Acts 3:13–15, 17–19; 1 John 2:1–5a; Luke 24:35–48
Who is Jesus Christ? Who is Jesus? This is a question that everyone who encounters Christianity in whatever form must contend with. This was the question that the people of His time had to grapple with. Who is this man who claims an exclusive relationship with God the Father? Who is this man who we believe rose from the dead? Who is this man who, when asked if He was the Son of the Most High, responded, “I AM,” echoing the words that God uttered to Moses from the burning bush in the book of Exodus, claiming the name of God for Himself.
Over the last two centuries, some fashionable circles have made weak claims that this Jesus was a great moral teacher and a good man. But C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, countered that we could not make such a claim of someone who claimed to be God by His words and actions. There are only three options for who Jesus is: Lord, liar, or lunatic. If He believed Himself to be the Son of God and equal to God but wasn’t, He was a lunatic. If He made these claims and didn’t believe them, He was a liar. But if He spoke the truth, He is Lord. So we each decide for ourselves just who Jesus is, and these are our only options.
This was the challenge put to the people of Jerusalem following the resurrection and documented in our readings today, particularly what we read in the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. The Gospel of Luke and Acts were written by the same author, purported to be a physician by the name of Luke. While scholars don’t necessarily agree that this is the same Luke mentioned by St. Paul, they are almost unanimous that one person wrote both books, so unanimous that they refer to the books together as Luke-Acts—a two-part work for the same audience. Luke’s work was an attempt to address some of the mysteries of the day, and these mysteries were central to the struggles of the early Church. They still grappled with this question. Who is Jesus? Is He Divine or human? How can a man be God? Or better yet, how could God become man and die? Different groups came up with different answers to the question. The Pharisees simply called Jesus an imposter. Other Jewish groups said He was an inspired man, but not God. Still others thought He was semi-divine but created. We call those sects Arian, for the most part. Still others believed that Jesus was Divine with no true humanity. These were the Docetists (doketists), who believed that Jesus was never truly a physical being.
It’s important not to confuse the Docetists with the Donutists. who believed in the divinity of… Krispy Kremes. This heresy is still rampant among us.
I might have made that last part up. There was a heresy called Donatism, but it didn’t have anything to do with donuts.
In any case, one of the constant conflicts in the early Church was with the very question of who Jesus was. Was He God or was He man? And the answer to that question is yes.
Yes, Jesus is God and man—completely both at the same time. Now, do you see why this was a problem for the Jews? They struggled with this notion because God is supposed to be one, immortal, unlimited, and far beyond our understanding. One of their most sacred prayers, the Shema, attests to this:
Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eluheinu, Adoni echad! (שמע ישראל יהוה אלהינו יהוה אחד)
Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God. The Lord is one!
And they knew that God was beyond us, mysterious, ultimately unknowable. Yet a man we can know. A man is mortal, finite, and limited. How could a man be God? And how could a man crucified be both righteous and God when scripture says in Deuteronomy 21:23 that a man hung on a tree is cursed? To many of them, the story didn’t add up. Some Jews who continued to follow Jesus’ teachings still never accepted that Jesus was God. However, we also know that many Jewish followers of Jesus accepted that He was the Son of God and God incarnate. The Twelve Apostles were all Jewish, and we understand Christ’s Divinity because of their teaching.
The Church’s understanding of Christ’s revelation took time to clarify. The Gospel of John made clear what the Church understood about Christ by the end of the 1st century, and other Apostolic writings make clear that Jesus’ Divinity is without question. But it was Jesus’ existence as both God and man—as both Divine and human—that forced the Church to take time to understand and define this teaching.
Some of the sects who struggled with Jesus’ dual nature did so because they thought of material as evil and that the material body was like prison for the soul. We refer to these sects as Gnostic, and many of them rejected the body and material creation as evil. Unfortunately, this heresy reappears with some frequency throughout history in various forms. In the modern era, it reappears in a sort of quasi spirituality that downplays the importance of the body. It leads to a misunderstanding of the nature of the resurrection as a true bodily return. It can lead to either a misuse of our physical appetites or a rejection of them as evil. It ultimately distorts the truth of what it means to be human.
Yet our faith insists on the goodness of the body. We believe in a God who became incarnate, who lived, ate, and performed all of the normal bodily functions that entails. He experienced pain and hunger. He experienced warmth and cold. He suffered under the most inhumane torture and execution. And He rose back to life after three days—body and soul. In the gospel accounts, He appeared to the disciples bodily after His death. In Luke, Jesus eats in front of the Apostles. In the Gospel of John, Jesus invites Thomas to touch his hands and examine the wound in His side. This is His insistence not only that we are raised from the dead spiritually but that we will be resurrected physically. And we profess that truth every Sunday in the creed.
We are an Incarnational people. We are a sacramental people. Christ and Our Church are the greatest signs of our Sacramental and Incarnational faith.
We believe that we will be raised bodily as Christ was. We believe in the sacramental efficacy of matter and form in baptism, in confirmation, and in the Eucharist which we will celebrate in just a few minutes. We are not merely spiritual. We are religious because we are body, soul, and spirit. And God looks down on us, His creation and the pinnacle of visible creation, and says that it is very good.