Fishing With Jesus

Has anyone ever called you winsome? Is the way you live, the words you speak, the attitudes of your heart, and the rhythms of your behavior such that it attracts people to the love of Jesus? Let’s talk about that.

In the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark, when Jesus comes to Simon and Andrew and says, “Follow me,” He also immediately invites them to be unafraid and join Him in fishing for people. Jesus calls all of His followers, all of His disciples, to join Him in fishing for people.

I’d love to take Jesus fishing with me; maybe for once in my life, I’d catch my limit! Ah, but that’s not what Jesus means. He’s talking about using your life and mine to draw people to the heart of God, to shine through us so that people understand the forgiving love of God that He offers us in the name of Jesus.

Did you hear the story about the man approaching the intersection in his pickup? The light turned yellow just in front of them. He did the right thing stopping at the crosswalk even though he could’ve beaten the red light but accelerating through the intersection. The woman who was tailgating behind him was furious and began honking her horn screaming in frustration as she missed her chance to get through the intersection dropping her cell phone and her makeup in the process. While still in mid- rant, she heard a tap on her window and she found herself looking into the face of a very serious police officer. The officer ordered her to exit her car with her hands up. He took her down to the police station where she was searched, fingerprinted, photograph-ed, and placed in a holding cell. Several hours later, the policeman came back. “I’m very sorry for the mistake ma’am. You see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, flipping off that guy in front of you, cussing a blue streak at him. I noticed the ÔWhat Would Jesus Do?’ bumper sticker, the ÔChoose life’ license plate holder, the ÔFollow Me to Sunday School’ bumper sticker, and the chrome plated Christian fish emblem on the trunk, so naturally I assumed you had stolen the car.”

Do you carry your love for Jesus outside the walls of your church? Do you live your faith authentically every day? God wants to use our lives to fish for people. The Apostle Paul said it this way, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold all things are become new. For God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, no longer counting their trespasses against them” (II Cor. 5:17-18). So you are an ambassador for Christ, begging the world on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God.

Why does God want to use our lives to fish for people? The first thing I want to say is because lost people matter to God. When I’m speaking about lost people, I’m not judging who is saved and who is not, who has eternal life and who doesn’t. But I mean men and women who live relationally far from their Father in heaven or who live as if God doesn’t exist. They may know about God, but they don’t know God relationally.

Sometimes lost people can be people whose lives lack direction or purpose or meaning. They haven’t yet understood the privilege of living by faith in the forgiving love of God our Father, or they have not yet professed to trust God or believe His promises are true for them. Some people are lost because they live in open rebellion, and their lives are often disillusioned and broken as a result.

Regardless of why or where or how people got to be where they are on their spiritual journey, their lives matter to God. God loves them and wants to share His life with them.

So if lost people matter to God, and Jesus invites us to not only following Him but also fish for people, why are we reluctant to carry our faith to others and share our love for Christ with them. Why don’t we reach out?

I confess to the one of the things I struggle with Ð a lack of love. I am ambivalent toward them. I simply don’t care. That is my sin. I am also sometimes afraid of what they might think of me or how they might respond. Some people doubt whether Jesus really can make a difference, or I might judge that God wouldn’t want them as part of His kingdom. Perhaps I think I’m too busy, or I’m too important to be bothered by them.

Whatever the problem, it needs to change and I need to ask Jesus to change my heart. Each of us has a distinctive personality and each of us is essential to show the love of Jesus to the world, to the people God brings into our lives. God promises He will use our language of faith, our witness to Christ, to draw people to Him. After all, the whole reason Jesus came was to reconcile all people, of all cultures and nations, to God.

Do you remember when Jesus was twelve, He became separated from His parents? When they found Him in the temple chatting with the religious leader, He said to them, “Didn’t you know I had to be doing my Father’s business?” At the end of John’s Gospel it says, “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written so you may believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20:30, 31).

