Buckle up. Things are about to get a bit nerdy.
Imagine with me for a moment a hypothetical world called “Flatland.” Flatland, as the name would suggest, is very flat. So flat, in fact, that it exists in only two dimensions.
A Flatlander, we’ll call him Frank the Flatlander, could move about from side to side as much as he wants. He could go forwards and backwards all day. But he could never go up and down. Why? Because there is no up or down in Flatland. It’s a two dimensional world.
Try to imagine what it would be like to live in Flatland. What would a donut look like to Frank? Well, to a Flatlander like Frank, it would look like a circle. Up close, he’d see the edges of a circle, but he’d have no idea what was inside. How about a triangle? Also a line. There would be no depth or volume. Just the outside edges of other two dimensional objects.
Now, imagine if I were to try and explain the third dimension to Frank. First of all, he’d be freaked out, because my voice would be coming out of thin air… But forgetting that for a second, he would never be able to understand what I was saying.
“You see, Frank, I’m not just side to side or forwards and backwards, but up and down.”
“Up and down? So you must be like a really long line.”
“No, Frank. I’m more than a line.”
“Oh! Like a really big circle?”
You see, Frank’s entire world is two-dimensional. Everything he understands about the universe is limited by this perspective. At the end of the day, he is simply incapable of comprehending the meaning of up and down… of imagining the third dimension.
We might feel bad for poor ol’ Frank, but here’s the thing. We’re no different than him. We’re living in our own version of Flatland. When we try to understand the nature of our omniscient, omnipresent, eternal God, our minds simply aren’t up to the task.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
So let’s try.
Jesus is the Alpha and Omega. The beginning and the end. It’s a phrase we’ve used a thousand times. But rarely do we think about its implications. When we do, when we stretch our minds and try to conceive of the inconceivable, we’re left with only one response: falling on our knees in speechless awe.
In the book of Revelation, which was written to the persecuted early Church, we get a pretty unique glimpse at the person of Jesus. Here, we see him as all-powerful. A ruler. A warrior. A judge.
This book came with a message to this beleaguered early Church: It will not always be this way. The kingdom of God is at hand!
He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.”
Alpha and Omega – the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. It does mean “beginning point” and “end point,” but for the original readers, it would have also carried with it the connotation of, “the first, the last and everything in between.”
Yes, things are bad now. But Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the master of everything. From the beginning of creation until the end of time. The powers of this world may seem unstoppable, but Christ is the ruler of them all.
We hear that same idea in Colossians 1:15
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
That’s why it’s so significant to call Jesus the Alpha and Omega. He’s not just some dude who has lived a really long time. No, he’s the source and the origin of everything… And he’s the fulfillment and the goal of everything.
Galaxies, electrons, light, gravity… hope, joy, life, love… even time itself. “In him all things hold together.” He is the Alpha and Omega. The beginning and the end.
Pondering the eternal nature of Jesus leads us to absolute awe.
If you’re not there yet, hold tight. I want to take us a bit deeper with a question I’ve been asking myself a lot recently:
If Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, and by him all things were created, what does that mean for his perspective on time?
Ok. We’re humans. When we look at time, we see this immutable, ongoing, steadily-marching constant. Seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years… If there’s one thing we can rely on, it’s that time marches on.
But time is not as steady as you think. Far from it. Have you ever heard of relativity? This is one of the things Einstein was so famous for.
The theory of Special Relativity teaches us that if you’re moving really really fast, then time gets… compressed. For example, if you spent one year on a spaceship traveling at half the speed of light (insanely fast), then you’d get back to discover that 100 years had passed while you were gone.
But that’s just Special Relativity. General Relativity holds that objects next to massive things (like the Sun or a black hole or even the earth) experience time more slowly. Time actually slows down for things that get too close to the sun. Gravity affects time.
Time and space are not distinct things. This is why most physicists lump space and time together and simply call it, “space-time.”
From our perspective, it feels like time is constant. Unchanging. Totally separate from the stuff of the universe. But we know now that time and space are inseparable.
Why does this matter? Because time is a created thing.
When God created space and earth and stars and energy and gravity and life, He also created time. Before God set the galaxies in motion, time didn’t exist. There were no seconds or minutes or hours.
