Lecture 3: At the Right Time - Jesus Christ
Course: A Short Course On Evangelism
Lecture: At the Right Time - Jesus Christ
This is session 3 of our short course on evangelism. Session1, you might recall, began in the garden where God establishes a relationship with his creation in such a way that we know that God is the first evangelist, wanting to be reconciled to a fallen creation. It didn’t take us long to sin. Sin cannot bear the light, so God withdraws behind the veil, so that we can be in fellowship with God and not be overwhelmed by his holiness. By the way, spirituality since the fall has periodically been caught its nose pressed against the glass darkly, trying to catch a glimpse of who created life. That’s what the transfiguration was all about. They wanted to build tabernacles on the mountain. I don’t blame them, because suddenly they had a straight shot into the eternal. Heaven is not up and down. That went out with Copernicus. Heaven is simply a question of dimension. There is far more reality in the room where you and I are now sitting, beyond the senses and within the senses. I’m not talking radio waves here. I’m talking about spiritual reality, all the heavenly hosts within our grasp, even as we speak. So that evangelism begins in the garden, God taking the initiative, pursuing fallen humankind. Then the covenant with Abraham, even though there was a religion in place for a thousand years before Judaism, before Abraham. Abraham had evolved to the place where he could understand the concept of one God, and God makes himself known. Cuts a covenant. Imagine!
But it didn’t take long for the covenant sacrifice to renew the covenant. God realized there would be constant need for renewal of covenant; but sacrifice no longer read the heart, it became simply just perfunctory, a religion. So God says, “I’m up to here with your sacrifice. I’m going to give you a new covenant”which is outlined in Jeremiah 31:31-34. I said in the last session that all of salvation history pivots on those four verses, where God promises a new covenant with sin; not only covered over, as I said in my concluding prayer: propitiated. Propitiated is like sweeping sin under the rug, cover over, but is rooted out. Expiated is a holy word in the New Testament. Sin is expiated, it’s root is expiate, to root out by virtue of what God has done in Jesus Christ.
Jesus began his ministry, was probably born around 4 BC, died probably somewhere, give or take, 29 AD or so. He began his ministry after his baptism. He was baptized in the River Jordan by John the Baptist. Immediately he was driven into the wilderness, to be tempted by the devil. He took a sword with him. What was the sword? The Book of Deuteronomy. Sharper than any two-edged sword, the Word of God. He took a sword with him, the Book of Deuteronomy and skewered the devil at every point of temptation. Then after the temptation, he is ready for ministry. He goes into Galilee. He begins his ministry by quoting what? There are over 300 prophecies in the Old Testament that speak of the Messiah. He begins with this prophecy: Isaiah 61:1 says, “The Spirit of the sovereign Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and to release from darkness those in prison, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn and to provide for those who grieve in Zion.” That’s a great place to begin his ministry.
His ministry begins as a healing ministry. I once wrote a book; I spent several months on a sabbatical in Galilee at Tabka, the monastery there. It was during the Gulf War, watching the scuds go over. We didn’t see one tour bus for two months. There were just four monks and myself in the monastery there at Tabka with the loaves and fishes. We would gather around the radio, we didn’t have any television, to hear what was happening with the war. They told me about a cave on the side of the mountain. The legend was, a paralytic walled himself in to escape the taunts of the Pharisees; not because he thought they were wrong, but because he knew they were right. Because the Pharisees associated all misfortune, and he was a paralytic, with sin. I remember after awhile I was weary of my main character and I said, “Well, I invented this character, I think I’ll uninvent him. I think I’ll put one of these millstones around his neck and drop him into the sea.” Then, all of a sudden one of his four friends – remember the paralytic with the four friends – Phillip was one of his four friends. I love Phillip. He says, “Phillip, I want to tell you something I never told anyone before in my life.” I’m about to drop this guy into the sea, when all of a sudden I’m at my computer typing away and said, “Hmm, I wonder where this is going.” I’m writing the book, I don’t know where this is going, but it is kind of getting interesting, so I just kind of let it go. He said, “When I was 12 years old, I lived in Safad, “which is 26 km up on the mountaintop. It’s the city on the hill that can’t be hid, probably. He said, “I lived at Safad with my father who was a Pharisee; and in a heated moment” – I’m watching this on the computer screen – “I cussed my father in the open assembly; and my father was so humiliated that he made one of those silly vows, like Jephthah.” I’m slapping him when I get to heaven. He vowed to sacrifice the first thing that came out of his tent, and his daughter came out and he sacrificed her. The idiot. What are you thinking? Anyway, his father made one of those stupid vows. He would pray and fast until his son repented. Two weeks into his father’s fast, he died. So this boy, 12-year-old boy, believes that somehow he has murdered his father. But then he learns in synagogue school that anyone who curses their father or mother must be put to death; and so the only thing this kid can reason is, somehow my father must have died in my place. Then he grows to become a man, has a vineyard around Tabka (07:06.9) and a winery. One afternoon one of these 50-gallon amphora rolls off the cart and breaks his back. And he thinks to himself, “Finally I have been punished for murdering my father.” So he crawls on his elbows about 50 yards up on the hillside to his cave and walls himself in to escape the taunts of the Pharisees.
