Our Faith by Emil Brunner
Emil Brunner is one of the great systematic theologians of the early twentieth century. Our Faith was translated by John W. Rilling, and published by Charles Scribner’s Sons, NY, 1954. This book prepared for Religion Online by Paul Mobley.
Chapter 14: Jesus The Christ
We speak of this age as the twentieth century. The year 1, the birth year of Jesus, divides world history in two parts -- before Christ and after Christ. Thus the world acknowledges, externally at least, the coming of Jesus as the world epoch. One may well be amazed that so humble an event has had such tremendous universal consequences. And still all this is nothing, for it is possible that the calendar may be altered, and a new year accepted. Jesus as an epoch-making personality is -- like all other world history -- dust, mortality.
Who was Jesus? A great, saintly man, greater than all other saints? Founder of a religion, the greatest of all? The supreme example? If Jesus is that, then he is, like every other great man, dust.
There will come a time when he will have nothing more to say to any one. Who was Jesus? As long as you ask in this way, you remain in a cool historical detachment from your question, quite interesting but fundamentally of no consequence. Ask, Who is Jesus? What is he to me? Can a man who lived nearly 2000 years ago mean anything to me? No! What was is past, and lives only through recollection. What was, does not, ultimately, concern you. For this reason he has two names -- Jesus Christ. He is called Jesus for all who know him only through history. If you know him only so, he means nothing to you. Jesus Christ he is called for those to whom God reveals His own secret. Of ourselves we cannot give to Jesus the name Christ. Christ, Saviour, Redeemer, he is called only for him whom God Himself saves, through him. If we were to read in the paper tomorrow that a spring of quite wonderful properties had broken forth at Bethlehem, Palestine, and that whoever drank of this water would become healthy, what sort of a pilgrimage there would be to Bethlehem! "There alone healing is to be had," people would say. Yes, more than that has transpired, the divine spring has broken forth there, and whoever drinks of it "will never die -- in eternity." How is that possible? What does that mean?
Jesus is a man, but in that human life something happened that never happened before. In him God's will, God's world plan, God Himself, whom we do not apprehend, but can merely surmise, became manifest. "He who sees me, sees the father." Jesus Christ is the sole "place" in the world where one can see God, and because we see God there, we also see ourselves anew -- in truth. Of ourselves we do not know who we are; we do not rightly know what the Bible means in saying "God created man in his own image." Nor do we rightly know that we are sinners and lost creatures. Both can be known only when one knows God, but we do not know God. Who God is, and who we are, is revealed to us in Jesus Christ by God Himself. God had to come to us as man to show us ourselves, our own creation, and our own sin. But He came and showed us ourselves and Himself, to lead us from the lie unto the truth, from damnation to salvation, from perdition and death to life and blessedness.
God did not do this by setting up a picture, a mirage, a window -- through which we could see into the heart of things, into the mystery of God and our own mystery. It is not as spectators that we can see Christ in Jesus, but only when we are challenged, called to an accounting, pressed to make a personal response, pressed for a decision. He alone apprehends Jesus as the Christ who allows God to call him in Christ. Before one answers yes to this call, one "sees" nothing -- nothing but this remarkable man Jesus of Nazareth. When others say, he is the Saviour, the Redeemer that is of no significance to you, no more than a picture which some one else thinks beautiful should give you pleasure. You must know him yourself, be able to say yes to him. That is faith. Jesus is not the Christ for the onlooker, the thinker, the scholar, the historically informed, but simply and solely for the believer. "He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live," he alone drinks from the spring of life.
It is proclaimed to all, behold the tabernacle of God is with men! Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world. Behold there, he, in whom God reveals your godlessness, and in spite of that, calls you His child! But the question is, whether we simply hear this message, or whether it finds the heart, whether we apprehend it as the truth, whether we hear God Himself come to us in Jesus calling us to Himself. When that happens Jesus is not simply Jesus of Nazareth, the great saint, but something happens to us as to Peter -- Verily thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God! Then will he also say to us, "blessed art thou, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father in heaven." When that happens -- Christmas has truly come.