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21st Century Christian

Messages for the 21st Century Christian

The Visible God

On a recent late-night paper review on the BBC News Channel, the subject of Justin Welby’s planned sabbatical in 2021 was highlighted in one of the papers. The Archbishop of Canterbury is planning to spend some months in a remote hamlet in Normandy. The BBC Newscaster (Martine Croxwell) chairing the review asked the reviewers, tongue in cheek, whether this would be an imaginary place in Normandy, a clear reference to the ‘imaginary friend’ that many non-believers in God refer to when describing the God that we Christians believe in.

This particular jibe or joke at our expense of our ‘imaginary friend’ stems from the fact that unbelievers do not accept the existence of God, as he has failed to reveal Himself to mankind with a grand show of his power, presence and authority that would clearly demonstrate who He is, and who He claims to be.       

Many sceptics about God would only be convinced of his presence if he came and stood in front of them and they would almost certainly demand proof to back up the claim.

Can you imagine what it would be like to physically meet God? To actually see him, talk to him, to touch him. To actually sit down and eat with him.

As Jesus approached his final hours before the crucifixion, he gathered his disciples together for the event that we know as the last supper. Despite having been in his presence, having listened to his teaches, witnessed his love for people, and seen at first hand the miracles he performed, the disciples still did not really understand who Jesus was.

During that gathering Jesus talked about the difficulties that lay ahead and attempts to assure his disciples about the future with the Father, God the Father. In response one of the listening disciples, Philip, asks Jesus to show him the Father, to show him God.

Jesus answered: "Don’t you know me Philip, even after I’ve been amongst you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”

That is one of the most fundamental statements that underpins our faith, "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father”.

Jesus is clearly stating that if you want to see God in the flesh, here I am. If you need a physical picture of God, here I am. If you want to see how God loves his people, here I am. If you want to see how God has power over the natural world, here I am. If you want to see how God has authority over life and death, here I am.

But how can we be so sure that is what Jesus meant. That he was God, here in the world in human form? Well for further evidence let us look at another event in his life.

Jesus was in the temple at Jerusalem for the Feast of Dedication. A crowd gathered around and asked, "If you are the Christ tell us plainly” (John 10:24). Jesus began his response by saying, and I paraphrase, "you’ve seen the miracles I’ve performed but you don’t believe, You’ve listened to my words, but you don’t believe”. Jesus then goes on to allude to the fact that he is a shepherd and those who believe and follow him are his sheep given to him by the Father and concludes his response to the crowd’s question with the incredible statement, "I and the Father are one”.

Those gathered in the temple that day took Jesus’ claim that ‘he and the father were one’, very seriously because they wanted to stone him for blasphemy. They were literally baying for his blood such was the audacious claim that he had made about himself.

Returning to the theme of Jesus being the shepherd. This is a recurring theme throughout scripture and one that underlines the oneness of the Father and Son. In the book of Ezekiel, Chapter 34:11,15-16 we read: -

"This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them…. I myself will tend my sheep.”

Six hundred years after this prophecy, what does Jesus say about himself?

"I am the good shepherd.” (John 10 11,14). Jesus is claiming to be the one and the same Sovereign Lord as was prophesied in Ezekiel. He again is claiming to be one with the Father.

There is however further significance in the statement of Jesus’, "I am the good shepherd”. That significance is to do with the use of the words "I am”.

A significance that did not escape the notice of the Jewish religious leaders of his day, and one they found shocking and reinforced their desire to deal with Jesus. It was the use of the phrase "I am” that so angered them.

When Moses first met with God at the burning bush and was instructed to lead God’s people out of Egypt, an obviously nervous Moses asked of God, "What if the Israelites ask your name?” God responds to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM”……    I AM has sent me to you.”

"I AM” was the name by which God was known to His people. A name that was treated with great reverence and fear. You can understand why the Jewish religious leaders got so upset when Jesus used it.

But the sensitivities of the traditionalists did not prevent Jesus from using it for he wanted to make clear to those who listened that he was indeed "I AM”.

