This morning is the last in a 6-part sermon series called “Becoming a Contagious Christian.” In this series, Pastor Drew will be talking about what it means to be “salt” and “light.” (see Matthew 5). God desires each of us to be intentional in our Christian witness, both in deed and word. This series in intended to answer both why? and how? as it pertains to being prepared to share our “story.” The Scripture verse for the series is 1 Peter 3:15 – “Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it” (CEB). The theme for today’s message is Believing that Jesus is who he says he is: Lord of all.
Scripture: Philippians 2:5-11
I’m a chainsaw accident survivor. If you don’t believe me, I’ve got the scar on my let to prove it.
I’ve been to the top of the top of the north tower of the Mackinac Bridge. If you don’t believe me, I’ve the photos to prove it.
On more than one occasion I’ve rescued someone who was on the verge of going underwater and drowning. But in this regard, I have nothing but my word as “proof.” Do you believe me?
I’ve taken control of a single-engine, high-wing 2-seater airplane in mid-flight. Again, I have no evidence of doing this except my word. Do you believe me?
Proof of an act. Evidence of a claim. We live in a world that relies heavily on proof of something, especially if the claim is outlandish and unbelievable. You probably don’t have any problem with believing that I went to the top of a Mackinac Bridge tower because you know that bridge workers do it all the time. And so it’s not a stretch of the imagination to believe that I might have done that during the five years we lived in Mackinaw City. Flying the airplane – that could require a bit more convincing. Would it help if I told you that one of my parishioners in Ann Arbor was a pilot who owned his own single-engine, high-wing 2-seater airplane, and took me flying one summer day? These claims certainly aren’t outlandish or beyond comprehension.
But how about the claim that there’s an all-powerful, all-knowing divine being whom we call “God,” who’s somewhere out there but also all around us, and who created everything in the cosmos – is there proof of that claim? The answer is . . . . yes and no.
At the website everystudent.com, there’s a wonderful article – which isn’t very long and is easy to read – entitled “Is There a God?” The author provides 6 reasons why there IS a God, four of them coming from the perspective of science. In short, the scientific “proof” of God’s existence is based on the notion that certain scientific realities could never be a reality apart from what’s been dubbed “Intelligent Design.” Just like Big Ben, the famous London clock, could never design, build, and keep itself running all on its own, even if it had a trillion years to do so. It’s the result of an intelligence, ingenuity, and skill outside of itself. This is the same line of thought that the author of the article uses to prove the existence of God. Some of the realities in creation are so complex that their very existence and ability to function REQUIRE an intelligent designer outside of themselves.
And yet, even with that said, there’s ultimately no way to prove God’s existence. We can’t see God with our eyes, or hear him with our ears, or touch him with our hands. We can’t gather multiple people together who can all agree on what God looks like, or how he handles certain life situations, or what his answer is to a particular question. In the strictest sense of what we call irrefutable evidence, we lack proof of God.
And yet, even lacking that kind of evidence, we believe he exists. What is it that allows for us to believe in a God we can’t prove exists? Is it not faith? The dictionary defines it as ‘belief that is not based on proof.’ In this sense, faith is synonymous with a belief in something that can’t be proven. To say, “I believe in such-and-such even though I can’t prove such-and-such,” is to say I have faith. I believe, therefore I have faith. Conversely, the faith I have allows me to believe, even though I can’t prove it. I have faith, therefore I believe.
Hebrews 11:1 is often cited as the biblical definition of faith. The thing is, different English versions word that verse quite differently. For example, the Good News Translation puts it this way: “To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see.” Here, faith is akin to being sure or certain of something. Faith is what grants me the ability to believe and be certain of something that I can’t necessarily prove.
But listen to the way the Common English Bible put it (and I think this is closer to the original Greek): “Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see.” Faith IS . . . . the proof of what we don’t see. The English word “proof” is the translation of a Greek word which means ‘that by which a thing is proved.’ Faith is the proof, or evidence, of what we don’t see. Let that sink in for just a moment. What we usually consider proof — being able to see, hear, or touch — is not the necessary proof of Gthe reality of God. What’s the proof ? Your faith. My faith. The faith each of us possesses is in-and-of-itself the necessary proof that God is real and exists!
