Jesus Existed Before all Time
Jesus Existed Before all Time
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
We’ve all, I think, come through various stages of a Christmas, and I was just thinking of my own. And I remember the great theological question I had one year spilled over into the next months, as I looked behind the settee which we call the sofa. I was sure that my fire engine was somewhere there that they had forgotten to deliver. And I never did find it. And it really has bothered me since.
I think that, for the most of us was where we started. Christmas was Santa Claus and of great presents and the apple at the bottom of a stocking and all that. And it tied up a bit with the baby Jesus, and we kind of liked that idea, the little child in the stable and all the donkeys there. It caught your imagination. And I think we all started there with Jesus and the birth.
Then as years go on, you begin to catch the idea that this was just a myth. It was just a fairy story and it wasn’t real at all. And I certainly came through that and came through a period when I thought the Bible was obviously a good book. But I didn’t think that everything in it was necessarily true. And I rose to the black singer who sang, “It ain’t necessarily so.” And I thought, that’s true. And I struggled with that through the years — I had to do Latin in grammar school and then Greek later on at university. But certainly through the years when I got to know the Latin authors and the men who wrote around the first century, and wondered, really in a way, why they didn’t talk more about Jesus if he did really live, and began to have difficulties about whether the history was true or not.
Then I came to London and walked one day between those 2 glass cases in the British Museum. And on one side it was the Codex Alexandinus and on the other side was the Codex Sinaticus. And one was the third century AD and the other was the fourth century AD. And they had the whole New Testament in them. And that made me start to think, because I realized if that actual manuscript was written in the third century and Jesus lived, supposedly in the first century, then there was only a century or so between. And this meant that this Jesus story must be real and must be historical. And that was the beginning for me of beginning to see that perhaps there was more in this than a children’s story.
And of course it was after that that I got to know some of the facts of the manuscripts that lay behind the history of the New Testament. I knew the importance of it, because in university we had studied Plato’s Republic in Philosophy class. And I was amazed that we all regarded that as absolutely the book that Plato had written. And yet it was written in 200 BC and the earliest manuscript that we had of it was 900 AD. So there were 1100 years in between. And yet we all accepted that as the basis in all philosophy departments — accepted that as the basis of Classical Philosophy. So I began to see that the ancient books didn’t have even the kind of manuscript documentation behind them that this story of the New Testament had. And then I remember when I read about the Chester Beatty in Paris. Old Chester Beatty was an American oil man who started a museum, actually in Ireland, in Dublin. And in it he gathered all kinds of ancient manuscripts, Muslim and Christian and other religions. And he had there what we came to call the Chester Beatty papyrus. It was just a little bit of a manuscript of the New Testament. And it had part of [the book of] John in it. And it was dated 125 AD, and perhaps as early as 100 AD. And I knew that John’s Gospel — John was on the Isle of Patmos, and he died actually around the year 100. So John’s gospel was
written close to 100 AD, and this manuscript, this actual physical manuscript was about 100 – 125 AD. So that started me.
Why? Because I had a dear grandmother who was a Salvation Army officer. And she was a Salvation Army officer in Larndon in Belfast in Northern Ireland. She was my dad’s mother. And she was born in 1860, and she died in 1945. Really the same year as the war ended, she died. And I, of course, was 11 years of age at that time, and I had often talked to her. And I realized that she must have been conscious of things at least at 10 years of age. So she must have known what was happening in 1870. And here I was talking to her in 1945. I realized that therefore, in a way, I had a direct connection with things that happened 75 years ago. But then I realized, now I’ve lived another 50 years from that. And so 125 years ago I have some personal knowledge in the sense of personal relationship with what happened then.
Well of course that just settled it for me. If any of us can go back 125 years, then that meant that 125 years after Jesus’ death in 30 was [the year] 155. And that means anyone living in 155 AD had talked to friends or eyewitnesses or relatives who had seen him die. So it did change it. It did change Christmas for me. It made it no longer a myth, no longer just a nice story. It didn’t matter how many imaginary movies they produced of it, I was settled in my mind. Jesus was a historical person. And Jesus really did say and do these things. And of course it came home to me as true because these people who had told the story did not get rich. In fact many of them died with their children in lion arenas and on crucifixion hills. And so I saw that you wouldn’t die for what you knew to be a lie. You might die for what you thought was true. But you would never die for what you knew to be a lie. And it they had known he hadn’t risen from the dead, then they wouldn’t have died for that.
