Jesus is…

John 15:9-17

9″As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command. 15I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 17This is my command: Love each other.

            Today I am starting a seven part sermon series based on the book The Naked Anabaptist: The Bare Essentials of a Radical Faith.  In this book the author Stuart Murray names what he believes to be the seven essentials of Anabaptism, the 16th century movement that eventually led to the beginning of churches like the Mennonites, Hutterites, and the Amish.  Murray hopes to recapture the essentials of Anabaptism in the church because he believes that the Anabaptists have something that the rest of the church needs today.

            Now if you are like me, you love much of what the Mennonite church has to offer.  I love the four-part harmony, I love the way Mennonites are often some of the first to respond when needs arise (like in Haiti), and I love my shoofly pie (are you taking notes?).  One of these things, Murray might say, is essential to Anabaptism, the others are more cultural and less essential.  But don’t think that this book is about doing away with four-part harmony and shoofly pie.  If he would have suggested giving up shoofly pie, I would have given up this book.  The focus of this book is on what Anabaptist Christians have that the rest of the world needs so badly, not what the Mennonites need to give up to be more like the rest of the world.  And I hope that this will start some discussion among us as we try to decide if he is right.

            So today we are going to look at Core Conviction #1, which is:

Jesus is our example, teacher, friend, redeemer, and Lord.  He is the source of our life, the central reference point for our faith and lifestyle, for our understanding of church, and our engagement with society.  We are committed to following Jesus as well as worshipping him.

            I’m a good eater, perhaps too good at some times.  I remember as a high school student, everyone else complaining about the school lunches.  I actually liked school lunches.  There were options.  I could choose the green beans or the corn.  I could choose the pizza or the hamburger.  White milk or chocolate; french fries or potato salad.  And then when you get to the cashier, they just add up what you purchased.  You didn’t have to get the broccoli if you didn’t want broccoli, and I never wanted broccoli.  And then I didn’t have to pay for the broccoli.  Who wouldn’t like this system?

            When you can just pick and choose a few things off the menu, that is called a la carte.  If you like something, you take it.  If you don’t like it, you leave it.  Unfortunately many people view Jesus as a la carte.  We pick the aspects of Jesus that we like and leave the others behind.

            When we become followers of Jesus Christ, we don’t get to pick which aspects of Jesus that we like and which ones we would just like to leave behind.  We get all of Jesus.  We have a set plate in Jesus.  We get Jesus as example, teacher, friend, redeemer, and Lord.

            If I was to ask you which of these five descriptive terms for Jesus is used the most frequently in the broader church today, which would you say it is?  Example, teacher, friend, redeemer, or Lord?  All of these terms are biblical, which I hope to show you this morning.  And I think all are appropriate ways to describe Jesus.  We can all have multiple descriptive terms that describe who we are and what our role is.  I am a pastor, husband, father, son, friend and so on.  All of these terms are appropriate to describe who Kevin is.  So which is the one that is used the most in the church in the second decade of the 21st century?  I would be pretty confident in saying that redeemer is the most common.

            Is redeemer an accurate way to describe Jesus?  Absolutely!  Remember that whole death on a cross thing?  Yes, Jesus is our redeemer and we should never forget that.  But he is more than just our redeemer.  He is our example, teacher, friend, redeemer, and Lord (and probably a few more terms could appropriately be applied).

            So why have we reduced Jesus to only our redeemer?  Why has the church emphasized the redeemer role of Jesus so much that these other ways of looking at Jesus have been almost overlooked in some traditions?  Why have we become a la carte Christians?

            I think that this goes back to how we view the essence of Jesus.  We profess that Jesus is God in human flesh.  He is 100% God and 100% man.  God chose to take on human flesh and dwell among us in bodily form for about 33 years.  The gospels tell us this and I believe it even if I can’t fully understand it.

            For about the first 300 years after Jesus’ death, the church believed that Jesus, as God made flesh, was someone to be both worshipped and followed.  But when Christianity became the religion of the state, Jesus’ divinity became emphasized much more heavily than his humanity.  The thinking seems to have been something like this: “Jesus is God and therefore worthy of our worship and praise.  And since Jesus is God and was without sin, then he really couldn’t expect us to follow him in daily life.  We are sinful human beings, and he is God!”  So we just stopped trying.

