At Christmas Christians celebrate the birth of the Messiah … the coming of a special one, sent from God to rescue us from the effects of our own sinfulness, restore us to God’s favour, and inspire us to a positive purpose in life. According to a recent survey a significant number of people in the UK today believe that Simon Cowell is the promised Messiah … a thought which, for me at least, conjures up that immortal line from the Monty Python film, The Life of Brian … ‘He’s not the Messiah … he’s a very naughty boy!’
The idea of a ‘Messiah’ … a redeemer figure expected or foretold in one form or another … is prominent in each of the monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. For Jews, Christians, and Moslems the coming of the Messiah will bring about significant change in the state of humanity and the world. In later Jewish messianic tradition the Messiah is a leader anointed by God, a future King of Israel, physically descended from the Davidic line, who will rule the united tribes of Israel and herald a Messianic Age of global peace. In Islamic tradition Jesus is the promised Messiah, sent to the Jewish tribes living in Israel, who will return to earth in the end times and descend from heaven to defeat the ‘great deceiver’ or ‘anti-Christ’.
Christians believe that prophecies in the Hebrew Bible (especially Isaiah) refer to the coming of a special one, sent from God to rescue us from the effects of our own sinfulness, restore us to God’s favour, and inspire us to a positive purpose in life, and believe Jesus to be that Messiah or Christ. The translation of the Hebrew word Mašíaḥ as Khristós in the Greek Septuagint became the accepted Christian designation and title of Jesus of Nazareth, indicative of the principal character and function of his ministry. Christians believe Jesus to be the Messiah that Jews were expecting. Certainly those who first followed Jesus believed that he was the promised Messiah. The Apostle John tells us that the first thing, another of those whom Jesus initially called Andrew did, was to find his brother Simon and tell him, ‘We have found the Messiah (that is, the Christ) … and he brought him to Jesus’ [John 1:41,42].
The big question about Jesus, however, is did Jesus think of himself as the Messiah? Did he believe that he was the distinctive person that had a really pivotal role to play in God’s plan? Scholars are divided about this. Personally I believe that Jesus did think of himself as a Messiah, he did think that God had specifically anointed him to do his work and that he had a special task for him to do. Jesus, at least twice, claimed to be the Messiah. In conversation with a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well he responded to her comment ‘I know that Messiah (called Christ) is coming. When he comes he will explain everything to us’ by declaring ‘ I, the one speaking to you – I am he!’ [John 4:25,26]. And, when hauled before the Jewish High Priest after his arrest in Gethsemane, Jesus responded to the High Priest’s blunt question, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’ by stating, equally bluntly, ‘I am! And (referring to the Last Days and the Final Judgment) you will see the Son of Man (Jesus’ favourite description of himself) sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven!’ [Mark 14:61,62].
Jesus was also convinced that he had to suffer as part of God’s plan and this caused controversy with his disciples. On one occasion he took his disciples aside and told them, ‘We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be handed over to the Gentiles (i.e. the Roman authorities in this case). They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again’ [Luke 18:31-33]. It seems that Jesus wanted to push the idea that he was going to suffer – and that somehow this was integral to God’s plan to rescue us from the effects of our own sinfulness, restore us to God’s favour, and inspire us to a positive purpose in life! Jesus’ disciples were really worried about this idea, probably expecting Jesus either to be some sort of priestly Messiah or some sort of warrior Messiah but certainly not a Messiah that would end up on a cross. They saw this as hugely problematic and a lot of Christians said for years afterwards that this was still a stumbling block to many people, a scandal – the idea that the Jewish Messiah could be crucified. This just didn’t make sense to a lot of people … and yet it remains the essential truth at the heart of the Christian message … that ‘God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him’ [John 3:17]!
The big question for us, therefore, is who do we think Jesus is? And how does our answer to that question affect our lives? There is deep truth contained in the verse of the old poem:
‘What think ye of Christ is the test, to try both the reason and rhyme,
Ye cannot be right in the rest, unless ye think rightly of Him!’
It is only in Jesus Christ that we begin to understand what true life is really all about – where we came from, why we are here, where we are going to, what the purpose of life really is!
A young man went into a crowded café for a coffee and found himself sitting opposite a clergyman, complete with clerical collar, who was reading a small book whilst drinking his coffee. The clergyman wore a badge in the shape of a question mark in his lapel. Although the young man was agnostic, and not a great lover of church or the clergy, he was intrigued by the lapel badge … and suddenly found himself asking the clergyman what it signified? ‘Why,’ said the clergyman with a knowing smile, ‘it stands for the most important question in the world!’ and annoyingly went back to reading his book. The young man couldn’t help himself and butted in once again, ‘What is the most important question in the world?’ The clergyman looked up once again and, smiling, turned the pages of the little book he was reading … which happened to be a New Testament … and read the words of Pontius Pilate to the crowds at the trial of Jesus, ‘What shall I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?’ [Matthew 27:22]. ‘That is the most important question in the world!’ said the clergyman, suddenly becoming very serious, to the young man. ‘May I ask you’ he continued, ‘what are you doing with Jesus?’