Who is Jesus?
Bible Text: Mark 1 | Speaker: Clayton Fopp | Series: Who is Jesus and Why does it Matter? | Who is Jesus?
Preparation starts early
Let me read to you from a newspaper article I found this week.
Xie Chengfeng had a fever. Otherwise the Chinese golfer would have been driving to the practice range on this June morning, rather than languishing in bed, cold towel on his forehead, in his four-storey mansion.
5 years ago, Xie and his family moved to Mission Hills, a sprawling golf resort in the southern Chinese city of Shengzhen, for just one purpose:, so he could become the next Tiger Woods.
Nearly every day of the year, when he’s not competing in a tournament, Xie works out in the morning, using the punching bag, medicine balls, and bull whip in the second-floor living room. Then he’s off to the driving range for 2 hours. After lunch, Xie works on chipping and putting, before playing a round on one of Mission Hills’ 22 courses.
Nearly every other activity is designed to benefit Xie’s golf game:
Piano lessons to strengthen his fingers,
Maths tutorials to help him calculate distances,
And a daily English class to prepare him for his eventual arrival on the PGA Tour.
Xie, is 8 years old.
Preparation starts early, in Chinese golf.
The families of 4 year olds, 5 year olds, uproot themselves, rearrange their lives, in order to realise their goals, and the ultimate culmination of their plans, 20, 30, 40 years into the future.
And when we come to trying to find out, “Who is Jesus, and why does he matter?”, What we discover is that the preparation for Jesus’ life and ministry, started a long long time before Jesus entered the public arena.
And if, in 20 years time, we see Xie Chengfeng’s face on all the TV newscasts, In order to understand who this man is, we’d need to understand something of what’s gone before, all the preparations and sacrifices his family made.
Similarly, in order to understand who Jesus is, we need to understand what’s come before,
The expectation and the promises.
Who is Jesus?
But it’s a good question to ask isn’t it?
Who is Jesus?
It’s a question to which we will find any number of different answers.
Jesus of Nazareth is arguably the most influential person in human history, so there are almost as many answers to that question as there are people you could ask!
Some will say “Jesus was a good man.”
Others will say, “A wise teacher.”
Some believe he is the Son of God.
I know someone who says “Jesus was the greatest man, who never lived!”
Christians believe that coming to a right understanding of who Jesus is, and why he matters, is the most important question we can wrestle with in life.
That finding an answer to the question “Who is Jesus?”, we believe, is a completely different to answering the question, “Who was Julius Ceasar?,
Who was Winston Churchill?,
Who is Billy Graham?”
And in fact, the Simply Christianity course that we’re running at the moment, defines Christianity as “responding rightly to Jesus.”
That’s what the Christian faith is. Responding rightly, to this person.
So this morning, whether we are Christians, or we’re interested in Christian things, this is a question that it’s important to get right.
And Mark 1 is a great place to start, because Mark records answers to that question, from lots of different angles.
It’s not that he gives us a whole bunch of conflicting and mutually exclusive answers, and says, “Here you go, choose from one of these”, kind of the “religious supermarket” approach to Jesus, “pick one that suits you and your budget.”
But in the same that if you asked a bunch of people in my life, “Who is Clayton”, You’d get different, not conflicting, but complimentary answers,
There are 3 people who could say, “Clayton is my father”,
One person who would say “My husband”,
A few who could say “A colleague”,
Numbers who could say, “He’s a pastor in the church I’m a part of”
One person could say “He’s my brother”,
Quite a few could say “He was a student I taught at school” etc, etc,
It’s a bit like the action replay in sport, when they show us the same thing from multiple different camera angles. It’s all the same event, it’s all the same people involved, but we get a slightly different perspective from each different angle.
Or maybe you’ve seen one of those images, perhaps of someone’s face, but that image is actually made up of hundreds of tiny individual images.
Yes, there is one true picture of Jesus.
But Mark 1 gives us lots of those little individual images, that make up the whole.
