“Knowing Jesus”Categories: Sermons
At some point or other, I would imagine that most all of us have seen that fish symbol on the back of a car. Most of them are either empty or say “Jesus” in them. However, back in the 199os, when I first remember seeing them, many of the original fish symbols contained letters that look to us like IXOYE. So. . . what does a fish symbol have to do with Jesus have to do with those funny letters?
Let’s start with the funny letters. They aren’t normal letters like we use. They’re from the Greek alphabet, and they are the letters iota, chi, theta, upsilon, and sigma. Translated into our letters, they spell out I-CH-TH-Y-S, and ichthys is the Greek word for “fish”.
Thus for the fish, but what about Jesus? Here’s what’s going on. Ichthys doesn’t just mean “fish”. It’s also an acrostic sermon outline, a very old one, going back at least to the second century A.D. Early Christians used it to teach others about Jesus. I figure we might as well use the outline for the same purpose today, so for our fourth half-hour study sermon, let’s see how the fish symbol teaches us to know Jesus.
The first letter in the sermon outline, iota, stands for Iēsous, which is Greek for “Jesus”. Just like “Jehovah” in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, “Jesus” in Greek starts with an I.
The second letter, which looks like an X to us, is a chi, a “ch” sound, and it stands for Christos, from which we get our English word “CHRIST”. Jesus is called Christ hundreds of times in the Bible, but perhaps the most significant usage of the word appears in Acts 2:36. Here, we particularly need to notice that Peter says that God has made Him both Lord and Christ.
This seems weird to us. A lot of the time, we think of “Christ” almost like a last name. Sometimes, we’ll hear profane people throw in an H when they’re blaspheming the name of Jesus, as though H is His middle initial. Really, though, “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name. It is one of His titles, and it means “Anointed One”.
In the Old Testament, there were three classes of people who were anointed, and Jesus is the only person ever to be a member of all three classes. The first of these classes is the class of prophet. Prophets were anointed like Elijah anointed Elisha. Jesus too was anointed by the Holy Spirit. Because He is an anointed prophet, Jesus has the ability to declare the word of God by inspiration. This means that all of us are responsible for listening to His teachings.
Second, priests were anointed under the law of Moses, from Aaron onward. Jesus too is anointed as a priest. Indeed, He is our great High Priest. Under the law of Moses, the high priests interceded with God for the people. Today, Jesus intercedes for us.
Third, kings were anointed under the law. The Scriptures tell us about the anointing stories of Saul, David, and many others. Jesus, though, is anointed as our King. God has put all things in subjection under His feet, and He has the right to demand our obedience in everything.
The next sermon point takes up two letters in our acronym. The Greek letters theta and upsilon stand for Theou Yios, which means “GOD’S SON”. Again, there are many passages that affirm that Jesus is the Son of God, but let’s look at Peter’s famous statement in Matthew 16:15-16.
There are a couple of senses in which all of us are the offspring of God. He created us in the first place, and those of us who are Christians have been adopted as His sons and daughters. In some places in Scripture, angels are described as the sons of God.
However, Jesus is not the Son of God in any of those senses. Instead, it means first of all that Jesus is fully divine. He is not Michael the archangel or any of that other nonsense. Instead, as the Father is God, so Jesus the Son is God too.
Second, we must understand “Son” as a statement of relationship, not origin. This is usually different for us. When I say, for instance, that Marky is my son, I mean that I helped bring him into existence, and anybody who looks at the two of us can see the family resemblance!
However, the fact that Jesus is the Son of God does not mean that Jesus is a created being! Instead, it primarily explains His subordinate relationship to the Father, just as Marky is subordinate to me. Jesus is part of the “let Us” of Genesis 1. He is uncreated as God the Father is uncreated.
Finally, Jesus is the Son of God because He was begotten as the Son of God. In one of the most mind-bending events ever to take place on this planet, He took on flesh and became like one of us. In an earthly sense, but only in an earthly sense, God fathered Jesus like I fathered Marky. Other than Adam and Eve, no one else has this divine parentage.
The last letter of our sermon acrostic is sigma, standing for the Greek Sōtēr, which means “SAVIOR”. For the third time, this concept is all over the New Testament, but let’s look at Acts 13:23.
Today, when we see the word “savior”, we generally assume that it has religious connotations. However, it wasn’t necessarily that way 2000 years ago. In fact, it was a title most commonly applied to human kings. Many of the Greek kings who fought over the remains of Alexander the Great’s empire took the title of Sōtēr. In these cases, though, it’s not terribly clear who is saving whom from what, except possibly conquest by a foreign country.
Jesus, though, is a different kind of Savior than any earthly monarch. He didn’t come to save us from some hostile human empire. Instead, He came to save us from our sins.
Additionally, Jesus’ methodology as Savior is unique. All of those human kings acted like lords. They climbed to the top of the heap, taxed their subjects into ruin, then formed a huge army and ordered it around.
Jesus did the opposite. Even though He had more right than anybody to be treated as Lord, that is not how He behaved during His time on earth. Instead, He humbled Himself and became a servant. All through His life, He lived for others rather than demanding that they live for Him.
This pattern of servant-lordship is most obvious in His death. Those Greek kings would have sacrificed every one of their subjects in order to save their own lives. Jesus, though, sacrificed Himself to save every one of His subjects.
Unlike us, Jesus was sinless. He did not owe the spiritual death penalty for His sins. However, He willingly submitted to death for our sakes, paying off the blood debt that every one of us owed God for our wickedness. Because He died, we can inherit eternal life. Jesus is our Savior because He saved us from a fate too horrible to contemplate!
However, the salvation of Jesus does not automatically apply to everyone. Those Greek kings only fought battles to protect those who were their people. In the same way, the protection of Jesus only applies to those who are the people of God. Next time, we’ll examine what it takes for someone to join God’s people.