beautiful point about the importance of face-to-faceness.
Which of course we see most clearly in the God coming to us through the incarnation, but it's also a reminder for us to model the incarnation by valuing face-to-faceness the way that God does. And the holidays are the perfect excuse to get good at this again. To maybe reconnect in relationships that you've neglected.
Call if you have to call, text if you have to text, but best of all, get face-to-face and share God's love.
So let's let the germans teach us a thing or two. Here we go:
Wow. I watched that like 12 times so I wouldn't cry up here.
OK FINE, I'LL BUY MY GROCERIES FROM YOU. GEEZ.
It touches on something, doesn't it? Face-to-faceness. And that's what the incarnation is all about.
Which leads us right into communion.
The table is one of the places Jesus promises to meet with us.
Jesus wants to meet with us face-to-face. And so don't miss this opportunity to become aware of his presence, as he comes to meet with us.
Pass / Pray / Eat / Drink