Summary: A look at the unique claims of Christ
Pax Romana, Roman peace, held the empire together for centuries. Among it’s dictates was one concerning religion. It seems that if Rome took over a nation or people with their own religion they never made them switch to the Roman gods. Their thinking was sound…why give them a reason to rebel. Because of this peace Jerusalem was able to keep the temple and their beliefs. They were allowed to keep their feasts, attend synagogue, and the rest.
It still wasn’t a time of peace though. A group of radicals called zealots wanted to start another rebellion like the Maccabees had done earlier and toss Rome out. Others, like the Sadducees, understood the reality of the situation and tried to make the best of a bad world. Others believed that if the law was kept even more intensely then God would save His people. And most believed that Messiah (in Greek the word is Christ) would be the leader who would destroy the current world order and set things right.
A ruling power, a political leader, one who could single handedly destroy Rome those were some of the thought I imagine were rattling around in the minds of those who waited. If we are to believe the Bible and other ancient texts there were those who proclaimed themselves Messiah and attempted to lead revolts. They were destroyed by Rome without mercy.
John the Baptist wasn’t unusual in a lot of ways. Every age has its predictor of the “end of the world” and John was just one more voice added to that group. The difference was that John had been given the task by God himself even before His birth. The Holy Spirit was on John and allowed Him to discern, to understand and see, things that was missed by most. That was how he was able to jump for joy when his Aunt Mary entered their house pregnant with Jesus. And it’s how he knew something was different when this same cousin came to be baptized.
Here he was, the one he’d been speaking about. He wasn’t worthy to untie this man’s sandals. This one coming into the water was to take away the sins of the world. This man wading toward John was the Lamb of God and John wanted to be baptized with the fire and Spirit that his cousin Jesus would baptize with. That was not to be, instead after a short exchange John relents and baptizes Jesus. Sinless, Jesus identified with those sinners for whom he would be executed in three short years. Without blame or fault Jesus, in this moment of humility, takes upon Himself that blame and our faults.
And as Jesus exits the water heaven is opened, a dove descend and a voice declares just who Jesus is. John saw and heard what happened because he was attuned by the Spirit to it. Jesus saw and heard too because His heavenly Father delighted in the choice that Jesus had just made.
Jump ahead five or maybe six years and in Acts 10 we have Peter standing in the house of a non-Jew. Peter had witnessed the power of Jesus first hand as his mother-in-law was healed. He’d been commended for a statement of faith when he declared Jesus was the Christ; and he’d also been quickly chastised when he tried to stop Jesus from going to Jerusalem. He’d been there during the miracles, the arrest, looked on at the trials from afar (that was one night Peter wanted to forget) and was the first one in the empty tomb on the Sunday following Jesus’ execution.
He’d become a leader of the Christians in Jerusalem and now, after a series of visions, he finds himself about to tell a Roman soldier, a leader of Roman soldiers about this Jesus. And what Peter testifies too is the fact that Jesus had been given the power and Holy Spirit in order that people would believe in Him and be forgiven of their sins through His name.
The issue before us, almost 2000 years later is the same as it was for those disciples who chose to follow Christ and for Cornelius and his household. Who is this Jesus? And What do we believe about Him? Our answer doesn’t only impact our day-by-day life but our eternal future as well. Our belief about Jesus can give us peace and joy in midst of tough times. And it offers us the promise of being accepted into God’s Kingdom.
You might think the choice would be pretty obvious but it’s not. Most people in our nation, our state, and our neighborhoods have never fully answered this question or have chosen to answer it based on the testimonies of others. Who is this Jesus? Well he is the elder brother for Mormons and an advanced medium or ascended master to New Agers. A false Messiah or good teacher to Jews and an avatar (son of god like all people are) to the Hindus. A good teacher, a nice man, revolutionary, exalted human, example to be followed, a god (small ‘g’) or any number of other descriptions has been used about Jesus. And what may or may not surprise you is that even among the church there are those who accept these definitions over God’s own declaration. Right now a congregation in our own Presbytery may face charges because of a letter they sent in which they limited Jesus by saying “Jesus is OUR Savior”.