Who Is This?

Imagine you and a few friends are walking to a favorite lunch spot in downtown Minneapolis, when a camera crew stops you for a spontaneous, on-the-street interview. Surprisingly, they don’t ask for your opinion about the usual issues. Instead, the interviewer asks, “Who is Jesus Christ to you?”

With the video camera running, you fumble for the perfect answer. Jesus was a good man, the Son of God, a prophet, Galilean Rabbi, teacher of God’s law, the embodiment of God’s love, the ultimate revolutionary, Messiah of Israel, Savior, first-century wise man. He was a man like any other man, king of kings, a misunderstood teacher, Lord of the universe, a fool who thought he was God’s Son, the Son of man, a fabrication of the early church.

Which answer would you give?

These answers have been given by people all through the ages. They are not new for people have been wondering who Jesus is for a long time. Even Jesus’ disciples asked the question.

Today’s scriptural text finds the disciples with Jesus in a boat. They had been with him for quite some time now and watched him do many miracles. On this particular day, Jesus had been on a boat teaching the crowds on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. As it was getting toward evening, the disciples joined him on that boat, and they headed off to do some ministry amongst the Gentiles.

As it was getting dark, a nasty storm suddenly came up and the boat was swamped. The disciples, many of whom were seasoned fishermen, panicked as they began to bail water and tried to navigate their way through the wind and waves. Jesus, however, is sound asleep while the storm is taking place. The disciples are shaken, and in a panic they wake Jesus and say to him, “Teacher, we’re all perishing. We’re sinking fast. Don’t you care?” Jesus woke up and rebuked the wind.

The word, rebuke, is the same word that Jesus used when casting out demons. Some scholars have suggested that the storm was actually an evil attack on Jesus and the disciples, and Jesus was displaying his power over evil. And when he said to the sea, “Peace, be still,” the wind had ceased and there was a dead calm on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus then said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” It sounds as if he is disappointed with the disciples, as if saying, “When are you going to start showing some faith?”

The disciples were filled with great fear and asked one another, “Who, then, is this? Even the wind and the sea obey him.” This is also the question we ask ourselves today.

In the book of Psalms, the Jews often talked of God as the ruler over the waves and the wind and the sea. Perhaps they were playing with the notion that they were sitting in the presence of the divine, but weren’t very sure about it at this point.

This story answers the question Ð Who is Jesus? Ð for us. Jesus’ words are telling us that he is someone who is to be trusted. The disciples didn’t have the benefit of the opening line of Mark’s Gospel like we do, which reads, “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus Christ, the son of God, someone to be trusted. So trust him. Those disciples eventually discovered that for themselves after Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross and his resurrection on Easter morning. Jesus is someone who can be trusted, followed, and obeyed in every season of life. A lot of people have been discovering that for themselves ever since that time. Jesus Christ is someone to be trusted. So trust him. Trust him for your eternal life, your salvation.

Recently I conducted a funeral for a dear friend who has been a real inspiration to me over the years with his own ministry for Jesus Christ. Ron was a layman in our church who was very involved with overseas ministries. He had Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and I watched him deteriorate before my eyes to the point where he had to constantly wear an air mask in order to breathe. All he was able to do was to shake his hand a little bit and give a thumbs up.

One day I asked Ron and his wife, “How should I be praying for you? I am just wondering, do you want to go home?” And he began to shake that thumb, because he knew exactly where he would be going when he took his last breath. Ron was trusting in Jesus Christ. His assurance had nothing to do with how good a person he was, for he knew he didn’t have a leg to stand on before God. But he also knew that Jesus Christ had taken care of everything for him at the cross.

We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. But Jesus Christ has taken care of that gap between God and mankind by dying on a cross and paying the penalty for our sins. He rose from the dead, thereby purchasing a place in heaven for each of us who call upon his name as Savior and place our trust in him. Ron would say to you, “Jesus is someone to be trusted for your eternal life. So trust him.”

People have discovered that Jesus is someone to be trusted when storms in life arise. He will never desert us. A dear friend in my first parish, Sylvia, would tell you this. She walked through the valley of the shadow of death twice when burying both her husbands who passed on before her. She went through a lot of loss and would say, “I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t have Jesus walking beside me in my life. I’ve learned that he is someone I can really trust.”

As we get older, we learn time and again, as we place our trust in Jesus, that he does love us, and we can trust him.