I suppose that is what changed even Jesus for me, because I was prepared to believe — I mean we were brought up in school, not only in Sunday School, but in ordinary state school. I know in America where you don’t think of the state school as being very religious, but in a state elementary school, that was where I learned “Jesus, Friend of Little Children”. Miss McNilly used to sit at her little organ. And she was just paid by the government. She wasn’t a Christian, or at least wasn’t thought of as a Christian. And she used to play that and teach us, “Jesu, Friend of Little Children.” So we knew that there. So we knew of Jesus as an example that we ought to follow. And we all believed in that whether he was a myth or not. So he was always a very good man in my mind. And of course more as I read Stuart Mills, the philosopher who said, “There is no human character as perfect as Jesus of Nazareth. And so we believed all that.
But that was as far as it went until I began to realize that he had risen from the dead, that he wasn’t like Mohammed, that he wasn’t like Buddha. And they did not ever claim to be God’s Son. They didn’t claim to rise from the dead. This man beat death. He came back to live again after he was dead.
And I read that book. You remember Morrison [Frank Morison, (author pseudonym) Albert Henry Ross, 1881 – 1950, Stratford-upon-Avon, England, originally set out to prove the resurrection claim of Christianity was false] wrote it, “Who Moved the Stone?” You remember he says there are 2 facts that prove Jesus resurrection from the dead, the empty tomb, and the appearances. He is very good on the empty tomb. He said, “People say the Roman soldiers stole the body. Well, why didn’t they parade it through the streets and say, ‘This is a myth’? And ‘the disciples stole the body’, well would they then take their children by the hand into lion arenas and die for what they knew was just a bluff lie that they created?”
And it is the same with the appearances, all the arguments about hallucinations; these were down to earth fishermen; they didn’t see hallucinations. So it did change that for me. It was no longer just Jesus, kind of a good human being that I ought to try to be like. But this man was actually the Son of the Maker of the universe.
That is the way it was for me, actually until we moved to England. I think that was it: until we probably closed the [Campus] church in 1987, and the concentration was here [England].
And then that was startling to me. I will show you the verse. It is Colossians 1: 15 and it just changed everything. It is Paul writing to the people in Colossae. “He (talking about Jesus) is the image of the invisible God.” That I caught. The next one was baffling. “The first-born of all creation.” “He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created.” And, I mean I could not believe it. “For in him all things were created.” “In heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” And then this verse, I had never seen it before. Colossians 1: 17. “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” And I thought, that is crazy; how could a man born in, say, 4 or 5 BC, how could he be before all things? And how in him could all things hold together? And that was just overwhelming to me that Jesus of Nazareth was the only Son of our Maker and that he was actually in existence before he was born here on this earth. And that had to be what this meant. “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” And then the other one, “In him all things were created.”
And it did tie up for me with some verses that I did know. You remember the beginning of John’s gospel is, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” And it is meant to be Jesus, he is the Word. “In him all things were created and without him was not anything made that was made.” And I remembered that verse, but I had never been able to make any sense of it. And never for a minute did I think I was made in Jesus. Never for a minute! I thought, “How could I be made in Jesus, if he only lived in 4 BC in the first century.
And then I began to see that Jesus had said some remarkable things. He did say, you remember, in one prayer, he prayed to God and he said, “Father, restore to me the glory that I had with you before the world was made.” “Restore to me the glory that I had with you before the world was made.” And that is when I started to — I mean I’m sure I’ve told some of you this before. But I’m sure some of you might have just taken it for granted, “Sure he was preexistent.” That is what the theology says. “Sure he was preexistent. Sure he had a preexistent life before he came to this earth.”
I never got that. And I was probably stupid or something, but I never got hold of that. I either never heard of it or if I ever heard of it, I didn’t take it seriously. But now I began to see, this wasn’t just a man that was born here on this earth. This was actually God’s own Son, who lived with him before the world was. And it made sense of that, “He is the first born of all creation.” I saw, “Oh, Jesus was begotten from his Father and then in Jesus God made all of us, inside Jesus.” I had no trouble with that. I mean you may say, “Well wait a minute. Did he insert himself in?” I had no trouble with that, because I knew the world above — there is a world outside this that is a spiritual world. And even with our radio waves we know there are many invisible things that are real. So I didn’t have difficulty with the idea of God making us inside his Son, because we believe there are no bodies there. Or they are spiritual bodies, but they are not like physical bodies. So I didn’t have difficulty with the idea, “God can make…” But that he did actually make us inside his
Son, I couldn’t believe that he made Hitler inside Jesus.
