Jesus: One of a Kind, Part 2

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Revelation 1:18
Matthew 28:20

No one ever died, or rose as he rose, or continued as he does to transform human lives.

This is the last in our series on “the Case for Christian Faith.” I began last time to talk about Jesus being one of a kind, the unique, the incomparable one. I talked about how he was one of a kind in the way he spoke and in the wonderful life that he lived. Today it’s one of a kind in how he died, rose again and continues to work.

Unique in How He Died

He was one of a kind in the way he died. “Behold the Lamb of God,” said John the Baptist, “who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). It’s not that Jesus’ physical suffering was necessarily greater than that of others. Many in the ancient world were tortured in the same savage way, but is there anyone else who ever dealt with it as he did? Is there any peer that you can imagine?

He marched straight toward his death. He sensed that the days were drawing near for him to be taken up, and “he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51-53 a.v.). This speaks of a determination, a fixed purpose about his death. The rest of the Gospel traces his journey there noting along the way that he’s heading for Jerusalem. Nothing can stop him on that course except for a cry of human need (Luke 18:31, 35-40). When Bartimaeus the blind man cries out insistently to Jesus, we read that he stopped and he told people around him to bring the man to him and he healed him. And then he began his march again to Jerusalem. He could be stopped by someone’s heartbreaking need. And then, when he saw Zaccheus up in a tree, this man despised by everyone, he did take time to go to the tax collector’s house and see him become a new man. And then, once again, on to Jerusalem (Luke 19:1-10).

He stresses in John 18:10-11 that he doesn’t want to be defended by force. He wants them to put up their swords. He’s committed to drinking the cup the Father has given him. Not the well-meaning pleading of friends, not the intervention of defenders, not a concern for his own safety none of these things will hold him back.

He dreaded death but dared it. In Matthew 26:37 ff: “He was grieved and agitated . . . deeply grieved, even unto death. His sweat, Luke tells us, was “like great drops of blood” (Luke 22:44). This was not a dread of physical suffering. He would face all of that later with calm composure. It was the looming menace of forsakeness, bearing our sins and sorrows, having the Father’s face turn away. But still, even as he prays that if possible the cup may pass away, his deepest prayer is “not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

And when at last he comes to die, his cry in anguish is triumphant. “It is finished!” “It is accomplished!” (John 17:4). The great work that brought our salvation had been determined, dared and done!

And then in his death he did it for God and for us. This was what the Father had given him to do. This is what he had launched out on (John 14:31), “that the world may know that I love the Father.” This was a command of the Father that in spite of all the horror and suffering of it, he found delight in doing it. “Who,” Hebrews tells us, “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). It was the joy of serving the Father’s purpose and of seeing a great multitude become God’s children.

And so he did it also for us. “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). We were on his heart. Even in mortal agony on the cross, he remembers to provide for his mother, placing her in the care of the beloved disciple John.

But there’s more. Listen to his anguished prayer from the cross, “Father, forgive them. . . .” (Luke 23:34). Crucified victims often raged at their tormentors, called down dreadful curses upon them. Sometimes they prayed for themselves, that by their death their sins might somehow be paid for. But Jesus, though in agony, though reviled, mocked, taunted, cursed, though suffering all of this unjustly, thinks of his murderers and prays for them.

Has anyone ever died like that? Yes, praying that their sins be forgiven, their crimes blotted out. This must have been what touched the heart of the one thief dying beside him. At first, he too had mocked Jesus. Now he has fallen silent. The other thief screams, rages against Jesus. The penitent man responds, “Don’t you fear God seeing you’re in the same condemnation? But this man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:40). Then he makes request of Jesus, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (v. 42). And the Lord in the midst of anguish speaks words of comfort and promise, “Today you’ll be with me in Paradise” (v. 43). And last, in simple trust, worship and commitment, he gives himself to the Father he loves.

I ask: Did anyone else ever die like this? Loving God, loving people amid the bitter horrible execution on a cross? Behold the Lamb of God! This was Jesus in his death.

