"Getting It Partly Right"#75-12
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on December 2, 2007
By Rev. Dr. Ken Klaus, Speaker of The Lutheran Hour
(Q&A Topic:When did Jesus know he was the Son of God?)
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Text: Matthew 21:10-11
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed. May the Holy Spirit speak to doubting hearts; answer the questions of uncertain minds so that all humanity might see the truth of the cross and empty tomb. Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed. Amen.
Last night I saw the Lone Ranger on one of the low-powered television stations in St. Louis. The news program I had been watching was taking a long commercial so I started flipping channels. Lo and behold, there was the Lone Ranger. Not one of those new guys Hollywood tries to pass off as the Lone Ranger. No, indeed, this was the real Lone Ranger, Clayton Moore, and his sidekick, Tonto, also known as Jay Silverheels. Reminiscing back to the days when The Lone Ranger was just about the coolest show on TV, I ended up watching the whole thing. The acting was terrible; the sets were cheap; and Tonto, as brilliant as he was in everything else, still hadn't developed a rudimentary grasp of the English language.
Even so, a wave of nostalgia swept over me as I saw all the predictable elements which were part of every Lone Ranger program. The show began with a dishonest man explaining how he was going to steal the city election. The rest of the episode was spent showing him being stopped by the masked lawman. What fun it was to see the Lone Ranger, at the climactic moment, shoot the guns out of the villain's hands. I liked that. The Lone Ranger, in all of his episodes, never killed anybody. He just shot the guns out of people's hands. He was armed with two six-shooters, but those pistols could shoot the guns out of the hands of 50 law-breakers. After the good guy won the election, the Lone Ranger said his good-byes. Then there was the question everybody waited for. Somebody asked, "Who was that masked man?" After a suitable pause, the reply came back: "Why don't you know? That was the Lone Ranger."
There is one other predictable script component which I failed to mention. In every episode of The Lone Ranger, usually early on in the show, there was a case of mistaken identity. When the masked peace officer showed up, somebody always thought he was an outlaw. Since the audience knew the truth about the Lone Ranger, and were in on the secret, it was fun to watch how the case of mistaken identity got corrected.
Mistaken identity. The idea of the Lone Ranger being taken for a bad guy made for entertaining television. That is not always the case when it comes to mistaken identities. For example, look at the story of Byron Halsey. In 1988, Byron Halsey was convicted of the brutal rape and murder of two children. Although he escaped the death sentence, Halsey was given two life sentences, plus 20 years. It took 19 years before DNA testing proved Byron Halsey was innocent. Those same tests pointed to another man as the guilty party. For Byron Halsey who spent 19 years in prison for a crime he didn't do, mistaken identity was neither amusing nor entertaining.
Mistaken identity. As I look through Scripture, I find numerous cases of mistaken identity. Right in the first chapters of Genesis the Lord tells of a case of mistaken identity when Adam and Eve believed Satan was their friend when he spoke to them through a snake and sin entered the world. Before the flood, which destroyed most of humanity, folks were mistaken when they thought Noah's call to repentance was nothing more than the words of an old man who was taking time off from the construction of a really large boat. Mistaken identity. When God sent prophets to warn His wayward people that their disobedience was going to result in punishment; people laughed at and ignored the Lord's ambassadors. Thinking you can ignore God and mistake the credentials of His spokespeople was a dangerous thing to do.
Mistaken identity. If you ever really want to see a case of mistaken identity, you need to take a look at the life of Jesus. His story, told in the Gospels, shows that Jesus almost always was the victim of mistaken identity. Shortly after Christ was born the Wise Men, who were looking for the newborn King of the Jews, came to the palace of King Herod in Jerusalem. Their inquiries about the crown prince immediately caused Herod's paranoia to kick into high gear. Thinking Jesus to be a usurper of his throne, Herod did his best to have Jesus killed. It was a case of mistaken identity, for Herod never caught on that Jesus' true kingdom was not of this world.
Years later, after Jesus had begun His earthly ministry, He did some pretty spectacular things. His reputation as a miracle worker was carried far and wide, even reaching His boyhood home of Nazareth. That's why, when He came back and preached in the local synagogue, the people were amazed that the son of the carpenter, Joseph, could be so wise. Mistaken identity. Jesus was the Son of God, not the son of Joseph. Mistaken identity. Jesus was the Savior of the world, not a magician who put on spectacles to a paying crowd on a Las Vegas stage. Mistaken identity. The people of Nazareth didn't, or refused to, realize that Jesus, while He may have been trained as a woodworker, was the Son of God, destined always to be about His heavenly Father's business.
