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Introduction to Orthodoxy 3: Jesus Christ

Title:  Introduction to Orthodoxy 3:  Jesus Christ

Subjects: Jesus is Lord, the Incarnation, Savior from sin, the Resurrection

Age:  16+ years

Prerequisites:  Introduction to Orthodoxy 1 Church Tour and 2 Church History (see below)

Bishop Gerasimos was asked to attend a conference on Biblical Studies at Harvard and to give the key presentation.  He was asked by many whether he was nervous or what he was going to say and he replied, "I am simply going to speak about Jesus."

Is there any discernable difference between the Christian and the non-Christian?  What comes first, theology or the experience of God?  The entire content of the Christian faith rests on the question regarding, "Who is Jesus Christ, Lord, Liar or Lunatic?

What can we say about Jesus?  "The greatness of men would make us rise in respect; the greatness of Jesus would compel us to kneel in worship" (Colossians 2.9).  This is where the rubber meets the road.  "He came to earth to be God's ‘language' in speaking to man.  In Christ dialogue with God is re-established."

Read aloud John 1.1-34.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.  In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.  There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  This man came for a witness, to bear the witness of the Light, that all through him might believe.  He was not the Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.  That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.  He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.   He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.  But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.  John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, 'This was He of whom I said, "He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me."'  And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace.  For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  Now one has seen God at any time.  The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.  Now this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, 'Who are you?'  He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, 'I am not the Christ.'  And they asked him, 'What then?  Are you Elijah?' And he said, 'I am not.'  'Are you a prophet?' And he answered, 'No.' Then they said to him, 'Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us?  What do you say about yourself?'  He said: 'I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: "Make straight the way of the Lord," as the prophet Isaiah said.'  Now those who were sent were from the Pharisees.  And they asked him, saying, 'Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?'  John answered them, saying, 'I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know.  It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.'  These things were done in Bethabara beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.  The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, 'Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  This is He of whom I said, "After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me." I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.'  And John bore witness, saying, 'I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him.  I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, "Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit."  And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God'" (John 1.1-34).

Jesus is Lord.  To call Jesus "Lord" was not initially done.  Even the disciples had a hard time understanding who Jesus was.  Thus, the statement that Jesus is Lord was not made easily or without serious consideration.  Once made, it was a title that was given to Him deliberately.  By doing so the disciples made a claim about whom and what Jesus was. 

"When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, ‘Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?' So they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.'  He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?' Simon Peter answered and said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.'" (Matthew 16.13-16).

Today, the same is true, for if we say Jesus is Lord, then we are making a definite claim that requires certain action.  He becomes our Master and Creator.  Jesus is the Greek word for the Jewish name, Yeshua, which means "God saves," or "God is salvation."  Matthew 1.21 offers a fuller explanation of Jesus' name.  "And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins."  In Jesus' name we learn of His purpose and mission: to save us from our sins.

Why is it a big deal that Jesus saves us from sin?  We learn from Genesis: "The Lord God gave man this order: ‘You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and bad.  From that tree you shall not eat; the moment you eat from it you are surely doomed to die.'" (Genesis, 2.16-17).  "'By the sweat of your face shall you get bread to eat, Until you return to the ground, from which you were taken; For you are dirt, and to dirt you shall return'" (Genesis 3.19).

Humanity's disobedience resulted in a loss of relationship with God, of the closeness with the source of life.  It is God who placed the breath of life in man's nostrils (Genesis 2.7).  St. Paul writes in Romans that the wages of sin are death.  So, Jesus saves us from sin, which ultimately saves us from death by reuniting us with God, by putting us in a right relationship with the Lord.  Through Jesus we not only re-establish our relationship with the Lord; we come into a new and intimate relationship with God, the source of life.  Much like so many other aspects of our faith, this is done through the real work of human salvation.  We must choose not to sin.  Christ gives us that power by pointing the way of love and compassion; we learn to put on Christ and thus feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and so on.  Thus, He teaches us by example.  But Christ's real power does not necessarily come by way of examining and imitating His life.  No, the real power of Christ comes in and through the reality of a personal relationship with Jesus.  Basically, we fall in love with Someone and that changes us.  It changes what we value, how we act.

