Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Do you believe that Jesus is divine? That is, do you believe he is God? Our basic confession of faith is that “Jesus is Lord.” Lord means YHWH. YHWH is God’s name. So if Jesus is YHWH, then Jesus is God. And Jesus said as much, which we will discover in today’s Gospel reading.
But that’s not the message that many supposedly Christian cults promote. Groups like the Mormons (Latter Day Saints) and Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, both teach that Jesus was a created son and adopted son—but not the eternal Son of God who is coequal and coeternal with the Father and the Spirit from before the creation of the world. In one way or another, they teach that Jesus was essentially the best that humanity had to offer, and so God elevated him to Sonship, even though he himself was not divine.
Even in the non-Christian world, Jesus has many “fans” and admirers who like some of his teachings but do not worship him as Savior and Lord. Mahatma Gandhi—a Hindu—famously based his non-violent resistance to British colonialism on Jesus’ teachings of non-retaliation in the Sermon on the Mount. Islam views Jesus as a great prophet—but not the Son of God. Some Buddhists view Jesus as a great teacher. Believe it or not, even many modern-day Jews view Jesus as an idealistic, if misguided, rabbi with a heart of gold. (Most Orthodox Jews, of course, still regard him as a heretic and fraud).
But Jesus was not a great teacher or a great prophet. He was the Teacher and the Prophet (cf. Deut. 18:15). He is the Son of God. Despite what liberal Bible “scholars” may tell you, Jesus clearly made that claim during his earthly ministry. In fact, it’s the reason his enemies sought to kill him. When Pilate protested Jesus’ innocence, the Jewish religious leaders replied, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God” (John 19:7; cp. 5:18). Clearly, Jesus’ enemies understood what he was saying. So why don’t we?
In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis posits his famous trilemma by which Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord. Those are the only three options we have when it comes to Jesus: liar, lunatic, or Lord. Jesus clearly claimed to be the divine Son of God and the only way of salvation. So if Jesus were, in fact, not God, then such claims could be signs only of delusion or deceit. False claims to be God make him either a lunatic or a liar, in which case, he is not to be trusted or believed and could be neither a good teacher nor a great prophet. But if, in fact, Jesus is divine—which I believe he is—then we must believe him and take him at his Word. Liar, lunatic, or Lord. You cannot have Jesus any other way.
Today’s Gospel lesson helps us to unpack all of this. Jesus was in Jerusalem at the Feast of Dedication, also known as the Festival of Lights, or Hanukkah (John 10:22). In our day, we tend to think of Hanukkah as a religious celebration, but from ancient times it has always been a political celebration as well. Hanukkah is like the Jewish 4th of July. This festival commemorates the rededication of the Lord’s Temple in Jerusalem after Jewish rebels defeated the pagan king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, and drove the Greeks out of the Holy Land.
The Temple had to be rededicated because of the desecration Antiochus brought about. This wicked king hated the Jewish people and did everything he could to force them into the Greek way of life. In 167 B.C. he erected a statue of Zeus in the Holy Place and forced the Jewish priests to sacrifice pigs on the Lord’s altar. Swine are forbidden by Jewish law, and such a desecration was unimaginable. In fact, this act was the abomination that causes desolation foreseen by the prophet Daniel (Dan. 11:31; 12:11).
Antiochus’s wicked act moved one family of priests, led by Mattathias and his son Judas Maccabeus, to revolt against the Greek overlords. And after a bloody, three-year campaign, they finally drove the Greeks out of Palestine and held an 8-day festival to cleanse the Temple and rededicate it to the Lord. The Maccabees reestablished the Jewish priesthood and setup their own Jewish kingdom, which lasted for about 100 years until the Roman general Pompey conquered Jerusalem in 64 B.C. Nowadays we think of the name Judas as a pejorative because of Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus. But throughout Jewish history, the name Judas has been an honorific name in memory of the Maccabees. It would be like naming your son George in honor of George Washington. Judas Maccabeus is a great hero.
