April 27, 2014

Jesus of Nazareth, a Man Attested to You by God

Passage: Acts 2:14a, 22-32, Psalm 16, 1 Peter 1:3-9, John 20:19-31
Service Type:

‘You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law.

Many of you will know the singer and songwriter Bono and the music of U2. In 2013 Bono was interviewed about his faith in Christ; we are going to see a portion of that interview—or you might say grilling—and I invite you to listen to Bono’s expression of faith in Jesus as the divine Son of God.

Show Bono - Who is Jesus (2:50) (2013 interview)

Bono, in this 2013 interview, and the Apostle Peter at the Pentecost feast in the year 33, though 2020 years apart, make a similar point. Bono spoke about the claims Jesus made about himself—Messiah, Son of God. If you try to reduce Jesus to merely a great philosopher or teacher you have to ignore these claims otherwise he is a “nutter”, in Bono’s words. Either he is who he says he is or he is a clever fraud or delusional (I am not sure which is worse). The Apostle Peter puts it this way to the Jewish crowd gathered in Jerusalem: “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know”. Peter’s point is you can’t write him off as a pretend Messiah; Jesus’ crucifixion and failure to meet popular expectations of Rome’s overthrow does not make him a hoax. God attested to Jesus as someone much more than this “with deeds of power, wonders, and signs”—most powerfully by raising him from the dead. Peter would conclude “that God has made him both Lord and Christ.”

Whether you come at this point the way Bono does or the way Peter did you end up making the same claim: Jesus of Nazareth is a man attested to you and me by God. What we do with that is another matter. However, both of these witnesses make this same startling assertion about Jesus of Nazareth.

1. In his commentary on the book of Acts, New Testament scholar C.K. Barrett translates the text we are considering this way: “Jesus of Nazareth, a man marked out for you by God, with mighty works and portents and signs, which God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know.” Jesus of Nazareth, a man marked out for you by God. Let me ask you to consider a question—does God need to say more or do more to make it obvious that he has attested to Jesus for us?

Peter is reminding the people of the healings and miracles performed by Jesus. These “deeds of power and signs” were pointers; God actively marking out Jesus for us to take notice. Now, it is true that the miracles don’t prove anything in and of themselves, as if wonder-working were self-authenticating. But that is not what the Apostle is claiming. Peter speaks of them as signs that point, cause us to take a look. The buzz about Jesus is God’s doing, says Peter. God is ever drawing our attention to Jesus.

Bono pointed to all the people throughout history who put their trust in Christ and bore witness to his presence in their lives. Bono just couldn’t believe that this could have happened if Jesus were some “nutter”. We read today of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to his disciples in John chapter 20. Someone correctly noted that “if the Gospel of John had been an ordinary biography, there would be no chapter 20!” If this were a biography of a person who lived and died in first century Palestine no one is writing chapter 20—I would say that except for the resurrection no biography would have appeared at all. Who is going to write a favourable story about a self-deluded Messiah who gets crucified?

Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God. I know that many people respond to God’s attestation with indifference—God’s love and patience with us humans is amazing. Many deny the miracles as actually taking place, others say the gospels don’t tell us what Jesus thought about himself but what others said about Jesus on this or that point. We refuse to see the signs. Jesus was a good teacher some will say, but nothing more; that God marked him out in a special way as much more than this—not so much. Let me ask, in the face of such indifference do you think God need to say more?

Indifference is one thing but it is the hostility of some to hearing this message that seem curious to me. Why such hostility if you truly regard the story of Jesus akin to fairy tale? The HBO series True Detective centres around two homicide detectives; Matthew McConaughey as Detective Rustin Cohle and Woody Harrelson as Detective Martin Hart. In one scene they are standing at the entrance of an open air tent where a travelling preacher is holding an evangelistic meeting. As they listen to the preacher the two detectives discuss the preacher and his religion.

Chole describes the preacher and what he thinks is going on inside the tent this way: “Transference of fear and self-loathing to an authoritarian vessel. It's catharsis. He absorbs their dread with his narrative. Because of this, he's effective in proportion to the amount of certainty he can project. - Yeah! - Yeah! - Yeah. Certain linguistic anthropologists think that religion is a language virus that rewrites pathways in the brain, dulls critical thinking.

Hart responds: “Well, I don't use $10 words as much as you, but for a guy who sees no point in religion, you sure fret about it an awful lot, and you still sound panicked.”

I have observed with you before that the opposite of love isn’t hate but indifference. It seems to me that the hostility of some to God’s marking out of Jesus is a reaction to something or someone they are actually experiencing. If a person truly sees no point to all this talk of Jesus why would such a person invest energy in hostility towards it? I am convinced that such hostility is evidence that God is speaking to them.

