The Renegade Gospel: Liar, Lunatic, or Lord?
Colossians 1:15-18, Luke 9:18-20
Rev. Sandy Johnson
March 11, 2018
“Who do you say I am?” Sounds familiar right? That’s because in January I shared this same story only from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus asking his disciples who they thought he was. We discussed Peter’s role in the foundation of the church as he boldly proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah.
Each one of us is called to recognize the moment when Christ asks us that same monumental question and we give the answer, “you are Messiah, the Christ, the son of God.” I impressed upon all of us that day, to name and claim our own belief that Jesus is Lord.
With that answer we then become Jesus’ disciple and that is, if you recall, when I said that the fun begins. Peter represents all of us in the story. And as followers of Jesus who are learning from Peter, we too recognize that there is much more to following Christ than making a one-time proclamation. That proclamation is merely a starting point in our lifelong commitment to be disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.
Our response affirming Jesus as Christ, requires a lifelong commitment. “It means acknowledging and fully embracing what Jesus was, as a man and who he is as divine God. Jesus is the best picture I could ever imagine of a God I want to follow. In human form, Jesus demonstrated that God is not an unconcerned, disembodied entity who is emotionally detached from our pain and suffering, but rather a God who chooses to enter into that suffering with us. Jesus gives flesh and reality to a God who cares, loves us deeply, and longs to win us at all costs, even to the point of death on a cross.
“The parable that Jesus shared with his disciples in Luke 15 further reveal God’s heart. Jesus first described God as a shepherd who spends hours combing the countryside for one lost sheep while ninety-nine others are safely pastured at home – a shepherd who then excitedly throws a party to celebrate when the lost sheep is found.
“Then God is a woman who has lost a coin and will not rest, laboring and searching unceasingly until the lost has been retrieved; once found, again there’s a party. Finally, Jesus told perhaps the greatest parable of all: a father welcomes with open arms a foolish and lost son (often called the prodigal son or wayward son) and then, once again, throws a party. You have to love a God who is always throwing a party in honor of someone who has done absolutely nothing to merit it. Hearing these parables, I can believe in a God who looks and sounds like Jesus.
“Eyewitnesses from the New Testament community clearly understood the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ and embraced his identity as Messiah – as fully divine. The Apostle Paul penned this hymn about Christ in his letter to the Colossians during A.D. 62, just over thirty years after Jesus’ resurrection.”
Colossians 1:15-18 says, 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.” Jesus is the glue that bind us!
“In essence, Paul’s declaration emphasized that Christ is the divine mind making all of creations systems work, whether the gravity that tethers us to earth, the mixture of oxygen and nitrogen that sustains our breath, the earth’s precise distance from the sun so that the planet can support life, or the involuntary muscle ensuring that my heart beats and my lungs breathe. Verse 18 reminds us that in everything, Christ has supremacy. The last time I checked, everything in the Greek means “everything” – my life priorities, my time, my wants, my money, my family, my career. In everything I choose to do, Jesus Christ has supremacy.
“Right after Jesus asked the key question “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter responded, “The Christ sent from God,” Jesus shared in Luke 9:23-24 what could only have been a difficult concept to embrace for his disciples, the rabbi’s most enthusiastic followers: ‘”All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will save them’” (CEB). The operative word is daily. A disciple must die to self and rise to new life in Christ each day after accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
“Note also that Jesus repeated his first and most persistent call to his disciples in verse 23, where he says, “Follow me.” Follow is a verb; following means we cannot remain stationary. When I confess that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Son of God, I commit to follow Jesus in a lifestyle of sacrificial service, walking in the dust of my Rabbi. Whatever my Rabbi values, I value. Whatever my Rabbi thinks about God, I think about God. Whatever my Rabbi thinks about people, I think about people. Whatever my Rabi believes about wealth, I believe about wealth. Whatever my Rabi believes about the poor, I believe about the poor. Whatever my Rabi believes about creation, I believe about creation. I act like my Rabbi, talk like my Rabbi, love like my Rabbi, and give my life away for my Rabbi’s mission.
“Unfortunately, many of us start that journey with enthusiasm but fail to sustain it. Our faith goes on cruise control as we start seeking comfort and not a calling. It doesn’t help that too often in our churches we pigeonhole Jesus safely behind the altar rails and communion tables of our tame religious traditions, teaching people to revere Jesus instead of following Jesus sacrificially every day in the trenches of life. Jesus’ call is not to revere; his call is to follow. When we do so, reverence will naturally result.
“We struggle to follow Jesus, in part because our contemporary culture is saturated in a secular worldview. In this worldview, we operate as if God were not a factor. Jesus becomes a Sunday morning habit, and the rest of the week we seem to get along just fine without him. A secular worldview is also a materialistic worldview. We draw our security from our money and material possessions rather than from the promises of God.
“Within our soft-secular churches, we claim to believe in God and profess Jesus but then act on the values of the secular culture. This explains why we struggle with the sacrifice required in following Jesus. Tithing is just one example.” We are a church that has numerous generous and faithful givers, but we have many who have yet to discover the peace and joy of tithing. Some are limited by a secular worldview while others are blessed with a Jesus worldview. “Christians have brought Jesus into a secular worldview instead of bringing the secular world view into Jesus’ worldview.
“If we are going to follow Jesus, recognizing Jesus as Messiah, we will have to radically realign our life priorities. Jesus brilliantly illustrated this in a parable found in Luke 14:16-24. Jesus described a man, who represents God in the story. This man is hosting a large dinner party and sends out his servants to invite guests. One by one the excuses come back from the invited guests. One invitee indicates that he has just bought a farm and needs to examine his new land. A second has bought five teams of oxen and feels compelled to see if they are working out as planned. A third invitee claims that he has just gotten married and is still on his honeymoon. Notice that the three invitees use the same excuses we give when we choose to revere Jesus instead of following him: our material property, our work, and our relationships.
“These convenient excuses betray our real allegiances and show that we relegate Jesus to someone we worship at church one morning a week. We have reduced the true worship of Jesus to singing three praise and worship songs on Sunday mornings. What happened to the practice of following Jesus sacrificially?
“One thing I know: each of us in our lifetime will answer Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” Let’s not deceive ourselves – not answering, ignoring, avoiding, belittling, or postponing the question is still a response. I have been traveling in the dust of my Rabbi for 57 years and I am still figuring this Jesus journey out. Yet despite periodic fear, failure, and setbacks, I can proclaim, like Peter, that the rebel Jesus is Christ sent from God. Jesus has repeatedly revealed himself to me as Messiah and Lord when I have responded in faith to his call, witnessing the miracle of multiplication through the community of God’s people as we place our resources, gifts, and lives into his hands.
“Who is Jesus? One of the Church’s most ancient creeds, the Apostle’s’ Creed, proclaims the foundation on which I have staked my reputation, ministry and life.”
I invite you to turn to #881 in your hymnal and we will end the message sharing this proclamation together: