What Label Do You Put on Jesus?

Haddon Robinson, in a devotional article, raises the question, What label do you put on Jesus?

It is evident from the media that there are many who compliment Jesus with some worthy titles, such as the most influential person who ever lived. This is a great compliment to which Christians would agree, but it does not satisfy the claims of the Bible that calls Jesus the Lord of Lords and the only Savior of the world.

Dr. Robinson refers to the biographical archives of a leading newspaper in the U. S. where one of the files is marked, “Jesus Christ Ð Martyr”. Jesus is in the company of many great people when labeled a martyr, but the Bible is not content with such a title. Rather, Jesus Christ is God, the One before whom every knee will bow and every tongue shall one day confess him as Savior and Lord. He did not only die for a good cause; He died to be our Savior. His death did not just mark the end of a beautiful life, for He was raised and is victor over sin, death, and the devil.

In our text, Jesus makes two important statements. The first one is, “No one comes to the Father but by me.” Jesus is the only way to heaven. Such a statement is not acceptable to the millions who are members of other religions or who have no religious affiliation. This is understandable. However, what is difficult to understand is that some Christians do not limit salvation to those who trust in Christ alone. These folks believe Jesus’ words are divisive; they do not build good will. Our culture cannot condone such a teaching.

This statement of Jesus is the assigned text for this fifth Sunday of Easter, on which many pastors will build their sermons today. It raises many questions which the Bible has chosen not to answer. One day they will be answered by a loving father who wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. Our mission for now is simply to proclaim God’s love in Christ and leave the rest to Him.

The second statement Jesus makes regarding himself is also offensive: “Any one who has seen me has seen the Father.” In other words, He claims to be God. In fact, later on Jesus says, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).

The Church has summarized Jesus’ statements telling us who He is in the words of the Nicene Creed: “He is the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God; Light from Light; true God from true God; begotten, not made; of one being with the Father. Through Him all things were made.”

With biblical and confessional statements such as these, the Christian cannot reduce Jesus simply to one of the greatest religious leaders in history. He is far more than a martyr. To do this is to make the teachings of Jesus false. So what is the position of the Christian when he or she sits on a television panel with Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists? To give the impression that we are one happy family is wrong. However, this is what the majority of the television audience wants to hear. It is a popular message. The only problem is, Jesus does not give His endorsement to this witness.

People have the right to believe as they do, for it is their privilege as American citizens. We should live together and be good neighbors assisting each other in times of need. But the Gospel is offensive Ð it always has been and always will be to a majority of people in our world. Even today many are dying in their attempt to bring the message of Christ to their people. This comes as no surprise, for the Bible says, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.” Yet the Church is to proclaim this Word in love.

So it is clear that confessions such as “Jesus is God” and “Jesus is the only way to heaven” are offensive to many in our world. But so are many of the ethical teachings of the Christian faith that are in conflict with our culture.

For sixty-six years Christian Crusaders has been proclaiming the great message of Christ. God has blessed our efforts. While there are many who long to hear of God’s love, the resistance to the Gospel grows stronger as our culture becomes less tolerant of biblical truths. The day has come in the organized church when Scripture is interpreted in the light of our culture. Bible passages get new interpretations that change their meaning so they are not offensive to society as a whole. Let me use an example.

The Bible clearly teaches that the practice of homosexuality is sin. In Romans we read,” Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way, men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion” (Romans 1:26-27).

We now live in a time when our culture is more accepting of the homosexual lifestyle. Within the churches, there is a recommendation that we follow the leadership of culture, which means to allow the blessing of same-sex marriages and to ordain practicing homosexuals. While some of our leadership frowns on the homosexual lifestyles, they would rather find ways to accept these unbiblical practices than to divide the Church on this issue.

We, who are told by Jesus to be the salt of the earth, are succumbing to present day cultural demands. Those of us who are opposed to this change are asking, “How do we justify this new understanding of Scripture in the light of our church’s teaching that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and the authority in all matters of faith and life?” Culture is not to influence the biblical message. Rather, what the Bible says should influence culture as the Word is proclaimed by the Church.

Christian Crusaders wants our radio audience to know that we are opposed to the blessing of same-sex marriages and the ordination of practicing homosexuals. We are anxious to minister to homosexuals and to serve them with God’s Word. Yet, because Scripture speaks so clearly on this subject, we cannot condone the practicing homosexual’s lifestyle.