So the irony of Jesus being in Jerusalem at Hanukkah is that—yet again—the Jews were under the thumb of yet another world empire: the Romans. You can imagine that Jerusalem was full of Jewish patriots and zealots just waiting to light the powder keg. It is in this context that the Jews ask Jesus, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly” (John 10:24, ESV).
To which Jesus replies, “I told you, and you do not believe…” (v. 25a).
The Jews want to know if Jesus is the Christ, that is, the Messiah, the long-foretold rescuer of Israel. What the Jews are looking for is another Mattathias, another Judas Maccabeus—another warrior king who can drive the Romans out of Israel.
Yet that is not the Messiah Jesus came to be. He comes to rescue us, not from Romans (or Russians!), but from our sins. From death. And from the power of the devil. That kind of Messiah is what Jesus proves himself to be again and again and again.
So Jesus says, “I told you, and you do not believe…”
“But,” we may ask as we flip through the pages of our Bibles, “when and where did Jesus state, ‘Hey, guys! I’m the Messiah.’” Did he ever make it that plain? Well, yes and no. It is true that Jesus told the Samaritan woman by the well that he was the Messiah (John 4:25-26). And Jesus revealed himself as Messiah to his disciples (Matt. 16:16-20). But Jesus never explicitly told the Jewish people that he was Messiah, even though all of his words and actions clearly point in that direction.
Just consider this evidence. In John 5 he healed a paralyzed man and declared God to be his Father. “This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18). Later in John 5, Jesus asserts that Moses and all the Scriptures speak of him (Jesus), and that only in him can they have eternal life (John 5:39-40, 45-46).
In John 6, Jesus calls himself the Bread of Life and promises that whoever eats his body and drinks his blood will rise from the dead. Not only that, but he invokes the divine name, Yahweh, or “I AM.” Remember how God revealed himself to Moses in the burning bush: “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex. 3:14). Jesus says, “I AM the Bread of Life.” And “I AM the light of the world.” And “I AM the Good Shepherd.” At the end of John 8, Jesus really drives this home when he declares, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58). In other words, Jesus, a 33-year-old carpenter from Nazareth, claimed that he existed even before the patriarch Abraham, who died nearly 2,000 years prior. Now that would be an outrageous claim—if it were untrue. Liar, lunatic, or Lord. No other options.
“What further need have we of witnesses?” (Matt. 26:65, KJV). Clearly, Jesus is the Christ! Nobody before Jesus had said the things he said or done the things he did. Everything about him oozed divinity. It is as if Jesus were saying, “Hey guys! You want to know if I’m the Christ, if I’m the Son of God. Well, I’m not going to tell you in so many words, but listen to what I’m saying and look at the miracles I’m working. Does that look like something a regular Joe could do? Do I look like just any other man? Or do I look like the Son of God? What do you think, guys?!” Hint, hint. Wink, wink, wink. C’mon, man! Who do you think I am?
And then, just to make it even more explicit, Jesus declares, “I and the Father are one.” Jesus and the Father are one. Not just one in purpose or united in aim (as the Mormons contend), but one in essence, in being. Truly, Jesus is “God of God, light of light, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things are made” (Nicene Creed).
Jesus very clearly stated that he is God. And his resurrection vindicates his claims. Jesus’ rising from the dead proves that he is who he says he is. Jesus is the only person in the history of the world who was dead for three days and then rose again. Not a resuscitation, not an out-of-body experience, but a real, live resurrection with blood and flesh, breath and bone.
Now it’s up to you whether or not you choose to believe Jesus. But you cannot claim he never said he was divine. Word after word and work after work in the Gospel of John prove that Jesus claimed nothing less than being the Son of God. Liar, lunatic, or Lord. Truly, he is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matt. 16:16). So I will take Jesus at his Word—and praise him as Lord. In the end, God’s name is… Jesus. In the name of Jesus. Amen.