Sermon from February 25, 2018 at First United Methodist Church, Sweeny TX.
NOTE: The opening of this sermon borrows from a sermon of the same title by Rev. Michael Slaughter.
53 When Jesus finished these parables, he departed. 54 When he came to his hometown, he taught the people in their synagogue. They were surprised and said, “Where did he get this wisdom? Where did he get the power to work miracles? 55 Isn’t he the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother named Mary? Aren’t James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas his brothers? 56 And his sisters, aren’t they here with us? Where did this man get all this?” 57 They were repulsed by him and fell into sin.
But Jesus said to them, “Prophets are honored everywhere except in their own hometowns and in their own households.” 58 He was unable to do many miracles there because of their disbelief. (Matthew 13:53-58, Common English Bible).
When the Messiah comes, he will kick out the Romans. We won’t have to deal with the likes of them anymore. Just wait and see. The day is coming soon. God will send someone to lead us and Israel will once again be on top of the world.” And, 2000 years later, the Jews still wait for the Messiah to come because what they seek is so very different from what God had in mind for the Messiah.
They got it wrong. The man who would come to save them wasn’t the mighty warrior they expected. The man who came was loving and gentle and at the same time powerful, not in a war sort of way, but powerful that he could heal the sick with nothing but a gentle touch. He could restore relationships and show the love of God to even the worst sinner.
Yes, the Jews got it wrong. They were looking at the Messiah and they got it wrong. They thought they knew how the Messiah would walk and talk and act. Jesus didn’t fit their mold.
Calling ourselves Christians doesn’t mean that we follow the real Christ but instead follow a version of the Christ we have contrived in our own minds. All too often we create our own version of Christ and what it means to be Christian.
This morning we are beginning a new sermon series, “Why Jesus?” During this series, we are going to talk about what it means to have Jesus in our lives and why it is important. This morning we start by asking the question, “Who is this man?”
Have you seen the “Rooms to Go Kids commercial on television? The commercial shows kids who have accumulated lots of stuff and the stuff is taking over. We adults are not any different. There is an old adage that says, “You can tell the men from the boys by the price of their toys.” But, ladies, you aren’t really any better. We all “really, really like all of my stuff.”
We live in an age where we actually can have as much of it all as our wallet will allow. And, at least for most of us, that can mean a whole lot of stuff. We love it so much we might even have to go out and buy furniture (more stuff) capable of storing it all.
Might Jesus say to us, “Take all your stuff, sell it, give the money to the poor and come and follow me.”
We live in an age where there are plenty of choices on how to spend time with God, no matter how we might view that God. Take a look at this. Here are a number of leaders, none are really Christian though a couple of them might claim to be. Confucius, Moses, L. Ron Hubbard, Jim Jones, Joseph Smith, Shiva (one of many Hindu gods), Buddha, Muhammed and David Koresh. And this doesn’t even begin to count any number of American Idols, false gods we worship while still claiming ourselves as Christ followers.
While most of us look at these versions of faith and start saying things like, “False Gods.” But, don’t think that who we are and what or who we worship is limited to those who are part of non-Christian faiths. We too have things we worship.
So, for the remainder of Lent we are going to take a look at the one we are called to worship and praise. We are called to be about worshipping Jesus Christ. Why Jesus? Well, that is what I hope we will address through Lent.
In our lesson this morning, Jesus came into Nazareth and began teaching. They started asking each other about him. Isn’t this that carpenter’s son? Where did his wisdom come from? The more they talked the more offended they became. He said, in essence that he and other religious leaders don’t find respect in their hometowns. There is good reason bishops don’t appoint pastors to their home churches. The lesson says in conclusion that Jesus didn’t perform many miracles there because of the town lacked faith.
So, what makes Jesus unique? What makes Jesus the one worthy of our worship? We can begin by saying, and I don’t think you will get much of an argument is that Jesus is a real historical person. Even many non-believers do believe Jesus was a real live walking, talking, breathing human being.
It is also surprising how many other religions incorporate Jesus into their religion histories. The Koran actually talks about Jesus and the virgin birth. It also says Jesus never died and he ascended into Heaven. Knowledgeable Muslims would tell you, you can’t be a good Muslim and not believe in Jesus. Jesus is one of God’s 25 prophets.