We believe that if we are faithful to God’s Word, our Heavenly Father will use the Christian Crusaders radio and Internet ministry to reach people with the Gospel. But we need your help. We need your prayers and financial gifts. Air time is expensive, and our program is dependent upon your gifts. Would you consider sending us a gift each month? Through the years, people who believed that Christian Crusaders proclaims the truths of God’s Word have included us in their estate planning. Some of this money is used today to finance our programs.

Our Board is not panicking. It believes that if God has a place for this program in reaching out with the truths that Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord, He will provide the necessary funds. We thank you for your support.

Quality Living

Our longevity of life continues to increase. Some scientists believe that the upper practical limit to life expectancy is about eighty-five years. Others say that we can expect life expectancies of one hundred years at some time in the twenty-first century. One of the important questions that needs to be asked in relationship to the length of life is, what will the quality of life be like?

To celebrate a hundredth birthday would be fine if:

¥ Our minds are alert, we are aware of what is happening in the world, we can enjoy the company of our family and friends.

¥ We have a relatively pain-free body.

¥ We are mobile. We might not be able to walk a mile, but we can get around, if not on foot, then in a wheelchair.

¥ We have sufficient money in order to not be a burden to others.

However, Jesus’ words raise an important question: “Is this all you need to have a quality life?” Jesus answers his question when he says, “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly.” These words imply that true quality living is experienced only when we are in a personal relationship with him.

Jesus likens himself to a shepherd walking with his sheep. The sheep are living in a pen. They have been led into the pen by the shepherd. The watchman sees the shepherd and his flock coming, he opens the door for him, and in they go. When the shepherd speaks to the sheep, they listen. He calls them by name and leads them out of the pen. He goes on ahead and the sheep follow him. Then Jesus makes this strong statement, “I am the gate for the sheep. Whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out and find pasture. I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly.” This is quality living.

However, there is more to the parable. Our Lord reminds us that there are others who want to lead the sheep. They climb into the pen by others ways. These strangers are thieves and robbers. They try to entice the sheep to leave the shepherd and follow them, but the sheep do not listen. In fact, they run away from the false leaders. The point of the parable is clear: when anyone but Jesus Christ leads us, the life is lacking. We are lost sheep; sooner or later life overwhelms us, and we do not know which way to run.

Then the Bible says, “Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them.” Do we understand what the Lord is telling us? How often we do listen to these voices of Satan and his followers and live a life that is far away from our Heavenly Father. We hear their voice. It seems exciting. It appeals to our appetites. This life appears glorious for the time being, but ultimately it is a disaster, for without Christ as our Savior and Lord, we are like sheep without a shepherd. Is it not true that the most miserable times in our lives are when we turn our backs on God’s voice and follow the voices of this world?

Let’s reminisce for a while and ask, “Isn’t our most quality time in life experienced when we follow God’s will as revealed in the Bible?” Let’s look at four blessings He brings us that add to this quality of life.

1. We have a friend who loves us under all conditions. Jesus is this friend. He has given his life for us. He accepts us as we are. He does not condone our sin. However, if we will repent and turn to him, Christ will forgive us. Then he sends his Holy Spirit to change our lives and make us better people. For example, he will take that hatred and anger out of our souls and make us a forgiving and merciful people.

2. We have a family who cares for us. First, we think of our immediate family. A husband and wife who love each other and display their love before the children so they grow up with a healthy picture of the marital relationship. Second, we think of our extended family. These people are our brothers and sisters in Christ. They encourage us when we are discouraged, correct us when we are wrong, and support us when we are right. They are always there for us when we have needs.

3. We enjoy a freedom that allows us to grow spiritually in our relationship with the Shepherd. He frees us from our guilt and empowers us to gain victory over our appetites. We are not controlled by laws, but by our relationship with the Lord. He guides and directs us, and we hear his voice.

4. We live with great security. Quality living does not mean we are spared from difficulties. Sickness and death will come to us, as it does to all others. We live in a broken world, and affliction is apart of the brokenness. But God has given us a promise that, in those hard times, his grace will always be sufficient, for underneath are his everlasting arms. When these days on earth are over, we have another promise, which is, He has provided us with a heavenly home. Therefore, we can live with the assurance that “whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.”

Now you may respond to this sermon by saying, “It sounds so nice, but I have been a Christian for fifty years and must admit that the life you describe has not been my experience. I still have to pray for a clean heart and a right spirit.”

Do you remember what Paul wrote to the Philippians: “Not that I have already obtained all of this, or have been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” God’s Spirit works in us through His Word, and the closer we are drawn to him the more equality we find in our lives, though we will never experience its fullness until we reach the other side and see him face to face.

