At times, it can be hard to keep believing that God truly has a plan, and if we could know what it is. The Scriptures reveal that God is at work to accomplish His purposes. In fact, the Scriptures share a unified story that points towards Jesus. He is God’s plan to rescue humanity. This was not an afterthought nor an accident. From the beginning pages of the Scriptures, we can see God at work to redeem His creation. This gives us hope that He is at work in our lives even now.
Work through the following questions and Scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.
During this odd year, spending more time with my wife and young adult kids has been a real gift in the midst of such trying times. One of my favorite things has been showing some of our favorite movies from the past to my daughter. She had big plans after high school graduation. She was planning to be a nanny in Paris with a family that’s planted a church that Gateway is connected to. She still hopes to go do that but obviously she’s been delayed in that. So now at the end of a long day after finishing up her online classes from Austin Community College, every few days she likes to watch a movie. So we’ve introduced her to the classics – you know like Sabrina, 42, and Father of the Bride.
One of my favorite movies that all four of us watched was actually a documentary called Searching for Sugar Man. I saw this film on a flight to Shanghai a few years ago, and it was so fascinating.
It tells the true story of a musician named Sixto Rodriguez who lived in Detroit in the late 1960s and early 1970s. An American took his album into South Africa. Soon after because of Apartheid, South Africa was cut off from the world. No musicians could come and tour there. But the music of Rodriguez became incredibly popular amongst the young adults. In fact, He was as popular as Elvis in South Africa. People would make copies of his music and pass it along. Radio stations would play bootleg versions of his music. He was a really big deal. The legend of Rodriguez grew as Word spread in South Africa that in protest to the Vietnam war he had lit himself on fire on stage during a concert.
Several years go by, the cruel regime of apartheid came to an end, and a South African man traveled to the United States. At some point he was talking with someone about music and asked about Rodriguez. He was surprised to find no one knew about him in America! Can you imagine someone as popular as Elvis in your country who is from America was completely unknown to everyone in his country! And no one had ever heard of a guy lighting himself on fire during a concert!
So he decided to do a deeper investigation only to discover that Rodriguez was not only still alive, but he was a construction worker in Detroit in his early 60s. In America, Rodriguez’s music never took off. He soon gave up trying and found a way to pay the bills by working in construction even while getting a degree in philosophy.
The South African man eventually met Rodriguez and invited him to come and tour in South Africa. Back in South Africa people could not believe that Rodriguez was still alive! In fact, thousands of people gathered for the first concert thinking this could not possibly be true! One of the most popular musicians of the 1970s that everyone thought was dead was actually alive?!
As the concert started, Rodriguez slowly walked on stage. People couldn’t believe it! Rodriguez received a standing ovation that lasted over six minutes! A construction worker from Detroit experienced the greatest ovation of his life in front of one of the biggest crowds he’d ever performed in front of!
His grown children and his coworkers couldn’t believe that all this time after all those years of knowing him as a construction worker, on the other side of the planet he was a rockstar!
Isn’t that an amazing story?
Today we conclude the series True North series, I want you to consider: Do you know who Jesus really is?
As we enter into this Christmas season, I want you to have an open heart and open mind.
Some of us feel like we are very familiar with the story of Jesus, but some of us might be too familiar. You may think you know the story, but do you know the full story? Just like the story of Sixto Rodriguez, depending on who you ask, they may say something different on who Jesus is. To some he’s a rockstar, a revolutionary, or a construction worker- a carpenter with a great philosophy. Today, some of us may be skeptical. Some of us may have added some ideas to Jesus that aren’t accurate. Even followers of Jesus may miss who He truly is if we aren’t intentional.
Too many of us have a limited view of who Jesus is.
In the 2020 State of Theology survey, researchers discovered that:
- More than half of American adults, including 30% of those who call themselves Christians say Jesus is not God but most agree He was a great teacher
- 65% of evangelical Chrisians in the study were also found to agree with the statement, “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God” which is different than “Jesus is God and existed as God before creation.”
- only 51% of Americans consider God to be an “all-powerful, all-knowing, perfect and just creator of the universe who still rules the world today.”
- Some 44% respondents in this survey agreed that since Jesus was both man and God when He walked the earth, He committed sins like any other person.
So wherever you are in your thoughts on Jesus, I want you to perhaps broaden your perspective.
