Tag Archives: Messiah

The fullness of time

English: Jerusalem, Dome of the rock, in the b...

English: Jerusalem, Dome of the rock, in the background the Church of the Holy Sepulchre Deutsch: Jerusalem, Felsendom, im Hintergrund die Grabeskirche (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have never been to the Holy Land on holiday or pilgrimage. For some strange reason, there has been no ambition on my part to visit the land on which Christianity was born or to walk where Jesus walked. Am I a peculiar brand of Jesus follower? Am I deprived at all? Is my discipleship impaired by not having visited the sites and places that are part of the Jesus story? Has it made the slightest difference that Nazareth, Bethlehem, Calvary and Jerusalem, recognised as the cradle of the Christian faith, have never featured in my travelogue? Questions I cannot answer for myself, others must do that. One site I probably would have visited, had I ventured to such exotic places, is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Legend has it that there is one spot there which is actually the centre of the world. If this is fact, and not legend, it must occupy a large and significant chapter in the history of Christianity. The centre of the world – there could be no better place for the launching of a world religion. No better place and no better time!

St Paul in his letter to the Church in Galatia writes, “When the fullness of time came God sent forth His Son” (RV). It is interesting to take a look at how some other New Testament writers begin the verse – it adds to the picture.

  • When the right time finally came (GNB)
  • When the appointed time came (REB)
  • When the time arrived that was set by God (The Message).

“The fullness of time” – that is to say, it was when world conditions were exactly ripe for it that God’s supreme revelation of himself came. It was when all the factors were absolutely right – social, economic, moral, religious – that the early Christians heard “The glad tidings of great joy to all mankind, to whom is born a Saviour – Christ the Lord.” Shakespeare says “There is a tide in the affairs of men.” The Christian can cap that and say there is a tide in the affairs of God, when all is done, waiting, getting ready for the prophets’ dream to come true. When that tide reaches the flood, God will act in a new way and the sound of a new name will be heard, the name of Jesus. The Bible of this God tells us that He had done His homework and got it right. Jesus came to the world at the exact time in history where all the conditions signalled “now is the hour.” Someone describes it as the one psychological moment.

When Jesus came, it was the fullness of time politically. Caesar’s legacy must credit the Emperor with the nigh impossible task of establishing the unification of the world: he did it! And alongside it the world benefitted from the Roman Peace. Jesus came to our planet when the Roman Peace held the world together; the barriers were down, the frontiers open; the Roman Empire described as one big friendly neighbourhood. An achievement, so far, still beyond the capabilities of the United Nations and European Union. Another factor that contributed to the unity of the world and the fullness of time was the roads. From one end of the Empire to the other was the great highway that made it possible to travel across the land easily and swiftly. The movement of the military, the logistics of trade, the spread of the Gospel, each benefitted from the vision, the ambition, the skills of the Romans. For six years I lived within the shadow of Hadrian’s Wall and marvelled at the expertise of Roman engineering. Then there was the fact of a common language, a great blessing to the missionaries who travelled along those roads. Unlike those who went out from this country to save souls and win them for Christ, the early evangelists in Roman times did not have to learn a new language. Everywhere the people were bilingual and knew Greek. No need to labour the point!

Furthermore, it was the fullness of time economically and morally. I make no comment, merely draw attention to the fact that in their own way they had a part in preparing the way for the birth of Jesus. My final point – when Jesus first came, it was the right time religiously. The old gods had had their day and were either dead or dying. To fill the gap, two expedients were tried. On the one hand they imported a whole plethora of deities, principally from the East, many of them a bit of a joke. They failed! The next bit of farce was the elevation of Caesar himself to be god and every citizen required to worship him. Give him his due, he saw to it that it was not too difficult to fulfil that requisite; a small pinch of incense annually might do the trick. It also failed! The emperor-god had nothing to say to a man or woman with a broken heart.

“When everything was done that could be done, the hungry hearts of women and men, were hungry still!” But there was an intense and exciting expectation that God was about to do something better, something new; hope was alive and reasonably well. Indeed, they were approaching a time when God was to send his only Son into the world, that the world through Him might be saved. When John the Baptist came folk were hopefully asking, “Is this the Messiah now?” No! But he helped to clear the way for their prayers to be answered, their hope to mature, their dream to come true: the Redeemer came. So, we can sing with Charles Wesley:

Our God contracted to a span; Incomprehensively made man.

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Who am I?