Someone gave me a version of Jesus Loves Me for seniors. It goes like this:

♬Jesus loves me this I know,

though my hair is white as snow.

Though my sight is growing dim,

still he bids me trust in him.

Yes, Jesus loves me.

Though my steps are o, so slow,

with my hand in his I’ll go.

On through life let come what may;

he’ll be there to lead the way.

Yes, Jesus loves me.

And when the night is dark and long,

in my heart he puts a song.

Telling me in words so clear,

ÔHave no fear for I am near.’

Yes, Jesus loves me.

Yes, Jesus loves me.

Yes, Jesus loves me.

The Bible tells me so. ♬

Jesus is also someone we can trust with our life’s decisions. He is much smarter and wiser than any person who has ever lived.

The world recently lost a great man of God named Chuck Colson. He was instrumental in leading thousands of convicts in prison to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Once, during an interview in Australia, Chuck was asked to sum up his life’s meaning in just twenty seconds. So he said to the interviewer, “Jesus Christ once said this, ÔHe who seeks to save his life will lose it. And he who loses his life for my sake, will find it.’ My life is living proof to the truth of that statement.”

At one time, Chuck Colson thought he was smart enough to run his own life. He believed he knew what made life work. But even after all his supposed success in this world, he still had a great emptiness and sense of loss within. Then one day he had a conversation with a client named Tom Phillips who pointed him toward Jesus Christ as the one who held the answers. Chuck Colson found life in Jesus Christ when he asked Christ into his life. He was eventually put into prison for some dishonest things he had done when working in the White House. But while he was there, he sensed God’s calling upon his life to begin a prison fellowship ministry, which took off like gangbusters. Chuck spent the rest of his days passionately bringing Christ to the prison population, making a great difference in this world. He had discovered that Jesus Christ is someone to be trusted for living out one’s life.

Who is this Jesus? Jesus is hoping you’ll say, “Jesus Christ is someone I’ve learned can be trusted. I trust him, and so can you.”

To Whom Am I Speaking?

I have learned through my 50+ years of preaching that it is very important to know my audience and where they stand in their relationship with Jesus Christ. It is a mighty mixture of people, and those of us who bring that Word of God must understand it. Jesus also made it clear that we should know to whom we are speaking, for we are not just one cozy group. He emphasizes that very thing in our text today.

Jesus Christ was the greatest communicator of the gospel the world has ever known. Can’t you just see the farmer walking in his garden as he scatters the seed on the ground? Over time the seed sprouts and grows, though he never understands how. It produces grain all on its own. And as soon as it has ripened, the man harvests it.

Then Jesus tells a parable about a mustard seed. Although it is the smallest seed when planted, it grows up to be the largest of all garden plants with branches big enough that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.

Now let’s say that, when you were young, you learned Scripture passages like John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life,” or I Peter 5:7, “Cast all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you.” Memorizing Scripture isn’t all bad for the seed is being planted. And as we walk through life, we have that Word tucked away inside. Our cares are few when we are young. We enjoy ourselves and try to make a good life. But as we age, the full meaning of those passages can be found.

We hear society say that we are basically good people and can do anything if we put our minds to it. But then a seed that has been planted comes to mind: “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We know our nature is not basically good, but sinful. We know we do all kinds of evil acts in the way of thoughts, words, and deeds. Thus, we understand the difference between what the world teaches and what Scripture teaches regarding who we are. And as a consequence of recognizing our sinful nature, we see our need for a Savior. A Savior who is more than just a good moral man or religious teacher, we need Jesus, the Son of God.

The seed that was planted may not have taken root right away, and we may even think we can live without it. But then, when we watch loved ones die, we begin to think about eternal life. The Holy Spirit then takes that seed and makes it grow until we have the assurance of salvation because of Jesus Christ. We know that, no matter how gloomy the day may be, or how rough the situation might be, He is with me. And He will be standing with my loved ones when I am ill unto death.

It is wonderful to have Christian friends surround us when difficulties come our way. But how much more wonderful to know we have a Savior who also stands with us. That is why it is important in everyday living to have that seed planted in our lives. Blessed is the congregation that plants the seed in totality during the worship services, in Sunday school, and in all other parts of that church, so that we may hear the Word, and the Word will plant the seed.

Our text also states that Jesus spoke to the people in parables, but explained their meaning when he was alone with his disciples. Jesus knew his audience and is also showing us that it is extremely important to do so.