This morning we’ll spend most of our time in the first few verses, setting the scene, and then we’ll pick up a few of the snapshots a bit more briefly.
So the first camera angle, is from Mark himself. See verse 1 The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God
Now, some books have very well-known first lines,
Anyone know where this comes from,
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
Pride & Prejudice – Jane Austen
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen”
1984 – George Orwell
“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader – C S Lewis
“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense”
Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone – J K Rowling
But as far as first lines go, this one’s pretty loaded isn’t it?!
The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God
The very first word, in the original language, is beginning.
It’s meant to immediately remind us of the first line of the first book of the Bible, Genesis 1:1, In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Mark’s setting out to demonstrate that the arrival of the Jesus into the created world, is just as momentous an occasion, as the creation of the world itself. In Jesus God begins a new creative work.
I realise that July is just about as far from Christmas as you can possibly get, and I don’t want to panic you, by talking about Christmas already,
But when you think about Christmas,
When you think about that first Christmas, is that kind of the scale that you rate it on?
That Jesus’ entry into the world is as significant an event as the creation of the world.
Or that the introduction of Jesus into the story of someone’s life, is on par with the eternal God forming the heavens and the earth out of nothing!
That’s what Mark thinks!
That’s how he wants us to think about Jesus coming.
Jesus is the Messiah
And so he goes on to tell us, that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God
Messiah is a Hebrew word. It is equivalent to the Greek word “Christ”, they both mean “God’s anointed king.”
Throughout the centuries of the Old Testament, God had been promising his people that he would send the Messiah,
The anointed one,
The king who would lead the people
By the time of Jesus, there’s been about 450 years since the last word from God in the Old Testament, and God’s people are waiting.
I think the term is “pregnant with expectation!”
Do you remember, as a child, waiting for your birthday?
Or waiting for Christmas, doing the advent calendar?
It seemed to take forever,
The wait was unbearable,
Well imagine that, but waiting not for a few presents, but for God to pour out his blessing on the world,
And restore the messed up world, back to his great intentions for it, with his chosen, anointed king as ruler,
And then multiply that, not just by the 24 days before Christmas, but for century, after century, after century,
That’s the expectation that is hanging on the arrival of the Messiah.
Can you see how this is such a bold claim?
Who is Jesus?
He’s the Messiah, God’s anointed king.
Which means also that Jesus is the proof that God keeps his promises.
God said he would send the Messiah.
Mark tells us, the Messiah has come.
And so the arrival of Jesus, assures us that God has a plan in place, and has taken steps,
To restore his creation,
To establish justice,
To re-establish the relationship between people and himself, the relationship that has been torn apart by human sin and rebellion, and the desire for independence from God.
The arrival of the Messiah says God cares about those things which trouble us, and he has acted for restoration as he said he would.
Jesus is the Son of God
But there’s another angle, isn’t there?
Jesus is, the Son of God
To describe Jesus in this way, is to speak of his essential nature as God. Messiah, didn’t have divine overtones, The Messiah was expected just to be a human.
So to say Jesus is the Son of God, is to say that he doesn’t just act with God’s power,
He’s not just chosen by God, he is God.
And so audacious was this claim, that it’s this claim, Jesus’ acceptance of this title, in chapter 14, that ultimately sees him condemned to death by the religious authorities.
Jesus is not just a man born in a town 2000 years ago,
Not just God’ anointed king,
He is the pre-existent God, himself.
The son of God was a title often given to Roman Emperors.
To speak of Jesus as the Son of God, was an act of defiance against the Emperor, and so it’s no coincidence, that at the climax of Mark’s gospel, in chapter 15, it’s a Roman centurion, the Emperor’s representative, presiding over the crucifixion of Jesus, who declares, Surely this man was the Son of God!
See our series title, “Who is Jesus, and why does it matter?”, Well, here’s why it matters!
Here is God!
Listen to God!
See how Jesus makes God known.
That’s why it matters who Jesus is!
