First Mennonite Church
April 17, 2016
Jesus Is the Center of Faith
Text: 1Corinthians 3: 10- 15
10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.
Verse 11 is foundational for Mennonite theology and ecclesiology. Those refer to the way Mennonites understand God’s work through Christ in the world, and Christ in relation to the nature and purpose of the church. Christ revealed God. Christ not only instituted the church but he also is its model and its destiny (Col. 3:4). If you look at the plaque posted on the front entrance of this building, you will see 1Corinthians 3, verse 11 inscribed in it.
I am very aware that claiming Jesus Christ as being the center of our faith might even sound too elementary or even redundant. Someone might argue right away that we are called Christians precisely because we follow Jesus Christ. And I will have to agree right away. Yet, I want to invite you to pause for a moment to make an honest introspection of this assumption. I want us to ask ourselves, Is Jesus really at the center of my faith?
The great American thinker of the 20th century, Robert Collier, wrote:
“It is your work to clear away the mass of encumbering material of thoughts, so that you may bring into plain view the precious thing at the center of the mass.”
It could be that after so long of each of us being Christians we have piled up so much stuff on our beliefs that the Pearl of Great Value has been buried under that pile.
Today, I would like for us to achieve two goals in this endeavor of an honest introspection of our confession of faith. The first is to take a fresh look at who Jesus is. The second, why is he the center of our faith?
Let me begin by saying that throughout the centuries there have been many attempts to discredit not only Christianity as a religion, but even Christ Jesus as its founder. In fact, as early as the time when John wrote his letters, he warned against those “deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, (who) have gone out into the world (2John 1:7). By the end of the second century there were the Docetists who denied that Jesus came in real flesh. They claimed Jesus was only sort of a phantom, an illusory and unreal being, and not a real human being.
In the 18th century the Historical Jesus Movement began. This movement had the goal to analyze the Gospel accounts of Jesus and to filter out everything they considered unauthentic or historically implausible. This movement took notice that there were very few extra-biblical references to a historical man called Jesus. They were ready to point out that the Jewish historian Josephus mentions Jesus—the Christ, only twice in his writing in his entire volume. The only two accounts the Historical Jesus Movement came to consider true in the Gospels are Jesus’ baptism and his crucifixion. The rest they concluded are legendary attributions given to him by those who wrote the Gospels. This movement believed gospel accounts about Jesus’ teaching, healing power, resurrection and ascension are legendary and mythic embellishments of the creative minds of those who followed him. In other words, the Historical Jesus Movement believed that Christian faith is based on a hoax Matthew, Mark, Luke and John managed to craft.
On the other hand, skeptics have pointed out the inconsistencies contained in the Gospels as a way to discredit their veracity. And there are several inconsistencies. One gospel tells us Jesus healed one blind man (Mark 10:46) and another says there were two (Matt. 9:27). One gospel says Jesus freed the demon-possessed man in Gerasenes (Mark 5:1), while the other says it was in the land of the Gadarenes (Matt. 8:28). One Gospel says Jesus cleansed the Temple at the beginning of his ministry (John 2:13), while the others say Jesus cleansed the Temple almost at the end of his ministry (Matt. 21:12, Mark 11:15; Luke 19:45). And there are other “inconsistencies.”
Here is the question again: Who is Jesus Christ? Does there need be no inconsistencies in order to believe Jesus is the Son of God? Or does the fact that there are some discrepancies in the accounts given by his immediate followers and upon which we rely to know Jesus unreliable enough to dismiss Jesus altogether? I said we are going to give an honest look at our faith in Jesus. I know you now understand what I meant by that!
Jesus from a Historical Point of View
To begin with, the confession of faith and the claims the Apostles made regarding Jesus: his miracles, his scandalous love towards the outcast, and his superior teaching authority were more than enough to put the disciples in serious problems. But the disciples’ attribution of divine character to Jesus, his worthiness to be worshiped, and the unheard-of claim that he was raised from the dead, not only put the disciples at odds with their religion, but these claims were in total contradiction to their Jewish monotheistic faith. According to their Jewish monotheistic religion, that is, a religion that considers God as one and one alone, such a confession as theirs regarding Jesus was blasphemous and was punishable by death. To give a man divine status was outright heresy. To offer prayers and worship to a man was shameless idolatry. But the disciples of Jesus did just that and openly, without apologies.