The Greek word, Christos, means the "Anointed One."  Recall the ancient Hebrew custom of anointing a person who had been set aside for a specific high office.  It recalls for us the idea of Kingship.  The theme of Kingship is probably the most prevalent theme used to describe God in the Old Testament.  Therefore, by ascribing this same title to Jesus, we are establishing a thought process that has continuity and power.  Jesus is our sovereign Lord.  His kingship, and therefore His Kingdom, are recognized in the title Christ, and established in it.  We recognize in the title the Christ that Jesus, a man born on earth, was indeed the One set aside and chosen by God to be our savior.  He alone can carry the titles of both Savior and King.  He is the Messiah King, expected, longed for, and finally come in the real person, Jesus.  Something to consider is the dual nature of Anointing.  It gives gifts and power, but it requires sacrifice and suffering.

Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  "The whole truth of who God is and who man is has been disclosed to the world in and by Jesus."  We need go no further and seek nowhere else.  Jesus is for Christians the definitive answer concerning the revelation of God.  This is a distinctive claim, unlike any other religion.  This brings up an important question:  Is faith in Jesus a religion or a faith in a person, a way of life?  Is there a difference?  Our relationship with Jesus is a relationship of love versus a set of beliefs and rules.  It is not an ideology, a morality, even a religion or set of abstract ideas.  Look to the Saints, it is the way they lived and their belief in a person that set them apart.

Jesus is the light.  What is the significance of light?  We mentioned before that light means life, and Light means Life.  In the vesper service we sing, "O Gladsome Light."  On Holy Saturday, we hear, "Come receive the Light that illumines all."  We read in John 8.12, "I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." Jesus transforms our humanity.  True humanity versus false humanity is a matter of choices.  The level of our choices determines our humanity.  It is the difference between humans and animals.  It is the difference between sinful desires and willful self-denying for the good of another.  What was God's greatest miracle?  It was His ability to transform lives, to turn a harlot into a Saint, a murderer into a Saint.

What follows is our theological discussion about the God-Man/Theos Anthropos.  Jesus is both fully God and fully man in one person (Colossians 2.9). The one side of Jesus, His humanity, was not absorbed by the other, His divinity, nor was the divine anything less than the real, full, and complete essence of God present in a human being.  Jesus held together these two natures in one personhood, unconfused, without division.  Each nature was held in Him in their particular fullness.  Think of an iron in a fire.  The iron is our humanity and the fire is the Divine.  The iron keeps its properties but also acquires the properties of the Divine.  This is a simple analogy to Christ, except to say that the acquisition of the properties of the Divine was His by nature, whereas for us it is an acquisition by Divine Grace.  We can, however, say that the humanity of Jesus was in perfect and right relationship with God.  Thus, in Jesus' humanity was the full measure of righteousness, the perfect example of a righteous human being.  For Christ's humanity at all times chose to obey the divine.

The Garden Gethsemane points the way of true life out for us, for Christ restores humanities "right relationship" with God.  In the event of Creation, God creates humanity in His image and likeness.  The image of God is indelible, it can never be taken away.  In the fall, however, the likeness we have with God has been tarnished, corrupted.  "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Corinthians 3.18).  Christ gives us the power to recover the likeness of God through a deep and abiding relationship with Him.  We learn who we truly are, and we seek our true selves.  Human beings are not lost in their union with God but truly "found." 

We will now turn our attention to the Incarnation.  The relevance of the incarnation is paramount to understanding Christianity.  First, it provides us with an answer to the suffering of the world.  Specifically, it says that God did not remain indifferent to the suffering of humanity nor to the plight of the world, that is its fallen state.  Rather He chose to enter His creation as a creature and fight for its redemption from within.  Second, it reminds us of the true path of life, and first step towards the Kingdom.  God emptied Himself of His position, His power and humbled Himself,

"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name…" (Philippians 2.5-9).

