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Sermon 4: Be Jesus

Sermon 4 of 4: Be Jesus, by Justin Rossow (Comparison/Contrast Structure)

The sermon notes for this manuscript can be found here.


“Jesus must be cheating.”

I know—that doesn’t sound very pious. But I think that, whether we are consciously aware of it or not, our typical response to any suggestion that we emulate Jesus, or imitate Jesus, or be conformed to the image of Jesus for the sake of others—any time we are invited to “be Jesus,” I think that we think: “Jesus must be cheating.”

I mean, Jesus is so loving, he is so kind, he is so powerful yet humble. Of course he is going to resist temptation! Of course he’s going to lay down his life for his friends! Of course Jesus can do all kinds of miraculous signs of the Kingdom, and love his enemies, and save the world: he’s God, for crying out loud!

So when I am asked to do any of the things Jesus did, when I am called on to resist temptation, or to love my enemies, or humbly engage in the powerful work of the Kingdom, my first reaction is to let myself off the hook by seeing the God/Man Jesus and saying, “Of course Jesus can do that! He’s God. And I’m not.”

In other words, Jesus must be cheating: sneaking in a little divine power to resist the devil; pulling off a second-person-of-the-Trinity magic trick to point to the Kingdom; playing his God-in-the-flesh card whenever the going got too tough for his flesh.

So when Carl Medearis or anybody else invites me to “be Jesus,” I take that invitation with a grain of salt. I mean, I can be maybe a little bit like Jesus once in a while, but he’s God, and if I’m honest, I kind of think that gets me off the hook.

The only problem with downplaying Carl’s invitation to “be Jesus” is that Jesus makes much the same invitation: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these…”

If JESUS thinks I should be like Jesus, then maybe I need to reconsider who exactly this Jesus is, and how exactly I am supposed to be like him.

A. Jesus receives the Spirit (and so do I)

One of the defining features about Jesus is that he is the Messiah, the Christ. That title—Messiah in Hebrew, Christ in Greek—simply means “The Anointed One.” Jesus is the promised Anointed One, the special representative of Yahweh who would receive and bear the very Spirit of God.

Come Holy SpiritI like this [Image of the Baptism of Jesus][1] because it captures the descent of the Holy Spirit. Remember, when Jesus was anointed at his baptism, he was named the beloved Son of God, and the Spirit descended on him like a dove. Jesus came to the waters where people were being baptized for repentance. Jesus stood in the place of sinners to fulfill all righteousness. And Jesus was declared the unique and beloved Son, who received the Holy Spirit and lived out the rest of his ministry carrying the special presence of that Spirit.

So in the one sense, you are not like Jesus at all. He is the unique Christ of God, the anointed Messiah, God’s one and only Son. But it another sense, precisely because Jesus stood in the place of sinners—because Jesus took your place, Jesus invites you to take his place. Because Jesus received and carried the Holy Spirit in a unique way, he became the one who was authorized to pour out the Spirit on all people, universally.

That’s what’s going on at Pentecost: Jesus himself, the Anointed One, the Anointed-with-the-Spirit One, is pouring out his Spirit on his followers. I love this baptism image because it could be the baptism of Jesus, with the descent of the Holy Spirit like a dove, or it could be Pentecost, with tongues of red fire dancing in the blowing of the Spirit wind.

It looks as if this person is almost inhaling, or drinking deeply of the Spirit. It reminds me of what Paul would later write: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”[2]

So although Jesus was uniquely baptized as the unique Son of God who uniquely bears the Spirit, you have now also been baptized. You have been named beloved daughter, beloved son. The same Holy Spirit that filled Jesus at his baptism now fills you. Today is Pentecost renewed again; every day, you walk in the power of your baptism; every breath, you breathe the wind and Spirit of God; every moment you drink in life, you drink of the one Spirit that empowered the life of Jesus the Messiah.

This painting by Lance Brown is simply titled, “Come, Holy Spirit.” It could be a picture of Jesus at his baptism; it could be a picture of the disciples at Pentecost; it could be a picture or you, today.

Jesus was anointed with the power of the Spirit. And so are you.

[Return to Background Image]


B. Driven by the Spirit, Jesus brings the Kingdom in intimate dependence on the Father (and so do I)

You know what happens right after Jesus’ baptism, right? The Spirit drives Jesus out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.[3] That’s right. The Spirit is now in charge. So that when Jesus faces temptation, he isn’t fighting with his power as God. Jesus resists temptation the same way you and I are supposed to: Jesus resists temptation as a human being who is filled with the Holy Spirit.

In fact, everything that Jesus does to bring the Kingdom reign of God from that point forward is done in the power of the Holy Spirit and under the authority of the Father.