            So the divinity of Jesus became the emphasis.  And rather than being someone who is to be worshipped and followed, Jesus was just some distant God to be worshipped and thanked for saving us from our sins.  Yes, Jesus is that.  Yes, Jesus does that.  But how much of who Jesus is are we missing by only focusing on his divinity and seeing him as a redeemer way out in heaven?

            I’m going to group the first two descriptive terms for Jesus together here and look at Jesus as example and teacher.  I hope that it is clear that Jesus is a great teacher.  He doesn’t just go around from town to town healing people and keeping his mouth shut.  No, he teaches as he goes along.  He teaches large groups, small groups, and even individuals.  When Jesus feeds the 5,000, he isn’t just there to feed people physical food.  He is there feeding them knowledge.  He is teaching thousands of people.  Then there are other times when we find him teaching just his twelve disciples.  And yet other times we find him having one-on-one conversations with individuals like Nicodemus, the woman at the well, and the rich young ruler.  Jesus teaches the scribes and the Pharisees a thing or two as well.

            And the thing that I love about Jesus is that he isn’t just any teacher, he is a great teacher.  We probably all had our favorite teachers in High School, but I would bet that Jesus would earn teacher of the year awards every year if he was a teacher in our society today.  I love the way he involves people as he teaches them, the way he uses stories and parables to illustrate deeper meaning.  As I try to teach from the pulpit, I hope you will see some of Jesus’ teaching methods in the way I preach.  He is such a good teacher he even teaches people like me how to teach!

            But here is another reason why I love Jesus as a teacher so much: He practices what he preaches.  Jesus teaches some very difficult things that I know I wouldn’t normally do, like if someone strikes you on the right cheek, offer them the left.  But then he actually does it!  When he is betrayed and handed over to the Roman authorities, Jesus is beaten.  And he even says that he could call down legions of angels and retaliate against them.  But instead he practices what he preaches.  He turns the other cheek and offers that one to those that are beating him as well.

            Jesus says, “Love your enemies” and then he shows enemy love.  Jesus says to forgive others, and as he hangs on the cross he prays for God to forgive his killers because they don’t realize what it is that they are doing.  Jesus teaches strict ethics, and then he lives ethically.  Jesus invites all people to follow him, to learn from him, and to live like him.

            When Jesus begins his earthly ministry he approaches some men and he invites them to follow him.  Be my disciples.  Mathetes is the Greek word for disciple, and it literally means a learner.  Jesus, the great teacher, is calling these ordinary men, fishermen, tax collectors, zealots, to learn from him.  And they do.

            But they don’t just learn from Jesus so that they can say that they are smarter now.  It isn’t like going to Harvard so that you have a piece of paper to hang on your wall.  “Oh, yes.  I went to Ha-vad.”  “Oh, yes.  I studied under Jesus.”  I can see the disciples with their corduroy jackets with leather elbow patches.  No, they wanted to study under Jesus because they believed that this was the Messiah!  Jesus is the one sent from God.  They want to learn from him not just to be better informed, but so they can live as God wants them to live.

            Then we have the Great Commission in Matthew 28.  Jesus doesn’t tell the disciples to go out and make believers.  He tells them to go out into all nations and make disciples.  Make other learners, other followers of Jesus Christ.  Yes, it starts with believing in Jesus.  You wouldn’t follow someone that you think is completely off base.  But believing in Jesus is not the final step.  The Bible tells us that even the demons believe in Jesus, but they don’t follow him.  We are to go and make disciples of Jesus because Jesus is someone to be worshipped and to be followed.

            In John 14 Jesus makes the statement that he is the way, the truth, and the life.  The way, that sounds like a path to me.  And what do you do with a path?  You follow it.  I am planning to go hiking with some of you today after church, and we are going to follow a path.  Would we follow the path if we thought it was going to lead us to fall off the cliff?  No, we believe that we are following the path that is going to get us where we want to go.  It starts with believing in the path.  You must believe that the path is going to get you where you want to go.  And once you believe that, you begin the journey of walking that path, of walking that way.  Belief is the first step of the way which we are called to follow.  Jesus is someone to be worshipped and followed.