Mistaken identity. People just didn't seem like they could figure Jesus out. Of course, in some respects, I can understand why they didn't. After all, how many times have any of us met someone who can still a storm, feed thousands with a few loaves of bread and a few fish? How many times have we encountered someone who could cure the blind, the lame, the crippled, the handicapped, and those who were possessed by demons? How many times have we encountered someone who said the dead were sleeping, and then promptly woke them up? I've never met anyone like that, nor have you. Yes, it's understandable why people didn't, couldn't, get a clear picture of the Christ, and why Jesus was always the victim of mistaken identity.
If you would really like to see some people who didn't understand the Divine identity of Jesus, you need look no further than the crowd who welcomed Him into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Those of you who are acquainted with the church year may think this text, which comes from Jesus' passion, is out of place at the beginning of Advent, the time when we traditionally prepare ourselves for Jesus' birth. I know, it does seem strange, but it is still appropriate since it speaks of welcoming Jesus, an act which is appropriate for Advent or any time of the church year.
That day, Palm Sunday, began when Jesus, the man from Nazareth who could do all kinds of wondrous things, rode into Jerusalem for the Passover. Although the figures are probably inflated, Josephus, the Jewish historian, estimated the city's population of 60,000 grew to millions. Although Passover was and remains a solemn thing; the spirit, the feeling of the festival would be roughly the same as taking the Olympics, the World Series, Super Bowl Sunday, Christmas, Easter, the Fourth of July, Mardi Gras, and Thanksgiving and rolling them up into one, giant super holiday. Well, at this super holiday the word got out that Jesus was coming and people poured out into the streets to cheer His arrival. There was a crowd of people behind Him; there was a crowd of people in front of Him. They showed their enthusiasm as they waved palm branches and spread their coats on the road in sort of an ancient "red carpet" ceremony. They shouted welcome and praises and all in all, the crowd there that day had a grand time.
Of course this was in the days before television had the ability to make an unknown person's face familiar to millions in a matter of minutes. This was in the day before a photograph could be taken and splashed in the newspapers and fan magazines. What I'm trying to say is this: not everybody in Jerusalem had an idea as to who Jesus was. It wasn't a case of mistaken identity as much as it was unknown identity. Of course, just because they had no clue about who Jesus was, that didn't stop them from joining in on the festivities and watching the parade passing by. You can see them, even in their ignorance, laughing and bumping and nudging and jumping and shouting at the site of the Savior. And, as they're laughing and bumping and nudging and jumping and shouting, they call to the fellow next to them, "Say, who is this fellow that's getting such a welcome?" And the person next to them stops his laughing and bumping and nudging and shouting and says, "Don't you know? Why that's the prophet Jesus of Nazareth from up around Galilee." "Thanks," says the fellow who asked the question and together they go back to their laughing and bumping and nudging and shouting like everybody else.
Now it's important for you to realize what just happened in that little conversation. Actually, it's important for you to realize what just didn't happen in that exchange. It's important you realize this because the same sort of thing happens today. And what didn't happen? Listen to the man's answer again. He said, "This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee." The man was right in what he said, but his answer was only partly right. Once again, Jesus had been the victim of mistaken identity. Jesus wasn't a prophet from Galilee; He was Jesus, the Son of God from heaven. He was Jesus, whose divine presence filled the earth and the universe and everything beyond.
But this man's mistake in regard to Jesus' identity doesn't stop with the part of Him hailing from Galilee. He also says Jesus was a prophet. Yes, Jesus was a prophet. In His years of ministry, Jesus had made many prophecies. For example, He had predicted His disciples would desert Him, that Peter would deny Him, that one of His trusted friends would betray Him. As a prophet, Jesus had foretold that He would be condemned, that He would die, and that on the third day He would rise again. Yes, Jesus was a prophet, but He was so much more than a prophet. No Old Testament prophet ever claimed to be the Messiah, the Savior of the world. No Old Testament prophet said he was the Son of God. No Old Testament prophet ever announced that he had the power to lay down his life, or the ability to bring about his resurrection, or the skill to bring light to those in darkness, or... Have I confused you? I'm sorry. Let's make it real clear. Anybody who thinks of Jesus as a mere prophet is partly right, which means that person is mostly wrong. That person is wrong because Jesus is more than a man from Nazareth in Galilee; Jesus is more than a prophet who can give divinely inspired predictions about the future. Jesus is more, much more.
Mistaken identity. The day Jesus rode into Jerusalem there were people in the crowd that day who saw Him as their deliverer. They were partly right, which means they were mostly wrong. Jesus was a deliverer, but not, as many of them thought, a deliverer from the oppression of the Roman Empire. He was not a military leader who was going to rid the land of Herod and his family. Don't make a mistake about Jesus' identity. Don't think of Him as an earthly emancipator. See Jesus for who He really is: a Deliverer who would decline the most enticing of the devil's temptations; a Deliverer who would avoid all the sins which are so seductive to the rest of us; a Deliverer who would carry to His cross every sin committed by every one of us. As a Deliverer, Jesus would die the death which our disobedience deserved. Jesus Christ, God's Son, our Savior, was the ultimate and only Deliverer who, through His life, suffering, and death, could save humanity from sin, death, and devil.