Someone once defined faith as living in the conscious awareness of what is true, in the reveling in that awareness of the presence of a God who has all power. In that God I can trust. I knew a man once named Wilford Anderson. He loved all animals. He had several cats as pets in his house. He said, “Faith is the soul purring at the touch of God’s grace.” I like that. Faith is the purring of the soul at the touch of God’s grace.

This week I met a man in high management of Alumacraft boats made in St. Peter, Minnesota. Imagine if a man had a boat like a fancy Alumacraft, decked out with all the toys, the depth finder, the GPS. Imagine if he owned the best poles money could buy, the latest reels, the most beautiful tackle, and tackle boxes filled with lures of all kinds to catch whatever fish you were going after. Imagine if that person read everything he could on fishing. He watched Babe Winkleman, In-Fisherman, and all the shows that make you salivate at the thought of going out to catch fish. But imagine if that man Ð with the boat and the poles and all the knowledge Ð never left the dock.

Sometimes in the church, we’re like that. We hear all about it. We hear the messages calling us to be engaged in the mission of fishing for Jesus, of sharing with others why Jesus’ presence has transformed our lives with His grace, but we never take it beyond the doors of the church. We never speak of it to other people.

Paul said, “I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:12). Jesus has laid hold of our lives so that God can shine with the power of His loving spirit through the uniqueness of our personalities, so that others might be blessed in the knowledge of the grace of God.

Ed Marquart, a pastor who served for years in Seattle, Washington, once wrote a course called, “Witnesses for Christ.” One of the ways he suggested we share our faith with others has a threefold approach. First, we need to listen to other people’s story, hear about what matters to them, their life work, their family, and their circles of relationships.

Second, we need to be willing to share our story, to talk about what matters in life to us. What we believe, what we hold precious.

Third, having listened and shared about our own lives in the context of that relation-ship, we need to then share with them about Jesus and His story and why we have come to believe He is the Son of God, the Lord of Life, and the Savior of the world. Maybe you’ve heard this quote before: “People will never know or care about what you know until they know you care.” Maybe our best way to fish for people is to listen to them and compassionately love them without reservation.

The reconciling love of God that invites people to come back to Him is like a story I once heard about a young man who was soon to graduate from high school. He asked his dad for a brand-new Ford Mustang and begged him for months to receive that gift. The day of his graduation, his parents held a nice reception for him. On the table was a gift from his parents. He opened it and discovered a brand-new Bible. The young man became very angry. His face contorted in his disappointment and rage. He threw the Bible on the floor in front of all the guests, and stormed out of the house cursing his father. His parents never heard from him for years. They didn’t even know where he was. They searched for him for a long time, but he didn’t come home.

Years later when his father died, his mother used the legal authorities to locate their son and asked him to come home for his father’s funeral, which he did. In his bedroom where he had grown up, he found a box on the dresser with that new Bible, never used. In the pages in the leaflet front cover, he read the endearing words of pride and love his dad and mom had for him. Then, as he flitted through the pages of the Bible, a check fell out of the Gospel of John. It was made out to the Ford dealership in the exact amount of the sticker price of that Mustang he had longed for years before. The gift had been given to him all along, but he had been too angry and too selfish to receive it, and it had caused him to live a long period of his life alienated from his father and mother. He didn’t know the price had been paid in full.

Jesus asks us, who know and love Him and commit to be His followers, Fish for people so they would know that I have paid the price. Wherever they are and whatever they’ve done, the Father wants them to come home. His arms are open that He might embrace them and love them in a relationship shared into eternity. God needs you and me to fish for people.

Have you ever come home in the middle of winter and discovered the house was cold, plummeting toward freezing, and you know right away something is wrong with the furnace? You go down to the furnace and discover the pilot light is out, and you need to relight the pilot.

Sometimes our hearts can grow cold spiritually. If our hearts were like a furnace, maybe the pilot light has gone out, and we’ve lost the flame that burns to warm our heart for the purpose of sharing the love of God with others. We need to ask the Lord to remind us again that we, too, are forgiven all our sins. We are even forgiven our ambivalence or our lack of willingness to share about Him with others. Jesus says, I forgive you. Now come, help Me to fish for people. And His love again warms our heart and life.

