A Time for Review

During the past few weeks, my sermons have dealt with the mysteries that surround the person of Christ. In many ways Jesus was a mystery to his parents. The Christmas story reveals Mary’s question: “How can I have this child since I am a virgin?” When Mary and Joseph met Simeon in the temple, and he told them, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel” (Luke 2:21-35), what did he mean?

Then there was the day when Jesus, at the age of twelve, separated himself from his family. After searching three days for him, Mary and Joseph found Him in the temple courts. When His mother rebuked him for causing them so much anxiety, Jesus said, “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s House?” The truth was they did not understand what He was saying .

Finally there was the day when John the Baptist pointed to Jesus, who was now thirty years old, and said, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” The world did not know Jesus as the Christ then, and it does not know who He is today.

This leads us to the last sermon in this series: Do you know Him? Hearing this question, many would answer, This question is too personal. I prefer not to answer.

The response to this remark is, Yes, I understand this question is very personal, but your answer cannot be private. If you live in a personal relationship with God, your close associates will know it. You cannot keep that relationship a secret. Your language, behavior, attitude, and spirit will give you away. Christ will touch every part of your life. You will stand out as being different in a world that still does not know Him. You are still a sinner in need of daily forgiveness, but you are different, delightfully different. You will be a fresh breeze in a cruel, hard, old world that hasn’t experienced God’s love and grace.

In today’s text, Jesus is talking with His disciples about this very subject Ð their relationship with Him. He begins with the personal question: Who do you say I am?

What if Peter had answered this way: Lord, this is a question that is too personal for us to answer. We are happy to report what others think of you. Many of them complement you. They consider you one of Israel’s great prophets. In the minds of some you are as great as, if not greater than, Jeremiah, Elijah, or John the Baptist. But now you want our testimony, and we prefer not to give it at this time.

Instead of this, Peter answered, “We know that you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” The Holy Spirit had led them thus far in answering the question as to who Jesus was.

Hearing Peter’s testimony, Jesus was thrilled. “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.”

Now Jesus was anxious to take the next step in revealing His death and the cost for the disciples if they still wanted to be His followers. “He began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”

Peter did not understand, so he took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me. You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” The disciples did not understand that Jesus had to die. He added to their confusion by saying he was including them in the suffering and death. Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” ).

Peter and the other disciples were beginning to understand that Jesus was the Messiah, but they had a long way to go in understanding that He had come into this world to be the Savior of all who would trust Him as Lord. This understanding did not come until after Christ was raised from the dead and the Holy Spirit had strengthened their relationship to the degree that they could speak up to the Jewish leaders who forbade them to mention the name of Jesus. “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).

This then leads us to our day. The world still does not know Jesus. Here is that personal question: Do you know Him? By knowing Him, we mean, Have we experienced His love, and do we hear His voice speaking to us through the Scriptures as we bring our requests to him in our prayers? There is an old saying: Absence makes the heart grow fonder. That might be true for some people in their relationships with other humans. However, it is never true in our relationship with Christ. In order for that relationship to grow, we must live with Him in His Word, and prayer must be a vital part of our life. As our communication with the Lord grows stronger, our relationship with Him becomes more and more personal.

It can best be compared to our relationship with people. We can know a lot about the President of the United States. Books, newspapers, television, and radio programs bring us much information about him. However, it is only when we live with this leader on a regular basis that we can claim to know him personally. So also with the Lord Jesus. Do you know Him?

On New Year’s Day we were invited to a neighborhood party. I sat beside a twenty-one-year-old young man with whom I hadn’t visited for years. I asked him, “What are you doing these days?”

He replied that he is a junior at the university.

“What happens after you graduate from the university?” I asked.

The young man said, “I am going to seminary. I want to work in some form of Christian ministry.”

This led to my next question, “When did the Lord become a living part of your life?” He told me of being on a youth retreat with some Christian friends. It was during those days that Christ became very personal to him, and he committed his life to the Lord. He was grateful for the Christian instruction he had received in his confirmation class. This instruction taught him about the Savior. Without this information he would not have come to know Jesus personally. And after the teaching experience, the young man was able to say, “I met Christ in a very personal way. Now I know I live in a personal relationship with Him.”

At a morning Bible study two men were conversing. One said, “I have always belonged to the church. I even taught Sunday school. But it was not until my wife and I were attending a marriage retreat that I came to know Christ personally.”

Another gentleman in the group asked, “How does it feel to know Him personally?” It was evident this man longed for such a relationship with Christ.

