Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Who Is Jesus, and What Did He Do?

A friend of mine has a four-year-old grandson, and recently the little boy attended a baptism at my parish. In our church, there is a huge crucifix above the tabernacle, in the middle of the sanctuary. It’s a gorgeous sculpture, and the lifelike image of Jesus must be at least eight feet tall.

When the four-year-old boy walked into the church, he looked up at the crucifix and stopped in his tracks. Then he blurted out, “Who is he?! And what did he do?!”

Out of the mouth of babes.

This little boy was stunned by the larger-than-life figure of a mostly naked man painfully nailed to a cross. The two questions that immediately popped into his head concerned the man’s identity, and what he did to deserve such a fate.

That’s the theme of this week’s gospel reading, when Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”

And you know what? Those questions asked by that little boy are the TWO most important questions in the whole world: Who is Jesus? And what did He do?

When you boil it down, those two questions are the entire basis for our Christian faith. First, the identity of Jesus: He is the second person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God, the Eternal Word through Whom the entire universe was created, and the Savior of all mankind. In this week’s gospel reading, Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Second, what Jesus did: He humbled Himself by taking on human flesh; He offered up His life on the cross to pay the price for our sins; He rose from the dead, conquering death once and for all; and He promised that if we put our faith in Him, we too can live forever.

You’d be surprised how much conflict there is about these two basic questions: Who is Jesus, and what did He do?

Many people are convinced that Jesus was merely a good and wise human teacher, but not divine. The thinking is that Jesus taught a lot of great things about loving other people and taking care of the poor, but He himself was just a man.

However, if you look at some of the claims Jesus made about Himself, you cannot possible conclude that He was a good and wise human teacher. Jesus said that all authority in Heaven has been given to Him. He said that He existed before Abraham and saw Satan cast out of Heaven. He said that He was more important than the holy Temple in Jerusalem. He said that His death would somehow reconcile mankind back to God.

A mere man who makes such claims cannot be considered good; he would be a deceiver who told blatant lies to manipulate others. And he cannot be considered wise; he would be a fool—and possibly insane—if he actually thought those claims were true.

What Jesus did also is debated nowadays. Many people, even those who call themselves devout Christians, no long believe the Bible is a divinely-inspired and trustworthy text. They think the Bible is interesting and curious ancient literature, but it was composed by ignorant, pre-scientific men who didn’t know much about the real world. And so, the conclusion is: there is no reason to trust what the Bible teaches, including what it says about Jesus’ earthly ministry.

How sad. These folks incorrectly answer the two most important questions in the whole world. But a four-year-old boy, not even in Kindergarten yet, sees an image of Jesus on the cross and is awestruck. He blurts out the two most important questions in the world: Who is He? And what did He do?

How many of us in the pews are so familiar with the sacred images in church that we don’t even notice the crucifix anymore? How long has it been since we saw an image of Jesus suffering on the cross, and had our hearts stirred with awe and wonder?

Now would be a great time for all of us to ponder the two most important questions in the world: Who is Jesus? And what did He do? 

That four-year-old child could not have said it any better. Out of the mouths of babes.

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