True North Overview
So in this series, we’ve been looking at how God’s plan to rescue humanity has been in place from the very beginning and we see a foreshadowing of the coming Messiah all throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. We saw in week one in Genesis 3 that Jesus would come as The Snake Crusher (and all who follow Him have the capacity to crush snakes too! Everywhere we go and allow God to work in us and through us, we can overcome evil and bring light into the darkness. Last week in the story of Abraham and Isaac, we saw that in the exact same spot where Abraham was spared from sacrificing his son, God the Father sent His own son to die as a sacrifice on behalf of the evil of humanity that we might experience forgiveness of the ways we have gone our own way. Jesus gave his life on that very spot. Mount Moriah, the place of Isaac’s sacrifice was later called “The Skull” or Golgotha in Aramaic also known as Calvary in Latin.
The Son of Man in the book of Daniel
Have you ever heard that Jesus never claimed to be God? Maybe you have even thought that or believe that even now. What if I could show you, not only did Jesus make that claim, He demonstrated He was more than a teacher, philosopher, carpenter, or healer. He actually referred to Himself as the Son of Man more than any other title which means far more than you may have ever realized.
It’s in the story of Daniel that we find a massive clue as to the true identity of Jesus.
Do you know the story of Daniel? Growing up, these made some of the best flannel board stories. As my kids were growing up, there was a short film made about Daniel’s friends – Rack, Shach, and Benny.
Here’s a quick recap: Daniel was taken hostage among many others as Babylon destroyed Jerusalem. He was an exile forced to live in the land of his oppressors. Things were no longer as he wanted them to be. He was thrown into a culture which required him to go against his own values and faith, yet he remained faithful. Daniel’s example can help us know how to live in the chaotic times we are experiencing.
With permission, he ate only the acceptable foods according to his faith even as he still learned the ways of the Babylonians. He never compromised his faith but learned how to integrate it in his new home. Daniel saw God protect his friends miraculously from the furnace and even experienced the personal miracle of surviving a night in the Lions’ den. In the midst of all that, he knew how to interpret dreams and as a result he was moved to a higher level of responsibility in the kingdom where he lived, where he had been taken hostage.
He took personal responsibility for the sins of his ancestors, his nation, and himself. In the midst of that, God revealed to him some really remarkable things including the timeline of the coming Messiah and a vision of the Son of Man, the One human who would be worthy of worship, the One who would reign on the empty throne.
Now it’s important to know that we have copies of the book of Daniel that pre-date Jesus. They were found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. In fact, did you know that because of archaeological evidence and scientific advancements, we have more proof today that the Bible can be trusted than my grandparents did! What is written in the Scriptures can be trusted as being authentic.
For a moment, I want to look at one of the dreams Daniel had and see what we can discover about God’s plan for dealing with the chaos and evil of our world.
In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying in bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream.
2 Daniel said: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. 3 Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea.
He goes on to describe these beasts who had the heads of a lion, a bear, a leopard, and then the scariest of them all was a fourth beast. These beasts had wings and horns but human feet and the minds of a human being. The scariest beast was destroying everything around it.
So let me just pause to ask you: have you ever had a spiritual dream or vision?
We dream all the time, and some dreams are the result of too much ice cream before bed. Ever had one of those crazy dreams?!
Understanding Spiritual Dreams
But there are times, when God gives us dreams to communicate his heart with us and guide us. This seems to happen for some people more than others, but if you have a dream that you think may be from God, the key to understanding these dreams is to be familiar with God’s character as revealed in the person of Jesus and as demonstrated throughout the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation. We have great resources to help you understand who God is and understand the Scriptures – from our Sunday inspire services to life groups to Gateway U classes that we offer. There are other resources like The Bible Project whose video “The Son Of Man” we posted in our Campus Facebook Groups. Ultimately, if you really want to grow, it means you personally spend time with God and listen to Him speak through His Word – the Scriptures and in prayer.
As you get to know God and as you serve alongside others walking with Jesus or you’re part of a community group or recovery group with others from Gateway who follow Jesus, you can find some who may have some insights into understanding your dreams – people who might have that spiritual gift and a solid understanding of God’s character and how He speaks from the Scriptures.
