Words of Hope

The Most Important Question You Will Ever Have to Answer

Who is Jesus?

Adapted from a sermon at First United Methodist Church of Orlando.

If we were to turn the lights on and ask everyone this question, we’d get several answers. We might get “Son of God” or “healer” or maybe even “God incarnate.” Maybe the answer we’d get is “someone who lived long ago” or perhaps “I don’t know.”

Who is Jesus?

We’ve got images that try to give us a picture of Jesus. I typed “Jesus” into Google image search and this is what I got:

There’s a common theme here. If we go by the pictures we have, Jesus had long brown hair, a beard, carried baby lambs around, wore robes, and was overwhelmingly white.

That is not who Jesus was.

Several years ago I attended a conference. A sociologist and theologian named Tony Campolo was telling a story about his childhood.

Campolo grew up in part of Philadelphia. He explained that for the first part of his life, he and his family were the only white people at the church they attended. He knew nothing different.

When he was a little older, they moved to a different part of Philadelphia and attended the church there. This church was mostly white.

Campolo’s biggest revelation was that the picture of Jesus hanging on the walls of the church were different in both churches. “We create Jesus in our own image,” Campolo explained. “We view him through the lens we see ourselves through.”

Defining Jesus as someone who looks and acts just like us doesn’t do Jesus any justice. Jesus wasn’t this conformist who fit in with society and acted the way everyone around him acted. He was a rebel. His goal was to assert a counter-cultural kingdom that challenged authority and lifted the meek and overlooked up.

Our scripture from tonight is Jesus conversing with his Disciples. He asks them a question. A simple question, but one that Mike Slaughter, who wrote Renegade Gospel, calls “The Most Important Question You Will Ever Have to Answer.” Here is the scripture from Luke 9:18–27 (CEB):

18Once when Jesus was praying by himself, the disciples joined him, and he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”

19They answered, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others that one of the ancient prophets has come back to life.”

20He asked them, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?”

Peter answered, “The Christ sent from God.”

21Jesus gave them strict orders not to tell this to anyone. 22He said, “The Human One must suffer many things and be rejected — by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts — and be killed and be raised on the third day.”

23Jesus said to everyone, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me. 24 All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will save them. 25 What advantage do people have if they gain the whole world for themselves yet perish or lose their lives? 26 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Human One will be ashamed of that person when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27 I assure you that some standing here won’t die before they see God’s kingdom.”

The Most Important Question You Will Ever Have to Answer is “Who do you say Jesus is?”

The problem is, we as a society don’t seem to know the answer to that question. It’s why, as Tony Campolo explained, we create Christ in our image rather than realize that we are created in the image of God.

Barna is a research group out in California. In December they published Barna Trends 2017 which summarizes data from various studies they have conducted into society, culture, and faith. The trends are clear, our culture doesn’t know who Jesus is. One quote they capture is from Preston Sprinkle. This is what he says:¹

I think more attention needs to be given to articulating what it means to ‘be like Christ.’ It sometimes feels like we’ve created a 21st century American suburban Jesus who is most concerned with personal morality. The Middle Eastern peasant who was crucified for political and religious treason is who we’re seeking to be like. Jesus hung out with people most Christians try to avoid.

Jesus wasn’t the white guy holding a baby lamb that Google images would lead us to believe. He didn’t drive a suburban and vote a certain way and wave an American flag with him everywhere he went. That wasn’t Jesus. We can’t even talk about following him or living out his message if we don’t know who he was.

The Most Important Question You Will Ever Have to Answer is “Who do you say Jesus is?”

Tony Campolo started a movement several years ago called The Red Letter Christians. The goal was to get back to the “red letters” of the Bible. Some Bible’s print the things Jesus said in red ink. Campolo’s movement focused on those words. He explained:

Theology must have at its side the call to take part with Jesus in raising up oppressed people and meeting the needs of the poor as are emphasized in those red letters of the Bible.

Jesus’ message wasn’t about us and our wants and desires. His message wasn’t “follow me and you can justify doing whatever you want.” Yet this is the message our society seems to equate to Jesus.

Barna’s Trends show that 41% of Americans say their spiritual life is entirely private and only 33% of Americans say their spiritual life has an impact on their community.²

Jesus came to the earth as God-incarnate to care for the oppressed and hurting and without a voice. This message is spelled out in the red letters of the Gospels, in the words that Jesus said. Yet somehow we have come to a place where Jesus’ message is not talked about with others — it’s not something that spurs us to engage with our community.

When only 33% of Americans say their spiritual life impacts their community, it’s clear we’re missing the things that Jesus said. It’s clear we as a society cannot answer the question, “Who is Jesus?”

500 years ago in October Martin Luther nailed his 95-complaints about the church to a church door in Germany. This sparked an unprecedented reformation in the church. Here we are, 500 years later and it’s time for another reformation.

It’s time for a reformation where the answer the question, “Who do you say Jesus is?” isn’t a suburban, American Jesus. It’s time for a reformation where we return to the red letters and truly live our lives in ways that follow Jesus’ words and actions.

It’s time for a reformation where our faith, once again, has an impact on our communities. Where those around us recognize us because of our love for others, no matter who they are, what they look like, or what they believe.

In our scripture tonight, right after Jesus asks his Disciples the most important question they’ll ever have to answer, Jesus spells it out:

23Jesus said to everyone, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me. 24 All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will save them. 25 What advantage do people have if they gain the whole world for themselves yet perish or lose their lives? 26 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Human One will be ashamed of that person when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27 I assure you that some standing here won’t die before they see God’s kingdom.”

Jesus said if we want to follow him, if we want to live by his words, we need to take up our cross every day. We need to put Christ and his message before ourselves. Dr. Martin Luther King once said, ”Christianity has always insisted that the cross we bear precedes the crown we wear.” Living a life following Jesus isn’t done so for our own glory, its done so that others may live abundant lives.

As both Pastor Tom and Pastor Emily said last week, this season of Lent is a great time to open a Bible and read a Gospel or two. Maybe read a Bible that has Jesus’ words written in red to see just what his message was all about.

It is the most important question we will ever have to answer. We might as well have an answer.

Who do you say Jesus is?

Written by

Co-Founder of The Writing Cooperative ➡️ Connect at JustinCox.com.

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