If we believe Jesus is credible then what he taught is also credible. The core of Jesus’ teaching was about himself. He said things we don’t hear other religious leaders saying. He said “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” That is pretty radical. He said things like, “to see me is to see God. To know me is to know God. To deny me is to deny God.”
We have the witnesses of the first Christian Community, the early Christian Community. In the 4th chapter of Acts we read this: “Salvation is found in no one else for there is no other name under Heaven by which we must be saved.”
Some will say, “Well Jesus was a good moral teacher.” Have you ever heard someone say, “I don’t believe Jesus is God but I do believe Jesus was a good moral teacher.”
British writer and lay theologian, C. S. Lewis said, “You can’t say Jesus was just a good moral teacher. If Jesus was just a good moral teacher he lied about his most important teaching, his identity, and who he claimed to be. So, Jesus was either a liar, which means he isn’t a good moral teacher if he wasn’t who he said to be, or he is crazy.”
When I was in boot camp I had to stand watch a few times in the special assignment division, the Navy’s version of a psychiatric ward. There were people there who were crazy, not all of them. Some, like Corporal Klinger on the old TV show MASH were just trying to get a psychiatric discharge. But some were really crazy. There were people who believed they were Jesus.
So, Jesus could be crazy. Or, as C.S. Lewis said, there is only one other option, he was who he said he was, the Risen Lord of the Universe. You only have those three choices: liar, lunatic or Lord.
So, who is this man Jesus? If we were to read Matthew 16, we would see that Jesus asked the disciples that question. First, who do people say I am?” And then, “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered the question. “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
For a lot of people, when they start trying to wrap their head around who Jesus is, their minds go to the healing events. When you read through the Gospels it seems like every other page Jesus is healing somebody. There were healings of blind people, people without use of their legs, a person whose buddies lowered him through a hole in the roof. The Bible doesn’t say what was wrong, only that he was healed. Hey, Jesus even healed two people who were already dead.
All those healing events can be summed up with one word, miracle. Jesus was a miracle man. There were other miracles too. Jesus’ first miracle happened at a wedding when they ran out of wine. At his mother’s request he, though it would appear reluctantly turned six stone water jars, each holding twenty or thirty gallons of water, into the best wine around. Lest we should forget, Jesus also commanded a storm to cease and had Peter walking on water.
Many people do not know, there are other books of religious writings from around the time of the Biblical era beyond the 66 books we are familiar with. There are 14 books commonly known as the Apocrypha. These are books that in a timeline would fall into the period between the Old and New Testaments. While unlike our Roman Catholic and Orthodox brothers and sisters, we do not consider these books Holy Scripture, they are books that can provide us valuable insight into the history of the period as well as other information to Christians. There are a number of other books as well. Some are called the New Testament Apocrypha and others are called the pseudepigrapha. There are both Old and New Testament pseudepigraphs. The word pseudo, meaning false, and the word epigraphs, meaning teachings.
One of the books of the New Testament pseudepigrapha is “The Infancy Gospel of Thomas.” This book is actually quoted in the Koran. It tells the story of Jesus’ childhood. There are stories of miracles of the young boy Jesus, including killing a few people, which could explain why it is in the pseudepigrapha and not in the New Testament.
One of the stories I will share with you is about the boy Jesus. He picked up a handful of clay and he worked the clay, forming it into the shape of a bird. Then he gently blew into his cupped hands that held the bird, the bird came alive and Jesus opened his hands and the bird flew away.
Jesus was a man of miracles.
When I attempt to think of who Jesus is, my mind goes first to the story of washing the disciples’ feet. The washing of feet was a common practice in the Biblical era. Everyone walked either in sandals or bare feet. It was a dirty and dusty environment and when someone entered the home, their feet were usually covered in dirt. There were water jars by the entrance to homes, especially those of people who were of means. The purpose of the jars was to wash the feet of guests when they entered.
Because Jesus was the host of the Passover meal, it was considered his home. But the homeowner, the host was not the one to wash the feet of the guests. This was the job of the lowest servant, often the youngest as well. Accordingly, tradition holds that the youngest disciples would have been either John or Thaddeus depending on the research you read. That would mean this menial job would have fallen to one of them.