A church congregation is most likely made up of strong believers, seekers, and the indifferent. Strong believers are those who are committed to Jesus Christ and live in a personal relationship with him. Seekers have not yet come to the place where Jesus Christ lives in their heart. However, the Holy Spirit has motivated that seed in their heart to become a believer in Jesus Christ. Unbelievers, who most likely came to simply please a relative or for tradition, also might be in the group.

If I don’t know my audience, I could miss the mark when speaking to their spiritual needs. To the unbeliever I say, “If you think Christianity is not so serious, how will you deal with life’s difficulties when they come?” To the indifferent person I say, “You must get your priorities in order soon. Material possessions are not what’s most important.” To the seeker I say, “Jesus is walking beside you and he will bring you all the way.” To the believer, I speak encouragement and assurance.

Two weeks ago I read this headline in the evening paper: “Man Admits to 1981 Waterloo Murders.” The article stated that a sixty-six-year-old man walked into the police station and confessed to killing a couple in their own home more than thirty years ago. He had found Christ and felt compelled to confess the crime. Although he seemingly had gotten away with this terrible murder, the longer he lived and the older he got, the more hideous it seemed to him. It weighed on his chest, and so he felt obliged to admit his crime.

This man had learned from Scripture that “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:8-9). So, with the Word of God living in his heart, at the age of sixty-six, he could say, “I have received Christ, and I have come to tell you that I murdered that couple.”

The state has its laws to enforce, and so that man will spend the rest of his life in prison paying for his crime. But he will die knowing his sins have been forgiven by Jesus. You never know what that seed is going to do and when and where the Holy Spirit will cause it to happen.

It is so important that we plant the seed of God’s Word in the hearts of our children so they may know the great truths of the Scriptures. Then they may also know what it is to experience God’s grace.

That is the importance of planting the seed and knowing about your congregation’s relationship with Jesus Christ when you plant it.

The Family of God

Years ago, when people immigrated from foreign countries, they formed communities based around their nationalities. Shortly after arriving, they built a school and a church in their community. Congregations held services in their native tongue, and people found a oneness in that church family as huge families filled the congregations.

This type of grouping gave stability to the community and to those trying to find their way in the new land. It was good that they had each another. However, it also created some obstacles for others. For instance, those who were not part of that big family didn’t feel as much of a oneness in the church even though people were good to them.

This scenario still happens today, but to a lesser extent, for families are more scattered than they once were. Young people leave for war, college, or business opportunities in other places. It is. therefore, important that the church continually search out new members. However, this was not the case in Jesus’ day, for families were tight and long lasting. Perhaps even like those I have just described.

In today’s text, the teachers of the Jewish faith are talking with Jesus’ family in an attempt to get rid of him. Jesus had broken away from his family as he began his ministry. He preached as none had ever preached before and performed miracles. He healed the sick, raised the dead, and even cast out demons. This gave the teachers of the Jewish faith some concern, so they decided to see if his family wouldn’t talk some sense into him.

Jesus’ family responded by saying that he was out of his mind. What was their son, their brother doing, chasing out demons? “We cannot let people who do not like him or care for his ministry take advantage of him. We must bring him home.”

So they went to the place where Jesus was on this particular day, and sent someone in to get him. Jesus responded with these words: “Who are my mother and my brothers? . . . Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

These words were hurting, even to those who had come to love Jesus. Was he denying his mother and brothers? You recall that our Lord’s mother was very precious to him, and on the cross he asked John to take her home and care for her. But on this day, things were different, for Jesus had to tell the people that he was not only Mary’s son, but also the God incarnate. He was not just the Lord of Israel, Egypt, and the Romans, but also Lord of all those who trust him as their Savior and want to serve him. That is his Father’s family Ð his brothers and sisters, his mother and father.

Jesus was beginning a new family Ð the family of God. It was very different from any family on earth. What does that mean for us today? It means that if you believe Jesus Christ died on the cross of Calvary for your sins and he was raised from the dead, then you are a part of the family of God. “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” That is an entirely different situation.

I grew up as an only child, but had many friends who had brothers and sisters. As a child, I would gravitate to my friends’ houses to play. As I watched them interact with each another, I saw them fight and say some strange things to each other. However, if a child from another family fought with one of them, the siblings would all join in to defend him.

