Jesus wants us to answer this question: Who do you say that I am?
I want to begin by asking a question: Is Jesus Really God? Now, I’m going to answer that question, but I want to take a few steps back and answer a more basic questions of: Why Jesus at all? Why believe in Jesus? Why would anybody choose to worship Jesus? Why would so many people in this room choose to build their lives around this historical person?
I am a Millennial. That means I was born in the ‘80s, I remember a time before the internet was in my house, and I remember a time after the internet was in my house. I don’t know if you’ve heard this, but it is hard to be a Millennial. And like a good Millennial, I’m going to tell you why it’s true and you’re going to understand.
The hard part about being a Millennial is … picking a restaurant. When Friday comes and I want to go out to a restaurant, we pull out our phone and we go to an app like Yelp. We type in “Chinese food” and thirty different options appear before us. Each of them claiming, “We’re the best Chinese food restaurant! We’ve got the best menu! The best ambience! The best atmosphere! The best waitstaff!” There’s all these reviews and you’re wading through them to figure out which ones are good, which ones are bad; who just had a bad experience; who’s totally legit and should I listen to them? We see, “Oh this restaurant has good reviews but it only has 100 of them, and this one has only 4 stars, but it’s got 400 reviews.” It’s totally overwhelming.
What inevitably happens is that after hours of scrolling we say, “You know what? I’m going to stay home tonight. I’m not going to go out tonight. I’m just going to find something in the fridge—you know, a slice of bread, an avocado … I’ll have avocado toast.” Then we turn on Netflix and say, “I’ll just pick out a movie.” And the whole process begins again. There’s so much riding on this decision because we have a limited disposable income that we should be putting towards our retirement. We don’t want to end up in that restaurant wishing we were somewhere else.
Religious ‘Nones’ Are Spiritually Hungry
So why do I bring this up. I think that experience is helpful for understanding the religious and spiritual climate of our country today. The fastest growing religious group in our country is not Christianity, it’s not Buddhism; it’s not atheism or agnosticism. The fastest growing religious group in our country are called, the “religious nones.” People, when you ask what religion they are, they say, “Nothing at all. I’m nothing.”
It wasn’t always like this. A generation or two ago, if you asked someone what religion are you?—whether or not they actually are that religion, whether or not they worship on the weekends—they’re going to tell you one of the two or three options that there family has chosen or that are present in their neighborhood. They’re going to say, “Well, I’m Catholic,” or “I’m Baptist,” regardless of whether they believe those things. But the “religious nones” are different. They say, “Well, nothing. I haven’t picked. I don’t know how I would pick.” Among thousands of different options, thousands of ways of being spiritual without being religious.
Here’s the problem: religious nones have an unsatisfied spiritual hunger. Religious nones are spiritually hungry and they don’t know where to go to satisfy that hunger.
I heard this when I was talking about this to a father in his fifties. I was asking him about his own religious journey and he told me, “I was a Christian. I grew up Baptist. But I left the faith almost as soon as I got to college. Later on, when I had kids of my own, I just thought, I’m going to let them kind of figure things out.” He was saying, “I’m going to hand them the phone and they can scan through and pick whatever restaurant they want to go to. They’re my kids. I love them. They can choose whatever they want.”
Then a surprising thing happened. He said, “This was weird. My kids started asking questions—questions I had never asked. Questions like: Why do I exist? Why does this universe exist? Does my life add any value to this universe?”
This dad is dumbfounded and kind of scared. He says, “Why are you asking that?! Of course, your life has value! Of course, there’s purpose to your life!” Then what he saw is that his kids started gravitating towards the very kinds of religious institutions that he had given up on as they looked for answers. They had this unsatisfied spiritual hunger and they were looking for a place to come home to.
Maybe that’s where you are. You’re hungry and you’re open to the idea that maybe Jesus could be an answer to that. Or maybe you’re sitting here and you’re thinking, I’m not spiritually hungry. My life is pretty good. I don’t know your life and so I can’t speak into it directly, but I can speak generally. Often people don’t think they’re spiritually hungry, but they really are, only they’ve become numb. But it’s in there and comes out in ways that don’t look spiritual or religious.
It could come out in a fastidious dieting and exercise regimen and what it means to live “the good life” but you do want something more. Or it could come out in this anger that rises in you when you talk about politics. Maybe it comes out in an addiction, in your fanaticism about sports, or your anxiety at work. There are different ways that spiritual hunger manifests itself in our lives. Maybe you’re thinking now that you can recognize some of those pieces that don’t quite fit. Could it be that those things are signs of spiritual hunger for something more?
Here’s what I want to do this morning. I want to answer the question, Why Jesus? Why would anyone choose Jesus—and Christianity and the church—to satisfy their spiritual hunger. Why would anyone pick this restaurant?
I don’t think I can 100% convince you, but I want to tell you the Christian story as best I can. I’m going to go through almost the whole Bible, so gear up, take a deep breath. I want to talk about the Bible’s answers to our spiritual hunger: The story of Jesus in the Bible does a couple of things: 1) Explains our world and the way we feel about it and 2) Answers our deepest longings.
