the question of jesus' identity

In The Identity Element, Bianca Lopes writes that “identity is concerned largely with the question: “Who are you?”  She states that the question, who are you, “might just be the world’s most frequently asked question.  On a website, at a bar, at an airport, or in front of a bank counter, everyone needs us to prove that they are who they say they are.” (August 15, 2018)

From beginning to end the question of Jesus’ identity is the focus of the Gospel of John.    In the 1st chapter of John’s Gospel, John the Baptist answers the question of Jesus’ identity:

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

In the 20th chapter of John, Thomas answers the question of Jesus’ identity:

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

Between these two stories is today’s pivotal scripture lesson about Jesus’ identity as he feeds the 5,000 by multiplying the loaves and fish.  What makes this story so pivotal in John’s gospel is that the crowd is on the verge of forcing Jesus to become their king by identifying him as a prophet.  To understand the significance of what the crowd was attempting to do, it is important to realize that first-century Jews associated prophetic signs with the hope of a kingly messiah who would liberate them from the tyranny of Rome.  Realizing that the crowd was about to force him to become a king, Jesus had reached a pivotal moment.  Was he going to accept the identity of prophet and king the crowd was trying to force upon him or was he going to maintain his identity as the Lamb of God?

Part of what makes the feeding of the 5,000 so pivotal in John is the timing of this event with the upcoming Passover festival that commemorated when the Israelites were delivered by God from slavery in Egypt.  Part of the Passover Festival was the observance of the Passover Meal that was associated with the 10th and final plague against Pharaoh when the firstborn of Egypt were killed.  The Passover Meal required the sacrifice of a Passover Lamb and the placement of the blood of the Passover Lamb on the doorposts of the Israelites’ homes so the angel of death would pass over their homes.

Following the Passover, Moses led the slaves of Israel out of Egypt to a land promised to Abraham.  On this journey, the people whom God had delivered sinned against God and wandered for 40 years.  During their time of wandering, God provided daily manna on their journey.  Just as God provided manna in the wilderness, Jesus provided sustenance for his followers.  That is why John reports that when the people saw the sign that Jesus had done in multiplying the loaves and fish, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”  As miraculous as the feeding of the 5,000 was, Jesus’ true identity could not be revealed by being the prophet and king the 5,000 wanted.

Jesus’ true identity as the Passover Lamb could only be realized as he led his followers to the Promised Land of God’s resurrected forgiveness that takes away the sin of the world.

Ed Chen described what the Promised Land of God’s forgiveness looks like for followers of Jesus.

Walking in forgiveness is choosing to live a large life. It rejects the suffocating smallness of the old calculus. It releases everyone (including ourselves) from our own claims. To forgive is to finally walk away from the miseries and mistakes of the past and onto the higher ground of a life so large that it could only be a gift from God.
February 1, 2008 Focus on the Family, Copyright 2008 Ed Chinn.

When we live in the promised land of God’s forgiveness, we are able to answer the question of Jesus’ Jesus’ identity.

Corrie Ten Boom, the author of The Hiding Place, wrote about living in the Promised Land of God’s resurrected forgiveness when she spoke at a church in Munich in 1947.  It was there she saw a balding heavyset man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands.  Corrie reported that one moment she saw the overcoat and the brown hat, the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones.

Memories of the concentration camp came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights, the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor, the shame of walking naked past this man. She could see her sister’s frail form ahead of her, ribs sharp beneath the parchment of skin.  Betsie and she had been arrested for concealing Jews in their home during the Nazi occupation of Holland. This man had been a guard at Ravensbruck concentration camp where they were sent.  Now he was in front of her, hand thrust out: “A fine message, fraulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!”

It was the first time since her release that she had been face to face with one of her captors and her blood seemed to freeze.  “You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,” he was saying. “I was a guard there. But since that time,” he went on, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein – “again the hand came out – “will you forgive me?”

Corrie reported that she stood there – and could not. Betsie had died in that place – could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?

Corrie said it could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to her it seemed hours as she wrestled with the most difficult thing she had ever had to do.  She said she had to do it – she knew that.  The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. “If you do not forgive men their trespasses,” Jesus says, “neither will your Father in Heaven forgive your trespasses.”

Still she stood there with the coldness clutching her heart.  But forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. “Jesus, help me!” she prayed silently. “I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.”

And so woodenly, mechanically, she thrust her hand into the one stretched out to her. And as she did, she reported that an incredible thing took place. The current started in her shoulder, raced down her arm, sprang into their joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood her whole being, bringing tears to her eyes.  “I forgive you, brother!” she cried. “With all my heart!”  For a long moment they grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and former prisoner. Corrie wrote she had never known God’s love so intensely as she did then.
 Guideposts, Copyright©1972 by Guideposts Associates, Inc., Carmel, New York 10512.

I suggest to you that Corrie answered the question of Jesus’ identity when she shared God’s forgiveness.  How are you answering the question of Jesus’ identity?

The Question of Jesus’ Identity
by Pastor Marc Brown
July 25, 2021

Accompanying scriptures: Jeremiah 23:1-6, II Timothy 2:8-13
(full online service video below)

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