A farmstead lies on the south side of the road in northern Iowa along Highway 18 between two small towns, Britt and Algona, Iowa. A sign along the road leading into the farmstead reads, The Apple Treat Farm. History folklore says Johnny Appleseed himself once planted a grove of apple trees there. For years it bore fruit and gave sweet apples to people all around. But as you drive down the two lane in the farmstead, now you see an old granary, a small stand of trees, and a line of beautifully planted pine trees. What you don’t see are apple trees. Somewhere along the line, all the apple trees died, and the farm that had been founded to give pleasure to people no longer offers what the sign said its purpose was.

Is it possible that you and I, who have come to believe in Jesus as our Savior and the Son of God, and who invite His Spirit to light up our lives, have somehow died to our central purpose? Do we no longer allow God to use our lives to reach others in His name, to fish for people? Still today Jesus asks us, Come follow me, and I will to shine My love through you to fish for people. Jesus is our fishing partner.

Meet Jesus – The Preacher

Last week we began a series on the Gospel of Mark. We’re letting Mark introduce us to Jesus whose birth we just celebrated. In the next few weeks, we will get a few more insights into Jesus.

In last week’s text we saw Jesus affirmed as God’s Son. He was commissioned for ministry at His baptism by John the Baptist. In today’s text, Jesus begins His ministry, and He is giving us His main message.

Mark writes, “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee . . .” Galilee is in the northern part of the Promised Land, way north of Jerusalem.

“proclaiming . . .” Jesus proclaimed, which means preached. Jesus is going public with His ministry after John is arrested.

We don’t know how long Jesus had been biding His time to begin His ministry. We know it had to be at least forty days after His baptism because Jesus was driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be tested by satan. It could have even been longer.

Jesus may have been listening for a still, small voice from God, or maybe He was looking for a sign or some sort of event. John the Baptist’s arrest was a signal to Jesus to start His ministry. The baton was being passed from John the Baptist to Jesus, the One John had been preparing people to meet.

Jesus began His ministry by preaching. Today’s message is very short, but it is loaded with good news. Jesus came preaching the good news of God.

Jesus must have raised a few eyebrows. After all, here He was, an itinerant preacher, wandering from village to village. Many people didn’t know Him, and the few that did, knew Him as a carpenter’s son. He wasn’t preaching in Jerusalem, the holy city, but in Galilee Ð not exactly the center of religious doings in Israel.

Yet, this good news preaching must have caused some great excitement for the people who heard it. Israel had been waiting a long time for some good news from God. They’d lived many years under the oppression of the Romans, the Greeks, and other world powers during which time the voice of God seemed to be silent. However, when John the Baptist came along preaching that One was coming in power, people’s hopes were stirred and whole populations came out to the wilderness to hear him speak. God is up to something, John said. Get ready!

Now Jesus is on the scene proclaiming the Good News of God. The people heard that God hadn’t forgotten them. Perhaps God will provide a rescue! Imagine the thoughts of the people as they listened to Jesus. They had envisioned a political savior, a general of sorts who would organize an army, a warrior like King David.

Sure enough, God was up to something big, but it wasn’t political or military or economic, but spiritual. Humankind’s greatest problem really is spiritual. We all need God. Without a relationship with Him, life is lost. We were created for that relationship, but it has been broken by humanity’s sin. Forgiveness and reconciliation are needed. We need God to be at work in us. God wants to bring this broken world with it’s broken people like us back to Him. That is what Jesus was talking about. God was up to something big, though they didn’t understand it at the time.

Now listen to the content of the Good News of God that Jesus gave them: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.” Jesus is giving a three-point sermon.

Point number one: “The time is fulfilled . . .” meaning, the wait is over. The Old Testament prophecies were coming true. History had been moving toward this important moment. John the Baptist preached about this moment; now it is here. The time is fulfilled.

