The Battle Today is Around Jesus
The Battle Today is Around Jesus
I have been involved in helping or leading a small group on Alpha for over twenty-five years. During this time, I have noticed a shift in our culture. There is a change in the attitude towards Jesus, especially among young people. Many will say that they believe in God and are even open to the idea of the Holy Spirit. But increasingly, Jesus has become the stumbling block. They say things like, ‘I don’t get the Jesus bit.’
As Father Raniero Cantalamessa has often said, ‘The battle today is around Jesus.’
Is Jesus the universal saviour? This is the same battle as the first century. People today are happy to accept Jesus as ‘one of many’. It is the uniqueness of Jesus that causes offence. In the passages for today we see that while we meet some exceptional people throughout the Bible, like Moses, Joshua, Elijah and John the Baptist, there was no one like Jesus. Jesus is unique. He is the universal saviour.
There is no one like JesusPsalm 53:1-6
Napoleon Bonaparte said, ‘I know men and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between him and every other person in the world there is no possible term of comparison.’ Jesus is different from every other human being who has ever lived.
David says, ‘There is no one who does good’ (v.1). As God looks down from heaven on the human race, he sees that ‘there is no one who does good, not even one’ (v.3).
David looks in hope for a saviour: ‘Is there anyone around to save Israel?’ (v.6a, MSG). His longing was, of course, fulfilled in Jesus. Jesus was unique in his complete goodness. The apostle Paul quotes from this psalm to show the need of every human being for a saviour (Romans 3:10–12).
As Paul examines different people in this world – Jew and Gentile, moral and immoral – he comes to the conclusion that there is no one whom God can classify as good and righteous. He writes, ‘Therefore no one will be declared righteous in [God’s] sight...’ (v.20).
The wonder of the gospel is that we, who are not righteous, can be declared righteous through Jesus’ perfect righteousness. ‘This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe’ (v.22).
Lord, thank you that now it is possible for me to have the righteousness from God that comes through faith in Jesus to all who believe.
Jesus is the one and onlyJohn 1:1-28
Jesus Christ is the one and only. He ‘remains, to say the least of it, unique. If God is like Jesus, God is worth believing in,’ wrote the journalist Anthony Burgess.
The whole of John’s Gospel from start to finish is an answer to the question, ‘Who is Jesus?’ John’s answer is that God is like Jesus and he is worth believing in. Jesus is totally unique. He is the ‘One and Only’ (vv.14,18). He is the ‘one-of-a-kind God-expression’ (v.18, MSG). The purpose of John’s Gospel is to lead you into an experience of communion with God through friendship with Jesus.
You are a friend of Jesus. But who is Jesus?
- Unique Word of God
John’s Gospel opens with a brilliant description of Jesus as ‘the Word’. To us this seems like a strange concept, but to John’s original readers it would have been much more familiar. The idea of the ‘word of God’ would have been important to Jewish readers. They would have remembered the words of God in creation (Genesis 1), and all that the prophets had to say about the ‘word of the Lord’ (for instance Isaiah 40:6–8 and Jeremiah 23:29).
For Greek readers the idea of ‘the Word’ would have been associated with the search for the meaning of life. Philosophers often used ‘the Word’ as a shorthand way of referring to the unknowable meaning and purpose behind the universe.
John’s opening words would have been electrifying to both groups. He was in effect saying, ‘I am going to tell you about what you’ve been searching for all this time.’
It is absolutely clear that ‘the Word’ that John is writing about is Jesus: ‘The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood’ (John 1:14a, MSG). Jesus was not only with God at the very beginning: ‘The Word was God’ (v.1, MSG). Jesus was and is God.
- Unique Creator of all
‘Everything was created through him; nothing – not one thing! – came into being without him’ (v.3, MSG).
It is through Jesus that the entire universe came into being: ‘For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him’ (Colossians 1:16).
- Unique light of the world
‘In him was life, and that life was the light of all the people. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it’ (John 1:4).