His friend replied, “Jesus Christ came alive. He came into my life in a new way. From that day on, we have had many intimate conversations as He speaks to me through His Word, and I reply to him in my prayer life. It is a personal relationship.”

This gentleman was quick to admit he has a long way to go. There are still many mysteries about Jesus that he will probably never understand while he is on this earth. But Christ is his comfort, strength, Savior, and Lord. Christ directs his life.

The last illustration was most surprising to me. Another pastor and I had attended the United State Congress on Evangelism. It was the closing day, and we were urged by Billy Graham and Oswald Hoffmann to find a partner, get on our knees, and share our concerns in prayer. When the prayer session was over, my prayer partner said to me, “I have been a minister for thirty-five years. Yet today I met Jesus Christ personally for the first time.”

From that day on, his ministry was different. He was not simply teaching the congregation about Jesus and what He has done for us. He was now introducing the them to the Son of God and Savior of the world who changed his life and could make a great difference in their lives. Although there were still many mysteries, the relationship between this pastor and Jesus continued to grow until the Lord called him home.

There is a time when we need to review our relationship with Christ. That was what Jesus was doing with His disciples at Caesarea Philippi. That is what He wants to do with us today as He asks the same question to you and me: Who do you say that I am?

Thrown Out of Town

There is an old saying: An expert is a person who carries a briefcase and is more than two hundred miles from home. Jesus expressed the same truth with these words: No prophet is accepted in his hometown.

Certainly, that had been the case with the Old Testament prophets, and it was being repeated now in Jesus’ ministry. “He came to his own, but his own received him not,” St. John said. Let’s review a lively day in the synagogue at Nazareth where Jesus worshiped.

There were three parts to a synagogue service. There were the prayers, the reading of the Law, and the reading of the prophets. Lay people were free to read the prophets in the service and then make comments. It was at this point in the service that Jesus had the opportunity to tell them who he was.

He stood up and read from Isaiah 61:1-2: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Having finished the reading he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and said to the congregation, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” With these words Jesus said, I am the Messiah.

At first His friends with whom he had grown up were impressed with what Jesus had to say. They were amazed at His ability to speak, but a few had some questions about His claim to be the Messiah. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

However, as Jesus continued to speak to the congregation, their admiration turned to anger and they tried to kill Him. Why the sudden change in their relationship to Jesus? He confronted them with a new truth. God loved Israel, but His love also reached out to all people. All who trusted Him could become a part of His eternal kingdom.

Continuing His remarks at the synagogue service, Jesus used two illustrations to show that the Sovereign God can bless whomever He wishes, and His Kingdom is not limited to a particular group. He reminded them that when the famine was so bad in Israel that many died, God did not send help to the Jewish people. Instead He sent help to a widow in Zarephath, who was a Gentile. To rub salt in their wounds the Lord also reminded them that there were many in Israel with leprosy, but not one of them was cleansed Ð only Naaman the Syrian was healed, and he was a Gentile.

At this point Jesus’ message hit home. “This cannot be,” the faithful said. “Israel is God’s chosen nation and will be forever. No other nation is its equal.”

Such foolish thinking could not be tolerated. He must die. Yes, John was right. “He came to his own, but His own did not receive him, so the Lord moved on to the world offering all people a place in his kingdom.

The treatment Jesus received from his own people has been typical of millions of peoples through two thousand years of history. How easy it is to admire Jesus for His teachings until they become so personal that to accept what He teaches would be life-changing. When this becomes evident, the relationship with Him cools.

“If living on the shady side of my business transactions must stop, I have to reevaluate my relationship with the Christian faith. After all, a bit of dishonesty has earned me many dollars.”

“If my lifestyle of immorality and excessive use of alcohol and drugs must no longer be a part of my behavior, I might have to opt for a good time with my friends rather than walking with Jesus.”

“If cleaning up my profane language would affect my ability to communicate effectively with my friends, I might find following Jesus difficult.”

“Believing that Jesus is the only way to heaven in the eyes of the world would make me offensive to my culture and some of my closest friends. This would be too high a price to pay.”

For two thousand years the world has tried hard to silence the voice of Jesus, but His Gospel is proclaimed more widely today than ever before. The good news of the Gospel is reviving starving spirits. It is bringing forgiveness to people who were prisoners of guilt and self-centeredness. It is opening the eyes of the spiritually blind and showing that life is worth living as they minister to others in the name of Jesus.

Listen to what Jesus has to say. Learn from that lively day in the synagogue. Do not turn your back on him. It is true, He will change your life, but changes will make life worth living and all things new.