Point number two: “. . . the kingdom of God has come near.” God is taking the initiative to rescue us. Jesus was pointing to Himself when He announced the Good News, for He represents the kingdom of God. The time was fulfilled; no more waiting! God is up to something big. He has drawn near to rescue us. THAT IS GOOD NEWS. God is with us. He has come for us to make things better.

But then Jesus moves into point three. He calls for a response. “Repent and believe in the good news.” To repent means to surrender your personal kingdom to God’s dominion.

Stuart Briscoe told a wonderful story a few years ago about a simple, illiterate man who was converted through the work of the Salvation Army, and regularly went to church there. One day he came home from church looking rather unhappy. When his wife asked him what was the matter, he said, “All the people at the Salvation Army wear red sweaters, and I don’t have one.” So she knitted him a beautiful red sweater.

The next Sunday when he returned home from church, he still wasn’t happy. He told his wife, “I just noticed all the red sweaters have yellow writing on them.” Although she, too, was illiterate, she promised to embroider some writing on it for him. The Salvation Army sweaters have a yellow circle with their motto: Blood and Fire. However, she had no idea what the yellow writing said, so she simply copied a sign from a store window opposite their home. When he returned home from church the next Sunday, he said to her, “They loved my sweater! Some of them said they like my sweater even better than their own!” What neither of them knew was that the sign on the store window she had copied read, This Business Is Now Under New Management.

When Jesus is calling us to repent, He’s calling us to bring our lives under new management Ð His management. It means to turn around, change your mind, and surrender yourself to God’s leadership in your life. But Jesus tells us that salvation goes beyond repentance. He says, “. . . and believe in the good news.” He is telling us to put our trust in His words. Jesus’ contemporaries placed their trust in all sorts of things Ð their ancestry, their land, the Jerusalem Temple, their rules and laws, and their own view of God. Jesus is telling us to drop that and believe in Him.

One of my favorite authors is named Dallas Willard. In his book Divine Conspiracy, he addresses this passage in Mark in this way: “As a child, I lived in an area of southern Missouri where electricity was available only in the form of lightning. We had more of that than we could use. My senior year of high school, the rural electrification administration extended its lines into our area, and electrical power became available to households and farms. When those lines came by our farm, a very different way of living presented itself. Our relationships, the fundamental aspects of life, daylight and dark, hot and cold, clean and dirty, work and leisure, preparing foods and preserving them was vastly changed for the better. But we still had to believe in electricity and its arrangements, understand them, and take the practical steps involved in relying on electricity.

“You may think the comparison rather crude, and in some respects it is, but it can help us understand Jesus’ basic message about the kingdom of God. If we pause to reflect on those farmers who in effect heard the message from REA: Repent for Electricity is at Hand! Repent and turn from your kerosene lamps and lanterns, your ice boxes and cellars, your scrub boards and rug beaters, your human-powered sewing machines, and your radios with dry cell batteries. The power that could make their lives better was right there near with them where, by making relatively simple arrangements, they could utilize it in their lives.

“Strangely, a few did not accept it. They did not enter the kingdom of electricity. Some just didn’t want to change. Others couldn’t afford it, or so they thought.”

God’s kingdom is available to us through simple confidence in Jesus, God’s anointed, from the time He became a public figure.

Repent! Put your life under new management and believe in the Gospel. Trust in Jesus Christ.

This is Jesus’ three-point message, His main theme throughout His ministry. The message hasn’t changed over the years. It is still the Good News of God pointing to what He has done for us through Jesus Christ.

If you want to have a close relationship with God, if you want to plug into the power that He offers you, you can. God has gone out of His way to make Himself available to you. He’s not hiding. He wants to have a relationship with you, to take over your life and give you a new and better life for eternity. Jesus came into this world to make it possible. He announced it and then made it possible by going to the cross and dying as a sacrifice for your sins and mine, which separate us from our holy God. His cross served as a bridge for us to cross over that great divide between God and us. He paid for our sins, and now He is available and approachable. He loves us and does not turn His back on us, but instead invites us home to Him.