The Story Explains Our World—Creation and Fall
Here’s where we can start: Something isn’t right. We all know this. You’re getting off the train at the end of a long week, it’s dark it’s dreary, there’s ice on the ground. You’re crossing the road and you just want to get home to your family and someone goes whooshing by, they don’t even notice that you’re there or care that you exist because they’re so focused on getting home themselves! And you think, This just isn’t right!People shouldn’t treat others this way! This is not the way the world is meant to be.
So that’s the small stuff, the small reasons the world just shouldn’t be this way, but there’s the big stuff too.
We get a notification on our phones—another news story, another scandal, another atrocity, another broken trust. We think, The world just should not be this way.
So the question I want to ask is, Why do you think that? Who told you that the world shouldn’t be this way? Because we’ve all gone to school. We all know the main story that explains why we’re here and how we got here and that story goes like this: we live in a dog-eat-dog world. This universe is random. The fact that life exists at all is a mathematical miracle, and somehow, humans have come out on top, but it’s always been a battle of strength and power to get here. That’s the story we get from our textbooks.
If we really bought into that, then when bad things happen, our reaction should be, “Well, of course. That’s the way the world is.” But most people have a different intuition. Most people have this innate sense that this world is good and that evil is the aberration, the weird part—not the other way around. So how do we explain that? The story we’re given in textbooks doesn’t really help us, but the Bible does.
You know that feeling you have when you look out over the Grand Canyon and you see the world opening before you and your heart is opening as well. Or the feeling when you look down at an infant child and you see this fragility, vulnerability, softness, peace in their face and your heart opens. You get the feeling like, “I’m getting close. This is the way the world is meant to be.”
That feeling is “wonder.” What Genesis 1-2 tells us is, “Follow the wonder!” Your intuition is spot-on. This world is created good. You’re not believing a lie or fable. But something’s not right. Something’s broken. We long for peace and justice and yet we ourselves end up hurting the people we love most deeply. We do the best we can, we make all the ethical decisions we can, and yet our efforts feel like a paltry drop in the ocean, like they won’t even make a difference.
This is what makes the Jesus story, the story of the Bible, stand out in our culture. The Jesus story in Genesis 3 says, the problem isn’t just out there with those bad people and those bad systems, but the problem is also in each one of us. We are part of the problem. That’s the humility the Jesus story offers each one of us.
Now, I feel a resonance there. I feel that explains our world. That explains these feelings of wonder on the one hand and these feelings of pain, guilt, and shame, on the other. It explains how those two go together.
The next natural question is: How do we fix it? How does our world fix itself? Can we fix ourselves? That’s where the Jesus story continues.
The Story Answers Our Longings for Justice, Community, and Healing
In the earliest pages of the Bible, there’s a husband and a wife and God shows up to them, and you hear God say something you’d expect a god in the ancient world to say to their followers: “I’m going to bless you.” But then he says something unexpected: “I’m going to bless you, in order to bless the entire world through you!”
This God of the Bible is not only concerned about the people that are right in front of him, he’s not only concerned about the people who worship him or even know he exists. This God of the Bible is concerned with healing and fixing the world. That’s unexpected! That’s altruistic! That’s concern for others!
The story that unfolds is a story of God trying to, through his people, bring healing and justice to the world. But their efforts, just like our efforts at justice today, get tripped up by the same things we struggle with—comfort, ego, control, money, sex, power. The same reasons our justice efforts fail are the same reasons theirs failed. So, the story starts stalling out: What will the solution actually be? This is where the Hero arrives on the scene.
A man arrives on the scene and lives the kind of life all of us know we’re meant to live. He embodies the character of this God of the poor. He even comes from a poor family himself. He speaks truth to the authorities. He’s got good news for the oppressed and the marginalized here and now. He teaches us a new way of life, but he also lives it.
This is the story of Jesus. This is the reason that billions and billions of people have built their lives around Jesus. The reason that people who would never call themselves Christian wouldn’t hesitate to say, “I love Jesus!”
What Jesus offers, and what so many have been captivated by, are answers to our deepest longings. We long for fairness and justice, he shows us what that looks like. We long for community—his religion emphasizes equality—there is no religion that unites more different kinds of people than the one centered around Jesus. We long for healing—both physical and spiritual—and he shows us a way to both. Jesus answers our longings for justice, purpose, significance, and so on.
The Story Is True
No reputable scholar doubts that Jesus existed. He’s not made up. There actually was a man named Jesus who started a movement two thousand years ago and he caused such a stir, that he was killed for it. That too, is a fact.
But why? What did he do that was so dangerous? That’s a historical question. It had to be more than simply preaching on the Golden Rule. No one is threatened by that. Why did he die? Why was he killed?
The answer of the Bible is the one that makes the most sense: Jesus died because he claimed to be God. Jesus claimed to be God himself, entering his own world to fix it. He does things that only God can do and asks, “What do you think? Who do you say that I am?” That threatens the religious establishment. The local leaders worry about an uprising. Even the Roman Empire knows that saying, “Jesus is Lord” runs absolutely counter to, “Caesar is Lord.”