Thus it is through humility that we find a path towards exaltation.

Third, it shows us that the material world has been sanctified.  Matter itself has been infused with God's presence, it has been sanctified.  Through Christ's taking on flesh, the Incarnation, the work of reversing the effects of the fall begins.  We see this in the baptismal icon of Christ, the river Jordan flows backward.  We see it in every procession of the Church by the way we walk counter-clockwise.

Our Lord, Jesus Christ is present with us.  Matthew 18.20 reminds us, "Where two or three gathered in His name…"  We can learn more about God's love for us in 1 John:

"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.  In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.  In this love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has seen God at any time.  If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us" (1 John 4.7-12).

Our Lord, Jesus Christ is present with us in the Sacrament of Eucharist. 

"And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.'  Then He took the cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank from it.  And He said to them, ‘This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many.'" (Mark 14.22-24).

God is not ambivalent.  He is history's greatest figure, the One Man who changed the entire course of history.  Prefigured from Genesis 3.15, then throughout the Old Testament, it is He who brought our salvation to being.  Christ's victory over death and the evil one was not without pain and suffering.  He is the perfect archetype for us.

Finally, He is the Key, the Cornerstone, the Resurrection.  Just for a moment or two, we will dwell on the Resurrection of Christ.  First, we believe that this was indeed a real event.  Second, we believe that Christ did in fact truly die.  As Lord He had both the right and the ability to lay His life down.  The life Christ shows us is not simply biological survival, but a relationship with God.  Luke 4.3-4 reads, "And the devil said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.'  But Jesus answered him, saying, ‘It is written, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God."'" 

Ironically Christ shows us on the cross that a willing death is the only real means to life.  Christianity proclaims that death, specifically physical death, is the gateway to life.  In other words, the prolonging of biological life as a singular and primary goal is for the Church abhorrent and devoid of any real value.  The Kingdom is not achieved unless we die.  Notice that all Saints Feast days are celebrated on the day they died (Theotokos, Christ, and John the Baptist excluded).

"For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Philippians 1.21).

"'Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and ies, it remains alone; but if it ides, it produces much grain'" (John 12.24).

"'And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.  But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He was killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!" (Luke, 12.4-5).

The wages of sin are death, and yet the mystery is that Christ, the only sinless one, mounted the Cross willingly and died.  It is key that Christ's death was not a ransom, "this theory changes the ecclesial notion of sin as missing the mark and a failure of mankind; it accepts it as a legal transgression and punishable deviation" (Yanaras page 113).  In dying the Christian shows and expresses their willing self-renunciation of individual self-sufficiency and their self-sacrificial offering of their life to the will of the Father (Yanaras p. 113).  All things we view necessary must be crucified and put to death.  Christ's mode of existence is this life-giving death!

The third belief of the Resurrection of Christ is on the third day we believe and proclaim that He truly rose from the dead.  His Resurrection is not to the biological mode of being He had before His death; this would be pointless, but something more, something greater.  We see that Christ eats fish, honey, still has His wounds, but He vanishes, walks through walls, He is unknown and yet recognized, the created has taken on attributes of the uncreated, a body of flesh and bones that does not need to satisfy its biological needs for survival.  Finally, His body is assumed into the heavens; it does not remain on earth.

Many of us retain a childish view of the resurrection, that somehow in our participation with Christ in His resurrection, we will simply get our own lives back, some golden period that we will be able to live out indefinitely (perhaps our twenties) this makes the Kingdom a reproduction of the planet earth, a giant playground.  In the end, this is Christianity's unique claim, a claim and a reality that those of us blessed to live in the Church have both a foretaste and a pledge of the Kingdom to come.

Prepared by Fr. Evan Armatas



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