Listen, World, Listen!

The Bible teaches that God is triune. This means He is One, but reveals Himself to us as three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Worship services begin with the salutation, “We begin our service in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

The Bible teaches that in the fulness of time a part of the Godhead came into the world in the form of a man. He lived on this earth as the God-man for thirty-three years. His mission was to redeem humans who had fallen into sin that they might become the children of God.

The question we pondered in last Sunday’s sermon was, When did Jesus, during his thirty-three years on earth, come to a full realization as to who he was and why he was here? In last Sunday’s sermon, when He visited the temple with his parents at the age of twelve, Jesus was aware that he had a special mission to perform. By the time he was thirty years of age, Jesus knew he was the God-man sent to redeem humankind.

In this Sunday’s sermon, it is time for the world to hear of Christ and His mission. This announcement was made through the forerunner: John the Baptist. John the Baptist was a relative of Jesus. Yet he tells us, “I would not have known Him, except it had been revealed to me” (John 1:33). Only the Holy Spirit can introduce us to Jesus and reveal him as the Savior of the world.

Because the nation of Israel had been chosen by God to be His special people, they were the first to receive this revelation. They had dreamt of a leader who would destroy the Romans. He would be a man of war building a kingdom for his people. It is little wonder they would not receive Jesus as the Messiah when he came as a man of peace telling them that His Kingdom was not of this world.

But then came that day when John the Baptist announced in the wilderness, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” And with these words this great preacher pointed the crowd to Jesus.

When the people wondered if John the Baptist was not the awaited Messiah, he specifically taught, “I am not the Christ. I am not worthy to untie His shoes. I must decrease, but he must increase.” This was the day when John declared, Listen, world, listen! Jesus is the Christ.

It was a message of hope. Jesus would forgive their sins and restore them into an eternal fellowship with God. No longer would a lamb have to be sacrificed in the temple each morning and evening as a payment for the people’s sins. Soon the day would come when Jesus would be offered up as the sacrifice for all people’s sins. The writer of the book of Hebrews stated it clearly, “So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:28).

This is the Gospel. How sad for the people about whom John, the disciple, wrote, “He came to his own, but his own did not receive him.” What a message for the world: “To those who will receive him, he gives power to become children of God” (John 1:11-12)!

No longer is salvation for one particular group of people. God so loved the world. The Gospel is for all. This is the message of Christ’s Church to a lost humanity.

In those early days of Christ’s ministry, John the Baptist was God’s servant to announce the good news of salvation. Throughout history, God made His appeal to this world through people.

Who was the person whom God used to bring you into the Kingdom? Was it Jesus himself as he spoke to you through the Bible? Was it Peter who, when your guilt was killing you, said “He himself bore our sins on the tree that we might die to sin and live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (I Peter 2:24)? Or might it have been Paul, who spoke not only to the Romans, but to you using these words: “If you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 11:9)?

It is more likely that it was some person Ð a parent, sibling, friend, pastor, Sunday school teacher to mention just a few Ð who might have pointed you to the Lord Jesus. Then the Holy Spirit used this person’s words to introduce you to the Savior.

If you are not a Christian, let me assure you that Christ loves you and wants to be your Savior. In faith receive Him, and he will restore you into fellowship with God to be His forever.

If you are a Christian, God has called you to be his ambassador. He desires to make his appeal to someone through you. This is the mission of the Church.

People do not change. For the people of John the Baptist’s day, the message was annoying, and they sought to quiet it. However, it could not be quieted. So it is today. Others, then and now, simply turn off the Gospel. They live this life without Christ and go to the grave without Him. But thank God it is still true: “To those who receive him, he gives the power to become the children of God.”

Listen, world! Listen.

A Perplexed Parent

As you were raising your children, did you have moments when you saw traits or behavioral patterns in them that caused you to ask, What do we have here?

At the age of five, one of our grandsons memorized the liturgy in our Lutheran Book of Worship. He loved to play church where he was the pastor and his siblings (or whoever else he could corral) were the congregation. He preached so hard he had voice problems that made it necessary for his mother to take him to the doctor. He was limited from preaching until his vocal cords were healed.

He was also interested in the hymns of the church. One Friday at lunch he asked, “Grandpa, what hymns are we singing today?” I told him that one of the songs was My Hope is Built on Nothing Less.

He then asked, “There are two melodies to this hymn. Is it number 293 or 294?” Listening to this five-year-old child caused many of us to ask, What kind of a mind does this child have? In a much greater way this was the question that puzzled Joseph and Mary as they raised Jesus.