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s popular and long running musical asks a question more usually the concern of the theologian than the producer of a stage show – “Jesus Christ Superstar, Do you think you’re what they say you are?” Whatever the view or verdict circulating about the position of Jesus, there was never any doubt (maybe a couple of blips) in his mind about his identity; knowing who he was and all that it involved. He knew Himself to be Messiah. And, of greater significance, He knew Himself to be, in a unique, unprecedented and lonely way – the Son of God. As God’s Son, He made some stupendous, staggering, controversial claims: we name a few only. He is, as God’s Son, the sole revealer of his unseen Father in heaven – “The Father and I are one. He that has seen me has seen the Father.” He says, “If you love your father and mother more than me, you are not worthy of me” and “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words remain for ever.” When at his trial the High Priest asks him, “Are you the Christ, the son of the Blessed God?” He is unhesitating, resolute in reply, courageous, with every semblance of a one hundred per cent conviction and absolute sincerity – “I AM!” He is “the way, the truth, the life” and “No one can get to the Father except by me.” This latter, in particular, generates an understandable and lively debate in Inter-Faith circles. “Who am I?” – Jesus was the subject of widespread gossip and speculation. The authorities denounced him as an imposter, a quack and a law-breaker. An interesting observation (referred to by James S. Stewart in The Life and Teaching of Jesus Christ) that those tremendous claims of Jesus are either the ramblings of a deluded madman, or they come from one who is what he claims to be – the Christ, the Messiah.

The first sermon I ever preached asked the same question as did Jesus Christ Superstar, although from a different angle. In the Gospel record it is Jesus who is asking the questions: “Who do people say I am?” (the easy one) and the demanding, heart searching critical one, “As for you, who do you say I am?” He asks the disciples, whereas in Superstar He is the One to whom the question is put, “Who do you think you are?” At first sight we might be excused for thinking there is a hint of uncertainty about his position – else why the questions?

The setting is a get-together at a place called Caesarea Philippi, a remote and secluded spot, providing the quiet and privacy Jesus needed to bring the disciples face to face with the certainty that the end of his Galilean ministry, given Him by the Father, was shortly to culminate in his death at Calvary and that the work of the Kingdom undertaken by Him in obedience to God’s Will would be Jesus’ legacy to them. There was a danger that the disciples, hopefully to inherit our Lord’s “portfolio” for mission, might not be sufficiently convinced that they should do anything other than declare themselves redundant and make a hasty retreat back to the fishing. On the contrary, it was vitally important and urgent that Jesus could confidently hand over to them, that they should see themselves not as conscripts but as “called and sent.” The episode at Caesarea Philippi has been described as “the watershed of the Gospel”. Certainly it was a critical and crucial moment. The whole thing, right from His birth, could blow up in his face. What if he’d failed to hold the disciples with him? What of the Kingdom?

A well-known story, and somewhat hackneyed, tells of Jesus at the gates of Heaven being interviewed by Heaven’s immigration officer. Jesus is asked what plans he has made for his work to continue on earth. “Well, there are Peter & John & Andrew & James & the other disciples.” “But if they fail you,” Jesus is asked, “what other plans have you made?” “I have no other plans,” Jesus replied, “I’m counting on them!” A question – are you to be counted with the reliable? Will I convince heaven’s immigration officer? It could depend on how we answer His probing question, “Who do you think I am?”

Who is JesusOne feature of what was involved, Jesus may have teased out with the disciples during their Caesarea Philippi retreat – the unwrapping of his promise (remember the Cross) that what the opposition did to him, they would do to the disciples likewise. How right he was! There is the great roll of the martyrs recorded in “the Lamb’s book of life.” We may not feel any threat of violence or persecution – as our brothers and sisters do in India and Nigeria, for example. Nonetheless we are under a form of threat. It is a matter of concern to me that the leadership, if not the membership, of the British Humanist Society takes every opportunity to denigrate all things Christian (other Faiths too) and are intent on removing the influence of religious legitimacy in society. Could they; have they gone so far as to attach to Christ the reputation of the deluded madman? Whatever, we would certainly not expect Richard Dawkins or, in his lifetime, Christopher Hitchens, if Jesus’ question, “Who am I?” was put to them, to respond in other than unfriendly, unsympathetic, derisory, critical terms. In Francis Spufford’s Unapologetic: Why, despite everything, Christianity can still make emotional sense (worth a read), he writes in response to the Dawkins’ controversy, “When I see one of those passionate denunciations of religion which treat Christianity as the great gratuitous cause of all our sorrows, I mainly think: read more history, mate.” Another worthwhile and excellent read, whether or not we agree on all points, is NT Wright’s Who was Jesus? and the extended volume Simply Jesus.

One thing to remember, knowing Jesus for ourselves matters more than knowing about Jesus! The big question is not “who do people say I am?’ The big question is “what about you; who do YOU say I am?”

To read: Matthew 16: 13 – 21