Sermon September 28, 2014

A Sermon Preached by Dr. Stan Henderson
Trinity Presbyterian Church
Oroville, California

September 28, 2014

“Solus Christus”

Mark 8:27-30

Our sermon series is on the 5 essential beliefs of Christianity taught by the leaders of the Protestant Reformation. They were written in Latin so they came to be called the 5 Solas. Sola means only or alone. These 5 foundational statements about Christianity are: Sola Scriptura – scripture alone; Solus Christus – Christ alone; Sola Gratia – grace alone; Sola Fide – faith alone; and Soli Deo Gloria – to God alone be the glory.

These 5 belief statements were not invented by Calvin and Luther and the other reformers. They didn’t create them or think them up. We could give the reformers credit for coming up with nifty Latin phrases, but that’s it. These 5 brief statements describe what is the central message of the Bible and what constitutes the core of what we believe. Today we consider the second statement – Solus Christus – Christ alone.

Let me start by asking – How important is Jesus Christ to Christianity today? We know that he was absolutely central to the faith of Christians in the first century. It is evident that there is no New Testament faith apart from Jesus. But is it still true? Are we still bound to that confession of faith 20 centuries later?

Or to put the question another way, now that we have the sermons of Christ, the teachings recorded in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, do we still need Christ? If we have the teachings, isn’t that enough? Must we have the teacher too?

Or to put it another way, now that we have the organization that Jesus established, the Christian church, standing out as an awesome movement in human history, do we still need its founder? Now that we have our own convictions, our own faith with which we can grapple with the complexities of our age, do we still need Jesus Christ?

I believe the answer is a resounding – Yes. Jesus Christ is absolutely central to our faith. In our Wednesday night Bible Study we have been making our way through Paul’s letter to the Colossians and you could say that Paul’s main message is – Christ alone.

In Colossians, Paul said: “Christ is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created… Christ himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together… In Christ all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”

After the resurrection of Jesus, Peter and John stood before the Jewish leaders, accused of healing a lame man in the name of Christ. Peter said: “Let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.” He then went on to say: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

The reason why the church for 2,000 years has confessed Solus Christus, in Christ alone, is not to be smug or arrogant or narrow-minded. It’s because of who Jesus Christ actually is. C.S. Lewis, the Christian philosopher, said that there are only 3 ways the question can be answered – Who is Jesus Christ? He was either a liar or a lunatic or he was the Son of God. Lewis asserts that there are no other choices. A careful look at the evidence rules out the possibility that he was simply a good, moral teacher or a misunderstood philosopher. And, of course, when we answer the question for ourselves of who Jesus is, our answer will determine our response to him.

Throughout the gospels we see contrasting responses to Jesus. He was never regarded as merely a moral teacher. He didn’t produce that kind of effect on the people who actually met him. Typically, people either hated him or adored him. They were either afraid of him or they loved him. Jesus never offered people a middle ground. When Jesus encountered individuals, he created a crisis point in their lives. They were forced to make a decision. They had to come to a conclusion – were they for him or against him? These verses in Mark record just such a crisis event.

Jesus and his disciples have traveled about 25 miles north from Galilee to the city of Caesarea Philippi. It is significant to note the location where Jesus chose to press this issue home to his disciples. This was not a Jewish area. Caesarea Philippi was at the northernmost border of Israel and it was a predominately Gentile community. The landscape was scattered with the temples and shrines of the ancient Syrian worship of Baal. There at the base of 9,000 ft. Mt Hermon, was a cave which was reputed to be the birthplace of the great god, Pan, the Greek god of nature. Additionally, in Jesus’ time, Caesarea Philippi was in a province of the Roman empire. It was the site of a magnificent marble temple built to honor the deity of Caesar Augustus, emperor of Rome, and considered by his subjects to be a god.