After I heard that story I began to gain new insight into the paralytic. Of course, eventually about the four friends who take him where? To Jesus. The room is so crowded they can’t get in, so they get up on the roof and they lower him in on the ropes, these four friends, throw the ropes in after him, take the tile up off the mud thatch and separate the mud thatch on two-by-sixes, about 24 inches apart, and lower him into the presence of Jesus. The first thing out of the mouth of Jesus is what? “Your sins have been forgiven.” Can you imagine? Is that what he needed to hear? Instantly, when you write novels, you have a reality, you can see the reality beyond the reality. His father is there; and this paralytic and his father are in each other’s arms, huggin’ and kissin’. Reconciliation is huge.
In the meantime, the Pharisees are along the back row. Only Jesus is aware of what is going on in front of him. Their eyes are popping, because only God can forgive sin, so blasphemy! But Jesus, perceiving their thoughts, says, “You say this man has sinned and is ill, paralyzed because of sin, right? Yes. You say, all disease is sin related, right?” Role play here for a moment. You can do this. Yes, yes, all disease is sin related. And you say, only God can forgive sins, right? Right. You say I have no authority to forgive sin. Right? Right. Okay, watch this! The next thing out of the mouth of Jesus is what? Actually, he says, “Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven, or pick up your bed and walk?’”The next thing out of the mouth of Jesus is what? “Pick up your bed and walk”; and before the paralytic can realize that he is well, he is halfway out the door, he’s healed, he’s halfway out the door. He gets around the side of the house. There is all sorts of celebration going on on the rooftop. His four friends are celebrating, huge, they got the holy giggles, they cannot stop laughing. They are high-fiving, doing back flips. By the time the paralytic gets home, a mile and-a-half up the road to Tabka (9:54.0), he’s at a gentle jog. As he approaches his house, his wife is teaching their two children. They see him coming. They haven’t seen him for years. He would not allow them near him. He would allow his wife only to come just enough to bring enough bread and water to keep him alive. He really walled himself in, had attitude out to here. I didn’t like him. But all of a sudden, he has changed. His kids’ eyes are as big as saucers. As he comes up to his wife, she is still facing the children, he stops dead still and she turns around slowly and he says two words. You know what they were? “I’m forgiven.”
This is what Jesus is all about. Jesus is about healing people and forgiving people, putting us back in relationship with God. That’s who God is from the garden. He wants to be in relationship with his creation. How is it that Jesus fulfills the nature of the New Covenant? Property in Biblical times was very important. If a Jew, an Israelite, sold a piece of land, what did you do? You had a deed, you recorded the deed, then sealed it with seals, and put it in a public place, so that in perpetuity – get this – an Israelite could redeem a piece of property sold under three conditions, in perpetuity. First of all, you had to prove that you were the original owner or a direct descendant of the original owner. Secondly, you had to have fair market value, you couldn’t steal it. Thirdly, you had to have the authority to remove a usurper or reluctant seller.
So, how is it that Jesus could redeem planet earth? Go back to Luke 4 where Jesus is tempted. At one point, the devil takes Jesus to a high mountain and says, what? “Everything you see before you belongs to me, I can give it to anybody I please.” My knee jerk reaction is, what? That’s a lie. You’ve never known Jesus Christ not to get in the face of a lie. My question is, How did the devil get title deed to planet earth? It was given to Adam and Eve, they were given dominion. They were to name the animals and all the wonderful trees and shrubs. How did the devil get title deed to planet earth? That’s the price of the fall. The fall gave title deed to the devil.
Fast forward to Revelation 5. This about to get really good. You’re going to love this. John, old John, bleary-eyed, probably 95 years old, on the Isle of Patmos, in exile, has a heavenly vision. The first three chapters are the letters to the seven churches. Beginning with chapter 4 he has a heavenly vision where suddenly he is standing before the throne of God. The sea of glass is there. He is weeping. Why? Because no one is worthy to open the scroll, to open the seven seals. I like to think that the scroll – the people who are smarter than I am are going to disagree with me on this, but what do they know? – I think the scroll was title deed to planet earth. John is weeping because there is no one worthy to redeem the title deed to planet earth. All of a sudden as he is weeping, one of the elders comes to him and says, “John, stop it, stop it! Stop weeping. There is one who is worthy”and he points to the throne of God. It’s right there in Revelation 5. Standing in the midst of the throne is a Lamb looking as if it had been slain; the Lamb, the same Lamb that was slain before the creation, before the foundation, standing there. You know what happens when that Lamb takes title deed, the One seated on the throne?Heaven goes berserk. Read it when you have time. Sing those words: “Worthy is the Lamb, worthy.” Listen to this, Revelation 5: “Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands and ten thousand upon ten thousands. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders, in a loud voice they sang, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and peace.’I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them saying, ‘to Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb, be praise and honor and glory and power forever and ever and ever and ever’” Jesus Christ fulfills all three hundred of those Old Testament prophecies about the One, the Messiah, who will come to redeem planet earth, who can fulfill the new covenant.
