Look on the internet or into the local newspaper and I believe a discerning believer will quickly spot a problem in the American pulpit. The “church page” that lists messages and sermon titles shows the spectrum of topics you can be informed and moved by on any given Sunday across your town. Here is what you will quickly see…Beloved, the message of the church in the modern era is becoming blurred. We are taking on too many objectives and being pulled from essential focus. We are becoming convinced that there are many messages the church needs to adopt, to help us make it through life in these days. I want to challenge you with a simple idea today:
Key Principle: The lost people around you won’t ever get a better presentation of Jesus than the one you can show through your transformed life! Make sure your life shows Jesus, and your words point them to Him!
So that I don’t sound too unsympathetic, let me say that I DO understand why the church is being tempted to get too diverse and complicated in its message. There are good reasons:
• We are trying to stem off a wave of moral attacks as the next generation seems to have little resistance to making right from wrong. Desperate to enjoy as many of the pleasures of physical life while quelling the symptoms that stem from the abuses against their body and their relationships – the church is trying to put boundaries in an increasingly boundary-less society. People now believe that second hand smoke is wrong because it harms another, while killing the unborn is absolutely acceptable if the conditions of conception were not fully favorable. The church is trying to put moral logic back into the community by teaching Biblical ideas about right and wrong to those whose minds have been dulled by excessive entertainment and self-centered responses. Because the choices on the sin menu have increased in the public’s acceptance – we feel the pressure to say more on each subject.
• We are increasingly being pressed into the “topic of the month” club – as marketing has now “wed” the worship service. January has “Right to Life” Sunday, followed by one hundred emails as to how we can use History Channel’s new series on “The Bible” to reach our neighborhood. This follows a long line of movies marketed to the church demographic like “Fire Proof” and others. Slick marketing campaigns like “Thirty Days of Whatever’s Hot” roll through one church after another. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with them – they bring in people. At the same time, the systematic instruction of the Word suffers when people aren’t learning how to live out their faith with a diet that is big on fast food Christianity. You cannot eat Chinese food today, Indian food tomorrow and Italian food the next – without eventually wearing out your digestive system. You also cannot jerk around your learning all over the Bible constantly if you don’t really have a handle on its backbone storyline – and most believers simply don’t have that anymore.
• At the same time, our family structure in modern life needs assistance. We are facing the pummeling effects of “Open Divorce” in America – a policy that has decimated the commitment of the individual’s word that is the foundation of the most basic human relationships. Family is being redefined and destroyed right in front of us – and the outcome appears to be that we have chopped deeply into the chief securing place for our children and their formation for identity. We have a generation that appearsto be lacking in initiative, but is fully self-assured at the same time. Many people come to church hoping that God will give answers to the suffering experience in the home.
• As bonds of society have become strained, many who feel crippled with the inability to find friends arrive at the church doors hoping they will find a connection with people they are desperately seeking. As a result, one new series after another is offered to us to help people make friends and keep them in the church. Since the Bible DOES speak to relationships, many are willing to come if we will address them.
• Many are finding the challenges of modern life difficult to cope with, so many packages are offered to a Pastor to bring various psychological techniques of counseling into the pulpit. People are hurting, and churches feel the strain – and want to help.
I am not dumping on you, but trying to help you grapple with a basic problem we face that we didn’t use to know much about. There is nothing wrong with preaching and teaching to family, relationships, personal struggles, or great moral issues of our time. There is nothing wrong with any of them IF WE KEEP OUR CENTRAL MESSAGE ABOUT WHAT GOD TOLD US TO, that is.
What WAS the message of the Church at its beginning?
You may be surprised that their message was a simple one. It had little fanfare – but was life altering and powerful. It was the simple message that God sent a solution to the gulf that kept us from a personal relationship with Him because of sin – He sent Jesus.
The early church was transfixed with the person and work of Jesus – and how it could change the worst of them into God’s man or woman.
It wasn’t the ONLY thing they spoke about – but it was the MAIN THING when they addressed the subject of FINDING GOD. They scanned and STUDIED the old scrolls of the Law – but never without a desire to understand how God wanted to TRANSFORM them through the Messiah.
