Sweet little Jesus boy, we made you be born in a manger. Sweet little holy child, we didn’t know who You are. The first two lines of this song are just as true today as they were when Jesus first arrived. Although Matthew and Luke tend to get the most airtime during the Christmas John’s gospel does also begin with the birth of Christ. In doing so, he also says straight out that our world would not recognize Him. John writes:
In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it… He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.
(John 1:1-5, 10-14)
The world didn’t even recognize him. Even today, if you were to put a dozen people in a room and asked them who Jesus was you would probably get thirteen different contrasting answers. Every single major religion in the world believes they honor and respect him, but which Jesus are they honoring? Honestly, I can’t hear Sweet Little Jesus Boy without having my mind wander to that awful racing movie spoof, Talladega Nights. In this movie, Ricky Bobby is saying grace over the family dinner and at least a half-dozen times he refers to God as “Sweet little baby Jesus”. His wife finally interrupts and says, “You know Jesus did grow up. You don’t always have to call him baby Jesus.” Ricky Bobby responds, “I like the Christmas Jesus best and I’m saying grace. You can pray to teenage Jesus or grownup Jesus or bearded Jesus all you want, but I’m praying to Christmas Jesus.” He continues on with his prayer elaborating even more on the tiny Jesus with golden diapers when grandpa interrupts: “He was a man, he had a beard.” Cal interrupts “I like to picture Jesus with a tuxedo t-shirt…” Then his son chimes in, “I like to picture Jesus as a ninja fighting off evil samurai.”
It seems that everybody has their own view of Jesus. What about Jesus makes you feel good? Focus on that. What about Jesus makes you feel uncomfortable? Well, let’s ignore that bit. Or better yet, let’s try and find a way to “prove” that Jesus never really said that. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all have our own little version of Jesus that we could pull out whenever we wanted to feel religious? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all hold on to our own set of alternative facts and it didn’t matter what the truth actually was?
We have no right to do this. If we say we love, or honor, or respect Jesus then we need to hold to the truth of what He said about Himself no matter how uncomfortable that might seem. I can’t say I respect someone and then disbelieve everything they say about who they are. I can’t say I honor someone if I am implicitly calling him a liar. Over and over and over again, Jesus made it crystal clear exactly who he was. He gave us no excuse to not know who he is.
Jesus says many things about himself but the most famous of his statements can be grouped together and called his eight “I AM” statements. Jesus says,
I AM the Bread of Life (John 6:35)
I AM the Light of the World (John 8:12)
I AM the Door (John 10:9)
I AM the Good Shepherd (John 10:11)
I AM the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25-26)
I AM the Way, Truth, and Life (John 14:6)
I AM the Vine (John 15:1)
Before Abraham was, I AM (John 8:58)
All of these statements Jesus made about himself are claims of divinity. Each of these is also a title or descriptions any good Jew would recognize of God. This is especially true of the last statement. When God called Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses asked, “Who are You? What name should I tell them sent me?” God’s answer: “I AM”
During his trial, the High Priest asks Jesus, “Tell us plainly. Are you the Messiah, the Son of God?” Jesus’ answer is almost a direct quote from a prophecy of Daniel. Jesus said, “You have said it. And in the future, you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26:63-64) The prophesy he was referring to said, “As my vision continued that night, I saw someone like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient One and was led into his presence. He was given authority, honor, and sovereignty over all the nations of the world so that people of every race and nation and language would obey him. His rule is eternal—it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14)
After his resurrection, one of the disciples wasn’t there when the others first saw Jesus. He remained skeptical of their enthusiasm until Jesus appeared again and asked doubting Thomas to touch the wounds on his hands and at his side. Then Thomas cries out, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus does not rebuke Thomas for this but rather says, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” (John 20:24-29)
One last statement Jesus said about himself: “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys to death and the grave.” (Revelation 1:18)
God the Father calls Jesus God. (Hebrews 1:8) Jesus calls himself God many times. Many of his disciples who walked and talked and lived with him for years called him God. (John – John 1:1,2,14) (Peter – Luke 9:20, 2 Peter 1:1) (Thomas – John 20:28) Paul calls Jesus as God many times (Romans 9:5, Titus 2:13-15, etc) I call Jesus God. What do you call Him?