Monday night at Simply Christianity, please keep praying for us, it’s tremendously exciting, Monday night we read the story of the prodigal son, and we heard Jesus, the Son of God, tell us what sin is, rejection and independence,
And we heard Jesus, the Son of God, tell us what God is like, a searching, running, embracing, forgiving, lavishing, partying Father.
Why would we turn to any other source of information, about God,
When we can learn it from God himself?!
Jesus, son of God
No wonder Mark says, this is good news!
There’s a famous inscription in stone, from the Greek city of Priene. It dates from 9 BC, but actually it’s something we’re very familiar with:, it’s a government advertising campaign!
At that time, different parts of the Roman Empire used different calendars, which, you think of the issues we sometimes have with daylight saving, trying to communicate with people in another state, imagine if they were in a different month or even a different year!
So there was a push to align everyone with the Julian Calendar which was used in Rome, and as part of this effort, this particular inscription was circulated, telling everyone how great the emperor was, and it includes these words, very similar to Mark 1:1, the birthday of the god Augustus was, the beginning of the good tidings for the world
Good tidings, good news, gospel, it’s the same word.
Except that in the secular usage, the word is always plural, one piece of good news, among other, good “new-es.”
In the New Testament, the word is only ever singular. Here is the good news!
Mark is very deliberately setting this good news, in opposition to, and separate from, all other competing messages.
This good news is about Jesus, who is the Messiah, the Son of God.
The Prophets’ Answer: Jesus is the God who saves
But those are not the only answers to the question, “Who is Jesus” that find in Mark 1.
Mark quotes from the Old Testament,
as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way” —
3 “a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him
Those words are from Exodus 23, Malachi 3, and Isaiah 40, and they show us that the New Testament is not a new story of God and his work for salvation, but a continuation, the fulfilment, of the Old Testament story of salvation.
Those words, in their original contexts, were promises God had made, about his own arrival,
When God himself would come and bring salvation to his people.
But before God came, there would be a messenger.
Someone to get people ready.
In November last year, Hilary Clinton, who was at the time, US Secretary of State, visited Adelaide. You might remember that. You might have been caught in a traffic jam somewhere, as her motorcade was ushered through the city.
Before her visit, I was speaking to someone here who’s a member of the Federal Police, and he was telling me about Secretary Clinton’s advance team, FBI, Secret Service, State Department officials, who came out some weeks before, to prepare for her arrival,
To make sure people were ready,
To ensure that people would get the most out of her visit.
Well that’s what the messenger, who was promised before God’s arrival, was going to do.
To make sure people were ready.
To ensure that people would get the most out of his arrival.
And what does Mark tell us? Verse 4, And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins
Here’s the messenger, who prepares people for the arrival of God and the salvation that he brings.
But unlike Hilary Clinton’s advance team, who prepare for her arrival by, checking for bombs and arranging meetings, John’s method of preparing people for the arrival of God,
Of preparing the way for the Lord, making straight paths for him, is through preaching.
His message is a call to repentance.
It’s not “God is coming back, look busy”, as the bumper sticker says,
It’s not even “God is coming back get busy, doing things, that he might appreciate”
His message is “God is coming, turn to him”
“Change your heart,
Change your purpose,
Get ready to meet God.”
And so if John is the forerunner, the messenger, when does God himself arrive?
Well, it’s in the person of Jesus, isn’t it?
We’ve already seen Mark’s own claim that Jesus is the Son of God, and here we see John’s ministry of preparation linked absolutely inseparably, to Jesus.
The beginning of the good news about Jesus, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you
The good news concerns Jesus, the Messiah, but it begins with John the Baptist, and his long-promised ministry of preparation.
And that link between John’s preparation and Jesus’ fulfilment comes up again with the juxtaposition of these 2 men’s ministries, After me John says, comes the one more powerful than I, verse 9, At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee
We can’t miss the connection.
John is the messenger.
Jesus is the God who saves his people.
