A. Jesus is LORD…He is not like any other religious founder ever to live.
The competitors for Jesus’ title can basically be sorted into two categories…
1. Founders of cults who, due to insanity or evil manipulation and thirst for power claimed to be God or the special offspring of God. These cults have all died out on their own in relatively short order because they were of human invention and did not have God’s divine power to guide or sustain them. They did not stand the test of time (the Gamaliel Test of Acts of the Apostles)
2. Founders of the so-called “great religions”. These religions are still around, probably because, as our catechism points out, they have touched upon elements or shadows of the truth and also because they have become culturally engrained in certain regions of the world. However, none of these founders ever claimed to be divine. Mohammad claimed to be a prophet of God (albeit the greatest prophet). Buddha claimed to have reached a level of spiritual enlightenment that other could also discover. Confucius claimed to be a philosopher who had discovered wisdom. Judaism is in its own special category as the historical root of our faith and as the source of Sacred Scripture, the Ten Commandments and our Messiah and Savior. However, in the Old Testament, there is not a single incident of a prophet of God claiming to be divine either.
3. None of these individuals is anything like Jesus. His focus was centered, first and foremost, on his divine identity which established the authority of his teachings. His central question was, “Who do the people say that I am…Who do you say that I am” and finally his own answer, “I AM”. Consider for example the seven “I Am” statements found in John’s Gospel (I AM the bread of life 6:35, I AM the light of the world 8:12, I AM the gate for the sheep 10:7, I AM the good shepherd 10:11, I AM the resurrection 11:25, I AM the way the truth and the life 14:6, I AM the vine 15:1). Clearly, Jesus is invoking the ancient name of God given to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus and he is applying it to himself. He is saying to the crowd, in no uncertain terms, that he is God and they understand what he is claiming because they respond by tearing their garments and wanting to stone Jesus to death for blasphemy.
4. JESUS IS TRYING TO FORCE US TO MAKE A CHOICE! Either he is God or he is a liar. Many today try to avoid this choice by dismissing Jesus as “a nice guy” but CS Lewis writes that any person who goes around claiming he is God can never be considered “a nice guy”. He either is who he says he is or he is insane and/or evil. There can be no in between. The apostles understand this dilemma well and it is why they are described as being both amazed by him and afraid of him.
B. Jesus fulfilled all four of the major expectations the Jews held to regarding the future coming of a Messiah but he accomplished each in an unexpected and amazing way.
1. The Messiah would Gather and Shepherd his People – Rather than subjugating the nations under a new Jewish kingdom or empire in the manner of King David or King Solomon, Jesus accomplished this goal in the way he seemed to break all social mores. He kept open table fellowship, dining with tax collectors, thieves and prostitutes (those considered “unclean”). He publicly communicated with women and foreigners. He healed the sick who were outcasts of society and in every way possible, he left the 99 in search of the one lost sheep who was far from God due to sin and forgave them. This was his method of gathering and shepherding as he worked to build up one spiritual flock.
2. The Messiah would Purify the Holy Temple in Jerusalem – He literally did cleanse the Temple by driving out the money changers but this was not the Temple that Jesus ultimately came to cleanse. In fact, he prophesied that the Temple of Jerusalem would be destroyed (and it was in 70 AD by the Roman army). Jesus referred to his own body as the New Temple, that if destroyed would be raised up again in three days (via the Resurrection). Our bodies are also described as temples of the Holy Spirit and ultimately, it is these temples that Jesus has cleansed on the cross and is continuing to cleanse (via faith, grace, baptism, etc.) as the Church and her members make their pilgrimage through life to their heavenly homeland. The temple that Jesus cleanses, then, is not a building but a temple of the spiritual order.
3. The Messiah would Overcome the Enemies of Israel – He does not come to us as a warrior king or political savior as the Jews expected, slaying the political enemies of Israel in war. In fact, though he has the greatest of armies at his command (the heavenly host of angels) he does not come in violence but in peace. Yet the enemy that Jesus defeats, in the most unlikely way as a victim on the cross, is the greatest enemy of Israel and of all human kind: Satan.
4. The Messiah would Reign as Lord of the Nations – Once again, using the sword of truth rather than a sword made by human hands, Jesus has conquered all nations. Empires have come and gone (the Babylonians, the Greeks, the Romans, etc.). Dictators who specifically set out to destroy Christianity have risen and fallen (Napoleon, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, etc.). Jesus continues to reign as King of kings and Lord of lords.
C. Conclusion: According to the author, the greatest trap we can fall into as Christians…the greatest temptation we can give into which can rob us of the power of our faith and our personal relationship with Jesus is to try to “domesticate” him or think of him as ordinary. Perhaps, like the apostles before us, we should rediscover what it means to be “amazed and afraid” in the presence of Jesus.