03-31-2013 message by Pastor Rich Doebler

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been looking at “The Story” in the Gospel of Mark. We’ve seen how Jesus often said things that didn’t make sense to people. He said things that seemed extreme — over the top, unreasonable, “crazy talk.”
Even Jesus’ family said, “He is out of his mind” (Mark 3:21). What he did and said just didn’t fit in with what seemed “normal.” They thought he was out of touch with the real world. Others weren’t as kind; they said, “He is possessed…he has an evil spirit” (Mark 3:22,30).
As we’ve considered the extreme things Jesus said and did, however, we’ve begun to see that Jesus is exactly what we need today. I don’t have to tell you that the world is in trouble; it doesn’t need a standard answer. It needs something radically different, something counter-intuitive, something that perhaps seems crazy.
A troubled world that’s out of whack needs a message that will put it back into balance. Lives that are messed up and falling apart need an extreme solution — so radical that it may seem crazy to us.

We’ve looked at several stories in Mark, and we’ve seen how Jesus had a knack for upsetting people. He kept pushing the envelope. Challenging the status quo. Doing or saying extreme things that upset people. If you want, you can go to the church website to hear earlier messages on the “Crazy Talk” of Jesus.

But perhaps none of Jesus’ statements were more crazy or more over the top than the two little words we’ll look at today: “I AM.”

It happened on the way to the cross, the night before Jesus was crucified. He was on trial before the “Sanhedrin,” the high Jewish council — the movers and shakers of the religious world.

People had become so upset and angry with Jesus, that they brought a parade of witnesses with false accusations before the council, trying to get him condemned to die. One after another, they accused him. But nothing stuck. Nothing could be confirmed, and they couldn’t build a real case against him.

Jesus kept silent. He refused to defend himself against the lies and trumped up charges. He could have said, “I didn’t say that” or “That was taken out of context” or “You can’t prove that.” But he didn’t say a word. He kept quiet.

The high priest in charge of the council became more and more frustrated. Finally he got involved.

Mark 14:60-65 (NIV)
60 Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” 61 But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer.
Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”
62 “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
63 The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked. 64 “You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?”
They all condemned him as worthy of death. 65 Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, “Prophesy!” And the guards took him and beat him.

The high priest asked Jesus straight out: “Are you the promised Messiah?” They had heard rumors that he was making himself out to be the Son of God, equal to God himself. The priests, the elders, and experts in the law had heard about Jesus’ crazy claims — just as we have over the last few weeks:

  • … that he claimed to have the authority to forgive sins;
  • …that he put himself above the Law of Moses in order to heal an unclean leper;
  • …that he claimed to have supernatural power over the wind and the waves;
  • …that he allowed someone to call him “good” — something that could only apply to God.

They knew he had welcomed the praise and adulation of the crowds as he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey (Mark 11:1-10) — that he embraced the title of everlasting king, the Son of David — messianic titles. They knew he had refused to rebuke his disciples for their presumptuous declarations (also Luke 19:38-40; Matt 21:9-11).

So the high priest asked Jesus, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Are you the Christ, the Anointed One, the Son of God who comes to deliver God’s people?

Up till now Jesus had remained silent, not responding to lies and false accusations. But when he was asked whether or not he was Messiah, equal to God, he answered straight out: “I AM.”

What a crazy thing to say! If he was an ordinary man trying to save his neck, why say something false that would only get you killed? On the other hand, if he was more than an ordinary man — if he was, in fact, the promised Messiah, God in the flesh — well, THAT was crazy too!

My father was a medical doctor — for a time the medical director at a state hospital for those with mental health issues. One time he asked me (the pastor) why so many people with mental illness develop delusions of grandeur with religious overtones — he saw people who thought they were God, people who thought they were Christ, people who thought they were Moses. People who believe they are God end up in mental institutions or on medication.

It’s like the story of the physiatrist who began therapy for a new patient. “I’m not aware of your problem,” he said. “So perhaps, you should start at the very beginning.” “Of course,” replied the patient. “In the beginning, I created the heavens and the earth…”

A man who thinks he is God is crazy. (Some of you may be thinking, “Tell my husband that.”)

Another story: In a psychiatrist’s waiting room two patients were having a conversation. One said to the other, “Why are you here?” The second answered, “I’m Moses, so the doctor told me to come here.” The first was curious and asked, “How do you know you’re Moses?” The second said, “God told me I was.” At that point, a patient on the other side of the room shouted out, “I did NOT.”

It’s crazy to claim to be God! But here’s the thing: Jesus said it.

And he answered the high priest in such a way that there could be no confusion. He used direct quotations and phrases from the Jewish Scriptures so that all the learned scriptural scholars would make no mistake — he was claiming to be God, standing before them in the flesh.

It’s no wonder the council erupted in chaos! No wonder they became so upset! They were shocked… offended…enraged! The high priest even ripped his fancy, one-of-a-kind priestly robe. (Ripping clothes was an ancient custom to show extreme grief or anger.)

But Jesus didn’t just say it once. He said it three times, causing the outrage to escalate. The priests and elders became increasingly angry as he spoke. [Curious side note: in the desert the devil quoted Scripture three times to tempt Jesus about his identity (“If you are the Son of God…”). Now Jesus quoted Scripture three times to confirm his identity.]

(1) “I AM.”