"I AM the light of the world”. (John 8:12; 9:5)
"I AM the bread of life”. (John 6:35, 48)
"I AM the true vine. (John 15:1)

I AM the resurrection and the life. (John 11:25)
I AM the way the truth and the life. (John 14:6)

There are certain words, spoken in certain circumstances, that will eventually get you killed and making such statements in public, time and time again was only going to enrage the religious purists of his day. Yet, Jesus never shied away from using them, he insisted time and time again that he was one with God the Father, the Lord of everything, creator and sustainer of heaven and earth.

Now, anyone can claim that they are God. History is littered with false gods. The Pharaohs of Egypt and the Emperors of Rome are just two of the many historical leaders who claim to have be god. Some of these historical rulers have made that claim until relatively recently such as the Emperors of Japan (1945), and the Dalai Lama of Tibet is still revered today by his followers as God.

When we start to think about the subject, there have been many within our own lifetime who have claimed to be God, sometimes with disastrous consequences. The Branch Davidian sect at Waco in Texas where seventy-four adults and children died as the ranch burnt down as they followed the cult’s leader. The mass suicide of nearly a thousand sect members at Jonestown in Guyana, led by a man who claimed to be God. The ‘Moonies’ also come to mind as another significant sect who believed their leader was God.

If you are going to make such claims about yourself, talk alone is simply not good enough, you have to back it up with action. Unlike all the other false claimants, Jesus did back up his words with action.

Recall the account of Jesus crossing the Sea of Galilee at night with the disciples. Suddenly, a fierce storm breaks over the sea, it must have been a terrific storm because amongst those on board were fishermen who would have experienced many storms but this one was so bad that they were terrified. They felt they had no option but to wake the sleeping Jesus, "Master, Master, we are going to drown”.

What Jesus did next was astonishing: "He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm”. (Luke 8:24)  

Jesus tells the storm to stop, and it stops. The disciples are dumbfounded: "Who is this? He commands even the wind and water and they obey him”.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all had that power?

A few years ago, we were staying on the Greek Island of Samos in the Eastern Mediterranean just off the Turkish coast. The island is a good place to visit some famous biblical sites and we took the opportunity to visit Patmos and the cave where it is believed that the Apostle John wrote the Book of Revelation. We also visited Ephesus sailing from Samos Town to the port resort of Kusadasi on a passenger boat similar in size to the Royal Iris on the River Mersey.  It was a lovely sail in the morning, the journey lasted about an hour and a half.

The return journey was anything but. In the heat of an August day, a hot dry offshore wind had blown up off the Turkish mainland and it made a very choppy sea. People were being sick everywhere. Never mind it was only to be an hour and a half journey. Unfortunately, when we reached the port of Samos Town which is located in a huge almost circular bay, the one birthing jetty was occupied by an inter-island ferry with the result that our boat had to bob about like a bottle cork for a further hour. Most of those who had not already been sick were sick then.

When we finally docked, we felt like kissing the ground when we got off.  I don’t know how many people were on that boat that day, probably a couple of hundred, and I’m sure that if any of us could have commanded the wind and the sea to calm we would have done so but we couldn’t because, we are human and we don’t have the power and authority to do so.

Jesus on the other hand did have the power and authority to do so and so we can dismiss the calming of the storm as some kind of fluke and isolated incident because he performed numerous miracles in front of friends and enemies alike, to gatherings that were small and those which were large.

Think for a moment: who can give sight to the blind? Who can enable the totally deaf to hear again, make it possible for those who are paralysed to walk, heal incurable diseases, bring the dead back to life, and have power and authority over nature?

Jesus demonstrated, beyond reasonable doubt, that he was more than just a man. The significance of what Jesus did whilst he was here on Earth are truly staggering. His words and actions clearly demonstrate that he is our God.

So, when someone says to you, "How can you believe in a God who nobody has ever seen, how can you believe in your invisible friend?” The answer is quite simple, that we have seen God because we have seen Jesus Christ who by his every action and deed demonstrated that he is indeed our God.

 

 Rob Brooks

Grappenhall IM Church

May 2021