For Daniel, just as miraculously as he had this vision, the interpretation was also remarkably given. The four beasts represented four kings. And the fourth king was the most brutal of all, yet the people of God would not suffer forever. There would be a day when they would be delivered from this evil king and Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.’ – Daniel 7:27
Daniel caught a glimpse of a time in the future when God’s Kingdom would begin on earth as it is in heaven – a Kingdom that would last forever, a Kingdom that goes beyond borders and spreads not through violence and warfare but through individual hearts one at a time. What we discover from the story of the Scriptures and the story of Daniel specifically is this: Empires and nations come and go. God gives us freedom, but He has not abandoned us. In fact, He can use the decisions we make towards His purposes. The oppressed people of God would read this story from Daniel and take heart that their suffering and the injustice they were experiencing was temporary. One day, God will make all things right!
Some of the stranger stories in the Bible show up in Daniel and Ezekiel and the book of Revelation. They include visions and dreams and strange creatures. They are referred to as apocalyptic literature. That word doesn’t actually mean the end of the world. Instead it means “an unveiling.” There are times when humans have gotten a glimpse of the spiritual warfare that is going on in the unseen realm.
As a kid at youth camp, we didn’t tell ghost stories, we told stories about angels and demons! And it freaked us out!
So why doesn’t God just speak more clearly?
Just tell us. Who is the Antichrist? What is the mark of the beast? How are things going to end?
There is a lot of mystery in the Bible so that we will lean into our faith and into community.
He will make things clear and obvious when we need to know it. If we knew everything ahead of time, that would be so boring or it could be so overwhelming that we would get stuck!
Also, these apocalyptic visions are using images that made a great deal of sense to the original audience yet it also kept the true message cryptic from the evil rulers who were oppressing the people of faith. Only those with faith would know the intended message.
The reason we are looking at this particular passage today isn’t as much to determine which of these Kingdoms are represented (although some are quite sure the beasts represent the kings of Babylon, the Medes and Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans which were all diabolical in certain ways and all oppressive in other ways and all collapsed at some point), what I wanted you to see is this amazing moment Daniel experienced in his dream. He shares something similar to those who have had Near Death Experiences like we’ve heard during our What’s After Life? Series.
Listen to what Daniel saw…
9 “As I looked, “thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. 10 A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened.
This Ancient of Days is God! Daniel had a vision of God which is similar to others who have had visions of God like Ezekiel, Isaiah, and John who wrote Revelation. This vision of God came in the context of His power over the beastly kings and and their brutal kingdoms. Did you notice something perhaps odd: Daniel 7:9 says “thrones were set in place” Who could possibly be worthy of being on a throne next to the Ancient of Days?!
But something really surprising and remarkable happened next in Daniel’s vision.
13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 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.
Wow! Daniel saw a vision of a human being who will rule this new Kingdom! A Son of Man, which means “a man born of a woman” who was given by God the authority, glory and power to rule over this Kingdom, a man born of a woman who will be worshipped by people from every tribe, people, and nation! A Son of Man who ascended into heaven to take His place on the throne over the Kingdom of God!
So who is this Son of Man?!
Different heroes of the faith have been considered for this role. Who would be the man that God has singled out as a friend and representative.
- Some thought it might be Moses because of how he led the people out of Egypt, but he fell short because of his anger issues and trust issues and ended up not making it into the Promised Land.
- Some thought it might be David because he had a heart after God and led the people of Israel to great heights as a nation, but he fell hard for a married woman and tried to cover up his evil act by having her husband killed.
- After the vision of Daniel was written, some Jews thought it might be one of the Maccabees, the family who rebelled against Antiochus Epiphanes who descreated their temple and whose victory is what the Jewish people celebrate at Hanukah. Yet their kingdom didn’t last as within just a couple of generations, the Jewish people came under Roman oppression.
- Or was this vision about Jesus?
Here’s where it gets really interesting. More than any other title, Jesus referred to himself as the Son of Man in the Gospels which are the eyewitness accounts of His life and ministry.
Jesus referred to Himself as the Son of Man because He was more than a teacher, a priest, a prophet, a philosopher, a revolutionary.
You see, Jesus was so wise. See at the time He was teaching and healing, people were looking for the Messiah, the promised One who would come and rescue His people. There were very few looking for this Son of Man. So rather than calling Himself the Messiah, He demonstrated that He was the Promised One. He healed people who were sick. He spent time with the overlooked and the oppressed. He taught with authority and wisdom beyond what anyone else had ever heard.
Why didn’t Jesus tell everyone clearly who He was from the beginning?