Therefore the question, how can we explain what they did? Could it be possible that a bunch of ragtag men had come up with a well-crafted hoax, if the story of Jesus was indeed a hoax? If it was not a hoax, how could it be that a group of misfits could give rise to a whole movement that before too long it was considered a pest because of its rapid growth and spread? Why would these men be willing to put their neck on the chopping block for something that was not true, if indeed what they claimed was not true? The simple answer my dear friends is that these men and women witnessed the presence of God incarnated in a man whose name was Jesus of Nazareth! They saw in Jesus God displaying his power as he did in the olden days and yet in a new way and beyond anything they had heard of. They heard in the voice of this man words of grace as the grace God bestowed upon his prophets. The disciples realized that in the life of Jesus the word of God spoken by the prophets made sense. He was the fulfillment of God’s promised Messiah—the anointed king who came proclaiming that the kingdom of God is at hand.
The simple answer as to why the disciples risked their lives for the sake of Jesus can be summarized in their fearless words to the authorities: “For we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). Or as the Apostle John wrote in his letter:
We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1John 1:1-3).
My dear friends, for Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, it did not matter that not every single detail of their accounts about what Jesus did was in complete harmony. What mattered to them was that their testimony about Jesus was based on a firsthand conviction that he—Jesus, was the Son of God. What mattered to the disciples was that they were witnesses of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension. It mattered to them that they obeyed Jesus’ command to teach others what they had learned from Jesus and to proclaim salvation in his name to all nations.
In this regard, from a historical point of view, no one can deny the reality of Jesus as God Incarnate. From a historical point of view the witness of his apostles, in spite of the discrepancies in their account of him, was reliable and convincing. Jesus was real, my friends.
The Reality of Jesus from a Spiritual Point of View
Let me tell you that on many occasions when I have taken time to quiet down my heart in deep communion with the Lord in prayer and meditation I have experienced unspeakable intimacy with Christ. I suddenly felt open and naked before the Lord. His grace came to me like a healing balm, an invigorating force, a soothing peace, and even a convicting touch, which led to repentance. I have experienced the reality of Jesus from a spiritual point of view as being enveloped with a love that affirms to me God’s unconditional love. I have experienced the reality of Jesus when he fills me with hope, not only for the life in the hereafter, but for tomorrow and the days to come even with all the unknowns it might bring. In short, I can tell you Jesus is real. He is real because he dwells in me and assures me I am in him.
The second question is, why is Jesus the center of our faith?
I will address the following topic with greater length next Sunday, but for now let me touch upon it briefly. When the disciples found Jesus or when Jesus called them, they did not go to their Bible to do a checklist to determine if Jesus was indeed the Messiah. As the disciples observed Jesus’ work, as they witnessed his radical hospitality towards those who had been rejected, as the disciples heard him teach, as the disciples were confirmed by the Lord after his resurrection, they came to see that the words of God in their Bible make sense only in light of what Jesus did, said, and who he said he was. The disciples’ faith was not first in a book, but in their God. The disciples’ faith was grounded in the person of Jesus the Son of God after they came to know who he was. And in light of their calling to follow Jesus, their faith in him gradually dawned. The disciples realized that the God of their ancestors is best understood in Christ Jesus. They realized that scripture made sense only in light of Jesus. The disciples comprehended that God’s desire to commune with his people was only possible when they responded and remained in fellowship with Jesus. The disciples recognized that life—the life-giving power of God was only available in Jesus. The disciples concluded that Jesus must be at the center of their faith if anything and everything they had heard about God was going to make sense or be fulfilled.
Here are the words of Paul again: For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.
Here are the words of the letter to the Hebrews:
Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3 He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word (Hebrews 1:1-3).
And again, here is Hebrews:
[Therefore, keep] looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 1:2a).
My dear friends, is your faith grounded in Jesus? No one can lay any other foundation. Jesus is the only foundation our faith must be built upon. Let us search our heart. If Jesus is not the center of your faith I invite you to pray with me.
Let us pray:
Most holy God, you revealed yourself through your only Son. I do understand he invites everyone to come to him and he is inviting me also. I want to enter into living relationship with you, Lord. Take me to yourself and I pray you give me the gift of faith in you. I want to believe in you. I am yours, Lord. Amen!
 The Works of Josephus: A Complete Unabridged New Updated Edition, Chap. XVII; XX Trans. William Whiston (Hendrickson Publishers, 1987.