Unique in How He Rose

And he was unique also in how he rose. Remember those wonderful words in the book of Revelation when John sees the exalted Jesus. He falls down on his face and Jesus reaches out his hand and touches him and says, “Don’t be afraid. I am the first and the last and the living one. I was dead but see, I am alive forever and ever” (Rev. 1:18). He is, according to the Scriptures, the firstborn from the dead (Col. 1:18). There were others who had come back from the dead: the son of the widow, Jairus’s daughter, and Lazarus, but in their case this was only for a time. Their bodies remained mortal. They subsequently died. The same with the near-death or post-death recoveries of which we may read today.

Jesus is the firstborn from the dead, rising to a new life. There’s continuity of person but transformation. He’s alive, never to die again.

He predicted this to his followers. He repeatedly told the disciples this would happen (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:32-34; John 10:17-18). They could never understand it or take it in. They never remotely expected it would happen. Jesus had told them that he would not be a victim. This death was his choice and the rising that would follow. This too went over their heads. But Jesus predicted it and it happened. That’s a good thing to remember when we think of his other predictions, like that of his coming again.

He showed his resurrection by appearing to them. There are a host of references in the New Testament to his appearing to different groups of people at different times. Think of them. To Mary, to the other women, to Cleopas and another on the Emmaus road. To eleven disciples and others, to ten, with Thomas absent, to eleven when he was there, to seven apostles, to above 500 at once, to the disciples before he ascended, to Peter, to James, to Paul. He ascends to the skies, to a new order of existence, utterly without precedent.

And he promises this for them as well. This new resurrection life is to be theirs also. “I am the resurrection and the life. He that believes in me though he were dead yet shall he live” (John 11:25). I will raise them up on the last day” (John 6:40). “Because I live, he says, you shall live also” (John 14:19). He is the firstborn from the dead, the pioneer, the firstfruits of a vast harvest, the firstborn of a new humanity. His rising ushers in a new age, resurrection life.

Unique in How He Is with His People

Yes, and Jesus is unique in the way he continues to work in this world, to transform lives and to be with his people. He said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.

He’s with his people by the sending of his Spirit. In the “upper room” he breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). This is the sign that when the Spirit comes, it will be his creative breath working in the lives of his followers and making them new people. We read in Hebrews 7 that he ever lives to make intercession for us, that he lives and reigns, that he’s with us all the days (Heb. 7:25). The one to whom all authority is given, he sends us to make disciples of all nations and pledges to us that there will never be a day in which he’s not there with us.

He comes again and again to renew that promise to his embattled servants, “I am with you. I’ll never leave you.” Did anyone else ever make and keep such a promise as that? Listen to Napoleon Bonaparte: “There was given to Alexander the Great, to Charlemagne and to myself an extraordinary power of influencing and commanding men. But with us, the physical presence was always needed, the eye, the voice, the hand. But Jesus has been commanding and influencing people without his visible presence for all these centuries, and today there are millions who would die for him.”

I could tell you about my own experience of 60 years, Jesus never leaving me, always being with me. You may have heard that wonderful essay, “One solitary life.” He was born to a poor woman, lived in an obscure village, worked in a carpenter shop until he was 30 years old and then became an itinerant preacher. When the tide of popular opinion turned against him, his friends abandoned him. He was turned over to his enemies. He was crucified between two thieves and when he was dead, they laid him in a borrowed grave. But it’s well within the mark to say that all the armies that ever marched, all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned, have not affected the world as powerfully as this one solitary life.

Questions for us

All right, questions for us. “Who do you say that I am?” (Matt. 16:15). Will you say with his followers, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”? (v. 16). And when the question comes to us, “What will you do with Jesus?” what will your response be to that? Will you ignore him? Will you, God forbid, reject him? Will you simply tip your hat to him? Or will you offer your whole life entirely to him? Will you love, obey, serve and bear witness to him all your days? Isn’t that the better way? Is there anyone as worthy to trust, love and follow as Jesus? He is one of a kind.