Even where John is geographically,
What he’s like,
What he’s wearing,
What he eats,
It all tells us, that what’s about to happen in Jesus, is a re-enactment of the greatest salvation events of Old Testament history.
He’s out in the wilderness, verse 4.
Throughout Israel’s history, the wilderness was the place where God met his people, and brought them salvation.
It’s why Isaiah talked about a voice of one calling in the wilderness.
God was promising that same kind of rescue and deliverance again.
And every time God’s people read those words from the Scriptures in their synagogues, in the temple, it was like they were saying to God, “Play it again, Sam!”,
Do that thing!
Bring that salvation,
We’re waiting for it.
And when someone who looks like one of God’s Old Testament prophets,
And whose message is that of the Old Testament prophets,
Who even dresses and eats like the prophets,
For him to appear in the wilderness,
Where God had met his people,
For John to appear there in the wilderness, as the last of the Old Testament era prophets, is to say that God’s great deliverance and salvation is here at hand once more.
Those 3 Old Testament passages, bundled up in that quotation in verses 2 and 3, in their context, they refer explicitly to Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel,
But now that language is applied to Jesus.
Even John the Baptist’s promise, verse 7, After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.
Who can give the Spirit of God, baptise you, with the Spirit of God?
Only God himself!
The faithful, patient, God who saves, who acts for his people, has turned up in the person of Jesus.
God keeps his promises.
God acts for salvation, just as he said he would, and that salvation comes through the life and ministry of Jesus.
Xie Chengfeng isn’t going to land on the PGA Tour as a 20 year old with no prior preparation. If he gets there it will be because of everything that’s gone before.
Jesus, doesn’t just drop out of nowhere, and turn up in Nazareth in the year zero!
The salvation that God brings for people in Jesus, salvation from sin,
Salvation from the consequences and due penalty for trying to carve out an existence apart from God,
The salvation that Jesus won for us at the cross, by standing in our place, and taking upon himself the death and separation from God that we deserve,
That salvation doesn’t in stark contrast, to the salvation that God brought his people in the Old Testament.
Rather, Jesus stands in continuity with the work of God in the Old Testament, and as the fulfilment of God had spoken and Promised
God’s Answer: Jesus is God’s beloved son 9 – 13
Let’s have a look at another answer to our question.
As we go further on, we see some repetition of the answers we’ve already heard.
Mark kind of layers up the evidence. It’s not just some crazy guy out in the desert who thinks this about Jesus, there are others too.
Look with me at from verse 9, this is a good one, this is an answer from none other than God himself.
God in heaven, who does he think Jesus is?
That’s got to be an answer worth listening to, right?
Verse 9, At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan.,
10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open, and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son,,
whom I love;,
with you I am well pleased.
In 1897, 8 year old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote to the editor of New York’s The Sun newspaper asking, “Is there a Santa Claus?”
Her father had convinced her that The Sun was the most trustworthy source of information available to her, and so she wrote.
Francis Church, the editor, responded with what is now the most famous newspaper editorial ever written, a philosophical defence of the existence of Santa!
Which just goes to show that you can’t believe what you read in the paper!
But we should be more like Virginia.
What is the most trustworthy and reliable source of information we have, when it comes to finding an answer to our question about Jesus?
Well surely the answer of God in heaven himself, should count for something!
Did you notice the supernatural events that accompany Jesus’ baptism?
Things that only God can bring about?
God’s testimony about Jesus isn’t just verbal, it’s physical.
The heavens are torn open,
The Spirit of God descends on him like a dove,
And a voice comes from heaven.
I’ve baptised lots of people, this has never happened when I’ve been there.
But it’s not just an attention grabber,
God wasn’t sitting there in heaven trying to decide, should I announce Jesus’ baptism with the heavens being torn open, or should I just do it with a Facebook update?! “Son was baptised today. Very proud.”
No! These 3 things were the signs, the long-expected signs, that God’s new kingdom was at hand!
