WHO IS JESUS? #5

Sinless One.

Certain truths can be more intolerable to us than their corresponding falsehoods. For instance, accepting a rejection for promotion is more repugnant than assuring oneself that the hiring process was flawed. Or, learning to live with the effects of aging can be more frustrating than spending thousands of dollars trying to reverse those effects. A recent president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) found it more distasteful to be identified as a white woman of European descent than to falsely claim African-American heritage.  “I identify as black,” she claims.

As Jesus stations Himself to engage in a conversation with the hypocritical religious ruling class of His day, He claims something that infuriates them.

“I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come” (John 8:21). His listeners’ ears would have burned hearing that absolutely intolerable phrase— “you will die in your sin.” A flush of anger would have arisen up necks and merged with darkened faces. Not only had Jesus communicated a condemnation of their lifestyle (you sin— you die), but He had also deliberately conveyed a ‘holier than thou’ message.

Foreshadowing His own imminent death at their hands (“I am going away”), Jesus was not saying ‘like you, I too will die in my sin.’ Rather He contrasts Himself with all of humanity by claiming, “Where I go you cannot come.” He would die, but with not even a shadow of sin staining His person; contending to be uniquely sinless, He claims sole admittance to eternal life.

He is not saying that the concept of sin is passé. Jesus is not an early forerunner of today’s materialistic ideology that promotes tolerance of all personal choices, of the broad-mindedness that condones all pursuit of ‘trueness to self,’ of the rejection of the concept of sin.

He is saying, You are all sinners and will perish in never-ending death. I will die but will not perish because of my sinlessness. I possess the power of eternal life.

Now that standpoint is intolerable to many. To those who have never really explored Jesus’ claims about Himself it might even come as a shock. That perspective seems so illiberal and parochial—so old fashioned. Yet without that foundation to our understanding of Jesus we cannot move on to the offer He makes us. We must accept His sinlessness and its corollary—our sinfulness—if we want to avail ourselves of the eternal life that He possesses.

Most of the Pharisees never accessed the hidden offer in that so-offensive claim of Jesus. One or two did. They took the bad news along with the good. They understood and accepted the reality of Jesus’ sinlessness as the redeeming exchange for their own sinfulness and became recipients of Jesus’ gift of eternal life. Nicodemus was one of them and the Apostle Paul was another.

Here’s where we come in. How ought you and I to respond to this dichotomous news, this claim that Jesus is the Sinless One—eternally holier than us—and that we are dying in our sin?

If we accept that Jesus’ claim represents the magnificent intolerance of God to sin’s destructive presence and of God’s intention to ensure that the final end of it will be the death of death itself for those who entrust themselves to Him, our whole attitude to sin will change. We will by increments embrace a lifestyle that desires pure and holy living. We will respond more and more quickly to our conscience’s urgings to love God and to love the people around us like Jesus. We will choose to be more patient with people in our world; we will care for others’ needs to the point that our resources are more focused on them than ever before.

Rather than being offended by His claims, we can take comfort in Jesus’ sinlessness because it means He is the perfect lover of our soul and supplier to us of power to love others. One of the most beautiful epithets ever applied to Jesus—ironically by the self-righteous Pharisees themselves—was ‘Friend of “sinners”.’ May Jesus be that and much more to each of us as we have a fuller understanding of who He really is.

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THE PLAN FOR EASTER, Part 2

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Visible Jesus

While lambs and bunnies and foil-wrapped chocolates are a hollow substitute for the true significance of Easter, they’ve got one thing right: they’re visible, tangible, unmistakable objects that symbolize something about Easter for us. They represent new life.

God’s plan for Easter expresses it much better than bunnies do, though. He planned to put His own invisible, immortal being into a visible and tangible package we people would understand: He became fully human.

Isaiah describes the unpretentious figure God would assume, describing Him “like a tender shoot”, “like a root”, “like one despised”, “like a lamb”, and “like a sheep”. Those expressions are how the Sovereign Immortal God chose to reveal Himself as the man Jesus. They don’t conjure up for us much in the way of majesty or power, do they? In fact the plan was that Jesus would show up in flesh and blood during the peak of the Roman occupation of the Middle East when prelates and prefects had the power to treat innocent people like animals to be slaughtered if they so desired.

Didn’t God know that when He made His plan for Easter?

Yes. He did know that. It’s one of the most pronounced and palpable examples of how God works in peoples’ lives: He takes hopeless and painful situations and brings unimaginable good out of them. A writer to the early Christians in Rome in the first century A.D. would describe this penchant of God like this: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). God works good out of all things, even things that appear bad.

So God squeezes Himself into a form expressed by twenty-three pairs of chromosomes and shows Himself to be a real man.

But in living among men and women of first century Roman occupation something became noticeably obvious. He was like other people in every way except one. He never did a single wrong thing. Never. He never hurt or hated another person or disobeyed any moral law in any way. Not even once. He never spoke the whitest of lies, never judged those who had fallen into immorality, never coerced or manipulated others to have His own way.

So Isaiah’s pictures of Jesus as a tender shoot and a lamb accurately describe the core uniqueness of Jesus as perfectly sinless. But those of you who know anything about the Jewish culture into which Jesus would come know something else about the typology of lambs. They are not merely the tangible embodiment of new life and flawless innocence. They represent the concept of self-sacrifice for another.

Debts must be paid. Sins must be punished. Offenses cannot be swept under the carpet when a completely holy and just God must be faced.

So the Lamb of God is the uniquely sinless One who could be the visible, tangible perfect human worthy of taking the death consequence every one of us has earned by our own rebellion against God. Do any of us claim to be innocent, completely perfect and free from any wrong-doing? We know better. We’ve all fallen short of the high mark of perfection God designed us for. We’ve chosen to make up our own rules. And, sadly, we’ve all become prisoners of the merciless taskmaster of sin whose wages are death.

That is why Jesus chose to die – not because the Romans put Him on a cross, but because He wanted to pay the moral debt we owe. That is why He came to earth as visible, tangible man. That was the plan for Easter. The big question is: Will we accept Jesus as the ultimate Easter gift?

(Photo Credit: “Osterhaeschen aus Hefeteig” by Schwäbin (Wikimedia)License: CreativeCommons by-sa-3.0-de (deed). Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 de via Wikimedia Commons)