The early believers shared what they KNEW OF JESUS in their own lives! They placed that experience above the need to find catchy ways to draw a crowd. Many had a resolution worth having – to know Jesus in all His fullness. Paul mentioned it to the first believers at Corinth long ago in 1 Corinthians 2:1 “And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. 3 I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, 4 and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.”
Listen to the remarkable claim Paul made about his presentation:
• I didn’t come with a powerfully prepared and dynamic presentation – I just told you the truth about the testimony of God’s work in me.
• I decided the ONE THING I would dig deeply into – that above any other thing – was KNOWING JESUS, and diving deeply into His sufferings on my behalf.
• I didn’t feel strong, talented and accomplished – I felt weak and feeble. I couldn’t do much that would persuade you in high sounding words – but I could show you how God was incredibly changing ME.
• Where I lacked power, God showed His power. Where I lacked polish – God pulled things together – and you found it irresistible.
Paul wanted to know Jesus in depth, to really understand what a walk with Him was like in daily life, and what He was like in death.
Beloved, no amount of glitz and glitter will draw in what simply living for Jesus and telling others about Him will. In all its simplicity, modern believers look for better presentation formulas – perhaps because we want to dump the responsibility of sharing Messiah onto the Sunday morning agenda.
Let me say it again ever so clearly:
The lost people around you won’t ever get a better presentation of Jesus than the one you can show with your transformed life! No preaching could do more. No movie could reach people better. Make sure your life shows Jesus, and your words point them to Him!
Three years ago, our lessons brought us through John’s Gospel until chapter 13, and that is where we left off in our teaching. I want to pick the story up, but it will require a few weeks of review to get us back into the story as John told it by the Holy Spirit’s nudging. This is just the first installment, taken from the pen of the Apostle John. I want to renew the study by a couple of weeks reviewing the early chapters, on our way to the second half of the book.
Let’s start by reminding ourselves that it was clearly John’s purpose to report Who Jesus is and what Jesus brought to us:
John 20:30 “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”
The problem John faced was that he lived longer than the other Apostles. Most of them were fading off the scene by the time he was tapped by God to get the work of Jesus onto parchment. He was a local Pastor – a Bishop- over the church at Ephesus. His congregation was mixed – Jews who found their Messiah and former “pig eating pagans” that surrendered to Christ. They were ONE in Christ, but TWO in the community. Some were KOSHER KIDS, and others we “JOHNNY COME LATELY” in their walk with God.
Because Greek speaking Gentiles were given to philosophy and WORDS – John needed to provide some AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL WORDS of Jesus – when He spoke of Himself. Because Jews required signs and defined a person by their work – John needed to include the WORKS of Jesus to help them see Who Jesus is. As a result, the backbone of the book is found in the WORDS – the seven “I Am” sayings, and the WORKS – the seven “I Do” actions of the book – all that speak of WHO JESUS IS.
Let’s not get fancy in this lesson – let’s make sure we understand what the Gospel writer said about the IDENTITY of Jesus.
• Go into any public University and the common scholarly understanding is that Jesus was a GOOD MAN – but just a man.
• Sit down and chat with your neighbor and if they are nominally Christian they will tell you that He was a great teacher – and a positive influence. He was a nice guy. He did loving and warm things. The surprising part about that analysis is that a close look into the Gospels reveals a Savior that was at times very sharp-tongued and even used whips to make His point when necessary.
John would have none of this. Jesus wasn’t a GOOD GUY – He was GOD’S ONE WAY TO HIM.
To make his point, John wrote, “Seven I AM sayings” of Jesus:
Here is what Jesus said about Himself – Jesus “in His own words” about His identity. Jesus LEFT SEVEN STATEMENTS to explain Himself:
First, He said: “I am the Bread of Life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger.” (John 6:35). I am what you NEED.
Every Christian needs to be clear in their presentation of the Savior – Jesus is neither LUXURY nor OPTION.
• He wasn’t simply the example of a good man – He was the one who extinguished Hell’s flames from wrapping me in agony.
• He is bread to the starving man who has lost the strength to work or harvest.
