Back to Index

Listen to sermon by clicking here:

We Believe in Jesus Christ
February 22, 1981

St. Paul's United Methodist Church


Continuing the sermon series on “We Believe”, many of you have spoken about this series and have expressed interest in the series. If some of you did not get the brochure about the series, and if you're new, there are copies available in the narthex. This week, I'll also make copies of the tape of the last two or three sermons and make sure that they're in the library. So if you would like to listen, or if you missed. 

A very central and controversial question throughout all of Christian history has been, “Who is Jesus Christ?” Out of that large subject, I'd like to lift up three concerns or three issues this morning that seem to be of interest and concern among people. I've had many of you ask questions that relate to these three areas, these very deep and profound areas that have troubled the church for all these centuries. We will deal with each of them in about five minutes! Throughout this series, we're listening to the heroes of the past and some of their comments about our theology. Some of the reformers and other heroes of the past have emphasized certain aspects of the Christian doctrine. Last Sunday, I read from John Calvin who gave us insight into the understanding of God. Next week on the Holy Spirit, I'll read from John Wesley who emphasized the working of the Holy Spirit. When we get to the redemption of persons, I will read from Martin Luther who developed the doctrine of Justification by Faith. When we get to the church, I will read from Augustine. 

Number one, I believe that Jesus Christ is both fully human and fully God. The understanding of Jesus and defining the issues in the understanding of Jesus, were in those first few centuries the first major controversy within the church. In those first couple of centuries were people who believed that Jesus was God— Holy God, divine, but not really a human being. They could not see how a holy God could have anything to do with this evil body. They couldn't see how the pure soul could be identified with this evil sinful body. They believed that the body was evil, and that bodily concerns and needs were evil. So they said Jesus couldn't possibly have been a real human being and especially, God could not suffer and God could not die even though our passage from Philippians is very clear that Jesus had the nature of God, but humbled himself, and became a human being, a servant, and even died. 

The Apostles Creed, which we use from time to time, was formalized early in our history to refute that heresy. The Apostles Creed was a formal declaration of the church that Jesus truly was a human being. The key words in the Apostles Creed are born, suffered and died. The Gnostics believed Jesus could not possibly have suffered and died. 

The next major controversy in the church was with people at the other end of the spectrum led by a man named Aries who said Jesus was a human being, but was not equated with God and was of a lesser nature than God. Jesus’ humanity was emphasized, and his divinity was deemphasized. They believed that Jesus was a human being like everyone else, lesser than God. They could not understand how Jesus could be both. The early church saw correctly that this was a very important issue. If the churches’ following of Jesus and trusting in Jesus, and their experience of salvation through Jesus Christ is not of God, then what is it? If all that we do in the church is somehow lesser than an experience of God, then what is it? This was a huge controversy. Emperor Constantine had to intercede and called the leaders of the church to a council at Nicea. We heard the creed read this morning where the church formalized that Jesus was truly God as well as a human being. The creed uses phrases like God of God, light of light, very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father. The science and the metaphysics of that creed do not relate to our modern era. But what it says, in essence, is Jesus Christ is both fully a human being and fully God. 

That controversy has existed and persisted all through the centuries, and is very much alive yet today. On the one hand, we have the “liberals”. Some of them say that Jesus was a man, Jesus was a human, who taught great teachings. They ignore or do not believe the divinity side. They say that to be a Christian is to follow the teachings of Jesus and to live a Christian ethical lifestyle. That's the definition of Christian. These “liberals” have a very difficult time at Communion. They have nothing to say about atonement. They have nothing to say about a sacrificial death on the cross for our sins. It's a very difficult time for them at Easter—they have nothing to say at Easter. I heard one of the parishioners of one of these ministers say his Easter sermon encouraged us to vote in the November election. He had nothing to say about resurrection. 

On the other hand, on the other end of the spectrum are some of the evangelicals, some of the conservatives who seem to believe that Jesus was only God and not a human. They talk exclusively about the atonement, about the sacrificial death, about the salvation that Jesus brought, but they ignore Jesus’ humanity. They ignore the teachings, they ignore the fact that he was a human like you and like me, and therefore should be our ideal. The beautiful Sermon on the Mount, they believe is relegated to some future Kingdom of God and does not apply right here now. 

Both of those positions are limited. The mainstream of Christianity, the mainstream of the United Methodist Church is squarely in the middle. Jesus Christ is both fully human and fully God. 

Now, how does Jesus relate to God? This is the second issue, the second concern. I believe that Jesus Christ is the second person in the Trinity. We believe in a trinity. God is known in three ways—as father, the creator, as son, the human Jesus, and as the Holy Spirit, God is known in three persons. That word has changed meaning over the years. It does not mean person as we are persons, but more like roles. So some ask, “Does that mean we have three gods?” No, there are not three Gods. There is only one God known in three ways. Some ask, “Is Jesus lesser than God? Is there a pecking order?” No, there is one God, unity, a trinity. 