So, as we look back over our seventy-five or eighty years on this earth, we say, “We have been here a long time, but we are pilgrims and strangers on this earth.” The writer of the book of Hebrews says it best, “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is yet to come.”

A long life! Who of us do not want to live for many years?

Quality living! Who of us do not want this blessing?

Here is what Jesus Christ says, “Only through living in a personal relationship with me can you experience what quality living is.”

This has been the discovery of some of histories greatest minds. John Adams said, “The human being is a body and a soul. It is only when both are satisfied that we are at peace.” St. Augustine’s immortal words are new every day: “Man is restless until he rests in God.”

It’s Up to You – Your Life Can Be Changed

We are often critical of other peoples mistakes, but get to know that person better and you will often discover that he is very critical of himself.

The broken-hearted wife says after the divorce has been granted, What a fool I was to marry that man. How could I have been so blind? We were never meant for each other. The young man who did not make the basketball team tells his folks, I will never amount to anything. I have no ability.

Now listen to this good news: our lives can be changed. It is up to us. That is God’s good news to us. It has sometimes been said, You cannot teach an old dog new tricks. This might be true of a dog, but it is not true of a human being. Some of the most dynamic changes have come in the twilight years of ones life. One of the best examples of a person being changed is St. Paul.

In our text, Paul writes to the Corinthian congregation: I do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God (9). He was referring to those days before his conversion when his greatest desire was to destroy Christ’s Church. Paul reasoned that the followers of Jesus should be persecuted and killed as was their master, and he was not going to rest until this had happened.

The apostle’s conversion story is told in Acts 9. You can read it, but let me summarize the story. Paul was on his way to Damascus to bring some Christians back to Jerusalem so they could be killed. But God had other plans. On his way to Damascus, a voice spoke to him: “Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul (Paul) asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

Saul got up from the ground, but he was blind. In Damascus he met a disciple named Ananias. The Lord has spoken to Ananias in a vision and told him to go and minister to Saul. With some hesitation Ananias obeyed, and he led Saul to Christ. After confessing his faith in Christ, Saul was baptized. He was a changed man. He had come to Damascus as an enemy of Jesus. A few days later he left as Christ’s special missionary to the Gentile world.

Paul then tells us, “But when God, who has set me apart from birth and called me by name by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Gospel to me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, but went immediately in Arabia and later returned to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him for fifteen days.”

Paul is anxious to make it clear that the message he received had come directly from God. This is revelation. Paul preached diligently to the people of his day that Jesus was the Christ, and through his suffering, death, and resurrection he had paid the price for the sins of the world.

It is important for us to remember that these revelations are not given to us as they were given to Paul and the other apostles. Once in a while I hear people say, “The Lord said to me . . .” He does speak to us on a daily basis, but when God wants to bring us a message, he speaks through his inspired Word – the Scriptures. John R. Stott says it well: “Preachers must not claim to be inspired as the apostles were. He uses the Word, not direct revelation outside the Word, to make his will known to us.”

Can our lives be changed? Certainly they can. These changes take place in different ways. Sometimes it happens quickly. Tom Philips, an executive in one of America’s greatest corporations, went into a Billy Graham Crusade one evening in Madison Square Garden. God spoke to him at that meeting, and he was converted at the meeting. In other cases, God works the change over a long period of time. This week I received a note from a man in his mid-forties. He writes, “So good to see and visit with you when you were in the city. I think the world of you. (I am) So grateful God put you in my life. Never give up preaching the message. We need to hear it. I am so thankful that I had the message when I was a youth, even though it didn’t come alive with me until much later. My only sadness now is knowing that I missed out for so many years on all the peace and joy the gospel brings. But all is well, it is here to stay now.”

I do not quote from this letter to talk about what I did, for I did nothing but bring the message to this person. God did the rest. He created the faith. He awakened my friend and I had the opportunity to share the good news with him. The point is our lives can be changed; it is up to us.

Are you one of these people who wished your life could be changed? You have tried to change, but failed. We cannot change ourselves. God alone, through his Word and sacraments, can change us. Read the Word. Take its message seriously. Get some help from a good, evangelical church. Make sure you are hearing the Gospel each time you worship.

Now some of you will say, “I know what you’re talking about. My life has been changed.”

That is wonderful. Then listen: As God used Paul to pass on this message of Christ to others, so He is commissioning you and me to pass on this message of Christ to others who yet live in spiritual darkness. When your relative or friend confides in you that their life is a mess, don’t just pass it off as if it is none of your business. It is your business. Tell that person about Christ. Let him or her know what the Lord has done in your life and is continuing to do.