The people gathered to Jesus, and because it was Passover, they needed to eat only bread that was prepared in the proper way – unleavened from a Jewish home. They were a few hours walk from home in the shadow of Gentile cities that could not provide properly prepared bread. When Jesus said it, they understood. There is no religious requirement that supersedes the need for taking Jesus into your life – like you ingest bread. Any list you have ever heard given by a church, synagogue, temple or prayer hall places a distant second to Jesus. The list may help you be a better person – but it won’t save you. Jesus came to do that, and He is not placed beside a set of religious options. Let me say it plainly: You need Jesus if you want a relationship with God – period.
Second, He said: “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life.” (John 8:12). Without Me, you are in the dark.
If you may think you have life together without Jesus –you CAN’T EVEN SEE the POINT of life. Jesus was sitting in the Temple precinct, teaching people in morning before the sun got too hot in Jerusalem to think straight. Some scribes and Pharisees dropped a woman to the pavement of the court of the Temple, and asked Jesus about sending her out to have her stoned. It seems she had been caught in the act of adultery – and they were testing Jesus’ resolve – since He was known to have forgiven others who had a long list of moral failures. Jesus noticed the conspicuous absence of the other party. He answered them with a simple claim: “If you are going to stone her, let the one without sin cast the first stone.” On first appearance, Jesus sounds like He is letting her off the hook – but He is not.
I would be wrong if I didn’t point out that the passage isn’t found in all the best ancient manuscripts of the Bible. Though the church historically recognized the story to be considered Scripture, we know that it is missing from the earliest and most reliable manuscripts – and it may not be. It is mentioned by some second century references, but doesn’t show up in the manuscripts until the fifth CE, and the so-called “Pericope adulterae” is one of a tiny handful of suspect passages.
In any case, what could Jesus mean by His statement? Likely Jesus is acknowledging a tradition in which the offended party casts the first of the stones at the accused. Such an action would deter flippant accusations against a spouse. At the same time, Jesus didn’t seem to see a guilt free husband in this case. Perhaps all He wrote on the ground were some lover’s names from the men who were charged up to cast stones. One by one, they found themselves as CAUGHT as she was. They dropped their stones and walked off. Jesus would have upheld the Law, but not some hypocritical “set-up” based on the Law of God – because He is the LIGHT. He sees what others cannot. He knew the hearts of the men – and their hearts were not in the same place as their religious costume and righteous indignation.
Jesus peels off all the layers of religiosity and hypocrisy and demands that we see ourselves, and others, through the standard of truth. No one comes to Jesus feeling GOOD about themselves. We stand before Him GUILTY because we were born estranged from God since the day of Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden – so says the Word. Again, directly to the point, Jesus wanted to make it clear – I see the truth, and nothing gets past Me. Don’t be mistaken into believing your good deeds will balance you out – He knows how little you have really paid attention to God in your life.
Third, He said: “I am the Door; if anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.” (John 10:9). I am the access to get to God.
Jesus was in NO WAY EMBARASSED about His uniqueness. This makes people in the world squirm – but Jesus was frankly very UP FRONT about His position as gateway to God.
People came up to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles as God commanded in Deuteronomy 16:16. Thousands came into the city. It was a time for teaching, celebrating, and seeking God for the much needed rains of the coming season. Jesus walked by a man who was born blind, and His disciples wanted to know whether the man was that way for his own sin, or for the sin of his parents before him. Jesus said, you limited your understanding of this malady – the answer is “none of the above”. The man was born that way so that they would ask Him about it on that particular day, at that particular street. God wanted a demonstration, and God was using this man’s life to pull it off.
Jesus healed the man. He spit on the ground, put mud in his eye, and told him to go to the Pool of Siloam in the southeast part of town – the pool that was at the center of every prayer for that time of year. The pool has recently been excavated and is made up of a series of stairways that allow people to get close to the water as the level gets lower and lower waiting for new rainwater from the storm sewers of ancient Jerusalem. The water was probably low, because they were early in the rain year. Down the steps he went, blind and muddy-eyed. When he washed, he COULD SEE.
