Monday, 5 January 2015

What if God was one of us?

There is a song that came out when I was in high school by Joan Osborne called “One of Us”. In the song she wonders, 
“What if God was one of us?Just a slob like one of us? Just a stranger on the bus/ Trying to make His way home?”

John would say to Joan, 
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being… And the Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:1-3, 14). 
 John would say to Joan, there is no “what if”. God HAS become one of us. He WAS a stranger on the bus. He was overlooked and not noticed- he was “just a slob like one of us”. He grew up in a village and had a family and worked as a carpenter. He had neighbors. He had friends. He was God, but in many ways he was an ordinary human being.

John goes on to say, 
“He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him” (John 1:10-11). 
God became so “one of us” that it was possible to miss Him in the crowd, or even reject him. He became easier to notice once he started preaching, but that presented a new problem. It was then that we had the opportunity to really look at him. And that means people were being challenged.

In Joan’s song she has a fantastic verse, 
“If God had a face, what would it look like? And would you want to see/ If seeing meant that you would have to believe/ In things like Heaven and in Jesus and the saints/ And all the prophets?”
 The problem isn’t just that people could miss Jesus because he was so human, but people were also unwilling to change. What if looking into God’s eyes meant that you would have to change? Many of the people who met Jesus were very happy with their lives the way they were (thank you very much). But, to truly listen to Jesus and look into his eyes meant that your whole world was threatened. You might walk away from your fishing nets when he says “follow me”. Some did.

But, there were others who were unwilling. Jesus told the rich young man (Luke 18:18-24) to give his wealth to the poor and follow him, but the rich young man was unwilling to have Jesus disrupt his world. So he walked away from Jesus rather than choose to walk away from his wealth. So Joan’s question is appropriate- “would you want to see? If seeing meant that you would have to believe…”? If you knew seeing meant walking away from your fishing nets (your present way of life), or giving away your wealth (what you treasure most) would you still want to see? 

There were many who ignored Jesus and continued on with their daily lives while Jesus was preaching to the crowds. There were plenty who had no interest in changing. There were plenty who preferred not to see so that they wouldn’t have to believe
“He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him” (John 1:10-11). 
Jesus has continued to challenge us from the very beginning. We continuously want to try to make him fit into our lives without disrupting our lives, but Jesus is not a hobby. If he doesn’t challenge us we haven’t really looked into his eyes.

Jesus challenged people with his divinity. For example, when Jesus forgave a man’s sins there were scribes present who said, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7). Forgiveness of sins is God’s exclusive right. Another time Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58) and people picked up stones to kill him because he was essentially claiming to be God.

One of the greatest challenges over the centuries has been holding together Jesus’ humanity and divinity. Some wanted to see Jesus as only God and not really human. They said his human form was only an illusion or a hollogram. There were others who wanted to deny his divinity and make him just a creature. In the last few years there have been attacks on the claim that Jesus was also God. They think it is misunderstanding and exageration, or myth placed over history- a Pagan imposition. We get this kind of idea from books like the Da Vinci Code and there are a few scholars out there who are writing some popular books attacking the divinity of Jesus as well as other foundational Christian truths as being later inventions, but not original to the Christian message. But, Christians worshipped Jesus of Nazareth as God right from the beginning. There are examples from the earliest texts of the Bible. For example, Paul seems to quote a hymn in his letter to the Philippians that describes Jesus as "in the form of God" (Phil 2:6). The letter is dated to around 62AD. If Jesus died around 30AD then if Paul is quoting a hymn or a creed then this is one of the oldest statements we have about Jesus. There are many many other examples from the New Testament to show this was not a later invention. The early Christians believed encountering Jesus was encountering God. It is a challenging claim.   

Early Christians in their writing began treating Jesus’ name with the same reverence as their Jewish counterparts treated God's name in the Old Testament (YHWH). There was a particular way of writing it where it was abbreviated. Usually the first and last letter was kept and a line was drawn above the word to indicate it referred to a holy name (Nomina Sacra). Early Christians did this with words like “God”, “Lord”, but also “Christ”, and “Jesus”. 

There was a really early example found in the 1990’s. In Palestine in the city of Megiddo they uncovered what is probably the oldest Christian building that we know of. They dated this building to the 200’s AD (as early as 235). In it they found a broken table that was probably used for communion. Around the table there is a mosaic in the floor. The writing indicates that the table and mosaic were donated by a woman named Akeptous. Part of the mosaic says this,
 "The God-loving Akeptous has offered the table to God Jesus Christ as a memorial." 
And the writing uses the same method for referring to holy names of God. 

There is another example that was found in Rome near the Coliseum. It is graffiti that also dates to the 200’s and it makes fun of a Christian named Alexamenos. It is a picture of a man worshipping in front of a man on a cross with a donkey head. It also has the words “Alexamenos worships his God”. So not only were Christians worshipping Jesus as God, but even those hostile to Christianity understood Christians to be worshipping Jesus as God.

There was a later challenge to Jesus’ divinity in the 300’s that came from within the church. There was a priest that began teaching that Jesus wasn’t God. His teaching was starting to have a big effect so bishops from all over met to discuss the issue. There is a story about Santa Claus, who was the Bishop of Myra at the time. After he heard the priest Arius give his explanation to the bishops about how Jesus was not God, Nicholas became so angry he slapped Arius across the face and had to later apologize. 

We don’t know if it is a true story or not, but maybe it gives one more reason to stay off the 'naughty list'. This meeting was the Council of Nicea (325 AD). We say the Nicene Creed that attempts to corrects Arius’ thought by referring to Jesus as “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God”. It was their way of saying that looking at Jesus was seeing the face of God.

C.S. Lewis once reflected on the common statement that Jesus Christ was not God, but was a good teacher and merely a man. In his book Mere Christianity Lewis said,
"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell [a liar]. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. ... Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God."

We are left with the option to see Jesus as an evil liar and all those who followed him as liars and fools, or as a lunatic and all those who followed him as incredibly gullible, or we see him as Pope Benedict XVI (J. Ratzinger) describes him- 
"This God shows himself to us; he looks out from eternity into time and puts himself into relationship with us. We cannot define him in whatever way we like. He has 'defined' himself and stands now before us as our Lord, over us and in our midst.” 
And why did God do this? 
“…in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself…” (2 Cor 5:19)

What if God was one of us? He has been one of us. He has been that stranger on the bus. And there were those who did not want to see because seeing meant changing. But to those who were willing to really look at him and see him as he really is, John tells us, 
“to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)

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