The kingdom of God has come near through Jesus Christ. I’ve personally discovered I need that. Life doesn’t run so well when I try to do it all on my own. I need God, and I need God at work in me. I need God with me every day of my life, and so do you. We need to repent again and again, turn back, and place ourselves under His management. We need to believe in Jesus Christ and what He has done for us.

Did you notice in today’s passage that Mark doesn’t tell us about the people’s response to Jesus’ preaching? He is not so concerned about them and then, but about you and now.

What is your relationship with God like these days? Have you made your little kingdom a part of His dominion? Have you surrendered your life to His leadership and care and placed yourself under His management? Are you trusting in Jesus Christ with your whole life and future? Some people might wonder why they should do something like that. Jesus told a parable that answers that question. It describes the kingdom of God as a valuable treasure or a pearl of great price, which is worth far more than anything this world has to offer us.

People have been discovering the truth of His words ever since. So don’t miss out on this good news. God has come for you in Christ. Repent and trust in God’s Good News.

Meet Jesus

For many of us, the Christmas decorations are now down and the Christmas tree is put away. The diets are started now that the Christmas treats are devoured. I sincerely hope you had a wonderful time celebrating the birth of Christ this year. But now that Christmas is behind us, I want to spend some time over the next several weeks letting the Gospel of Mark introduce us to Him.

Mark has some great things to tell us about Jesus and what it means to be His disciple. It’s an amazing, fast-moving Gospel. It actually was the first Gospel account written about Jesus, and you will find much of Mark in Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels as well.

It has been suggested by some biblical scholars that Mark, the author, was the son of the person who owned the house, the site of the upper room where Christ had the Last Supper and where the disciples were on Pentecost. It’s been said that he was an associate with the Apostle Peter. This gospel largely contains stories from Peter himself. Therefore, we could call them eyewitness accounts.

Well, because the Gospel of Mark is the story of Jesus’ life, I want to challenge you to read the entire book in one sitting. It takes about an hour and a half to two hours to read. It reads like a novel. Get a bird’s eye view of the whole story and make some observations about Jesus as you go. I had the men in my Bible study group do this recently, and they found it to be an eye-opening, rewarding experience. So I encourage you to do the same.

Charles and Janet Morris recently wrote a book called Missing Jesus in which they tell a wonderful little story about a time when they were in the Hindu section of London, handing out tracts, and trying to get into conversations with people about Jesus. It was raining one day when a young West Asian woman took one of the tracks and paused as she read the title, “Have You Ever Wanted a New Life?” Janet Morris said to her, “It’s about Jesus. Do you know about Jesus?”

“Not much,” the woman said, “but I’ve been looking for someone who’s worthy of my life.”

Janet said, “Well, Jesus is definitely who you are looking for!”

Mark affirms that in the opening statement of today’s text: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Right away Mark tells us Jesus is the Christ, which means the anointed one, the long-awaited one, the one created for a special purpose by God. But Mark doesn’t stop there. He goes all the way and says, “He’s the Son of God.” Jesus is not just an ordinary person but the Son of God. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth,” Scripture tells us in John 1.

The story moves on with John the Baptist affirming this as he points toward the One who is coming. He says, “This one . . . will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Get yourselves ready for him.

The story goes even further, and God affirms Jesus as His Son as well. As Jesus was being baptized by John, the heavens tore open and the Holy Spirit came down upon Jesus like a dove. Then the affirmation from heaven of God, and a voice from heaven that put it into words: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

This statement of affirmation is a type of installation, confirming Jesus’ call. “You are my beloved son” is taken from Psalms, 2:7. It is a coronation song spoken when a new king, sometimes referred to as Messiah, was installed into office. Jesus, you’re a King, the messianic King.

