jQuery Slider

You are here



by Ted Schroder
October 7, 2007

The question Jesus asks us today is the same as he asked the disciples: "Who do you say I am?" In other words, "What do you believe about me?" He does not ask, "Do you believe in me," but "What do you believe about me?" In other words: "Which Jesus do you believe in?" This is the critical question which faces the ministry of every preacher, and every congregation, in every generation. The answer determines whether the ministry of the church is built on the rock or the sand, whether it will endure or fail. Jesus said, "On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." The rock is none other than the apostle's declaration that Jesus is "the Christ, the Son of the living God." (Matthew 16:16-18) To underline the importance of this confession he renames Simon as Peter, 'the rock'.

That this is what the first generation of Christians understood is confirmed by St. Paul's understanding of his own commission: "For by the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ." (2 Corinthians 3:10,11)

This would seem obvious to any Christian, yet, in every generation there are those who would answer this question differently. Today there are many visions of Jesus being proclaimed in the churches. Marcus Borg and Tom Wright in The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions, have expounded their answers to Jesus' question.

Marcus Borg is a biblical scholar popular with the 'revisionist' wing of Christianity. He grew up in a Lutheran family and is now married to an Episcopal priest. During his seminary education he was taught that his image of Jesus as the divine savior, the Son of God was not historically true. He adopted the critical line that the Gospels were not eyewitness accounts written by people who knew Jesus and who sought to report what they had seen and heard.

He does not see that the New Testament accounts are historically true, that events actually happened in the way they were described, but that that they were metaphors of the early church's faith. He contends that Jesus did not believe that he was the Messiah, but that the early church believed he was and wrote it into the New Testament. Borg writes, "we cannot know much about Jesus. Any specific claim about him is highly problematic." However after some mystical, religious experiences he now believes that Jesus is a 'Spirit person', like a shaman, or "Enlightened One" who taught a subversive and alternative wisdom with a social vision, like Socrates, the Buddha, and Gandhi.

Most revisionist theologians construct a Jesus who is a reflection of themselves or their heroes: charismatic, a model of modern spirituality, anti-establishment, a social prophet preaching an egalitarian message seeking to improve the human condition.

It isn't enough today to say that Jesus Christ is the foundation of the church. We have to ask, which Jesus Christ? We should not be surprised by those who see Jesus differently from the apostles. Many contemporaries of Jesus did not see him as the Christ, the Son of the living God. It took special divine revelation for Simon Peter to understand who Jesus was. "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven." (Matthew 16:17) If we want to see Jesus for who he is we need to pray that God will open our eyes to his glory. A preacher who claims an apostolic ministry, and a church that claims to be apostolic, has to be careful how he builds, if he wants his ministry to last, to endure. The quality of the work will be tested by time. "If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward." (1 Corinthians 3:14)

Forty years ago I began my ordained ministry under the mentorship of John Stott. It was he who modeled for me what was important in the ministry of the church. Last July John Stott ended his public ministry, at age 86 with an address at the Keswick Convention in England's Lake District. Characteristically he chose as his theme, what has been the focus of his life: Jesus Christ. He said, "I want to share with you where my mind has come to rest as I approach the end of my pilgrimage on earth and it is - God wants His people to become like Christ." In other words, it is not enough to talk about Christ as the foundation of the church; he must become the foundation of our lives so that we become like him.

John Stott then went on to detail what he meant. Firstly, we are to be like Christ in the humility of his incarnation. There is to be no pride, no arrogance, no sense of superiority over others in our lives.

Secondly, we are to be like Christ in his service. If Christ washed the feet of his disciples, there is to be no task too menial or degrading to undertake for each other.

Thirdly, we are to be like Christ in his self-giving, sacrificial love. Having just completed a series of twenty-four sermons on what Jesus meant when he commanded us to love our neighbor, and Paul expounded in 1 Corinthians 13, I think that the challenge to love never ends.

Fourthly, we are to be like Christ in his patient endurance of suffering. Fifthly, we are to be like Christ in his mission - his reaching out to others with his Gospel of hope and healing. What practical difference does believing in Jesus, and becoming like him, mean?

James Torrance, professor of theology at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, writes about an encounter he had, at a time when he was lecturing at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena. He was on the beach near Balboa Peninsula, when an elderly gentleman asked him who he was and then introduced himself. After 45 years of happy married life, his wife was now dying of cancer. "I've been walking up and down the streets of Newport Beach at night desperate, because I do not know how to face the future without my wife - and without faith. My father was a Presbyterian minister, and I was brought up in a godly home. But I have drifted away from the church. When you spoke to me, I was remembering how my father was a man of prayer and had wonderful faith when my mother died. I wish I had that faith. I have been walking up and down this beach trying to pray, but I can't."

Professor Torrance took the opportunity to reach out to him with the message of Christ. "May I say to you what I am sure your father would have said to you? In Jesus Christ we have someone who knows all about this. He has been through it all - through suffering and death and separation - and he will carry you through it into resurrection life. He has heard your cry for faith and is answering. You have been walking up and down this beach, wanting to pray, trying to pray, but not knowing how to pray. In Jesus Christ we have someone who is praying for you. He has heard your groans and is interceding for you and with you and in you. Jesus says to Peter in the hour of his temptation, 'Simon, Simon, Satan has desired to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail." (Luke 22:31) He was upheld, even in his denial of Christ, by the intercessions of Christ." Professor Torrance prayed with him there on the beach.

The next day he came looking for Torrance and said, "I have been telling my wife what you told me! Tell me more!" The third day he came again: "Do me a favor! Come and speak to my wife" He took him to her bedside. There she was, a frail, dying woman. He spoke to them about Jesus Christ who died for us that we might be forgiven, receive the gift of sonship, and be led by the Holy Spirit into eternal life. He spoke about Christ, our great high priest, touched with a feeling of our infirmities, interceding for us, opening our hearts by his Spirit. He prayed with them both. A few weeks later, he wrote to Professor Torrance to tell him that his wife had passed on - 'safe in the arms of Jesus.' (James B. Torrance, Worship, Community & the Triune God of Grace, 43-45)

What are you wrestling with? What secret sorrow causes you pain? What does Satan desire to sift you as wheat? Corrie ten Boom used to say: "Don't wrestle, just nestle!" Nestle in the arms of Jesus. It is this Jesus who saves. Trust in him. Follow him.


Get a bi-weekly summary of Anglican news from around the world.
comments powered by Disqus
Trinity School for Ministry
Go To Top