2. Of course the mighty work of God that stands above all the rest; the thing that God did to most definitively attest to Jesus was to raise him from the dead. My education was with all the trappings of the enlightenment. Confident in our rational thought, the martialling of evidence was considered sufficient for a person to get to correct verdicts. Christians thought that the evidence of Jesus risen was sufficient and clear. If we just present the evidence people will believe. And even with a carefully argued and well-presented case for the resurrection people still weren’t stampeding to the church.

In our post-modern era that has rejected all authority including rationalism, all bets are off. Truth is with a small “t” and individualized. Suspicious of all power structures any carefully argued case that rests of historical evidence is regarded as the record of those who were in power. Historic document is regarded as the record of what some wanted you to hear.

This is not to say that historic evidence for Jesus is flimsy. It is to say that people today are skeptical of it being authoritative. About Jesus death and resurrection hhistory confirms two facts.

The first is that Jesus of Nazareth landed himself in immense trouble with religious leaders. He was labelled a false prophet a blasphemer, and seducer of the common people. Not surprisingly, he was disposed of at the city garbage dump where the Roman executioner kept a cross ready-to-hand. This is fact one. Thirty year-old upstart lands himself in trouble with religious officials who then ask civil authorities to execute him.

The second fact is that his former followers, who had misunderstood him over and over and who had finally forsaken him and written off their time with him as embarrassing naiveness; his former followers began announcing zealously that he was alive. They were convinced he was alive, they said, simply because they had met him.

History confirms that he died. History confirms that his former followers declared him to be alive, and declared him to be exalted as Lord of the entire creation.

It remains one of the great mysteries of history: How did a tiny circle of uneducated, politically disconnected, socially out-of-step people overrun a Roman culture obsessed with entertainment, power, celebrity, and money? How did a small, persecuted "cult" in a backwater corner of the world come to so penetrate the home-life, workplaces, social, and political systems of their day that their view of life eventually became the prevailing one? How is it, that 2000 plus years later, a group of people are gathered in a building at 131 Main Street, Unionville worshipping the One Peter declared risen from the dead?

We are told that on this day when Peter delivered this open air sermon over 3000 people believed. The sermon or speech is well crafted and aimed precisely at the gathered audience. But is the power in the speech? Is its affect the result of precise aim? Jesus had earlier told his disciples that “whoever listens to you listens to me.” When Jesus Christ is proclaimed—according to the gospel—God is at work in human hearts to convince and convict and convert. John Calvin said that when the gospel is announced the blood of Christ drips on the people. These first disciples became convinced of the resurrection because Jesus made himself known to them alive. Every believer since experiences the same. The historic evidence is not discounted but it is Jesus who makes himself known to us by the power of the Holy Spirit. How he looms before any of is a mystery; that he does can be known and experienced.

Which leads me to the point Bono underscored. It is the witness of people that God makes so powerful. Peter is just a fisherman standing before a crowd telling what he knows about Jesus. Bono is a successful singer who talked of his experience and belief in Jesus. It was the Spirit of God who speaks through their witness to our hearts.

Believes must be careful not miss that at the heart of this proclamation is Jesus of Nazareth. It is Jesus who God attests—a very particular Jesus. The Jesus who was crucified is also the one risen.

3. Indeed, it is pivotal that Jesus of Nazareth is held before people in our proclamation. But the messenger is not inconsequential. People can hear the fire of true experience in Peter’s voice. He went from denying and deserting Jesus to now proclaiming him risen as Lord and Saviour.

In his book Has Christianity Failed You? Ravi Zacharias points to one of the greatest proofs for the truth of Christ and the reality of his resurrection: the changed lives of Christians.
Zacharias lists examples of what he means:
In the middle of the twentieth century, after destroying all of the Christian seminary libraries in the country, Chairman Mao declared that … Christianity had been permanently removed from China, never to make a return. On Easter Sunday in 2009, [however] amp;hellip; the leading English language newspaper in Hong Kong published a picture of Tiananmen Square on page 1, with Jesus replacing Chairman Mao's picture on the gigantic banner, and the words "Christ is Risen" below it.
I have also been in the Middle East and marveled at the commitment of young people who have risked their lives to attend a Bible study …. I have talked to CEOs of large companies in Islamic nations who testify to seeing Jesus in visions and dreams and wonder what it all means.
The British author A. N. Wilson, who only a few years ago was known for his scathing attacks on Christianity … celebrated Easter [in 2009] at a church with a group of other church members, proclaiming that that the story of the Jesus of the Gospels is the only story that makes sense out of life and its challenges. [Wilson said], "My own return to faith has surprised none more than myself …. My belief has come about in large measure because of the lives and examples of people I have known—not the famous, not saints, but friends and relations who have lived, and faced death, in light of the resurrection story, or in the quiet acceptance that they have a future after they die."
Matthew Parris [a British atheist who visited Malawi in 2008] wrote an article titled "As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God." [Parris wrote], "I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa …. I used to avoid this truth … but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it."

Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God…God made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.