God goes on to say: “With you I am well pleased.” That is taken from the Old Testament as well Ð Isaiah 42 Ð which is referred to as the servant’s song. It gives us a good job description for Jesus. He is receiving God’s plans for him. What kind of job is Jesus going to carry out? He’s going to live the life of a servant. He’ll be a servant King.

I am the Lord, In Isaiah 42, God says through the prophet Isaiah, “I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness” (vs. 6-7). Jesus is the servant King, the light to the nations, who will open the eyes of the blind, and set the captives free from the dungeon, those sitting in darkness.

Jesus later on said to His disciples, “The Son of Man,” meaning Himself, “came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

You can put your own name in there. Jesus came to give his life as a ransom for John, for Steve, for Susan, for Nancy. And Jesus did just that. He carried out the job description. Ultimately He laid down His life as a payment for sin to free us from the power of sin, the power of death, and the power of the devil.

That first day when Jesus came to the Jordan River and was baptized by John, He was stepping into battle for you and for me. Right after, Jesus was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested by Satan. He stepped right into battle and came out victorious for the sake of you and me.

As we study Mark’s Gospel, we need to keep before us his purpose in writing the account. He wrote it that we may see and know Jesus for who He really is. He’s the Messiah, the Son of God. He is Good News for us. He’s not simply a great teacher, or a philosopher, or some sort of a lunatic with crazy ideas about Himself. He is the Son of God. Mark wants to move us beyond just knowing who Jesus is to doing what John the Baptist (and later, Jesus himself) called for: repentance and belief.

Repentance means simply to do a U-turn. Turn from your old life to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Turn away from the direction you’ve been heading without Him and follow Him so you can receive forgiveness as you let go of the old and take on Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Those who follow the Son of God and let Him call the shots for their life will receive a new start. Mark wants to move was to repent and believe in the Son of God. Through it, as John says it, you will receive the cleansing of the Holy Spirit in your life and forgiveness for your sins. You experience a change like you’ve never experienced before.

This past year I read a book about a man named Louie Zamperini called Unbroken. I couldn’t put it down. It tells the true story of a man who had a rough beginning of life, but eventually became an Olympic medal winner in his early years. When World War II came around, he went into the Air Force and became a fighter pilot. One day his plane was shot down and he miraculously survived being out in the ocean for many weeks until a Japanese ship found him, and took him captive, and placed him in a concentration camp where he was tortured over and over again. It was a horrific thing to read about what Louie went through, but he made it through it.

When Louie came back to the states, he was a tortured soul as he suffered posttraumatic stress disorder. He had a terrible time relating to his loved ones, drinking heavily and had nightmares. His life was falling apart, and his wife was ready to divorce him. However, one day Louie and his wife talked to some neighbors who had just been to a Billy Graham Crusade. Louie’s wife encouraged him to go. At first he refused, but eventually went.

At the Crusade, Louie listened carefully and was convicted in many ways. However, he ran out afterward and didn’t want to hear anymore. His wife said to him, “We’ve got to go back and try it one more time.” So they went back another time, and that evening he surrendered his life to Jesus Christ. He handed it all over Ð the tortured mess that he was Ð and was miraculously changed and made new. A new peace came into his life into his life, and he discovered a new purpose as his life is straightened out with Christ’s help. Louie received peace, purpose, and sobriety.

This book has now been made into a movie, which is going to be a real box office hit. Louis Zamperini discovered that, by surrendering his life to Christ, by turning it around from going his own way to following Christ, a cleansing forgiveness can take over a person’s life and give one a new start.

You can discover that same thing if you haven’t already. Not only will you receive a new life, you will also receive a title to go along with it. Those words that God spoke to Jesus at his baptism are yours to claim and hang onto when you come to Christ. “You are My beloved son, My beloved daughter; With you I am well pleased.” And those who receive Him, Scripture tells us, He gives the power to become children of God, sons and daughters. With that comes an inheritance Ð the inheritance of eternal life. When you follow Jesus Christ, you know that when your last day in this world comes, when you take your last breath, you will be received into that place that is prepared for you in His heaven.