            But there seems to be a word here that doesn’t fit well with the descriptive word example.  I’m thinking of the word Lord.  How can Jesus be both our Lord and our example?  Lord, or kurios in Greek, means someone over another person, like a boss or supervisor.  When you submit to Jesus, you are calling him Lord.  You are saying, “I will do as you wish.  My life is yours.”  So if Jesus is also our example, are we to try to be lord over others?

No, I am pretty sure that this is not what Jesus is intending.  Let’s turn to John 14 and we can get an idea of this lordship of Christ and our call to follow him.  Verses 8-12 read:

8Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

 9Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. 12I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.

And if that isn’t enough, look at Luke 6:46.  Jesus asks, “Why do you call me Lord, lord, but do not do as I say?”

            So here Jesus is equating himself with God, our one true Lord.  The Lord of lords, the King of kings.  If you have seen me you have seen the Father.  If that isn’t true then it is one of the most heretical statements I have ever heard in my life.

            So to Jesus, even though he is divine, even though he is perfect, he still is expecting his disciples to do as he does.  If you have faith in Jesus, you are to do what he has been doing, you re to follow him as the perfect example.

            But this doesn’t mean that we are supposed to be lord over other people like God is our Lord.  No, we are to serve others the way that Jesus served others.  Let’s look at the context of this verse again.  This is from John 14.  And if we back up one more chapter we find Jesus stooping to wash the feet of his disciples.  The King of kings, Lord of lord, equal in every way to God the Father is acting as a servant, even to the one that he knew was about to betray him.  Jesus is Lord and example

            So what about this thing about being a “friend” to Jesus?  Many of you have a facebook account.  This is a free service online where you can share pictures, thoughts, emails, and chat with other people over the internet.  It is kind of neat because in the four years or so since I have had a facebook account I have reconnected with all sorts of people that I haven’t spoken with for years.  People that I went to high school with, neighbors that moved away when we were in elementary school, college buddies, and so on.  Facebook has been a place to share pictures with my parents, family members, and others.

            For someone to be able to access your facebook page they need to invite you to be their “friend”.  I don’t know how many fb friends I have right now, but to be honest with you, some of them are people that I don’t know at all and some of them are people that I have absolutely no contact with other than being friends on facebook.  There is one girl that I supposedly went to high school with that I can’t remember for the life of me.  And I didn’t go to a large school.  I knew everyone.  Other people have invited me to be their friend even though we have never met before.  Maybe we have a friend in common or we both went to the same college during the same period of time.  Yeah, there were about 47,000 other undergrads at Ohio State when I was there.  Just because you graduated in 2003 doesn’t mean we were or are friends.

            Again, I have friends that I am really friends with on fb and I am grateful for this free service.  But some of these people are not really my friends.  A friend is someone that you can share the most intimate details of your life with.  A friend is someone that you can talk to about your struggles and share your joys.  A friend is someone that will drop what they are doing if they know you are in trouble.  And as Jesus says in our text for this morning, a friend is someone that knows what you are about, what your business is.  A friend is someone who will lay down their life for you.  I’m sorry to my facebook friends, but some of you are not my real friends.

            Jesus is to be that kind of friend to us.  We are to know what he is about; we are to know his goals, his plans, his desire for our life and the lives of others.  We are to have conversations with Jesus on an intimate level.  We are to share our joys and concerns with Jesus.  We are to be willing to lay down our life for Jesus.  Jesus isn’t just our redeemer, Jesus is our friend.

            A la carte Christianity?  I hope that is not the way I approach my relationship with Jesus.  Jesus is to be our example, teacher, friend, redeemer, and Lord.  We worship Jesus, and we follow him.  As Hans Denck, an early Anabaptist said, “No one truly knows Christ unless they follow Him daily in life.”  Unlike my relationship with some of my facebook friends, I hope that I truly know Christ.


About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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