The word “leader” was completely understood as “servant” by Archbishop William Temple. On the last night of the Archbishop’s mission to Oxford University during World War II, a crowded congregation of students swelled St. Mary’s Church with the sound of Isaac Watts’ hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” Dr. Temple stopped the singing before the last verse and said, “I want you to read over this verse before you sing it. They are tremendous words. If you don’t mean them at all, keep silent. If you mean them even a little, and want them to mean more, sing them very softly.”
“Were the whole realm of nature mine That were an Offering far too small, Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all.”
A few years ago, I was in a retreat setting with a number of pastors that included my friend John Black. John, until January 1st was the pastor at First United Methodist Church in Angleton. Now he is pastor at A. Frank Smith United Methodist Church in Alto, TX. Some of you heard John preach at one of our Holy Week lunches last year.
We were asked, in this retreat setting to talk about our favorite verses of Scripture. I said mine was Romans 8:38, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
John said his was the most forgotten verse of Scripture in the Bible. We all looked at John with puzzled looks on our faces. No matter what group you are in, John is almost always the class clown.
John, knowing his own reputation, said, “No, I am serious. John 3:16 is arguably the most quoted verse of Scripture in the Bible.” Well, I had no argument there. I don’t have any statistics on it but I think it a reasonable assumption. John continued, “But more often than not, we stop there when we need to read the next verse. ‘God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him isn’t judged; whoever doesn’t believe in him is already judged, because they don’t believe in the name of God’s only Son.’” John continued, “He didn’t come into this world to condemn the world but that the world might be saved.” John stopped right there. That the world might be saved.
Savior is the last element of who this man Jesus is I am going to talk about today. There are many, many others and if I tried to talk about them all we would be here a good long while. But, Savior is the most important answer to the question of the day, “Who is this man?” We could live, so to speak, if Jesus didn’t perform miracles. The world probably wouldn’t come to an end if Jesus wasn’t a servant. But, if you take away Savior, now we are talking about a real problem. Without Jesus as Savior, there is no hope for the now and there is no hope for the future.
The long and short and everything in between all this is, we don’t need a miracle man or a servant. Miracles are nice to see and even nicer when we play a role. We really don’t need a servant either. I think we all know, we should really be a servant to Jesus rather than Jesus be a servant to us. He deserves a servant, we do not.
What we do need, and it is the reason Jesus was in the miracle business. It is the reason Jesus is a servant. They both demonstrate in a way words never could, Jesus came here and is here for us. Without the miracles and without the service, how much are we likely to pay attention at all? Without Jesus’ ongoing activity in the world we would probably just chalk up the stories in the Bible as ancient fables and myths.
But, when we see Jesus’ activity in the world today, we take notice and we come to know that if Jesus can do this now, then he probably did all the Bible says he did 2000 years ago. And, if we can accept that at face value, then we can also accept verses like John 3:17 are true as well. The world can be saved through him. He is, after all, the savior of the world.
In his book, The Testament, John Grisham writes: “The young man [in the pulpit] was praying, his eyes clenched tightly, his arms waving gently upward. Nate [the alcoholic attorney] closed his eyes too, and called God’s name. God was waiting.
With both hands, he clenched the back of the pew in front of him. He repeated the list, mumbling softly every weakness and flaw and affliction and evil that plagued him. He confessed them all. In one long glorious acknowledgment of failure, he laid himself bare before God. He held nothing back. He unloaded enough burdens to crush any three men, and when he finally finished Nate had tears in his eyes. “I’m sorry,” he whispered to God. “Please help me.”
As quickly as the fever had left his body, he felt the baggage leave his soul. With one gentle brush of the hand, his slate had been wiped clean. He breathed a massive sigh of relief, but his pulse was racing.
He heard the guitar again. He opened his eyes and wiped his cheeks. Instead of seeing the young man in the pulpit, Nate saw the face of Christ, in agony and pain, dying on the cross. Dying for him.
Who is this man Jesus? He is the one that did miracles. He is the one who lived as a servant and called others to do so as well. But, most importantly, he is the one who, when we confess our sins, will be faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us of all unrighteousness.
Who is this man Jesus? He is the one, that when we have humbly poured ourselves out, confessing it all, that if we look up, we too will see his face, dying for us, that we might have life.
Copyright 2018, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved