Controversial Jesus #6 - Identity

Dr. Kurt Bjorklund looks at who people thought Jesus was in their day and how their perception of Jesus mirrors what people think today.

Message Transcript

This is an auto-generated transcript. Please excuse any errors.

Recently in our house, we have gone through a season where it seems like everything is breaking. I don't if you ever have had one of these seasons where it feels like every time you turn around something else goes wrong. Well, we've been in one of these little seasons. The other day, I got a call from my wife. She said, "I have some bad news for you," which is never a great way when you get that phone call to start a conversation. She said our oven is not working. It's broken. As I said, we've been in kind of the season where it's like you have the list, and you keep adding to it. I thought, well, I can call somebody, but that will cost me a little bit of money. I thought I can try to figure this out. I did what a lot of people would do. I got on YouTube, said, "It can't be that hard to figure out how to fix an oven."

I thought I figured out what was wrong. I ordered a part, got the part, and thought I can fix this. Then, I thought it would also be a good father-son moment for me to instill confidence in one of my sons, show him how to fix things, have a real bonding father-son kind of moment. At least this was kind of in my mind. We take the stove apart, and it was the gas igniter that had stopped working. We had shut off the gas, and we replaced the gas igniter and then put the stove back together. Then, it was time to try it. Now, I had mentioned that I had thought it would be a good father-son kind of experience. I also had realized that one of us had to stand close to it to turn it on. I wanted my son to have the full fix it experience, so I had him there to get the gas all set up and turn the thing on.

He turns it on, and we're standing there, and nothing happens. Now, when you have gas and nothing happens, that's generally not a good thing. All of a sudden, something happened. It went boom, and you could see the flames coming from underneath the gas range. What had happened was when we put it back together, we had missed by just a little bit in terms of getting the gas to flow back up into the oven, so it was flowing under the oven instead of in the oven. I quickly ran over, shut off the gas. We got it all fixed, and then took it apart, put it back together again. Now, we have a working oven. Thank you. Thank you. I'm sure my son has a lot of confidence now about such things.

Now, the reason I tell you that is if you're off just a little on something, it can have disastrous effects. Some things, it doesn't matter much, but some things, it can be really significant. Being off on gas with your oven can be really bad really quickly. Here's what I want to say that John seven speaks to. That is that when you're off just a little bit in your view of who Jesus Christ is, it can have a significant negative impact in your life. John is a gospel. There's four of them. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John tell the story of Jesus' life. We're working our way through the gospel of John. John, at this section of John, is about the opposition that Jesus discovers or finds when he is being revealed or revealing himself to people.

We've called this series Controversial Jesus because in these chapters what we see is that the controversies of Jesus' day aren't that different than the controversies of our day. When we come to John seven, what we find is that there was a feast that was happening. It was a celebration. It was called the Feast of Tabernacles or the Feast of Booths. The background of this is told in Leviticus 23. What would happen is the men would go up to Jerusalem because it was up at the top of kind of a hilly region. They would set up these booths or these tents for days, seven-day festival, almost eight days depending on exactly how you count it. They would live in these tents for these days as a way to remind them of God's faithfulness when they were the people of Israel traveling through the wilderness and that God had been faithful to them. Now, I don't know if you've ever camped for days with people, but if you ever have, it's really fun for a day or two, and then it just kind of stinks and becomes unpleasant.

Although it was a feast, it was intended to remind them of hardship and yet God's faithfulness. Then, the way that the feast would come to a culmination was at the end of the festivities, water would start to flow through the water system again that they had shut off to remind the people of God's provision of water. With that, Jesus comes at a certain point, and he stands up. This is what we read in verse 37. You heard it read, but let me read it again. Says, "On the last day and the greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood up and said in a loud voice, 'Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. And whoever believes in me, as scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow within them.' By this he meant the Spirit those who believe in him will later receive. Up til this time, the Spirit had not been given since Jesus had not yet been glorified."

What Jesus does is he stands up at this feast, thousands of people around, and he says, "I'll give you living water. You think this water's good, what it symbolizes. I'll give you living water," and he's referring to the Holy Spirit. Because of our cultural distance from Jesus' day, it's hard for us to fully appreciate or understand maybe the significance of this moment. Probably a way to think about this would be maybe something around Christmas Eve in our culture, especially if you've been here to Orchard Hill Wexford on a Christmas Eve. You know there's a jammed place here with thousands of people that are coming and going and celebrating. Every year, there's a moment that's not unique to Orchard Hill where we light candles, and the candles are lit.

It would be like somebody standing up in the middle of that, saying, "I'll give you the true light." You would have a moment of going, "Really, dude? You're wrecking our Christmas. Stop it. You're not giving us true light. The true light's over here." That's a little bit of what Jesus was doing. He was saying, "I will give you living water. I'll give you what it is that you really need and want in life." That's what Jesus was doing. The question at the core of John seven is: Who is this Jesus? Is he really capable of giving living water, the Spirit of God? Is he God or is he something else? This is still the question that's asked in our day and that all of us need to wrestle with in some ways.

What I'd like to do is walk through some of the responses to who Jesus was, some of the ideas of who Jesus was. I think that we'll see that they're some of the same ideas that we have today. Then, take us back into this text to see a little bit of what Jesus was pushing for. Here's the first possibility that some people see with Jesus. That is that some people look at Jesus, and what they do is they say, "Well, Jesus is a good man." We see this in verse 12. It says, "Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, 'He's a good man.'" What some people did, much like our day, is they'll say, "Well, Jesus is a good person to follow if you need that kind of a thing. He might have some good ideas. He might make your life better. He might give you some inspiration, some example to follow. Jesus is good. He's good if you need that kind of thing."

Here's the challenge. That is Jesus claimed something much more than just giving us some good wisdom to follow. That was he ultimately claimed to be God. Here's just a couple instances where we see this. You see this in John eight because he was talking about Abraham in John eight. This we'll see in the weeks ahead. He said, "Before Abraham was, I am." He wasn't just saying, "I'm from eternity," although he was saying that, but he was also using a phrase that the Hebrew people or the Jewish people would have understood to be a reference to Yahweh, to God. He said, "I am." It was a phrase of saying, "I'm God." He was saying, "Before Abraham existed, who you revere, I am, I was, I existed, but I am God."

Then, we see that Jesus often told people that he'd forgive their sins. This was really a claim to deity because you and I don't forgive something that isn't an offense to us. To say, "I forgive your sins," is a way of saying, "I am God." Jesus demanded allegiance from people. Here's why this matters. If somebody stood up on Christmas Eve and said, "I bring you the true light. I forgive your sins. I am God, and I demand your allegiance," here's what you would not do. You would not say, "Great guy. Awesome." You would say, "Either there's something to this or this person is wrong." You would not say they're full of wonderful ideas except for the whole delusion about being God thing. This is an impossible option to simply say Jesus was a good teacher, a good man, a person who gave morals to the world.

A second option that goes, in some ways, along with this is to see Jesus as a prophet. This is in verse 40. We see the same basic idea. It says, "On hearing his word, some of the people said, 'Surely this man is a prophet.'" Now, I say this as somewhat in the same vein because I believe this is also an impossible option because here what the argument is is Jesus isn't God himself, but he's sent from God. He's not just a good man, but he's a prophet. He's somebody who has God's stamp of approval, points to God, and helps people come to God. That's who Jesus is, but, again, the challenge of this is that if he said he was God, claimed to forgive sins, demands allegiance personally, not just for God, and saying, "I'm calling you to something," then you can't just simply say he's sent by God, but he isn't God.

Here's how CS Lewis wrote about this once. He said this. He said, "A man who is merely a man and said the sort of things that Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would be either a lunatic on the level with someone who says he's a poached egg or else he would be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was and is the Son of God or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool. You can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with the patronizing nonsense about him being a great human teacher," and we could add a great prophet here. "He has not left that open to us. He has not intended to."

Jesus, here, if you see this, is not one who you can just simply say, "He leads us to good things," or, "He's even sent from God to point us to God," because of his claims to deity. Those are two options that I would say are impossible, but here are two other options that are maybe more possible that we see. The first is that he was a deluded madman. We see this in verse 20. Here's what it says, "'You are demon-possessed,' the crowd answered. 'Who's trying to kill you?'" Some people saw Jesus, and they said, "You're crazy. You're a madman. You're demon-possessed. You're not somebody who has any claim to God. Because you have all of these claims, you are completely nuts," but here's the challenge with this. That is Jesus didn't act like somebody who was crazy. He had words that made sense. He was for people. His actions were something that you could examine through the gospels and say his way of doing things makes some sense.

In my years of being a pastor, I've been in pastoral ministry my entire adult life, I have, on many occasions, met people who claim to be God. In other words, somebody would come, and they'd say, "You know what? I'm right there." Here's what I can tell you about each of those encounters. The people were not dealing with a whole deck. Now, I don't say that to poke fun. I say that because when somebody starts to say, "I'm God. I have all power," at some point, the lack of the capacity to actually deliver shows itself, and you say, "You know what? This is not really what you think it is. You are not who you think you are. You are deluded." There's no evidence of that with Jesus. Now, there's a variation of this today that maybe is a little different than he thinks he's something.

That is Jesus never wanted or claimed to be God but that he claimed to be a revolutionary, to be a zealot, to be somebody who wanted to overthrow the government, somebody who thought that he could live his life and lead people to overthrow the government. The reason he was crucified was because he was a revolutionary and that his followers took his life and created the mythology of him being God. Again, the idea, he's deluded. He had visions of grandeur that he couldn't deliver on. Now, people have just been deceived about him for all these years. Here's one of the great problems with that argument. There are many, but one of them is Jesus' simple words that he stated himself. He said, "My kingdom is not of this world." In other words, Jesus' self-awareness was that he was not in his first incarnation. In other words, the first time he came to earth.

He'll come again to rule, but in his first coming was not saying, "I'm ruling the world." What he did is he said, "My kingdom is not of this world. I'm coming so that I will have a group of followers who will live by different values, who won't power up in this world, who will have a different agenda than everybody else seems to have." He wasn't a zealot. He wasn't a military operative. He wasn't deluded. Note here just that even Jesus endured false accusation. If you become a follower of Jesus, if you follow Jesus for any length of time, sooner or later, somebody will doubt your motives, question your actions, your intentions just like they did with Jesus. We have the option of a good man or a prophet that seems impossible. Then, we have the option of saying that he's a deluded madman, but there's also an option here of saying that he's a seducer. This is verse 12 again, "Others replied, 'No. He deceives the people.'"

Here, the idea is that Jesus knew that he wasn't God, but he liked the God thing better than the non-God thing, so he went with it. Here, again, this seems improbable because Jesus died for this belief. He died penniless, homeless. In other words, he didn't gain much from this. What's true for most of us is if we know we're telling a lie, and the lie leads to greater hardship than truth, we end up giving up the lie and saying, "I'm done with that." That leads to one other option. That is to say that he's the Christ or he's the Messiah. We see this in verse 41 where some of the people said, "He is the Messiah." Messiah was a word for the one who's coming to be the deliverer. In many ways, it became synonymous with Christ. In other words, the one who would come to rule, not necessarily because of the way that he spoke about it in this time, but to say he will rule one day, but he comes to initiate his kingdom, his kingdom that's not of the world here and now.

What this means, what this is about is it's about being able to say that Jesus' identity, his true identity, is that of God, that of the Savior of the world, that of the coming King. What happens when you say, "That's who I believe Jesus is," is it changes everything because now you're not just simply saying, "Jesus is a good moral teacher that I can choose to follow if it makes sense for me or not," but his demands of allegiance make sense for us. In our day, just like in the day of Jesus, we see a lot of different reactions, not just opinions about who Jesus is, but reasons for these opinions. Verse 13 says it this way. It says, "But no one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the leaders." In other words, there were some people who became convinced who Jesus was, about his identity, but they chose to say, "I don't want other people to know. I don't want people at work to know. I don't want my friends to know what I really think about Jesus because it will somehow inhibit my life in a negative way."

For some people, what happens is they'll say, "I give intellectual assent to Jesus. I may even want to go to church and worship Jesus and punch my ticket to some kind of future, but I'm afraid to tell anybody else that I believe that Jesus is Lord of all because I don't want the implications." That happened and probably still happens. There was division. Verse 30 and 31 we see this. It says, "Some tried to seize him, and still others in the crowd believed in him." Sometimes you hear people say things like, "Jesus is the great uniter of the world," but Jesus has always been a dividing line and a dividing line between different people, some who say, "I don't want Jesus. I don't want him to be an authority in my life," and some who say, "I believe, and I'll follow, and I'll bend my knee to who Jesus Christ is."

We see in this account in John seven, we see in verses one through five his brothers had just kind of an amused contempt at Jesus. There was arrogant contempt from some of the leaders, verse 15, verse 47 through 49, but here's what I really want you to see. Here's what drove some of the disbelief. That is hatred. This isn't often how we tend to think about the world's relationship to Jesus. You've often heard people say, "Well, Jesus loves you," but what this means if you understand that the world hates its maker, that it would rather kill its maker given its chance than worship him and bow their knee to him, what it means is that when you say, "God loves you," without somebody understanding that their default position is hatred toward God, that it will just kind of right past like, "What do you mean God loves me? Who cares?"

Let me show you. Verse six and seven, "Therefore Jesus told them, 'My time is not yet here. For you, any time will do. The world can not hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil.'" What does Jesus say? Says, "The world hates me because I tell the world that it's at odds with its maker, that its works are evil, that it isn't right." What this means is that there is a natural predisposition among people to have a hatred toward God and that the real problem when it comes to God is not apathy as much as it is antagonism. Here's what you know because I know it's true about me. That is most of us, if we're honest with ourselves, don't really like authority. We don't like anybody telling us what to do.

I remember when I first discovered this, I was a kid in grade school. The primetime when I was a boy in grade school was recess because that's when you could go do whatever you wanted. A little pack of us decided that we had all kinds of fun games, many of which were evidently against the rules. I still remember the teacher's aid who decided that it was her job to keep us from having fun or her job to keep us keeping the rules. Do you know what I discovered about myself? I didn't like her. Do you know why I didn't like her? She was an authority who was telling me no. Now, she would probably argue, if she were here today, she was doing it for our good, but I didn't care. I wanted to do things the way I wanted to do things. Here's what we're seeing in this section. That is there's a lot of opinions about Jesus, and many of them are not driven just simply by intellect, but they're driven by this antagonism.

Here's what's true. If you don't want to believe in Jesus, then any old argument will do for why Jesus isn't God. Sometimes people will go off to college who've believed in Jesus, who've had a faith, and they'll lose their faith in college. Sometimes maybe it's legitimate that by coming along some rationale and some reason they've come to deduce that they don't believe what they once believed, but I'll tell you what else happens. That is sometimes they get to college, and they say, "I don't want authority. I don't want a God. Isn't there some reason that I can have here to say I don't need to believe in God anymore?" because the default position of the human heart is to say, "I'm in antithesis to God. I hate God." Here's what else we need to see. This is back to this passage and Jesus saying, "I give you living water."

That is it isn't just logic that leads us to believe in Jesus, but it's beauty. If you're here, and you're saying, "I don't know if I believe. I don't know that I want to believe," and all of that, here's what I want you to understand. When Jesus says, "I give you living water," he was referring to the Holy Spirit. What he was referring to was that when you come to believe in Jesus, when you identify with his true identity, and you say, "This is who Jesus is," the Holy Spirit comes and lives inside of you. What Jesus is saying is the Spirit will give you living water, but here's the problem. Most of us believe that what we really need to have a good life, to have a happy life, is something other than Jesus.

In other words, what we believe is that what will make me really happy, what will make my life good is if I have a little more money, if I have a little more success, if I have a little more love, if I could change something about my husband, my wife, if I could get a husband or a wife, if I could have some kids who would respect me and honor me the way that they don't seem to, if I would get the acclaim that I think I deserve at work, if people would recognize the contributions I make, if I would have a few more vacation days, if I could have a little more time to myself, then I would be happy. Do you hear it? What's at the core of that is this belief that says, "Jesus may be nice. He may even punch my ticket for some future eternity, but what I really need right now is what's on the other side of belief that says this will make my life good."

What we need more than that is to come to a place where we say, "I believe that Jesus is the one who satisfies me at the depth of my being," because otherwise what will happen is we'll very simply go through life giving lip service to Jesus but yet still choosing to always pursue something else to make us satisfied. Here's what Brennan Manning wrote years ago in his book Ragamuffin Gospel. He said, "Too many Christians are unconvicted and unpersuaded travel agents holding out brochures to places they've never visited." Here's what he's saying. He's saying so often Christians may have the logical argument right about Jesus, but they don't have the beauty right. What they do is they say, "Jesus will satisfy your deepest longings," but we live as if something else will really satisfy us.

It's Father's Day, and so some of us who are here are dads. If you're a dad, one of the ways that you teach your family and your kids about this is to be really satisfied in Jesus because what will happen is if you give lip service to saying, "Jesus is important," and your lip service is, "We show up to church for an hour, but then we go to what really satisfies, to what really matters. All week long, what matters is not Jesus," what will happen is your kids will hear you say, "Jesus is important," but they'll watch your life, and they'll say, "What really satisfies isn't Jesus. It's something else." The way that Jesus is satisfaction to you, the way that you worship with the band and the way that you surrender to the teaching of God's word, the way that you live Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, those are the things that indicate your real heart for Jesus. It isn't just dads. It's any of us.

How do you live with real satisfaction from Jesus? Is it that you simply say, "I'm going to be satisfied in something that I don't find satisfying"? I don't think so. I think the first thing is just to acknowledge that all of your longings for more, as good as those things may be, are not the ultimate source of your satisfaction. Anything that you get, however wonderful it may be, will not satisfy the depth of your soul. What Jesus is saying is he's saying, "If you want to be satisfied, it comes from the living water that I give, from understanding that I am your maker, that I'm your creator, that I am the lover of your soul, the substitute for your sin. If you will come to me, then you'll find your deepest satisfaction." The way that I can come there, that you can come there, is by acknowledging how many times we seek other things to be our ultimate satisfaction and turning and saying, "God, I know that where my satisfaction will most fully be found is in you alone, in Jesus Christ."

What you'll see is you'll see the beauty of the internal living water, the Holy Spirit moving in your life in a way that will say, "Not that it doesn't matter what else happens, but that what else happens is secondary because I've got something that transcends all of my circumstances." What Jesus was doing when he stood up in this festival and he said, "I give you living water," was he wasn't saying, "Here's an argument that's airtight about who I am, what my identity is." He was saying, "I'm going to give you something that you can't get anywhere else." See, what many of us will do is we'll go through our whole lives saying, "I just need something to give me some kind of validation to make me feel good about me." Some of us will get some of those things, and then we'll get a new list, a new attempt to say, "These are the things that I need," and we'll go through our whole lives always trying to be satisfied or we come to the real source of satisfaction.

Then, we live our lives saying, "It's great if I can have that, but if I don't, I'm okay because I have something that's even better, which is the love and the life of God that's in me." When you have the right identity of Jesus, that's possible. In fact, it's what Jesus offers in this festival, the Festival of the Booths. Father, we thank you for what John seven teaches. God, I pray today that you would help me to live in the reality of your satisfaction. I pray for each person who's gathered, that it would be our story. Instead of always seeking something else to give us true satisfaction, that we would find it most fully in you. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen. Thanks for being here. Have a Happy Father's Day.