So, good news Mark gives us today! The Son of God, Jesus Christ, has come, and He has come for each one of us. Repent and believe the good news, because Jesus really is worthy of your life.

Meet the Shepherds

At the center of the Christmas story we find the shepherds. They were the first to be invited to Christ’s birthday party. It is quite amazing that they were included in the story, for people looked down upon shepherds in those days. They were considered to be outcasts, unclean. They worked on the Sabbath and didn’t go to church. Local folks didn’t like them much for the shepherds permitted their flocks to graze on other people’s land. They were not to be trusted and were not even permitted to give evidence in a court of law or to enter the Jerusalem Temple. They were lived on the fringe of society. But here they are, in the middle of the action in the Christmas story. That makes this a “grace” story. They didn’t deserve to be part of it, but there they were Ð beholding the Christ child.

As we walk through this grace story, we find five stages of development regarding the shepherds. It begins with the shepherds out in the fields minding their own business. They were oblivious to the good news that Christ is born. Since they were not the religious types of people, they probably weren’t expecting anything even close to hearing angels deliver news that Christ had been born. They were just simply working the late-night shift.

Suddenly the story turns into kind of a crisis. The shepherds hear something. An angel appears to them and says, “Don’t be afraid,” (I would have been afraid if an angel appeared to me in the middle of the night, wouldn’t you?) “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” The sign to help them find Him was this: look for a baby in Bethlehem lying in a feeding trough.

As soon as the angel disappeared, the story switches to another development, another stage: the searching stage. Imagine the shepherds conversation afterward the angels left.

“Did you hear what I heard?”

“Oh, yeah. What now?”

“I don’t know about you, but I think we ought to go down to Bethlehem right now and check this thing out that the Lord has made known to us.”

Scriptures tell us they rushed down to Bethlehem and began searching for that baby lying in a feeding trough.

Isn’t it interesting to think that the only clue the shepherds had was that they would find him in a feeding trough? They obviously had to go into town in the middle of the night and knock on doors or check the stables around the community for the baby. Imagine them knocking on doors and waking people up in the middle of night.

“Do you have a baby?”

“Yeah, we have a baby.”

“Where do you have him lying?”

“In his cradle.”

“Oh, sorry to disturb you.” On to another house.

“Do you have a baby back in your stable, your garage?”

“No.”

“Sorry to disturb you.”

On and on they went until they finally found what they were looking for. What a funny sight they must have been as they wandered around town that night.

Well, after disturbing a number of households, the shepherds discovered the angel’s message was true. The baby is Christ the Lord who was given for them as well as for all people. This is the stage of finding in the story. Then they moved on to another stage.

As they headed back to their flocks in the field, they praised and glorified God for all they had seen and heard. “Thank you, God, for letting us in on this great event! Thank you, God, for giving us a Savior!” It is the worshiping stage.

The last stage of this story is the telling stage. The hearers of the message became the tellers. When they found the baby, “they told all what the angels had told them, and all who heard it were amazed.” In other words, this was not a deserted stable scene. People were listening to the shepherds tell about the message that the angels had given to them. These outcasts became the first evangelists.

When I thought about this story in this way and began to really look at it more closely, I came to the realization that it is a microcosm of the population. The world is full of people in various stages of this story. In fact, you might even be able to recognize your own story in it. In the world there are those who are oblivious to the good news. They are the nonreligious types.

Perhaps they are into other religions. Maybe they’ve developed their own personal spirituality of sorts. Whatever it may be, they have very little understanding of the greatness of the gift that has been given them in Jesus Christ.

Perhaps they were not raised in a home that taught them the Christmas story. They are like a blank sheet of paper. These kinds of people need a Savior. They need to hear the story.

Others in this world have heard the news as children. They went to Sunday school and were brought up in the church by parents who were seeking to be faithful by raising their children in the faith. Perhaps they heard the message later in life by a college roommate or friend explained the good news of what a difference Jesus Christ can make in a person’s life. Some are disinterested, but others, like the shepherds are overwhelmed with curiosity, even though they’re not sure what to make of it. So they move into the next stage Ð they begin to search and ask questions.