Mistaken identity. No doubt there were those in the crowd that day who looked upon Jesus as a worker of miracles. If that's all they saw as He passed by them on His borrowed donkey, they were partly right, which means they were mostly wrong. Jesus did work miracles - magnificent, marvelous miracles. But Jesus' ministry was not confined to such wonderful works. Yes, the crowds who had seem Him do these amazing things said to themselves, "If only we could get Him to do those miracles on a regular basis, what a wonderful life we would have. If we were hungry, Jesus could answer that need. If we were thirsty, He could turn water into wine. If we were sick, He could heal us. He could heal us without ever having seen us or examined us. And, if somebody, somehow, managed to die, it wouldn't be a problem, Jesus could bring them back."
Mistaken identity. Jesus' miracles were far greater and much different than the people in the Palm Sunday crowd could imagine. Look at Jesus as He lived, died, and rose. All was done so our souls might be forgiven, so we might have the water of life which would end our spiritual thirst. Jesus did great miracles as He took poor, miserable sinners and turned them into saved saints. Jesus found lost and lonely souls and did that which was necessary so they could be adopted into the family of faith. Jesus took people who were destined to die eternally, and guaranteed them a forever life without pain, tears, want, or loss. Yes, Jesus was a miracle-worker, but He was far more than the miracle-worker the people wanted or thought Him to be.
Mistaken identity. Two thousand years ago Jesus was the victim of mistaken identity. He still is. There are people listening to my voice today who, when they think of Jesus, think of Him as a good guy, a pal, a buddy, a friend, a comrade, and companion. Good, I'm glad you see Him as those things. He was, and is all of those things. But if you consider the Christ to be only a good guy, a pal and friend, you are not seeing him clearly. You must first, foremost, and always see Jesus as your Savior. When you think of Jesus the prophet from Nazareth, do you, like so many of our age, relegate Him to being nothing more than a speaker of pious platitudes and touching truisms? Do you lump Him in the category of being a wise man, a kindly philosopher, a moralist who gave us thoughts to help us live our lives with a modicum of success and a minimum of distress? When you think of the Savior do you think of Him as a healer of bodies and never of souls? Is He, for you, a person from the past, a fellow who was from "once upon a time," who tried to help people live happily ever after?
If you think of Jesus in these ways, you are partly right. Jesus is the Savior. Did He say wise things? He did. But no wise man can say, and mean, the things Jesus said. He is our Savior and as our Savior He said, "I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die." When Jesus first said those words to a mourning woman, He asked, "Do you believe this?" (see John 11: 25-26.) Today He asks the same of every person who is hearing my voice. Do you believe on Jesus as your Savior? He wants to know, do you believe that He, as God's perfect Son, came into this world to defeat sin, death, and devil? Do you believe He gave His life as a ransom for your life; that He died so you might live? Do you believe this?
Was Jesus a moralist, a philosopher, a giver of directives and suggestions? He was. Listen to His Sermon on the Mount and you will find what He said to be beautiful, comforting, soothing. But those words, and everything Jesus said become powerful and complete when a redeemed soul knows the prophet from Nazareth is his Savior. No mere moralist can say as our Savior did: "Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Those words are ridiculous, ludicrous, preposterous, if they come out of any other mouth other than that of the Savior. A philosopher would get kicked out of his union if he said, "I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6). It is only if we see Jesus as our crucified and ever-living Lord; it is only if we believe on Him as our Savior; do those words which promise forgiveness before the throne of judgment offer any comfort. Only when we acknowledge Jesus as the one-and-only Savior, can we comprehend the truth behind Jesus' statement: "I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in Me may not remain in darkness."
Mistaken identity. As you know, Christmas is coming. May I ask: What will you be celebrating? Is the center of your holiday, peace on earth, good will toward men? Will the day revolve around a celebration of babies and newness of life? Will you think upon it as a time for the giving of gifts? If that is all your Christmas is, it is a case of mistaken identity. Christmas is the birth of the Savior, the Prince of Peace, who is the Father's good and gracious Gift to humankind. Yes, He comes as a baby, but He dies as our Savior, and He rises from the dead as our living Lord. Yes, Christmas is a time for gift giving, but only as they reflect the great Gift we have received from the hands of a living Lord. It is my prayer that this Christmas will not be a season of mistaken identities. It is the Lord's wish that you see Jesus as the Savior that He is. To that end, if we can help share Him with you, please, call us at The Lutheran Hour. Amen.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for December 2, 2007
TOPIC: Did Jesus always know He was God's Son?