Jesus knew that either he would have been killed by those who wanted things to remain status quo and it was not yet time to give his life or others would have forcibly made him a political king which was not his purpose.
Also, remember, Jesus taught using parables. Jesus’ knew the religious leaders were out to get him. By speaking in parables, those with an open heart found faith. Those with a closed mind hardened their hearts. And they all heard the same exact thing!
You see faith and the Bible are like a Rorschach test. In the early 1920s, a Dr. Rorschach created a test using inkblots and what people indicated they saw indicated what was in their hearts. You can see what you want to see. If you have an open heart and open mind – you will get something from God. If you are closed minded or have a hard heart, it won’t be helpful.
Let me ask you: do you have an open mind? No, really, do you have a mind and heart open to understanding God in a new way? Or going deeper with God than you ever have before?
In his book The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ, Andrew Klavan writes
“If you believe, the evidence is all around you. If you don’t believe, no evidence can be enough.”– Andrew Klavan
You see Jesus used a phrase to describe himself that did not immediately bring to mind His true identity to most people. But to some, they knew exactly what He meant.
John Piper said it this way:
“Jesus was claiming a very exalted role in the history of redemption. And he meant to do it. Jesus was very subtle in that he was always opening his identity to those with eyes to see, but he wasn’t opening it so blatantly that everybody would come and make him king….”– John Piper
Just listen to the way Jesus spoke of the Son of Man:
- “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” – Matthew 9:6
- “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:28
- “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” – Matthew 16:28
- “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” – Matthew 17:9
- “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne,” – Matthew 19:28
In other places, Jesus predicts the Son of Man will be betrayed, handed over to enemies, killed, rise on the 3rd day, come in glory and sit on his glorious throne.
John Piper continues: “And only when the time was right—mainly when he was on trial for his life, and they said, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the living God?’—did he say, ‘I am, and you will see the Son of Man coming with great power and glory.’ (Mark 14:61-62) So he confessed his open deity right at the point where he knew he would be crucified for it.”
How do you see Jesus most often?
- As an 8lb 6oz baby Jesus?
- Fully God?
- Fully human?
- A great teacher?
- A healer?
- A prophet?
- A philosopher?
- A revolutionary?
There are implications of believing Jesus truly was and is the son of man as He described.
Too often, we have a small view of Jesus.
- You know you have a small view of Jesus as only as a teacher if you only go to Him for new insights to help your life.
- You know you have a small view of Jesus as just a prophet when you only go to Him when you aren’t sure what to do.
- You know you have a small view of Jesus as just a healer when you only go to Him when you are in trouble.
- You know you have a small view of Jesus as just a great example when you only consider Him when things are falling apart.
When we see Jesus as He really is – the One who came to rescue us.
The One who is worthy of worship.
The One who rules along with God.
We need to right-size who Jesus is in our life.
When we fully understand who Jesus is, we are transformed! We live differently! We experience life as God intended!
John says it this way: “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” – John 17:3
A relationship with God has so many different analogies in the Scriptures.
He’s like a Heavenly Father, like a mother who nurtures her little ones, like a spouse who offers sacrificial love, like a friend, like One who sticks closer than brother.
None of them fully capture the beauty of a relationship with God.
Let me share personally for a moment. I wish I could help you experience the presence of God in your life.
You know 2020 has been a really difficult year for many of us.
And yet, we have also experienced moments with God that make how hard it has been so worthwhile. Only God can turn something that seemed like a loss into an upgrade – even as we moved into a new house this past week. We have always had enough. Our bills are paid off even as we never stopped giving to God through this church. Curbside at HEB has been like our manna from heaven. We’ve experienced support from family and friends like very few times in our lives – whether it was prayers, a meal, a note of encouragement, or help moving.
But one of the greatest parts of this entire experience is hard for me to even talk about, but it is the greatest proof of who Jesus is. Almost every morning, I experience the presence of God. I spend time praying, journaling to God, reading the Scriptures, and singing to Him, and I connect with Jesus. I cannot explain it to you, other than to say: Jesus is God! He is love! He is life!
- How can I explain what it feels like to experience unconditional love?
- How do I put into words what it’s like to be forgiven for my stupid mistakes, my wrong choices, my regrets?
- How can I help someone else know what it’s like to have your guilt and shame taken away?
- How can I describe what it’s like to go from wandering and lost to being found?