We have a lot of searchers in this world. In the church we sometimes refer to them as seekers. They are interested in spiritual matters. Some dabble in various spiritual disciplines and so on. Others move on to checking out Scripture. (Martin Luther, one time, called Scripture the cradle that holds the Christ child.) These seekers hang around the community of faith.

Many are still searching. Although they still haven’t found exactly what they’re looking for, they know something is out there they are supposed to believe in.

In the next stage, the searchers become finders. They have a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. They believe Jesus is real, and He is the most wonderful friend and Savior a person could ever have in his life. They discover the truth of what was passed along to them earlier in life.

And after they find the truth, they began praising God. That includes people, perhaps like you and me, who thank God for what He has done. We are excited to have the Savior and don’t know we do without Him! Our joy is overwhelming as we think about all the promises this Savior brings to us.

But then there is that last stage, too. It includes those who tell others about the Messiah. They witness and point to the Savior. They tell the stories of what a difference Christ has made in their life and what a difference He can make in the life of others. They invite others to come to worship with them, to have an encounter with the Christ during worship service.

Some of these people are in my congregation. He brings up the name of Jesus in every conversation. Sometimes he embarrasses his wife, she tells me, but he just so wants everyone to know Jesus.

Then there’s Darlene. The first time I met her, she and her husband had come into my office with exciting news. They had been looking at homes around the area and had the most amazing experience! They led their real estate agent to Jesus Christ. She was even going to come to church with them. Darlene is absolutely dangerous for the kingdom, and she is one of my heroes.

Ms. Joanne is living her last days on this earth barely able to breathe and wondering why she is still living. And yet, when someone comes to visit, she makes sure that person hears all about Him. The name of Jesus is in her every breath, because He is important to her and at the center of her life. She is a teller.

So here are the stages: living oblivious, hearing, searching, finding, praising, telling. Where do you place yourself in that list? Are you oblivious? Have you heard? Are you searching? Have you found Christ? Are you praising God for Him? Are you telling about him? If you are in the oblivious, hearing, and searching part of that list, I’m so glad you tuned in today. You have a God who loves you.

We just celebrated this great Christmas experience these past few days. The central message of Christmas is not simply about a baby being born into this world. It is the message that we have a Savior. He fulfilled our greatest need when He came into this world to go to a cross and pay the penalty for your sinfulness and mine by defeating death. Our Heavenly Father promises us that when we place our trust in Him, we have eternal life.

We have a Savior who not only offers us a way into His heavenly kingdom, but also promises to walk with us through the ups and downs of life. Don’t miss out on this. Check Him out.

If you have tasted those blessings in your life, I want you to focus on that last stage: telling. God doesn’t want anyone to miss out. There are many oblivious, searching, questioning people who need to hear that God loves them and they have a Savior. They need to hear the story and discover what a wonderful gift God has give us in Christ.

Hear this, my dear friend: God can use you. He needs tellers. After Jesus rose from the grave, he told His disciples, “Go, tell.” Go tell. That is what the shepherds did when they heard the message – they went and told the story to all who would listen. You have people in your sphere of influence who have not had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. Will you be the one to tell them?

That is what I want to challenge you with this day as you look into a new year. Tell those people around you about Christ. Ask them, How was your Christmas? Then tell them, I had a great Christmas as I was reminded again of what a great Savior I have! If you ever want to hear anything more about him, I’d be glad to tell you. Or invite somebody to a worship service or to sit with you and listen to Christian Crusaders on a Sunday. In a survey that was done not long ago, it was said that one out of four unchurched people would come to a worship service if someone invited them. How about you?

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, if you have found the Christ Child – Christ Jesus – to be the most precious person one can ever come to know, I encourage you to go tell it. Shine for Jesus Christ. Get others in on the love God has for them. That is your challenge for this new year.