God’s people knew, that when the heavens were torn open,
And the Spirit descended,
And when voices from heaven started ringing out,
That meant the new age of God’s work,
The new age of God’s salvation,
The new age of God’s kingdom was here!
Here is God’s proof, that Jesus is in fact, the more powerful one promised by John in verse 7.
And of course one of these great signs of God’s work coming to its climax is a voice, a message,
You are my Son,,
whom I love;,
with you I am well pleased.
Virginia’s father told her, “If you see it in The Sun, it must be so.”
Let me just up that, a little bit. “If you hear it spoken by God himself, it must be so!”
I’ve got lots of friends who will tell me who they think Jesus is.
We here, might even have different ideas about who Jesus is.
But at one level, who cares?!
Who cares who we think Jesus is, when God has told us who Jesus is?!
And if what we think, doesn’t line up with what God thinks, guess who’s got the wrong end of the stick?!
The evil spirit’s answer: Jesus is the one who defeats evil 21 – 28
We see several more snapshots, little pieces of the big picture, in chapter 1, but I want to just pause briefly on one, before we finish.
Jump down to verse 23, if you will Just then a man in their synagogue, in Capernaum, who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, 24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
25 “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!”, 26 The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.
If this was evidence about Jesus’ identity being given in court, I think this is what we’d call a hostile witness. An evil spirit is perhaps not the first place you’d turn to find an answer to our question, “Who is Jesus?”
And yet, because the evil spirit, who, notice the “us”, he seems to be representative of wider forces of evil, but because he exists in the spiritual realm,
His answer to the question, kind of takes us behind the curtain and gives us a glimpse at what we otherwise might not be able to see.
Who is Jesus?
Notice the terror of this evil Spirit.
Jesus is the one who defeats evil.
The one who destroys Satan,
The one against who the forces of evil are powerless!
Let me ask you, what can you control with your voice?
My mobile phone, the instructions tell me, supposedly I can control with my voice. Let me assure you I can not!
To my phone, when I’ve tried to use my voice to send a message, my voice saying “Exclamation mark”, apparently sounds a lot like “love heart”!
That’s problematic in sending emails!
My sincerest apologies if you’ve ever got a slightly racy email from me!!
I can’t control my phone with my voice!
Even my children, when I try to control them with my voice, they still decide, whether they’re going to obey me or not!
Do you know the only thing I could think of, that I can control with my voice?
I can blow out a candle with my voice!
That’s some accomplishment isn’t it?!
Do you see the comparison though?
What an insignificant little candle flame is to me, the forces of evil are to Jesus.
The best efforts of Satan,
The forces of evil, allied against God, and against his people, are as powerless against Jesus, as a tiny flame is against me,
Absolutely at the mercy of his voice, his command.
Compared to Jesus, the forces of evil in the world,
The forces of evil that so distress us, maybe even frighten us, sometimes,
The evil that tempts be to sin, and leads me to think I will never overcome it,
The forces of evil that I might think are a permanent roadblock to the advance of the gospel in our world,
Those are a tiny flickering flame, easily snuffed out.
And it’s both because of who he is, the Holy One of God, and because of what he achieves on the cross, stepping into our place, the innocent suffering for the guilty, breaking Satan’s power and sin’s curse.
Jesus is the one who defeats evil.
Do you know the problem, with all the effort, and all the preparation, that Xie Chengfeng and his family have gone to, to landing him at the top of the PGA Tour in a few years’ time,
There are no guarantees, are there?
There are plenty of other kids with exactly the same goal,
Plenty of other parents with exactly the same hopes,
Plenty of things that could go wrong.
When it comes to the preparation for Jesus’ life and ministry though,
There was no such question, uncertainty.
Because the God who sent his Son Jesus into the world, always keeps his promises,
Always acts for the good of his people,
And always will.
Which means the promises we find in Jesus:,
Reconciliation with our creator,
Victory over evil, over Satan, even over death!
Those are sure promises, that lives can be built on.