After the temptation, Luke writes: “Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, … he taught in their synagogues … [Jesus] unrolled the scroll [of the prophet Isaiah] and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.”[4]

And he says, “That was written about me!”

Jesus does what he does only in the power of the Spirit. And time and time again Jesus speaks of his dependence on the Father. “I do nothing on my own authority,” Jesus said, “but I speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone.”[5] Or again: “The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.”[6]

Whatever Jesus is doing to bring the Kingdom, from his most miraculous sign to his most humble service, Jesus always is working in the power of the Spirit and under the authority of the Father.

One of my favorite examples of this kind of humble and dependent service is the foot washing in the Upper Room. [Footwashing Image] John tells us: “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.”[7]

Foot WashingBecause Jesus was confident of his relationship with God the Father, because Jesus knew his future as the Anointed-with-the-Spirit One, Jesus was able to serve. Jesus serves in the power of the Spirit and under the authority of the Father.

In that same Upper Room, while the disciples’ toes were still squeaky clean, Jesus will promise his followers that same Spirit, and invite us into that same intimate dependence on the Father: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth…  On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”[8]

So Carl can write: Jesus “actually invites us to the same kind of deep connected knowing of himself as he had with his father.”[9] Isn’t that amazing? The intimate knowing that exists within the Trinity from eternity is open and available to you, a sinful human being, because you also bear the Holy Spirit and live under the authority of the Father, all for the sake of Jesus.

No, you are not an eternal part of the eternal God the same way Jesus is. And, as a human being, Jesus lived out his own life in dependence on the Spirit and under the authority of the Father. When Carl asks you to Be Jesus, he doesn’t want you to imagine you are divine; quite the contrary. If we want to Be Jesus, Carl says, “We will follow [Jesus] right into the humility of dependence.”[10]

[Return to Background Image]


C. Jesus lives the human life the way God intended humans to live (and so do I, except …)

When I think of Jesus using his divine power to fight temptation, or perform signs of the Kingdom, or even to submit himself to the Father’s will, it seems, just a little, like Jesus is cheating.

But what if Jesus isn’t living as God among humans? What is Jesus is living as a human, the way God intended humans to live? That might actually be a more faithful representation of the biblical witness.

I mean, I know Jesus is God; you know Jesus is God; Jesus knows he is eternal God from eternity. But when the second person of the Trinity walks among us, he walks and talks and struggles and suffers and loves and grieves and bleeds as a human among humans, as a human the way God intended them to be.

So when we see Jesus interacting with the woman at the well [Jesus with the Samaritan Woman at the Well Image][11] we see one real human being from one human culture interacting with another human being from a similar but very different human culture.

Woman at the Well

I love this version of the Woman at the Well. It comes from the “Jesus Mafa project.” The Mafa villages in Cameroon, Africa sat with the biblical text, and acted out what they heard. That interaction with God’s Word led to a series of paintings from the life of Christ, as if Jesus had come into a Mafa village in Cameroon.

That whole project contextualizes the Gospel in the culture of people for whom Christ died. In fact, while Jesus came in, with, and under a very specific human culture at a very specific time and place, his promise is intended to cross all cultural barriers.

So to the Samaritan woman at the well, outcast from her own culture, this Jewish Jesus from a very different culture speaks of living water that he will pour out on all people. He speaks of drinking in and being filled with the Spirit and being sought by the Father. This Jesus, as a human being, crosses human divides in order to bring human beings into contact with the Father and the Spirit.

And so do you.

As a follower of Jesus, your job description is to receive and carry the same Spirit Jesus received and carried; your job description is to live the same kind of human life and cross the same kind of human barriers that he crossed; your job description is to bring other human beings into the intimate relationship with the Father and the Spirit that Jesus makes possible for you.

D. Jesus is the sinless atonement for all sin (and I need that)

And you know you don’t do that well. You know you fail miserably at that job description more often than not. You know your life is so full of darkness and pain that you despair of ever reflecting even remotely the beauty of Jesus to the world.

And so you hear the invitation to be like Jesus, even to “be Jesus” to the people around you, and you see a perfect Jesus who has all the power of the Godhead behind him and you think, “It’s easy for him! He’s God! But I’m not brave or powerful or holy or perfect like that. Why even try?”

And you are right, at least in this regard. There is something Jesus is that you are not, and that you never could be. [Crucifixion Image][12]

St. Charles Bridge CrucifixThis statue of the crucifixion stands on the St. Charles Bridge in the city of Prague. The Latin letters above his head, INRI, stand for Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. The Hebrew letters emblazoned in gold surrounding this crucified king read: Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh of Armies.

This Jesus, true God, begotten of the Father from all eternity, is also true man, born of the Virgin Mary. This is Jesus of Nazareth, the Jewish carpenter’s son; this is Jesus, the Anointed One of God, Yahweh in the flesh.