You can experience life and freedom from Jesus too!
God offers us life and freedom. Knowing the story of Jesus and even having a list of facts that you believe about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is not the end game.
What God wants is your heart. What God wants is for you to know Him and experience His love so that you can walk through life in confidence knowing that no matter what you face, He is with you. He can bring good out of even your darkest moments. He can work in you and through so that you can experience His power and His nature.
He wants you to trust Him – for the first time in your life. And if you’ve been walking with Him for awhile, you still have room to grow! You have not arrived. He has more for you if you will just trust Him!
The Scriptures are a unified story that points towards Jesus. God’s plan to rescue humanity was not an afterthought nor an accident. From the beginning pages of the Scriptures we can see God at work to redeem His creation. The God who has a plan for redeeming humanity through Jesus has a plan for your life as well.
As Tim Mackie puts it in the Son of Man video:
“Jesus is summoning a new humanity that can rule the beast. Jesus’ life and power can become our life and power so we can rule the world as God’s partners but Jesus-style – In the power of service, humility, and self-giving love.”– Tim Mackie
There was this moment when Jesus was with his disciples and He asked them: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” – Matthew 16:13
They replied that they think you are a prophet. And then Jesus made it personal and said “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” Matthew 16:15
The Scriptures tell us Simon was the first to recognize who Jesus really was when he replied: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Matthew 16:16
Jesus affirmed Simon that God had revealed the truth to him. He then renamed
Simon Peter which means “Rock.” saying that it was on this understanding, this kind of faith that He would build the church.
This quote by A.W Tozer sums up the point of understanding Jesus.
“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”– A.W. Tozer
Jesus is asking you: “Who Do You Say I Am?”
How would you answer His question?
Does the way you live your life answer that question?
Let me give you 4 real practical next steps.
Choose at least one, and you can certainly choose more than that.
- Perhaps your next step is to Say “yes” to following Jesus. You are tired of trying to navigate life in your own way. You want a relationship with God, the One who loves you and created you on purpose and for a purpose. To start a relationship with God, just repeat these words after me to God.
“God, I need you. Forgive me. I need what Jesus did on the cross to count for me. I give you my life. Lead me.”
If you did that just now, you are now a child of the King! Let us know if you did this, so we can share some resources with you and help you in this journey. If you are at home watching or here in the audience, just text the word “connect” to 512-402-3773. Indicate your decision on the digital Connect Card you receive.
- Dive deeper into the real story of Jesus on Sundays and on your own. Don’t let the consumerism of Christmas or Americana Churchianity confuse you. If you aren’t sure about Jesus or you’ve fallen stagnant in your walk with Him or you want to go deeper with Jesus, let me encourage you to dive into the real story of Jesus this season.
Be with us on Sundays and connect with God personally during the week.
Plan to join us every Sunday either online or in person at one of our Austin or Branson locations.
During the next few weeks, go to Bible.com and choose the “Connecting with God (Luke)” reading plan. Discover, Rediscover, or go deeper in connecting with God in this season.and pray each time before you read it: “God, show me who You really are.” Just read and pray with an open mind and open heart, and watch how He reveals Himself to you. John was an eyewitness and wrote his Gospel “so that you might believe.”
- Be Grateful. For what are you thanking God for in your life in this season? Start a note in your iPhone or pull out a journal and write down 7 things for which you are thankful over the next 7 days. Thanksgiving gives us a chance to reflect on all the good things God has given us! Too often a lack of gratitude in our life creates distance in our hearts towards God and others close to us.
- This Christmas season, Invite others to join us on Sundays. People are more open than usual to join us online or perhaps you may know someone who would feel comfortable coming to one of our local campuses in person. Invite them to watch or come in person. This next month – all month – we celebrate God with Us! As we near Christmas, we will look at the ways God is with us in life in the midst of the confusion and chaos by taking a closer look at the Christmas story.
Let’s end this year resolved to come out of this stronger spiritually and relationally than we began it.
God has a plan, and we can trust him.
Near the end of his life, Peter, the one who was first to recognize Jesus as the messiah said something that really resonated me in this past season:
“In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,” – 1 Peter 1:3, 6, 8 NIV
We’ve been through trials this year. And not just the pandemic although it has revealed some of the cracks in our character, in our relationships, in our nation.
But in spite of that because of Jesus, when we lean into Him we can be filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy because He is our King!