On Good Friday and Easter Sunday Jesus takes center stage. TV specials focus on the details of His life. Classic Biblical epics are aired. Churches experience a spike in attendance. I’m grateful that the Lord of Life receives this spotlight.
The question is: who is this Jesus that everyone talks about. When we think of Jesus we often think of the picture painted by Warner Sallman that features the head of Christ. Most churches have this picture somewhere in the church. Others picture Jim Caviezel who played Jesus in Mel Gibson’s the Passion of the Christ. These pictures are both within the last century.
Our picture of Christ is colored by what we would like Jesus to be. If you were to stop people in churches around the world today and ask them to describe Jesus, we would be startled at how contrasting these descriptions would be. Our goal this morning is to get a more accurate picture of Jesus. To do this, I take you to the last book in the Bible, the book of Revelation. In the very first chapter of the book the Apostle John had a vision where he encountered the living Christ.
Verse 9 tells us that John was on the island of Patmos a small island located in the Aegean Sea. Most likely he was there as some sort of punishment related to his beliefs as a follower of Christ. Some have suggested that Patmos was a penal colony (think Alcatraz). Others believe it was a form of punishment but it was a light punishment (think minimum security prison that some white collar criminals are sentenced to for “easy time”). Either way, John was experiencing some measure of persecution for following Christ.
John described his vision of Christ using bold imagery such as, “His head and hair were white like wool….his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. . His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. . “ (Rev. 1:14-16)
Then in verse 17 John says, “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.” John became lifeless before the Lord. I find this stunning. Think about this! John knew Jesus and had a close relationship with Him. He was a disciple. He was in the inner circle of three disciples (Peter, James, John). He sat next to Jesus at the Last Supper. He followed with Peter to the place where Jesus was put on trial. He stood with Jesus at the cross and was told by Jesus to care for His mother. He (with Peter) ran to the empty tomb. John calls himself the disciple that Jesus loved.
Does it seem odd then that John responds to Jesus this way? We might have expected John to embrace Him, shake His hand or give Him a “high five”. Instead he fell on His face, terrified and overwhelmed by the glory and majesty of Christ! This is a powerful reminder that Jesus in His fullest nature is greater than our earthly minds imagine.
In John’s account, Jesus placed His hand on him and said, “Do not be afraid.” It is similar to a friend putting an arm around you in a crisis and saying, “We’ll get through this.” Jesus extended comfort to John and explained that we should not be afraid. Jesus underscores some important truths about Jesus.
HE IS THE ETERNAL GOD
The first thing Jesus says is that he is the “first and the last”. Earlier in verse 8 God said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” They are basically identical statements. Jesus says there is nothing before Him and there will be nothing after Him. Life begins and ends with Him. He is the Eternal God. Time is under His authority.
Today people will proclaim that Jesus was God’s representative. They say He taught us about God. They say He was a prophet of God. However, they stop short of saying He IS God. Some even say that Jesus never intended for people to think of Him as God. That notion was the result of overzealous followers. I think they are wrong.
There several reasons we believe Jesus was God. First, Jesus claimed to be God. He told us that “He and the Father were one.” Jesus met with Moses and Elijah in the Transfiguration. He was constantly talking about His need to fulfill prophecy and the “right timing” for things to happen. Second, Jesus acted like God. He claimed the power to forgive sin and evidenced authority over the demons. He had power over nature (He multiplied loaves, walked on water, and calmed the storm). He healed people with devastating illnesses. He taught as One who had authority and spoke as one giving eternal Law. Third, He rose from the dead. The early church challenged people to talk to eyewitnesses. They dared them to check the facts. Jesus really did come back from the grave.
Science tells us that gravity exists. We see evidence of the reality of gravity everyday. If you drop something, it falls to the ground. Logically, we should believe in the existence of gravity.
Suppose there were people who declared gravity to be a myth. Perhaps they make claims that gravity is just an invention of science designed to explain unseen mysteries. Maybe they say only the weak-minded need a crutch like gravity. Do these comments nullify the Law of Gravity? Does it diminish the power of gravity? We have to answer “No” on both counts. Gravity is true regardless of how you feel about it.
It doesn’t matter how sincerely you believe gravity does not exist. If you seek to prove your point by stepping off the roof of a building your sincere beliefs will not keep you from experiencing the consequences of gravity.
The same is true with Jesus. You may claim He is not God. You may truly believe He is not God, but it will not change the reality of who He is or the consequences of resisting Him.
HE IS THE LIVING SAVIOR
The second thing Jesus said to John was: “I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever!” (18). It is important first to recognize that no other religious leader can say this. Mohammed, Buddha, Confucius, Bahá’u’lláh the founder of the Bahai faith, Mary Baker Eddy, L. Ron Hubbard of Scientology, none of them can say, “I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever!”
If you had two people offering to take you for a flight in a plane would you choose to fly with the person who had read about flying or the person who had actually flown? If something was wrong with your power at home and you had the choice between hiring a person who had read a great deal about electricity or the person who had been an electrician for 20 years, who would you hire? If you had a coaching vacancy and had to choose between the person who enjoyed watching the sport on television and the one who had experience playing the game, who would you choose? The answers are obvious! Along the same line, if you wanted to know about eternity and had the choice between following the person who wrote books on what they believed was beyond the grave and the person who had died and risen from the dead after three days, who would you listen to?
Second, notice that Jesus died. He is the living Savior but He is also the crucified Savior. He lived as we do. He faced trials and temptations. He was crucified. He understands our lives. The spotless Lamb of God was crucified to pay the price for our sinfulness. He died as our substitute. He faced the wrath of God on our behalf.