We know little about Jesus’ early life. In the Apocrypha (early Christian writings that are not included in our Protestant Bible) there are some stories about Jesus’ childhood that are of great interest, but not verifiable. So there is little authentic information to make us better informed on Jesus’ early days. This raises the question, When in those thirty-three years that he lived on earth did Jesus come to the full realization that He was both God and man? When did His nature awaken to a full comprehension of His true identity? Because these questions interest people who want to learn more about Jesus, the visit of Mary, Joseph, and the twelve-year-old Child to the temple gives us important information.

Before Jesus was born, Mary had received some disturbing news from an angel: “The Holy Spirit will be upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you so that the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).

Mary responded, “I don’t understand what is happening to me, because I am a virgin. But I am the Lord’s servant and I yield to His will.” Now, when Jesus was twelve, she had other questions.

Luke tells us that every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When Jesus was twelve years old, they took Him along for this religious festival. After the feast was over, they started for home. The travelers made the journey in groups for security reasons. William Barclay, a Biblical scholar, tells us that the women sometimes started before the men since they did not walk as fast. In the evening, when the group had assembled, Mary must have asked Joseph if Jesus was with him. Joseph told his wife that he had assumed Jesus was with her. After a search of their group, they concluded that their son must still be back in Jerusalem.

The two nervous parents lost no time. Soon they were on their way back to Jerusalem where they searched for three days. Where would you expect to find a twelve-year-old son? He might have found some children and was having a good time playing with them. On the other hand, the big city with all of its stores could have overwhelmed him. Joseph and Mary searched for their child becoming more frantic as the hours wore on, but Jesus was nowhere to be found.

Finally, they decided to look for Him in the temple. There He was. The Bible says, “He was sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.”

Relieved that they had found Jesus, it appears that Mary was angry at Jesus. This is her rebuke: “Son, why have you treated us like this? You father and I have been anxiously searching for you” (vs. 48).

Jesus’ reply caused more questions: “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

I am convinced that when Joseph and Mary were alone, they must have asked each other what kind of a child they had. Both of them must have thought of those early revelations they had received from God through the angel and the old man Simeon. He was the Savior and would build a kingdom that would have no end. Their discussion simply raised more and more questions, but few answers were coming forth.

Jesus went home with his parents, and for the next eighteen years he worked diligently in the carpenter shop at Nazareth. During those years his parents lived a normal life and had other children. It was also during those years that Joseph died.

At the age of thirty, Jesus had become aware of who he was and what his mission was. It was time to leave the carpenter shop and begin His redemptive mission, which was to end with his death and resurrection. It was during the last three years of his life that Mary became more and more perplexed regarding her Son. However, she was learning that the person to whom she had given birth was far more than her son whom she had born, raised, and loved. He was God’s Son.

In this story God teaches us that while we are on this earth we will never know all of the answers to the questions that surround Jesus’ person and work. But we are also taught not to miss the message by trying to explain the mystery. Yes, millions have tried to explain these mysteries, but their rationalism has made Jesus no more than another person, great as he might be, and his primary work that of a great religious teacher. Can you imagine confessing a creed such as this:

I believe in Jesus of Nazareth, one of the greatest men who ever lived. He suffered and died for his convictions. He had a great understanding of right and wrong. His memory will continue for many centuries, and those who take his teaching seriously will be good people who can be trusted.

Can you imagine a Christmas Gospel such as this:

Joseph and Mary were going to have a baby. They also had to make a trip to Bethlehem because the emperor had called for a census to be taken. Joseph was from the lineage of David. Therefore, they had to register at Bethlehem. While they were there, Mary had the baby in the barn. It was a rough beginning, but it turned out alright. He grew up to become one of the finest men ever to live. He started a great religion that teaches high morals. If you were to summarize what Jesus’ main teaching was, it could be said in his own words: “Do unto others what you would have them do to you.”

This is the Christmas story stripped of all mystery, which makes it no gospel.

The life of Jesus is not a fairy tale, nor is it simply a legend. It is the story of God coming to this world. It is full of mystery that is revealed in part by the Holy Spirit to the Christian while he or she is here on this earth. It will be fully revealed only when we have come to our heavenly home. It is the mystery that adds to the joy of living with the Gospel and experiencing His love for us.

For those who do not know Him, do not turn your back on Jesus simply because the Biblical revelation of His life goes beyond your understanding. Simply receive Him in faith and he will restore you into fellowship with God.