What an amazing setting for what is really the most important question in all of life. There is a dramatic contrast between the poor peasant preacher and the backdrop of world religions and world powers. Jesus makes it clear that the question of his identity and mission is not a provincial one. Indeed, it is the most important question the world has ever heard. Standing amidst the evidences of Syrian, Greek and Roman gods, Jesus probes the disciples’ faith.

First, Jesus asked his disciples: “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples answer back what the rumors and speculations have been. Jesus is depicted as one of the great religious figures of Israel’s history. They remembered what had been said about King Herod, that he had thought that Jesus was John the Baptist come back from the dead. They recalled that some people compared Jesus to a second Elijah, that he had the spirit and power of that most famous of Old Testament prophets.

The world’s opinions of Jesus have always been ones of admiration and esteem. And it is the same way today. Muslims consider Jesus a great prophet. Hindus believe he was one of the incarnations of the god Vishnu. Buddhists think of him as a good teacher. Mormons think he was the first thing that God created. And Jehovah’s Witnesses think that Jesus was the incarnation of the archangel Michael. It seems like all other religions elevate Jesus, but they all deny that he is truly God in human flesh. Matthew Henry wrote: “It is possible for people to have good thoughts of Christ, and yet not right ones, a high opinion of him, and yet not high enough.”

The disciples have come to the point where they have to decide for themselves if Jesus is only what other people say that he is, or if he is something more. Now Jesus directs the question to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Grammatically, the Greek text puts the emphasis on the “you” in the question. “But you, what do you believe?” Peter’s response of faith was the answer Jesus had been waiting to hear. Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” Peter was identifying Jesus as the Savior sent from God.

All through his life and ministry Jesus aroused curiosity and intense interest. People were led to ask themselves, “Who is this?” The disciples on the Sea of Galilee saw Jesus calm the storm and they asked themselves – “Who is this that even wind and sea obey him?” Jesus tells a woman, “Your sins are forgiven,” and those around him asked themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” When he taught in the synagogue, people asked, “Where did this man get all this? What is the wisdom that has been given to him?” And on the day of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?”

Who is Jesus Christ? This is the question for all of us. Who is Christ to you? It’s the most important question you will ever have to face. In Jesus Christ we meet the God who loves us, the God who searches for us, the God who came in human flesh in order to give his life for us. And Jesus Christ is the only one who is able to fulfill his promises. He said: “I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly.” And he is the only one who can do that because the life he offers us is his life.

When Jesus asked his probing questions at Caesarea Philippi, the disciples did not understand it all at that moment. After Peter’s affirmation, Jesus had some harder lessons for his disciples. He began to tell them that he must suffer and die and rise again from the dead. And he said: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

Looking back at it we understand that the cross of Christ is what is so utterly unique about the Christian faith. Other religions deny it, or they empty it of meaning, or they have no need for it. But it is the center of our faith. All that Jesus embodied in himself and all that he did as he healed and taught and loved was a revelation of who God is. But no other deed communicates that revelation so completely as the cross. The cross is the window through which we see the love of God poured out for us. In the cross we see the incomprehensible love God has for us and the length he will go to reach us.

I came across a quote by Leslie Weatherhead which is a moving testimony to Christ as Lord. He said: “It is with a sense of deep humility and reverence, almost of awe, that, I, having recently passed my seventieth birthday, sit down in this quiet study, within sight and sound of the sea, to write about the Person who has meant more to me than any other for over 60 years. As a child of 9, I made my little act of dedication to him all alone on January 3, 1903, and determined to serve him for the rest of my life. I remember writing down the fact in red ink in a new diary someone had given me. Needless to say, I have gone back on him since then a 1000 times, but always he has held my heart in thrall and I have known no peace outside his will and no joy to compare with the experience which I sincerely believe to be due to communion with him.”

My own experience confirms all that he said. I have experienced no greater happiness and peace than when I have lived with an acute awareness of the Lordship of Jesus Christ in my life. My prayer is that Solus Christus will be the motto of all of our lives.

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