And it was only then really — I mean I suppose you have to see it in other people. I saw it in Hitler. You mean God made Hitler inside Jesus and Jesus actually had to bear that? Then I saw, “You mean he actually had to bear me inside him? You mean Jesus has, all these years been bearing me?” I don’t know what you all made of “bearing sins?” But that made sense to me, “Oh, he ‘bore’ my sin. He bore all my independence inside himself.” And that made sense to me that God really is a dear Father. I knew it because I knew my dad and what he suffered with my brother. I’m sure he suffered a lot with me. (laughs) You always see it in your brother. But my brother was a disappointment to my dad who was just an electrician, a foreman electrician in the shipyard. And my brother served his apprenticeship there and wouldn’t go to work! Wouldn’t go to work! So, of course, it was a dreadful dishonor to my father. And I saw the pain in my father’s eyes.
So I began to get a little glimpse of what our dear father bears when he bears us inside his own son. And that changed it all for me. Really, in a way, Einstein helped me. I’m reading that biography of Einstein by Isaacson. And it helped me when I saw in 1905 Einstein did one of his thought experiments, you remember. And that was for him the glorious year. He discovered the theory of relativity. And it was then that he played the idea with a train, with a person in the train and a person on the embankment and a lightning strike. And he saw that the lightning strike appeared to both the man on the train and the man further away that it was the same time, but they actually saw it a millisecond later. And he said then, he posited his special theory of relativity, that time was not the same in all places, that if you — in fact he put a clock on the top of an eight story building and proved that it went slower than the clock on the floor. And then it became ordinary knowledge to our space flights that if you went out far enough you would actually come back younger. You would come back younger than everybody on earth, because time and space are relative.
And of course it made sense of this whole thing, “A thousand years in your court are as a day.” I saw that it is possible for Christ to be born before the Creation and yet to be in a situation where it is all one great moment for him. And the little illustration that I have told you about, I read about in America there was a procession in town going by and there were two little brothers. And one little brother was so small that he couldn’t get up on the roof of the garden shed so he stood at the fence and he looked through a little hole. And he could just see the piece of the procession that passed by him. But his brother had climbed up onto the roof of the garden shed. And of course he could look over the fence, and he was able to see, not only what was passing but what was coming and what had passed.
And that made sense, that God’s eternity contains time, and therefore God is able to see the whole thing as one great second. And it made sense to me of all the talk about Jesus bore our sins: “How could he bear a sin that I hadn’t committed yet?” Now I began to see, you have been made in Jesus and he is able to sense everything in one great moment. It made sense to me actually about those who had died. I said to Irene one time in a certain experience, “A millisecond after I die you will be beside me.” And I think that is what it is with our dads and moms. A millisecond after they — because time for them goes short. And for us it is years and years, but for them it is a millisecond. And so we are right there together.
And so it all made sense. Of course you know without me saying it, to me it is very personal for Jesus, because I am aware that I act either like a poison inside him or as vermin eating away at his heart, or I am part of his body that gives him delight. It ties up — I don’t know if Deborah knows the story of “Chariots of Fire” but it makes sense of Eric Liddell [Eric Henry Liddell,1902 – 1945,
Scottish athlete, rugby union international player, and missionary] who won the — was it the 100 yards in the Olympics? And he said, “I feel the pleasure of God when I run.” And it seems to me that makes sense, that God has pleasure actually in us or he has pain in us depending on whether we are living really inside him and whether we are really dealing with him in that way or whether we are just pretending that we are our own little people.
It was a bit difficult for me because we were brought up in a — well I would have called it ‘pretty close’ Belfast family, father, mother, Desmond (my brother) and I. We were two years different in age. My mother for various reasons always encouraged us to feel that your own family cares about you. So really that is the unit and that is what you must protect at all costs. So I was very conscious, “This is my father and this is my mother and I’m close to them and closer to them than I will be to anybody else.” So it was quite a little step to see that they were just dear expressions of my own Father. They were just dear, temporary expressions of my own Father. Really, they were just God’s method of getting me here to earth, getting me alive, but that I was actually made inside his own dear Son and I was part of him. And I think that is the great thing. And I think that is the heart of Christmas, that each of us were actually made inside Jesus.
And with all our “church” stuff and all our Muslim and all our Christianity stuff really it is all beside the point. He has made each one of us inside his dear Son. And we are close to them and dear to their hearts and part of them. And really we can give them delight and we can enjoy them or we can pretend we are on our own, exiles who live away out on our own in space.
So Christmas is really something warm for us.
Let us pray.