For example, on Sundays, I drink a lot of a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen called water, a liquid. But if some of you who were born in California should go to Minnesota today and go to one of those 10,000 lakes, you will be amazed and you will say it's a miracle. They're walking on the water! There'll be people out walking on the water, some are ice skating, some are pulling toboggans behind automobiles, which is a lot of fun. And all over the water are little houses. If you go up to one of these little houses and take a peek inside, you will see that they've cut a hole and they're sitting there fishing. Some of those houses are really elaborate. They have carpeting. They take chairs. They have portable oil or gas heaters to keep warm. They have a big time! We lived near Mille Lacs Lake at one time where there would be up to 10,000 fish houses on the lake in the winter. One year there was a disaster because Spring came too soon. It started to melt. The local people got their houses out but those who lived in Minneapolis could not get up there in time and into the lake, into the water went all of their houses. 

The solid stuff that the people walk on in Minnesota is water. And when you boil water, it turns into steam, but it's still water. We know water in three ways: liquid, solid, and steam. We know God in three ways: through creation, in the historical person Jesus, and in the Holy Spirit present with us right now. 

Take another example. I see Barbara Corey sitting out here. Barbara is our church treasurer. She's also a wife. She's a mother. She's a grandmother. She's all those different people in different roles, and she's different in every role. Her husband knows her as none of us do. Her children know her as none of us do. She has a relationship with her grandchildren, and grandmothers and grandchildren have a relationship that no one else knows about. And then we know her in church as the treasurer. We know her in a way that we do not know her as mother and grandmother. But yet she's still Barbara. 

We know God as the Creator, as the historic Jesus, and as the Spirit. To believe that Jesus Christ is the second person of the Trinity is to say that through that human being Jesus, God was revealed to us. The nature and the purpose of God was revealed to us. 

The third concern, and people are very interested in this question. What is the relation of Jesus Christ to other religions? What about the Buddhists and the Hindus and the Taoists? Are they all damned because they do not believe in Jesus? Do they not know God also? A further concern. What about all the people who lived before Jesus was born, before Jesus came on the earth, millions of people? Are they all damned? Do they not know God? Both John and Paul tell us that Christ was present at creation. The whole order of things was created through Christ, meaning that the Trinity was present at creation. As we discussed last week, God primarily does two things—create and save—redeeming, bringing people and creation back to the original purpose. 

God has always been creating and saving since the beginning of time. God didn't start loving us with the birth of Jesus, God didn't start saving us with the birth of Jesus. Christ has always been present and a part of God. Therefore, we cannot limit God or Christ just to our expression and to our history. Christ is far bigger than the way you and I relate to him. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to God but by me.” But Christ is far bigger than our limited Methodism. Christ is far bigger than our limited Protestantism. Christ is far bigger than our limited Christianity. Christ is far bigger than the way the United States practices Christianity. Christ is far bigger than our history for he has been present all the time. People can know God in other ways than our way. 

In relation to Hinduism and Buddhism, some people say that we all worship the same God, we just have different names in different ways. Have you ever heard that said? We all worship the same God? But, who are we to tell the Hindus that they worship our God? Are we arrogant? We try to put our way on everyone else. How do we know what God the Hindus worship or the Buddhists worship or the Taoists worship or some tribe in Africa worship? How do we know who they worship? All I know is that I worship the God revealed in Jesus Christ. That's all I know and I cannot evaluate or judge or put that on anyone else. 

I know God through Jesus Christ. And because of my experience, I have compassion and love for all people. I send missionaries. I preach Jesus. I build hospitals. I build schools because I love people as a Christian.

But, I do not speak in the second person to people of other religions if they live next door, or across the world. I do not speak in the second person and say, “You are wrong. Your religion isn't as good as mine.” That's not for me to say. I can speak only in the first person and say, “I have found God through Jesus Christ. I have found meaning in my life. I have found salvation in my life through Jesus Christ, and I commend him to you. And because of that relationship, I care about you, I care about the way you live, and I want to help, and I do it in the name of Jesus. I do not tell you your religion is inferior because a lot of religions are superior to the way we live.” I do not tell them they're wrong. I tell what I know, what I experience, and I commend Jesus to them. 

To believe in Jesus Christ means to believe that he is both fully human and fully divine. As human, Jesus is my example, my teacher, my ideal. He is the ideal to which I try to emulate. And to say that Jesus is fully divine is to say I can come to God in the name of Jesus, in the grace of Jesus. I do not have to come to God with my own lousy life. I do not have to come to God with my tarnished and imperfect works. I do not have to bring my deeds to God and be rejected. I come in the name of Jesus Christ because Jesus bought the ticket. Jesus paved the way and through Jesus Christ, I come to God and find my salvation and find my meaning. That's what it means to believe in Jesus Christ.

© 1981 Douglas I. Norris