As the years went on, the families began to have other interests. Their circle of friends did not just include those with whom they grew up. They began to have other, new friends who seemed to be very close to them. One of my friends went to the army, and he never came home. Others, thankfully, who went to war did make it back home.

I recall the family reunions my wife had with her nine brothers and sisters. These reunions were held for a number of years, but wore out as the family passed away one by one. Now they simply send a greeting card or call once in a while. It isn’t that closeness that it once was.

However, those of us who claim Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord are members of the family of God. Therefore, we have not only our physical family, but also our spiritual family. And it is in that spiritual family that we come together and worship a common Savior. We have a Father who has made us one and is going to take us to our heavenly home one day. But while we are here on this earth, he walks with us.

Within that spiritual family Ð the person living next door, the person sitting in the pew, and others living in the community Ð we can share our concerns. I have received some tremendous counsel from those who know me in this family. Sometimes their advice can be difficult to hear and may sting for a little bit, but I know it is given to me out of love. And we can bend our knees, bow our heads, and pray together. That is the family of God.

We lean on these people in a different way than we lean on our physical family who may not be Christians. We gather with them in different settings. They are found all over the world. In Christ there is no east or west, no north or south, but we’re one great big family. That is the family of God.

The first note that is seen in the scriptures dealing with the Christian family is in our text. “Who are my mother and my brothers? Here are my mother and my brothers! Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” And they, therefore, belong to the family of God.

What a family! What comfort.

Jesus Defines a Christian

One night, when all was quiet and darkness had blanketed the earth, a man named Nicodemus quietly came to visit Jesus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee and did not want to be seen talking with Jesus. However, the Savior had gotten his attention.

Jesus’ words to Nicodemus are summarized in our text today. Even though Nicodemus was a teacher of the Law, he did not understand what Jesus meant by saying, “You must be born again,” He was confused and asked, “How can it be? Certainly a man cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born.”

Jesus explains more and ends with the words, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Think of all the ways we define a Christian in our society. We would say he is a good man, a fine father, a loving husband, a faithful worker, an excellent person in the church. All these qualities are good, and a Christian should possess these characteristics. However, this is not what makes him a Christian. According to Jesus’ definition, a Christian is one who claims Him as Savior and Lord, one who believes He died for him and will one day take him to his heavenly home.

I believe Nicodemus left feeling confused but was not able to get Jesus out of his mind. I can’t help but think that in their Sanhedrin meetings sometimes, when Jesus’ name came up, Nicodemus may have tried to get them to understand Jesus. His words may have gone like this: “You sit there and condemn him. How can you try a person unless you have something against him? How can you condemn him and crucify him if you find nothing bad in his character? Jesus has caught my heart, and he can capture yours, too.”

One day Jesus said, “No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the spirit.” This is a very important verse regarding baptism. Tom Wright, a noted theologian and Bishop of Durham in England, has helped me a great deal with this. He concluded that there are two parts to baptism. John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus, preached the repentance of sins. Then he would baptize the people in the Jordan River. He said, “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one (Jesus) who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11).

That is the picture Jesus gives: be baptized with water, then begin to learn from Jesus so you may be baptized the Spirit and his words become faith.

Often we will hear people say, “I am a Christian for I have been baptized.” Water baptism is necessary, for it leads us to learn of Jesus’ words, biblical preaching and teaching, and a daily devotion. However, water baptism by itself is not enough, for it needs to be accompanied by the Holy Spirit in order to create faith in our hearts.

We do not know if Nicodemus came to faith in Jesus Christ or not. But I believe he did. Looking at his life, we see him standing at the cross of Jesus and hearing Jesus say, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” And when the soldiers took Jesus’ body down and gave it to Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus came with ointment and anointed it as it was laid in the tomb. He may have still been confused about Jesus, but he was also thoroughly convinced that those who trust in Him will have the forgiveness of their sins, the promise of everlasting life, and will one day enter into the kingdom of heaven.

When we hear people talking about being a Christian, but showing little evidence of their faith, let us allow the Holy Spirit, working through us, to help them learn who really is a Christian. That is what God’s Word teaches us today.

How many people that you talk to on Sunday morning do you suppose are Christians? How many who kneel at the baptism font or at the communion table have invited Jesus Christ into their heart? That question is not for us to answer. It is only for God to know the answer. However, it is our concern that they understand Jesus’ words found in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”