ANNOUNCER: Now, Pastor Ken Klaus responds to questions from listeners. I'm Mark Eischer. Today we have a topic appropriate for this season of Advent, a time when the Christian world prepares for the Savior's birth.
ANNOUNCER: A listener wants to know, "When did Jesus realize He was the Son of God?" And by that we don't mean "a son of God" in the sense that we are God's sons and daughters through faith in Christ. When did Jesus know that He was special, that He was going to eventually die for the sins of the world and rise from the dead?
KLAUS: What an interesting set of questions. Interesting, but I'm not sure what can be accomplished by giving an answer.
ANNOUNCER: What do you mean?
KLAUS: Mark, suppose I were to specify some particular age. For example, let's say Jesus knew all of this at the age of 23. People would then say, "Ah-ha, Jesus didn't know He was God until He got older." And Scripture most certainly doesn't say that. Although it seems like an easy question, it does have some complexities to it.
ANNOUNCER: Could you try to give a simple answer?
KLAUS: OK. First, we must reject many of the spurious writings that talk about how Jesus, as a boy, did all kinds of miracles.
ANNOUNCER: Like, what kind of miracles?
KLAUS: Well, like making toy birds out of clay. According to these apocryphal accounts, Jesus is supposed to have brought these claymation figurines to life. These writings describe other alleged miracles that are really strange, almost weird. Talking about those miracles serves no purpose... especially when John chapter 2 says Jesus' first miracle took place at the wedding in Cana when He turned water into wine.
When did Jesus know? Shall we say Jesus knew His destiny when He was a baby? That's what some hymns, in a roundabout sort of way suggest. Do you remember "Away In A Manger?" The second verse says, "no crying He makes." Where did the hymnwriter get that? Not from the Bible. I assume the author of that song thought since Jesus was God's Son, and He knew He was God's Son, He would never have cried.
ANNOUNCER: But just when did Jesus know He was the Son of God, the promised Messiah?
KLAUS: Patience, my friend, patience. We know that when Jesus was 12 years old, during His family's annual Passover trip to Jerusalem, He got separated from His mother and father. When they eventually found Him, what did He say?
ANNOUNCER: He said He had to be about His father's business.
KLAUS: Exactly. Some of the newer translations say He had to be in His Father's house. Either way, by the age of 12 Jesus had recognized that Joseph was not His real, biological father. Further, Jesus knew His first and foremost obligation was to His heavenly Father.
ANNOUNCER: At the same time, we should point out that Jesus would have shown due respect to Joseph who appears to have been a wonderful, adoptive father.
KLAUS: I agree.
ANNOUNCER: But did Jesus know He was the Messiah from the moment of His birth? That's what our listener's really asking.
KLAUS: Yes, I think that is the question. And now I'm going to have to get a little bit theological here. Not a lot theological, but a little bit theological. Jesus, as the all-knowing Son of God, possessing all the attributes of God, most certainly knew who He was and what would happen to Him. There was never a time when He would have not known His job, His purpose, His fate, and His resurrection.
ANNOUNCER: And this where it gets a "little bit theological..."
KLAUS: Right. Jesus, even though He was God, didn't always use all the powers of God. He had them, but He didn't use them. In preacher language, Jesus' time on earth is called His "state of humiliation." He had the ability, but He didn't necessarily always use the ability.
ANNOUNCER: So, in practical terms what would that mean?
KLAUS: Jesus, as a baby, acted like a baby. While He was wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, He didn't give a post-graduate lecture on the existence and purpose of man. As God, He could have done that. As true man, He didn't do that.
ANNOUNCER: And, did Jesus know what was going to happen to Him?
ANNOUNCER: And why do you say that?
KLAUS: Jesus would have known because His parents knew. They had been told their special child would be the Messiah, Immanuel. Mary knew that Jesus was going to be the Savior and she had been told she would, as Jesus' mother, experience a great deal of pain. They knew Jesus was the Lamb of God who would be sacrificed to take away the world's sins.
ANNOUNCER: Do you think they told Him?
KLAUS: I think they would have told Him and their information would have been confirmed by what His heavenly Father shared with Him.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Pastor Klaus. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music selections for this program:
“A Mighty Fortress” arranged by John Leavitt. Concordia Publishing House/SESAC
“Savior of the Nations, Come” settings by Johann Walter & Melchior Vulpius. From Gentle Stranger by the Concordia Seminary Chorus (© 2004 Concordia Seminary Chorus)
“O Bride of Christ, Rejoice” arr. Henry Gerike. Used by permission
“Savior of the Nations, Come” arr. by Paul Manz. From Hymn Improvisations, vol. 1 by Paul Manz (© 1992 Paul Manz)
“Fuga sopra il Magnificat” by J.S. Bach. From Organ Music for the Church Year, vol. 1 by Tsuguo Hirono, et al (© 1995 Japan Lutheran Hour)