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Call Him By His Name: Betting Your Life On Jesus Christ

Philippians 2:5-11

A soldier in World War I defined faith this way: “Faith is betting your whole life that there is a God.” I want to change that. I want to say: “Faith is betting your whole life that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh.”

I want to say that because it points to what is actually the fundamental doctrine of our Christian faith. For you see, if we affirm that Jesus Christ is Almighty God, then everything that Jesus said and did must become the supreme authority in our lives. If, on the other hand, we cannot or will not affirm that He is God, then all of the time and effort and money we pour into the Church is wasted, for Jesus Christ would then be the greatest imposter who ever lived. So, we have a choice. Studdert Kennedy, a great English preacher and poet, wrote:

“I bet my life on Christ—Christ crucified.
Behold your God!
You want to argue? Well, I can’t
It’s a choice…and I choose the Christ!”

Studdert Kennedy was right. It’s a choice. So I put the question to you. Are you willing to bet your whole life that Jesus Christ is God come to us in human form? Before you answer that question, permit me to share some thoughts with you…

The first thing I want to say to you is that Jesus lived the only perfect. God-like life ever lived.

I want to suggest that this moral and ethical system which stands above all others—a system so pure and pristine that it cannot be improved upon—a system so noble that it sets the highest possible standards for compassion and generosity and courage and love—I am suggesting that that system came from Jesus of Nazareth. The concept of love, even for one’s enemies, which stands at the heart of Jesus’ morality was something brand new in the world. It led even an atheist like Bertrand Russell to say that “what the world really needs is Christian love.” An atheist said that! Jesus’ concept of God, His definition of love, His belief in human dignity, and His purity of living, have led other faiths to regard Christ-like morality as being superior. In fact, if you know anything at all about the history of other religions in the world, you know that they have plagiarized Christianity with regard to its concept of the purity of God.

Now the moral code which Jesus proclaimed is amazing in and of itself. But soon more amazing is the fact that at no point in Jesus’ life do we find Him suggesting or implying that He Himself fell short of the high moral standards which He had established. In other words, He set forth the highest moral and ethical standards ever known, and then He proceeded to practice what He preached. Now that’s an amazing claim and no one has ever successfully undermined it.

Take, for example, the testimony of those men who went on a three-year camping trip with Him. That’s what it was really—and that’s a pretty good way to get to know somebody. These men were with Jesus in the wilderness, and they were with Him in the city. They were with Him in great crowds, and they were with Him alone. They saw Him under intense pressure, and they saw Him when He was relaxed. They saw Him in every conceivable circumstance and condition, and yet never once after all their extended experiences with Him do you find even one of them suggesting or implying that Jesus failed to live up to the high ideals which He had established.

What’s more, examine the testimony of His enemies. Never once do they accuse Him of failing to live up to the standards He established. They were His enemies. They would have liked nothing better than to come up with some moral defect, some error in judgment, some bit of scandal to use against Him. We know for a fact that they tried to do just that, yet the only accusation they could ever level against Him was that He sometimes ignored the petty little ritualistic laws which were a part of their heritage.

Now there are those who would contend at this point that the story of Jesus’ life as written upon the pages of the Bible is simply the figment of someone’s imagination. But I say to you that no reputable historian or archeologist in the world today would deny that Jesus of Nazareth lived. Furthermore, to suggest that four unlettered, uneducated Jewish tradesmen of long ago could sit down and from nothing more than their imaginations create a person so magnificent that now, 20 centuries later, the mails are clogged and the streets are jammed in celebration of His birth and more than one billion of the earth’s people choose to identify themselves by His name—to suggest that those men created out of nothing but their own thoughts a life whose impact across the centuries has been so profound that Charles Lamb could write: “If Shakespeare were to walk through that door we would stand in honor and respect, but if Jesus of Nazareth were to walk through that door we would fall on our knees and kiss the hem of His garment, so perfect was the way in which He lived”—to suggest such a thing is infinitely more difficult to believe than that Jesus lived as they say He lived. It was Jean Jacques Rousseau, a French philosopher, not noted for his Christianity, who said: “It would have taken a Jesus to invent a Jesus.”

But then why would anyone invent such a figure, even if it were possible? If it were a joke or just a literary exercise, then those who conceived it paid a terrible price for it. They were beheaded. They were thrown to wild beasts. They were stoned to death. They were burned at the stake. That’s what happened to those who spread those stories about Jesus. And all they had to do to avoid that kind of dying was to say: “Look, it is not true. It’s something we just dreamed up.” But they never said that. A simple denial would have saved them, but they stood firm on the truth of what they had written.

Let’s also remember that we have a multitude of writings from the first century, from the same lands and the same places where the Gospel accounts were written. Why is it that amongst all those writings we have no testimonies from eyewitness observers who say that the story the Gospel writings record is, in fact, full of lies? If the things written about Jesus were not true, why didn’t someone take the time to refute the statements of the Gospel writers? Surely the known is obvious—what was written was true, and people knew it.