Our eternal savior isn’t just really really old. He exists outside of space and time.
Tell me that doesn’t make your jaw drop just a little bit.
IMPLICATIONS FOR JESUS
Think about the implications of this for Jesus’ humanity. Jesus, this atemporal, pan-dimensional creator of the universe, became one of us. That’s as wild of an idea as one of us visiting Flatland. And yet Jesus:
Who, being in the very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death –
even death on a cross!
How does an all-powerful being who exists outside of time go about living within the limits of his own creation? Or dying there? I have no idea.
But that’s not all. Think about what all this means for the person of Jesus that we have an ongoing relationship with. If time is something he created, and he truly exists outside of it, it means that he is not bound by our limited perspective on the world.
We may be trapped in the relentless march of time, but Jesus isn’t. He isn’t only present at this time. He’s present at every time. Right now.
Jesus is, at this moment, comforting 5-year-old you as you fall off your bike and scrape your knee. He is, at this moment, holding your hand as you lie on your deathbed and breathe your last. He is, at this moment, watching as a zygote grows that will be you 9 months later.
And he is, at this moment, sitting with you in this room, breathing life into the broken places of your heart, equipping you with strengths, gifts, and passions, and inviting you to trust him with your life, because you are his workmanship, and there is so much still to come.
How does he know this? Because he’s watching you live out your future mission right now.
Jesus is the Alpha and Omega. The beginning and the end. By him all things were created and in him all things hold together.
Does this make sense to our human brains? No. Will we ever fully understand the person of Christ in this lifetime? Of course not.
But does thinking about the eternal nature of Jesus give us a newfound respect for his majesty and power and holiness? You better believe it.
Pondering the eternal nature of Jesus leads us to absolute awe.
Jesus is the Alpha and Omega… and there is no other name.
Names are important – they mean something… They say something about us. Eventually, in time, as we grow and our story becomes more known to the people around us, they capture the essence of us. And when our names are spoken aloud people think: crazy, or intelligent, goof ball, intense, thoughtful, gifted…wonder what your names evokes?
Names have a lasting impact – they far outlive us.
So when I say Adolf Hitler…Gandhi…Abraham Lincoln…Mother Theresa…stories are formed in our imaginations… feelings enter our hearts, opinions emerge from our minds…
Names are evocative. Probably no name will ever more evocative, more provocative, more stimulating, more controversial, more encouraging, more inspiring, than the name…Jesus.
…there is no other name that compares
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." Acts 4:12
This month we will look closely at the names of Jesus. I say names because he didn’t have just one…he had dozens and dozens…scores of ways people referred to him.
Light of the World, The True Vine, Son of Man , son of God, the Amen, The Alpha and Omega, the good shepherd, Immanuel, Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the bread of Life, the glory of God, the I am, savior.
To know his name is to know him, and to know him is to find life.
So let’s begin with his most common name – Jesus.
His Father named him that. Not Joseph but God himself.
18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. Matthew 1:18-20 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." Matthew 1:20-21
God determined to name him after himself.
Jesus is the greek equivalent of the Hebrew name Joshua which is an amalgam of two words : Yahweh and Hosea . Yeshua or Joshua
Yahweh – the personal name Hebrew nation gave God
Hosea – saves or liberates
God saves…God liberates.
So, Jesus was no common name...it was an inspiring name, not only did it bring God the Father to mind but it also evoked memories of one of the nation’s greatest warrior heroes – Joshua of the OT – he who led the people of God over the Jordan into the Promised land to liberate it and give them a land of their own.
What a crime that a name so loaded with energy and vision and passion has become so common and in some cases so base...the root of profanity.
Jesus - God Save Jesus – the liberator Jesus – the hero
During our Christmas eve services we will explore in depth the concept of Jesus as Savior but for now let me suggest that you and I need a hero.
A hero who will intervene on our behalf – that’s what heroes do.
A hero you can emulate, who gives us an example to live by – that’s what heroes do
A hero who I can look to when life feels like an enemy – that’s what heroes do.
Jesus. My Liberator. My Hero.