Light is a synonym of goodness and truth. Darkness is a synonym of evil and falsehood. Light and darkness are opposite, but not equal. A little candle can light a whole room full of darkness and will not be dimmed by it. Light is stronger than darkness; darkness cannot prevail against light.
- Unique transformer of lives
‘Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God’ (vv.12–13).
Belief in Jesus brings about the biggest and most significant transformation possible. As you receive Jesus into your own life, so God receives you into his own family.
- Unique revelation of God
‘No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known’ (v.18).
Everything in the Old Testament was leading up to God’s supreme revelation in Jesus. ‘We got the basics from Moses, and then this exuberant giving and receiving, this endless knowing and understanding – all this came through Jesus the Messiah’ (vv.16–17, MSG). This is why everything we read about in the Old Testament needs to be understood in light of Jesus.
Jesus is contrasted with John the Baptist. The emphasis is on what John the Baptist is not. He is not ‘the light’ (v.8). He is not eternal (v.15). He is not the Christ (v.20). He is not Elijah (v.21). He is not the Prophet (v.21).
Although Jesus says of John, ‘There has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist’ (Matthew 11:11), John the Baptist says of Jesus, ‘He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie’ (John 1:27). John the Baptist’s task, like us all, is to point away from ourselves and to the one and only Jesus, the unique Word of God, creator of all, light of the world, transformer of lives and revealer of God.
Jesus, I worship you, the unique Word of God. I pray today for fresh revelation of who you are and a deeper understanding of what it means to be a child of God.
Jesus is the unique saviourJoshua 15:1-16:10
Joshua and Caleb were the only two of the original group to enter the promised land because they were the only ones who obeyed God and followed him wholeheartedly. (Joshua’s name means ‘Yah Saves’, or ‘The Lord Saves’. ‘Joshua’ is the Hebrew form of ‘Jesus’.) Joshua foreshadows Jesus. Joshua and Caleb were exceptional but, unlike Jesus, they were not unique.
Hebron, a portion of land in Judah, was given to Caleb by Joshua (15:13) but he still had to go in and take it (v.14). Similarly, salvation, the greatest blessing of all, comes to us by grace as a gift, yet we still have to receive it and take hold of it for ourselves by faith. ‘Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ’ (John 1:17) – it is a gift given to us.
All the way through the Bible, God is looking for your response. He is looking for you to ‘seek God’ (Psalm 53:2) and ‘call on God’ (v.4). You have to take hold of the gift given to you and believe in Jesus. As you do, you are given the right to become a child of God (John 1:12).
Jesus is the unique saviour. There is nothing more wonderful than taking hold of salvation through faith in him and becoming a friend of Jesus.
Lord, today I want to seek you. Thank you that you have revealed yourself in Jesus Christ – full of grace and truth. Help me to live a life that is full of grace and truth. I call on you for help in all the tasks I undertake and all the words that I speak – may I be full of grace and truth.
‘And Caleb said, “I will give my daughter Acsah in marriage to the man who attacks and captures Kiriath Sepher.” Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s brother, took it; so Caleb gave his daughter Acsah to him in marriage.’
This isn’t necessarily the right criteria for marriage, but people have married for odder reasons. The chapter ‘Ready for Marriage?’ in The Marriage Book by Nicky and Sila Lee is very helpful – but I don’t think you will find in there the requirement, ‘Have you captured Kiriath Sepher?’
Verse of the Day
‘… to those who believed in [Jesus’] name, he gave the right to become children of God…’ (John 1:12).
Raniero Cantalamessa, Faith Which Overcomes the World, (Alpha International, 2006), p.9
John Vanier, Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John, (Darton,Longman & Todd Ltd, 2004)
I have recently been reading Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus though the Gospel of John by Jean Vanier. It’s a wonderful book which I thoroughly recommend. I am deeply indebted to him for some of the material that I have added to the New Testament section of this commentary.
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.