How do you redeem planet earth? Three conditions. First of all, you have to prove that you are a direct descendant of the original owner. How can Jesus Christ do that? He has a navel. I’m checking it out when I get to heaven. Let me see that thing. I once debated a wonderful evangelist on the campus of ORU, and we were debating Christology, the person of Christ. At one point the evangelist says, “Tuttle, don’t give me a Jesus in a hair shirt and a sheep under his arm. He now rules at the right hand in glory. “ I said, “As long as you don’t give me a Jesus in a pinstripe suit and a Wall Street Journal under his arm” because the Jesus in glory still bears the marks of the incarnation and not only in his hands and his side and his feet, but in his navel, because the suffering begins in the manger, not on the cross. The whole book of John is a passion narrative. He talks about death and resurrection in chapter 2. He can prove he is a direct descendant. He’s got to have a Jewish mama. He had a Jewish mama. He is a direct descendant of the original owner of planet earth.
The second condition: It has to be fair market value. What’s the nature of the sacrifice, the covenant? Has to be without what? Without blemish. What’s the nature of the sacrifice that fulfilled the new covenant? Read 1 Corinthians 15. It says here: “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes through a man.”Since death came through a man, only a man can redeem humankind. Since death came through humankind, only through humankind can death be removed. Show me a human man without blemish, world over, and I’ll worship him or her.
Jesus was fully human, fully God, became fully man. Karl Bart says, “heresy is born when mortal minds try to solve big paradoxes.”You’ll never get your mind around Jesus, who is fully human and fully God, I believe that with all of my heart. He could prove he was a direct descendant of the original owner. He had fair market value. He was humankind without blemish, sinless.
Thirdly, he had the power, the authority to remove a reluctant seller or a usurper. Now, describe that Lamb, looking as if it had been slain. It had seven what? Seven horns and seven eyes. Throughout the New Testament that is an image of ultimate authority. Jesus Christ came just at the right time. Listen to this: It was the right time. The stage was set. It was the window of opportunity. I mentioned in the second session, even fifty years earlier would have been inconceivable. The roads had not been built. Pilates still ruled the seas. There was no common language that could embrace the realm. As all this was changing, a light dawned in a small Judean town of Bethlehem. John writes in the prologue of his Gospel that “Through him all things were made. Without him, nothing was made that has been made. In him was life and the that life was the light of men. The light shined in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. Though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.”
Realize that Jesus was one baby among six million babies born on planet earth in the year 4 BC, one of 6.6 million. Although not much is known about his early life, Jesus does make one or two significant appearances early in life. After the flight into Egypt to escape the murderous Herod, Mary and Joseph returned to Galilee and settled in the little town of Nazareth. It was here that Jesus first developed a growing awareness of a unique relationship with God, the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. Since we will discuss some of this theology later on, let me just be quick to add: Jesus was born a baby. Felt like a baby. But from the moment of birth, the Spirit of God apparently gave him a special awareness of a relationship with the living God. And as he matured, as he grew, listen to this: Since Jews were told to remember, Jesus would have been told about the circumstances of his birth on many occasions. By the age of 12, all of this had taken on added meaning. His words in the temple, after having gone missing for three days, are significant. “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s house?” Although we are told, from that time on, Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, there is a fast forward to the time of his baptism, which we talked about just a moment ago.
Jesus, the Son of the Living God, before the foundation, the persons of the Trinity were talking about which one of us will go. Jesus volunteered, “I’ll go, send me” realizing that he would have to die. Let me explain this carefully. Original sin, according to John Wesley – and you won’t hold that against me – original sin related not to Adam’s sin, but to Adam’s nature. Original sin was related to the fact that after the fall, Adam was mortal and sin prone. Do you understand? Mortal and sin prone. That is what it meant to be human. Was Jesus born with original sin? My reform friends say, “Of course not.” And I agree, of course not. Not Adam’s sin, he was not born with Adam’s sin; but was born I believe, and Wesley believed, that Jesus was born with original sin because original sin related not to Adam’s sin, but to his nature, his fallen nature, human and sin prone. Jesus was born human and sin prone. Get this: Jesus remained sinless with less advantage than Adam. Adam was created righteousness prone. Adam created righteousness prone. Jesus was born sin prone and mortal. He would have died, had he not been crucified on the cross. He was fully human, but was perfect in every way, sinless in every way, so that his sacrifice could redeem our planet earth.
You know the good news? Here’s the really good news. Let me close with this. You have to wait until Revelation 5 for planet earth to be redeemed. But the church gets redeemed in the Gospels. Do you understand?
Lord, we’re grateful that you love us that much, that you redeemed us, the church, the body of your son, Jesus, here and now. Thank you, Lord. In Jesus’ name. Amen.