Jesus was a human being, like us in every way, except for the fact that he had no sin; instead, he took the sin of humanity onto himself, and did what only the God/Man could do. The one who bore the Spirit of God, lifted up and bore the sins of the whole world all the way to the cross.

You don’t carry, you don’t bear the burden of your sin any longer; that is not in your job description. You do not carry your sin; you do not carry your shame; you are not the one who bears the weight and the burden of your sin. That’s the job description of the Lamb of God, who takes up and carries away the sin of the world.

Jesus took your sin to the cross and became the once-for-all, completely unique, never-to-be-repeated sacrifice that removed all sin. The one and only place where Jesus was not like you—sin—is the one place where you are not supposed to ever be like him—the one who bears the weight of sin and pays its price.

And yet… and yet this same Jesus, who lived his human life filled with the Spirit and in dependence on the Father, also told his friends: “Anyone who would come after me, must deny themselves, pick up their cross daily, and follow me.” Even though you cannot bear your sin, to follow Jesus is to bear your cross.

[Return to the baptism image]


Conclusion: Jesus is absolutely unique and, in the power of the Spirit, you are absolutely like him.

So Jesus is absolutely unique. And, in the power of the Spirit, you are absolutely like him.

You are not like Jesus in his power; no, you are like Jesus in his weakness.
You are not like Jesus in his omniscience; you are like Jesus in his dependence.
You are not like Jesus in his eternal divinity; you are like Jesus in his intimate relationship with the Father.

Come Holy SpiritYou are not like Jesus in his unique calling as Messiah, Anointed One, Son of God, Bearer and Giver of the Spirit; and yet, you are absolutely like him in your unique calling as a baptized child of God, who bearers that same Spirit into the world.

You are not like Jesus in his role as Savior of the World; but you absolutely are like him, for you are sent into the world to carry his message of salvation.

You are not like Jesus in his ultimate authority, seated at the right hand of the Father; but you are, you are, you are like Jesus, for you also have submitted yourself to the authority of his Father and yours.

Filled with the Spirit of Jesus, you are not like Jesus in his miraculous Kingdom signs; no, Jesus himself thinks you will do even greater things than these.

And before you get too carried away, it’s good to remember that you are only like Jesus because of what Jesus has done for you. Therefore, as you go out in his image to be kind, to be present, to be brave—as you go out to “be Jesus” to the people in your life, you keep your focus on his activity, not yours. For at the exact same time you are “being Jesus” to others, Jesus is there, being himself to you.

As Carl put it: “The actual presence of Jesus is in us, which means that we can be the actual presence of Jesus to others.”[13] Filled with the Spirit, “we will follow [Jesus] right into the humility of dependence.”[14] Amen.

Editor’s Note: This resource supports preachers and congregations in the use of the book 42 Seconds: The Jesus Model for Everyday Interactions by Carl Medearis. You can visit the 42 Seconds Resource page at justinrossow.com to see more. 

[1] “Come Holy Spirit,” https://jesuspaintings.deviantart.com/art/Come-holy-spirit-jesus-paintings-624727075  by Lance Brown, https://www.paintedchrist.com/ .

[2] 1 Corinthians 12:13.

[3] Luke 4:1

[4] Luke 4:14-19

[5] John 8:28-29.

[6] John 14:10.

[7] John 13:3-4. The painting is by Harry Antis and hangs in the sanctuary at St. Luke, Ann Arbor.

[8] John 14:16-17a, 20.

[9] 42 Seconds, 124.

[10] 42 Seconds, 137.

[11] Jesus with the Samaritan Woman at the Well, http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48282. The Jesus MAFA project includes responses to the Gospels acted out by a Christian community in Cameroon, Africa, with paintings depicting the life of Christ as if it had taken place in a Mafa village.

“In the 1970s Mafa Christians in North Cameroun wanted to have pictures of the Gospel using their own cultural resonances. With the help of French missionaries they acted out the scenes, and sketches of the plays were worked up by French artists and given back to them – and to the world. More than 6 million copies have been distributed to date to 83 countries.” http://globalworship.tumblr.com/post/13908904724/pictures-of-the-nativity-story-in-africa-jesus.

[12] The crucifix on the St. Charles bridge in Prague, Czech Republic. INRI: “Jesus Christ, King of the Jews” Hebrew lettering: “Holy, Holy, Holy YHWH of Hosts” from Isaiah 6.

[13] 42 Seconds, 112.

[14] 42 Seconds, 137.


About Justin Rossow

Justin writes and talks at the intersection of Scripture, culture, and metaphor theory. As founder of Next Step Press, he helps people delight in taking a next step following Jesus.

One comment on “Sermon 4: Be Jesus

  1. […] full manuscript is available here, or you can watch the sermon, […]

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