So Jesus lived a life that was pure and perfect and free from sin—the only such life ever lived—and that is a fact unchallenged by His contemporaries.

Now, having said that, I want to go on to say that Jesus actually claimed to be God.

Let there be no doubt about this: every attribute of the Deity Jesus applied to Himself. God has existed forever—Jesus said: “I was before the foundation of the world.” God is all-powerful—Jesus said: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” God is without sin—Jesus said: “Which of you can convict me of sin?” Jesus made His claim absolutely clear. He said: “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” He said, “I and the Father are one.” When Thomas cried, “My Lord and my God,” Jesus complimented him. When Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus replied, “You’re right, for so I am.” Why, even Jesus’ enemies testified to the fact that He claimed to be God. That’s why they crucified Him. That was the charge brought against Him. In John 10 it is recorded that Jesus’ enemies said: “You, being a man, claim to be God.” Yes, let there be no doubt that Jesus claimed to be God, and everything He said and everything He did tended to support that claim.

That’s why we have to choose. C. S. Lewis wrote: “A man who was merely a man and said what Jesus said would not be just a moral teacher, he would be a lunatic or else he would be the devil incarnate. You must make your choice.” Lewis is right on target—the choice is ours.

We cannot say, “Jesus is the best man who ever lived.” We can’t say that. He claimed to be God—and if He wasn’t God, then we have to write Him off as a liar, a fraud, an imposter. And if we take that position, then we are left with the problem of refuting all the evidence I have put before you today, all the evidence I haven’t even mentioned and all the testimony of literally millions upon millions of people across the world and through history who have bet their lives on Him. The only other choice is to say with John the Baptist, “Behold the Lamb of God,” to say with the centurion who crucified Him, “Surely this man was the Son of God,” to say with Thomas the disciple, “My Lord and my God.” This choice is ours to make.

But, having said all this, lend up by inserting that I believe JesuS to be God not for any of those reasons—I believe Him to be God because I have so experienced Him in my life.

This One who lived twenty centuries ago is living still and He has moved in my life. It didn’t happen suddenly. It happened across a lot of years. It was when I was a senior in college that I began to lay hold of what it all meant. I fell in love; I read a book; and I was gripped by the reality of Jesus Christ. Sound strange? Well, in a way I suppose it is. But, you see, for three years in college I tried to block out my Christian upbringing and I wandered away from the Church and the Church’s Lord. Then in my senior year I began to realize that my life had gotten all out of focus. My friends had very definite ideas about what they were going to do with their lives. I had no idea at all. I was floundering—and I knew it. It was then that God brought into my life the beautiful, blue-eyed girl who one day would be my wife. She regarded Jesus Christ as being worth betting her life on—and so we would occasionally talk about what faith in Jesus Christ meant. Then I read a book. I was taking a course for seniors in the Philosophy of Religion. One of the books I read for the course was Albert Schweitzer’s The Quest of the Historical Jesus. It was a very scholarly book, and I read it only because I had to. But the concluding words of that book hit home. I did what Schweitzer suggested. I placed my bet. I gave myself to as much of Jesus as I could understand at that point. And in the process I laid claim to the life-giving, life-changing, life-empowering relationship with Christ which is promised in the Scriptures. From that time to this, I have known Jesus Christ to be in control of my life. Only it hasn’t been easy. It hasn’t all been sweetness and light. I have let Him down more times than I care to remember. But He has ever been there! When I have called to Him, He has answered. When I have trusted Him, He has proved more than worthy of that trust,, When I have been weak, He has given me strength. When I have been selfish. He has given me love. When I have been sinful, He has given me pardon. When I have been lost, He has shown me the way to go home.

So, if you ask me to prove that He is God, I can lay out for you logical propositions that show His influence on the world, His purity of living, and His limitless power. But the evidence which to me is conclusive is the fact that this One, born in a stable manger 2,000 years ago, nevertheless is so real that I can talk to Him, so real that I can feel His hand at work in my life„ That to me is the proof that He is who He says He is.

And that’s why it is so important to me for you to understand what I am saying here. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you have been. Perhaps you have never known the power of Jesus Christ in your life. Or perhaps your faith has become jaded and less meaningful with the passing of time. Or perhaps you are a devoted Christian who is suddenly faced with some terrible temptation or some bone-curdling decision or some heart-breaking tragedy. It doesn’t matter—just give this Christmas Christ a chance to move into your life. Live from today until Christmas Day as if He is who He claims to be. Then at the end of that time, make the decision as to how you will bet your life. If you do that, and do it sincerely, I promise you this: He will come to you. What I am trying to say to you now is what Albert Schweitzer said so beautifully at the end of that book I read. Listen:

“He comes to us across the mists of history just as He came to those men at the lakeside. He speaks to us the same words He spoke to them, ‘Come, follow me.’ But it is not until we obey Him, it is not until we serve Him, it is not until we give ourselves to Him, it is not until we lose ourselves in Him that we discover Who He is.”

Jesus Christ, Mighty God.

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