And…there is no other name…
Imagine for a moment the world before electricity… where the only sources of light are the sun, the moon and fire. You can imagine how important each morning’s sunrise would be and how much you would appreciate the light of a full moon. And just think of how vital it would be to keep a fire going in your hearth and your lanterns full of oil. If you’ve ever been somewhere where there wasn’t any light at all you know how overwhelming the darkness can be. But in our world of electricity and neon and LED lights it is easy for us to take light for granted. When I turn off the lights in our kitchen at night it still looks like the cockpit of the starship Enterprise… the LED lights are everywhere. Truth is, we rarely, if ever, know true darkness. It’s almost impossible for us to imaging how important and precious light was before electricity. And this was certainly the case in Jesus’ world! No one in his day took light for granted. Light brought safety; it brought clarity; it brought illumination; simply put, light brought order to the chaos and the danger of the darkness. In fact, light was so important in the ancient world that the Greek word for light, ‘phos’ the word from which we get photograph and photosynthesis, was also the same word they used when they talked about the way our creative minds work… they spoke of light fueling our souls. All Light was thought to be a spiritual force… an overarching energy, if you will, that not only made seeing our way through the physical world possible, it also made understanding our world possible; light was the powerful essence that inspired painting and music and literature; light gave us the ability to think philosophically and to care about others. This force they called light was thought to be the substance within our souls that separated us from the animals. In fact, they actually believed that good light within a person could come out through their eyes. Now, I know this all sounds weird, but First Century people absolutely believed that light not only brought clarity, definition and safety to their physical world but that light in their souls made understanding… understanding of all sorts… possible. I don’t think I can over emphasize what a huge and important concept light was in Jesus’ day. And when we take all of this into consideration we can see just how outrageous it must have sounded when Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’ Now, we have no way of knowing exactly what Jesus’ original audience thought about his audacious claim to be The Light of the World. What we do know is that there were Pharisees present that day… and they thought he was crazy. They said something like, “. Who do you think you are to make a claim like that?” But Jesus stood his ground. And I don’t think that he was just talking about spiritual things here. I think he was saying that everything that light can bring to life, everything that light does for us and in us and around us all has its source in Him. Truth is, He made light; He is the one that said, ‘Let there be light’ at the beginning of creation. And he is
also the one that gives our souls light; he made us as passionate and creative people; and when we listen to his words they bring clarity to our dark world and they create peace in our hearts. He is THE light. It makes perfect sense to me that when the disciple John set out in the first verses of his version of the story of Jesus’ life, the book we call the Gospel of John, as he was trying to find the most remarkable, over-the- top way he could possibly find to describe Jesus, he ended up simply quoting Jesus. He wrote, ‘In Jesus is life and his life is the light of the world.’ This was remarkable and over the top enough. Now, the word both Jesus and John used for life was a word that didn’t just mean to be alive; it was a word that meant a deep, soulful, meaningful existence; the kind of life that contains all that light can bring… significance, safety, clarity, illumination, creativity, understanding… and all of this is found in Jesus. I often wonder what it would have been like to be John… to have heard Jesus say, “I am the light of the world.” I’m sure he thought about that statement a lot… I’m sure that Jesus’ words reminded him of the prophecy in Isaiah about the Messiah’s coming that said, ‘The people who walk in darkness have
seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.’ And he realized that Jesus was that great light! But, my bet is that the deep meaning of all of this didn’t fully sink in until John had his vision of the things in the heavens, the vision that we call The Book of the Revelation. And the one big thing that John made note of when he was telling us about the things he saw in heaven was this: the city of God doesn’t have a sun… because Jesus is there… Jesus is the light of heaven. And I’m sure he then realized that what Jesus is offering us now is a taste of what it is like to live in the light of heaven… to live with and in The Light of the world!” When Jesus called himself the light of the world he wasn’t kidding around. He was saying that he is the source of all light and life cannot be full, it cannot be safe or certain, it cannot have deep meaning or definition without him because he is THE light. We call him by the name ‘The light of the world’ because it is a name he gave to himself, a name that speaks to all that he is and all that he freely gives to us. And in calling himself by this name he offers us a challenge: he is saying, ‘The choice is yours; you can choose to walk in darkness or you can also choose to follow me and walk in all that the light of my life can bring to your life. Follow me because I am not only the light of the world. I want to be the light of your world.’