Our lives can be changed. Isn’t that great news! Empowered by the Holy Spirit, let God go to work in your life, either as one who needs to know Christ personally or as one who knows him but needs to share this Gospel with someone else and does not have the courage to be Christ’s witness.

No Longer Bored

“I’m going fishing.”

Those were Peter’s words spoken sometime between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into heaven. Why do you suppose Peter decided to go fishing? And why do you suppose six of the other disciples said, “We’re going with you.” I have a suspicion that they were getting bored. It was the same routine each day. The routine of just sitting there and waiting for Jesus’ next instructions was getting pretty long.

You might ask, “Why do Peter’s words about going fishing catch your attention?” I’ll tell you. They said something about Peter’s personality. Peter wanted action, and he simply could not stand just sitting around without an agenda to motivate him. There might have been some of the disciples who were perfectly content to just sit and be quiet, but not Peter.

Peter was an extrovert. Sitting around was not for Peter. Besides, he had a lot of baggage that was making him miserable. He couldn’t live with guilt. He had denied Jesus, and this was bothering him. He needed to confess his sin to Jesus and receive His forgiveness. With all of these matters on Peter’s mind, the monotony of silence was boring him to death.

David McCasland quotes Oswald Chambers in a devotional article: “Drudgery is the touchstone of character. There are times when there is no illumination and no thrill, but just the daily routine, the common task. Do not expect God to give you His thrilling minutes, but learn to live in the domain of drudgery by the power of God.”

McCasland continues, “During the boring times of life, God is working to instill His character in us. Drudgery is our opportunity to experience the presence of the Lord.” And yet, it is so hard for some of us to be quiet and listen to what God’s plan is for us.

Let me confess that the post-Easter period was sometimes very difficult for me. The congregation’s program had been packed with all kinds of activity from September through April. There were few nights that something was not going on in the church. Now it was Spring. The choirs were smaller, attendance decreased as people began to take more weekend trips. Except for Mother’s Day and a confirmation service, there was nothing special going on at the church. People would ask, “What’s new at the church?” My reply might be, “Not much. We are back to the old routine of preaching, teaching and visiting people.”

But what is more important than having the time to visit people in the quietness of their homes? There are the visitors who came to visit the worship service on Easter Sunday. A visit in their home might be the contact that would lead to the family’s spiritual awakening. There is the indifferent person who has not been to church for months, and no one has stopped by to find out what was wrong. Maybe this individual has been difficult to deal with and very critical of what was happening at the church. You finally decide that the congregation would be better off to let him or her go. At least they would be out of your hair. Isn’t that a cop out? All this person needs is some attention, and now you have the time to give it to her. Well, we could go on with this whole visitation program Ñ visiting people on a one-to-one basis and sharing some of the great truths of God’s Word.

In the years ahead, Peter learned the importance of the quiet time. It was a gift from God. It was in one of those quiet times that God took Peter a step further in his understanding of God’s Kingdom by showing him that Christ had died for the Gentiles as well as for the Jews. You can read about this exciting story in Acts 10:

Peter was staying with a friend in Joppa by the name of Simon the tanner. One day, Peter went up on the roof for his quiet time with God. During that time, he had a vision. The Bible describes the trance in this way,

“He (Peter) saw the heaven open and something like a large sheet was let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, ÔGet up, Peter. Kill and eat.’

ÔSurely not, Lord!’ Peter replied.

The voice spoke to him a second time, ÔDo not call anything impure that God has made clean . . .'”

While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, some men sent by Cornelius, a centurion living in Caesarea, were on their way to Joppa to visit with a man by the name of Peter. When they found out where Peter was staying, they asked him to go with them back to Caesarea, for God had told Cornelius to have Peter come to his house that he could learn what Peter had to say.

Peter accepted the invitation, and the next day he was on his way to the home of Cornelius. When they arrived, Peter had reservations about going into Cornelius’ home, because he was a Gentile.

“You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?”

Then Peter told them the story of Jesus. They witnessed how the Holy Spirit had led these Gentiles to faith in Christ.

“Then Peter said, ÔCan anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.’ So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.”

All of this came out of Peter being alone with the Lord. Life with the Lord taught Peter an important lesson Ð Nothing happens of importance in the life of a Christian unless there is a regular quiet time with the Lord. He will lead and guide us as to what His will is for our lives.

It is in this routine time of life with the Lord, that you meet your greatest challenges, and when the challenge comes from the Lord, life is no longer boring.