So, Jesus dies. It’s not glorious. It’s not spectacular. That should have been the end of the story. Game over. But it’s not. Instead, the Jesus movement gains even more steam because of this: His followers believed that Jesus came back to life. They believed, if Jesus, God himself, can defeat death, then he can fix this world.
Now, I can’t take you to the grave and prove the resurrection that way, but it’s historical fact that his followers acted with more courage and charisma than they ever had, right after what should have been a crushing loss. Every one of his closest followers, who we call “disciples,” went to the grave preaching that Jesus is alive—even at the cost of their own lives. If it was all a hoax, no group benefited less than those men and women.
This is where I might ask you—what do you think? What do you think of the story? What do you think about Jesus? What do you think about the Resurrection? Do you think maybe, it’s true?
I’ll bet that’s where I lose you. You don’t mind the story. You see its beauty and coherence. But as soon as I say it’s true, then it feels like a pop-up on your computer screen—THIS is the restaurant you’ve been waiting for!!!--and you feel turned off. Who’s to say it’s not “fake news”? You’re not even sure it’s possible to find “the truth.”
The Church Proves the Story Is True
I understand that. We’re jaded when it comes to “truth.” We’ve seen people get ripped off. So let me concede your point: The Christian story is just one story among many that all claim to be true. I concede that. But here’s what I’d ask: What’s your alternative? What story best explains this world and your longings? What satisfies your spiritual hunger? You don’t have to choose any one story just like you don’t have to choose a restaurant, but isn’t there part of you that wants to—that wants to find resolution?
So, here’s my last, best, case for Jesus. A philosopher at Notre Dame says it like this, at the end of the day, the best argument for any story, is the community that lives and tells that story. The only way to know if you’ve found the “right” restaurant is to go and try it out.
Why Jesus? Because the church. The story of Jesus is true because of the church.
I know that sounds crazy. You’re thinking, Oh man, bad argument! Go back to the historical stuff—that was interesting! I know you can pull up CNN right now and see headlines about abuses of power in the church. I don’t deny that the church is full of darkness and I wouldn’t be surprised if more came out. But my question for you is: Where do you see Light? Because I see light in the church.
I see light in the church globally, aesthetically, and locally.
I see light in the people of the church—people of all different backgrounds. I see light in the way that every culture around the world—north, south, east, west—seems to have room for Jesus. They even seem to have room for his mother, Mary, and his earthly father, Joseph. The holy family finds a home all over the world. I see light in the art and literature that’s come from Christianity—even in the cathedrals and physical buildings of the church. There’s something holy there.
I see light here in this particular Church. I know we’re not perfect, but I see light in this church that celebrates the full equality, dignity, and giftings of both women and men. I see light in this church that longs for racial justice—and is actually doing something about it. Maybe not something radical, but something real—in a flesh and blood way. A church where people are healed. Where couples on the edge of divorce with no way out, no turn around, have their marriages restored. I see light where men who have been wounded by their own fathers, who have then gone on to wound their own wives and children, then get on their knees in humility and repentance asking what they can do to make things right—and then they actually do those things. I see reconciliation. I see restitution. That’s rare in this world—real, close the book, forgiveness and healing.
My point is that we’re not unique. This happens all over the globe. This is why Christianity is growing in places of suffering. This has happened since the earliest days of this community called the church.
So, yes, I believe the story of Jesus. I believe in the Resurrection. I believe Jesus rose from the dead to defeat evil, and if he can defeat death then he can defeat any evil power. But I also believe it because I’ve lived it.
I was born into a broken home and I carried that disruption in my heart, and in many ways still do. As a teenager, I was insecure, I was hurting, I was scared, I was angry. I could be mean and sometimes a bully. I didn’t want to be these things, but I felt like I didn’t know how to not be those things.
One day, I stepped into a church for the first time, not knowing any of the rules. I only knew Jesus because he was on the front cover of the Bible. I expected that I’d need to keep my guard up like other communities I’d been in. Instead, I found people that embraced me—strangers that became mothers and fathers to me. I found a family that taught me how my broken story could fit into God’s story of redemption through Jesus. They saw potential in my life. They corrected me gently. I found healing. As the years have gone on, that healing has continued, and I’ve found more family—fathers and mothers and aunts and uncles of different ages, races, and political perspectives. I’ve lived the story of redemption through Jesus in the church. The church is my best argument for Jesus.
If you’re a Christian this morning and you believe in that story, then let’s recommit to telling it well, by the way we love each other and the world. Let’s tell the story the way it’s meant to be told. Because it’s a good story and it deserves a good telling.
If you’re on the fence about Jesus, then my challenge for you is this: Don’t stop searching. Pick up a Bible and read the accounts of Jesus in the four Gospels. What do you think of him? Does he compel you in any way?
Then I’d encourage you to do this: Put your phone down for a minute and enter a community like this one. The only way you’ll get to know a restaurant is to actually go there. What do you see? Why do people eat at this restaurant? Is there something here that compels you? Do you meet the same Jesus here that you meet in the gospels? Could you trust him? What would say if he asked you, as he asks each of us every day of our lives, Who do you say that I am?