If you were given the opportunity to spend sixty minutes with any person, who would he or she be?
A musician might like to have an hour with Bach. A professor of literature might cherish time with Shakespeare. To spend time with Abraham Lincoln would be a thrill for the historian, and a psychologist might have a hay-day with Adolph Hitler or bin Laden as they analyzed a mind that cared nothing about killing innocent people. Many of you would join me in saying, “Let me have an hour with Jesus.”
What would you ask Jesus during those 60 minutes? I would divide my time into three parts, and first I would ask, “Help me to understand better my relationship as a Christian with people.”
Here would be His answer, “Don’t let your life be an offense to others.”
“Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. So watch yourselves.”
What a bit of counsel for parents and their relationship to the children God has given to them! The home can be the most difficult place to be a Christian. To be socially acceptable we must be “nice” in the public’s eye, but at home we can let down our hair and let it all come out. Jesus warns us not to be an offense to these little ones by our hypocrisy. I recall one of my confirmation students telling me about his father whose religion did not last long enough to get out of the church’s parking lot. When the congregation leaving the first service was met by the people who were coming to the second service, there could often be some traffic jams that would make the tempers fly, and the voices that had just sung their praises to God were now using His name in other ways.
The person who refuses to go to church and says, “I saw enough of your so-called Christianity when growing up, both in my home and church, to last me a lifetime,” must have experienced something very disappointing. We know that the unchurched often use their past sad experiences with Christian people to excuse their indifference to the Church today. Nevertheless, Jesus reminds us how important it is to practice our faith on a daily basis.
Jesus, speaking through the Bible, also reminds us not to be an offense to those who are “young in the faith.” There is a good example of this in Galatians 2. Paul gives Peter a sharp rebuke when his behavior was offensive to the people in Antioch who had been Christians for only a short time. When the Jews were not around, he would eat with the Gentiles. This was a practice absolutely forbidden by the Jewish religion. But when the Jews arrived, Peter began to draw back and separated himself from the Gentiles, because he was afraid of falling out of the good grace with the Jewish people. This was very offensive to the Gentile Christians.
This same danger, of the Christian being an offense to the person who has just become a Christian, is with us in every age. There is no room for a double-standard lifestyle in Christianity.
Jesus continues to give us counsel regarding the Christian’s relationship to other people. It is important that you speak kindly to your neighbor about those things that are so very wrong in his or her life. Jesus says, “If your brother sins, rebuke him.” In other words, our Lord is telling us that we are our brother or sister’s keepers. The counsel we receive from society is quite different. Here we are told, “It is not your business how other people live. He has a perfect right to live as he pleases. As long as he is not hurting you, leave him alone. Who are you to stick your nose into another’s business?” So you know that Bob is unfaithful to his wife, and she lives with the belief that he is her loving husband. What do you do? Jesus says, “Rebuke him, even if it might cost you his friendship.” Our culture says, “Leave him alone. He might view this relationship with his wife differently than you do. Each has a right to his opinion. You don’t want to irritate him and lose a friend, do you?”
Jesus has more to say about our relationship with people. “If a person repents of his sin, forgive him.” How easy it is for us to carry bad feelings toward another person whose behavior has been offensive. The story of King David and his sin with Bathsheba illustrates this matter of forgiveness well. David committed adultery with Bathsheba, and later had her husband, Uriah, murdered. God sent the prophet Nathan to confront David with his sin. Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan hurriedly replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin.” If the Lord had forgiven David, who was Nathan not to do the same?
But then there are some other issues here that make the question of forgiving others more complicated.
How do we know the sinner is repentant? Jesus says, “If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ÔI repent,’ forgive him.”
If a person is repentant, can he keep right on sinning? Is this not letting him take advantage of you? We are counseled by the world to give a person another chance, but if he continues to wrong you, don’t let him get away with it. Jesus’ forgiveness is unlimited, and he counsels you to follow in his footsteps when it comes to forgiving people.
Well, the first twenty minutes with Jesus have ended. Notice that, whether it was walking with Jesus on the road to Jerusalem, or sitting in your living room with your Bible and letting Him speak to you, the Word is the same. Jesus’ answers are very specific when talking to Him about our relationship with people.
We will continue this sixty minute conversation with Jesus in next week’s sermon when we ask, “Will you help me to understand better what it means to live in a personal relationship with Jesus?”