“I AM” was the unique name God had revealed to Moses at the burning bush. Moses was afraid of going back to his people. “Whom shall I tell them sent me?” he asked. And God said, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” (Exod 3:14)

“I AM” was “Yahweh” in the OT Hebrew. The Jews, out of respect for God’s holiness, avoided saying the Hebrew word Yahweh. If they were reading Scripture and came to the word, Yahweh, (Lord in the English OT) they would say “Adonai” (Lord) or simply “the Name.” When the scribes were copying the texts and came to the holy name, Yahweh, they would stop and cleanse themselves with a bath before daring to dip their quill in ink to write it. [http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080710220018AAYQrlD and http://www.elijahproject.net/bible6.html]

Now here was this traveling rabbi, this upstart with his rag-tag followers and no respectable credentials, daring to stand before them and claim to be the Messiah — using holy words none of them dared to say out loud. Outrageous!

But Jesus didn’t stop. Next he quoted from the Psalms, placing himself right next to God.

(2) “You will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One.”

The high priest knew Jesus was referring to one of David’s psalms: “The Lord says to my lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’” (Ps 110:1)

The “right hand” in their culture and customs meant authority and privilege. The “right hand of the Mighty One” meant a place on the throne of heaven, a place of judgment and authority, next to the Almighty God.

So Jesus was making an unmistakable claim: that he shared authority with God in heaven. It wasn’t just that he was speaking for God on earth; he was saying that they would see him with authority in heaven, sitting as judge at God’s right hand. Outrageous!

Here were the priests and elders, judging and condemning him — but Jesus said he would be judging them. It was ludicrous — crazy that a person on trial for his life would stand in contempt of court and say, “You can’t judge me. I’m judging you!”

But that’s what Jesus did. Why? Because he was the Messiah. He claimed the place of highest authority, sitting at the right hand of the Almighty God.

But he still didn’t stop. Next he quoted from the Book of Daniel. [Another side note: In quoting three times from Scripture, Jesus looked to three parts of Scripture: the Law (Exod 3:14), the Psalms (110:1), and now the Prophets (Dan 7:13). “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets {Jesus said}; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matt 5:17).]

(3) [You will see the Son of Man] “Coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Daniel wrote: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven…” (Dan 7:13)

That verse alone was enough to tick them off, but when they recalled the full passage, they were even more enraged. They all knew verse 14, which followed:

“He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” (Dan 7:14)

So in just a single sentence, Jesus used Scripture three times to link himself to Yahweh, the Almighty God. It created an uproar! It was like he had thrown a hand grenade into the meeting and pandemonium broke loose.

The high priest was livid; he ripped his robes. “This is blasphemy!” he screamed. “You all heard it!” (Everyone in the room was yelling and shouting.) “What’s your decision? How will you judge him?” And they all shouted back, “He deserves to die! He thinks he’s God!”

Jesus said some crazy things. He said he was God: “I AM.” And he was judged for what he said. He was crucified — killed because he claimed to be God.

But Jesus rose from the dead to prove he was God — that he was, in fact, who he claimed to be.

Today, Jesus is still being judged. Today, people are still making decisions about Jesus. The question the high priest asked the Sanhedrin on that day so long ago is a question still being asked:

“What do you think? What is your decision? How will you judge him?”

Some believe he is Lord — and they worship him; they give their lives to him.

Others think Jesus was a fraud. When Paul spoke to the people in Athens, they listened, but “When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered…” (Acts 17:32).

Still others may think he was a good man, a great teacher — but they don’t think he could be God.

What will you decide? How will you judge him? Are his words crazy? Insane?

His words are so outrageous, we aren’t really left with many options.

A couple weeks ago we looked at a quote from C.S. Lewis saying that Jesus is either a lunatic, a liar, or Lord. Lewis insists Jesus can’t be merely a good teacher, a moral philosopher, an example to follow. Because a liar who deceives is not good. A lunatic with no grip on reality cannot be a reliable teacher.

But if Jesus rose from the dead, then he lived up to his astounding, outrageous claims. The historical fact of the Resurrection means Jesus is Lord — he is the Son of God, the Messiah who came to set us free.

So what do you think? What is your decision? How will you judge him? Was he crazy? Or was he speaking the truth?

Your decision makes all the difference! If you believe he is who he said he was, if you believe he is Lord and Savior, then you’ll need to respond:

  • If he is Lord, then we must surrender our lives to him — so he can be Lord to us.
  • If we surrender, then he will change our lives. Radically change our lives!

Some may not yet be convinced. They’re still weighing the facts. And that’s okay. I respect the journey they’re on.

Just realize that as long as you put off a decision, that is a decision. It’s deciding not to surrender. It means to keep living the same way you have been — doing your own thing, trying to fix your problems yourself, stuck in your own craziness, unable to go forward, unable to change, trapped in your sin, hostage to your addictions.

But when you decide to surrender to Jesus, you give him permission to come into your life, to be the Lord (the owner, the boss). You give him permission to do an “extreme makeover” — a major overhaul. You receive his love and his grace. You will be forgiven, cleansed of your sin, set free from the things that hold you back.

So what is your decision? How will you judge him? Was he crazy? Or was he Christ?

So I encourage you: Don’t put it off. Put your trust in Jesus. Let the Son of God change you.

“I am.”