Third, He came back to life. This is what we celebrate today! Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15 that the resurrection of Jesus is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. In fact, Paul said if the resurrection didn’t really happen; Christians are deluded. They believe they are forgiven, they believe they will live even though they die, they believe there is a place prepared for them and without the resurrection it is just the imaginative words of a man who died before His time.
John knew these things were true from personal experience. He was witness to the incredible life and power of Jesus; He saw the sick healed, the bread multiplied, the storm calmed, the demons flee. He saw Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah, He saw the Son of God suffer and die on the cross, he saw the empty tomb and he talked with the resurrected Savior. Jesus reminded John that we worship a living Savior. We do not worship the teachings of our leader; we worship the Leader Himself!
HE IS THE ONE TO WHOM WE ARE ACCOUNTABLE
Lastly Jesus said He “holds the Keys to death and Hades.” Jesus is the One who is the steward of eternity. The fact that He has the keys means that He is the One who has authority. He has the power over our eternal destiny. He has the authority to unlock death and Hades.
Hades and Hell are sometimes used interchangeably. Hades is not the place of eternal torment (which we often call Hell). In Revelation 20 we are told that there is coming a day when Death and Hades will be thrown into the Lake of Fire which is the second death (or Hell). Hades is the place where lost souls await the Day of Judgment (Revelation 20:13). Before the resurrection of Jesus, everyone went to Hades (called Sheol in the Old Testament) when they died. When Christ arose from the dead all those who believed in the promise of God (all those who had put their trust in the coming Messiah), were led from Hades into Paradise. If you will, Jesus unlocked the door so these people could be “with the Lord” until the day Christ returns, Judgment is dispensed and our bodies are resurrected to live on the New Heaven and New Earth.
Why does this matter? The person who has the keys has access and can grant that access to others. The person with the key to the YMCA can let you in when others are locked out. The person who has keys to the Movie Theatre can invite friends for private viewings of films. The person with the key to a stadium can invite their friends to play on the field. Since Jesus holds the keys to death and Hades He can open the door to you so that you can live in paradise when you die.
If we put all these things together, there are some things we should learn. We need to recognize that we, like John, have a narrow and diminished view of Christ. We cannot grasp His eternal greatness. As we begin to learn about Him several things happen.
- We recognize how worthy He is of worship. “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise! (Rev. 5:11) We bow before Him.
- We see the shamefulness of our own sin as it is contrasted not with those around us (like we usually do) but it is compared with the perfection of the Son of God.
- We begin to see how far Jesus had to humble Himself in order to take the form of man so He could be our Redeemer. We are filled with a greater sense of gratitude.
- We face life with a new confidence. Like John, we no longer need to fear.
No Need to Fear Life
Life is scary. The economy is shaky. Jobs are fragile. Terrorists threaten everyone. And every news report warns us of cancer risks. We can’t help but fear life. However, when we understand that time is in God’s hands, when we realize that Jesus is supreme over all, we can learn to say with Keith Getty and Stuart Townend,
From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny. No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man, Can ever pluck me from His hand; Till He returns or calls me home—Here in the pow’r of Christ I’ll stand.
Life is not out of control. Things are not aimless. He has a purpose for the events that seem to pull you like the undertow of a wave. The First and the Last, the Alpha and the Omega is still on the throne! He will lead us, protect, defend us and someday will lead us to the place He has prepared for us. This isn’t just positive thinking. It is a reasoned conclusion from the evidence of His life, death and resurrection.
Jesus has been where we are. He has lived our lives. He is not a God who sits in an ivory tower removed for the trials and stress of our lives. He has been here. He has overcome and He can help us to do the same. You can hang on to Him because He will certainly be hanging on to You. Bill Gaither is right, “Because He lives, we can face tomorrow.”
No Need to Fear Death
Jesus died and now lives again. Because of this we can be sure of several things that take away the sting of death,
- God loves us.
- The sacrifice of Jesus was sufficient to pay the penalty for our sin. The resurrection boldly declares that the sacrifice of Christ was sufficient to take care of our debt of sin. We are no longer enemies of God.
- There is life beyond the grave. Jesus died and came back from the dead. He tells us that those who trust in Him will also live even though they die. We can believe His testimony because He has shown us it is true.
Though in all honesty we may still be anxious about the process of becoming dead . . . we no longer need to fear death. Jesus has conquered the grave.
No Need to Fear Eternity
It is one thing to know that there is life beyond the grave. It is another to know whether or not you will face God’s mercy (Heaven) or God’s wrath (Hell). Jesus holds the keys of death and eternal life. The Bible says there is “no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.” If you have placed your trust in Christ; if you have seriously committed to become His follower; then you will, as He promised, be forgiven and live in the re-created and perfect world God will make for His followers. We will be re-united with loved ones. We will be rewarded for faithful acts.
However, the flip side is also true. If you are hoping to get in to Heaven by some other way you will be frustrated because the door will be locked. Your so-called “good deeds” won’t unlock the door. Your religious devotion will not unlock the door. Your sincerity won’t unlock the door. Your family pedigree will not unlock the door. If you put your hope in anything but Christ you will find yourself on the wrong side of Heaven. You will face God’s judgment because you have ignored the way of salvation God has provided for you. Jesus ALONE holds the keys.
On this Easter Sunday may I be blunt? “Do you see the real Jesus?” Do you see Him as He truly is or have you created a Jesus in your mind that is as real as the Easter Bunny? Take some time this Easter to make sure that you are seeing Him clearly. Make sure you are building on the right foundation; the foundation that will stand through any storm and lead us to life beyond the grave. Our challenge today is to see past all the images of Jesus created by the world (whether good or bad). Our images and concepts of God cannot save us. Only the Resurrected and Living Jesus can do that.