But it’s important to know that the faith we’re talking about is not self-generated on account of believing. The faith that “proves” the reality of God is given to us. It’s bestowed upon us and we receive it. Faith is a gift from God. When you and I took the humble step of submitting ourselves to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, we were given the gift of faith. And guess what happens when we receive the gift of faith? Our “eyes” are opened and we’re able to “see” God! It’s true! On account of this faith we’re able know him, and hear him, walk with him. The manifestation of faith is evidence of God’s reality and presence. In the words of the old hymn, “You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.”
It’s also by faith that we believe and know that Jesus is who he said he is. Time doesn’t allow me to identify into all the instances of Jesus’ claim to be God, so let it suffice to say that he did so on multiple occasions. For example, he often made the claim, “I and the Father are one.” Elsewhere he said, “If you know me, then you know the Father.” This was his way of expressing his divine oneness with God the Father.
His favorite way of highlighting of his divinity was by applying the title “Son of Man” to himself, which he did often. Son of Man is a specific title for the Messiah found in the book of Daniel. The Messiah, of course, is the promised deliverer of God’s people, who would bring salvation. In his earthly life Jesus owned this messianic title for himself; he called himself the Son of Man, claiming to be the promised deliverer, the Messiah. That’s who he said he was.
How about the people who knew him, who did they say he was? When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on that beast of burden, he was hailed by the people with another important title. Luke records that the people were shouting, “Bless the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” (19:38)
In his Gospel, John clarifies the identity of the king they were referring to. His record indicates they were also shouting, “Hail to the King of Israel” (John 12:13). “King of Israel” is another messianic title, this one found in the prophet Zephaniah.
Zephaniah wrote of the coming Messiah and the joyful celebration at his welcoming: “Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! For the LORD will remove his hand of judgment and will disperse the armies of your enemy. And the LORD himself, the King of Israel, will live among you!” (Zephaniah 3:14-15).
The LORD God, the Creator of all, IS the King of Israel. Many in the crowd had witnessed the things Jesus had done, and in faith recognized who he truly is and called him the King of Israel, the Messiah. That’s who they said he was.
In his letter to the church in Philippi, the Apostle Paul made the same claim about Jesus: “Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11).
Jesus said it about himself. The people who knew him said it. And Paul said it:
- Jesus was and is God
- As God, he intentionally came into our world as a human being for the purpose of making us right with God. His death was real, and full, and fulfilled the just requirements of the law for the forgiveness of sins
- He is alive today and forevermore
- He alone is the way of salvation
- A day will come when every person who ever walked the face of this earth will see and fully understand the truth of who Jesus is, and will bow to him.
Jesus claimed it about himself. The people saw and affirmed it in him. Paul declared it for all to hear. And the church has proclaimed it for 2000+ years. Do you believe this about Jesus?
If so, your belief is the work of the Holy Spirit within you bearing witness to your own spirit about the truth of Christ. What’s the proof that he is who he says he is? The gift of faith given to you when you said yes to Jesus.
With all that said, what if you don’t fully believe this about Jesus? Does it mean you lack faith? No, I don’t think so. But it could indicate that in your own spirit you’re fighting against it. Which isn’t all that uncommon. Keep in mind the time a man asked Jesus if he had the ability to heal his son, and Jesus responded, “If I can? Anything is possible if a person believes.” To which the father cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief” (Mark 9:22-24). I think we all struggle to one degree or another with believing Jesus is who he says he is, and whether or not he can do what he says he can do. Maybe our daily prayer ought to be, “God, I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief.”
And how might we overcome our unbelief? Well, since this kind of faith isn’t self-generated in the first place, it’s not something we can make happen. I think the only way is to ask God to increase and embolden the faith he’s already given each of us. And to do so continually. Because of our sin nature, our default is unbelief, disbelief. But because we are each a new creation, born of the Spirit and washed in the blood of Christ, we’ve been given the precious gift of faith, which not only allows us to believe the unprovable, but is itself the evidence which “proves” the truth about Jesus Christ. Jesus said, Ask, and you shall receive. I dare you to ask God to increase your faith and see what will happen!