There was one problem, though. It was the wrong day of the week! That blind man had the audacity to be healed on Sabbath! Can you imagine? How could he go running around all sight-filled and what not on the Sabbath? Didn’t he know better. Healing is a Sunday to Friday morning deal – no Sabbath healing! What was the response of his family and neighbors? Act like they don’t know what happened, but admit that it was truly a man who was born blind. What was his response? Tell the leaders that it didn’t make sense to HIM that a DEVIL or a BAD GUY would bother to give him sight. Their response – they threw him out!
Jesus came back into the scene at that point. He waited until the leaders had shown their true colors – then He told them THEY were the real blind men. As He continued, He let them know the truth – He is the DOOR TO GOD – not their rules, their Temple or their religious instruction. He was there to MAKE ENTRY POSSIBLE – while they were busy finding ways to keep the number in the Kingdom down – like people hogging a lifeboat. Jesus didn’t come to make going to Heaven difficult – quite the opposite. He wanted to make it clear that it is NOT WHAT YOU KNOW – BUT WHO YOU KNOW. Without the door opening, you cannot get in.
Later, Jesus was IN THE SAME SETTING, WHEN HE SAID…
Fourth, He said: “I am the Good Shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for His sheep.” (John 10:11). There is NOTHING I won’t do to reach for you.
The blind man found himself on the outside of the religious establishment – because he got healed at a time not approved by the Sanhedrin. His whole life, people passed him by – few stooping down to a blind child to speak to him. Nobody ever asked HIS OPINION on anything that was important. In came the Savior and Jesus proved His love in ACTION.
Do you honestly believe the man cared about the day of the week when he could see the sun set that night for the first time?
Jesus walked into his dark night of a life and rubbed mud on his eyes. Washing spit and mud in a public pool, a blind man saw the city of Jerusalem for the first time. He saw beautiful women drawing water. He saw bearded old men and smiled. He saw shops, colors, and for first time he saw himself in the pool’s reflection. He saw his parents and his neighbors. He probably combed his hair himself for the first time. ALL BECAUSE JESUS CAME TO HIM.
Jesus is not in the business of finding ways to keep you away from His Father or His Heavenly Kingdom – He is a shepherd. He gathers, He protects, He calls, and He defends. He isn’t HAPPY about any sinner – great or small –heading into a LOST ETERNITY. If He was, no one would have nailed Him to a tree. He had the power to walk away – but there was no other way to pay the penalty for sin and settle the judicial account before the Father.
Fifth, He said: “I am the Resurrection and the Life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies.” (John 11:25). You can finally find real LIFE.
In the last months before His arrest and Crucifixion, Jesus got news about a dear friend in Bethany that had died from a sickness. When word was sent from Mary and Martha that Lazarus was ailing, Jesus said: “It won’t take him, this is for the revealing of God’s glory!” Wow! What a way to look at an illness! Like the blind man that stumbled through life awaiting the coming of Jesus – so Lazarus would have to wait to see Jesus and have God work a miracle. Jesus delayed, and came after Lazarus breathed his last – or so it seemed.
Jesus told the disciples to get it together – they were going into the “mouth of the lion” of Judea – where learned and powerful men were plotting against Jesus. The men didn’t see the urgency – so Jesus told them flatly- “Lazarus is DEAD! Now let’s go!” Thomas, in a moment of verbal sarcasm, was caught on the record mumbling, “Great, boss – we can all go DIE with him!” I’d be willing to wager he wasn’t the only one thinking what came out his mouth. On his way up from Jericho, Jesus probably stopped off an Ein Shemesh to refill the water skins – and there Martha met Him.
Jesus told her that Lazarus’ death wasn’t the END of this story – He had a plan. She couldn’t grasp the essence of what He was saying, and He made the point very clear: I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE. Life and death aren’t bigger than I am – I am bigger than they are! Real life is found KNOWING ME. One hundred years here and then eternal separation from God isn’t life – it is a SLOW DEATH SENTENCE. Jesus wanted her to grasp that HE wasn’t shaken by death – because He is the MASTER OF LIFE AND DEATH. Because I know Jesus, my body may die (as a penalty for the Fall), but my spirit will get a new one later. I am not a body that houses a spirit – I am a spirit that is temporarily using this body.
Sixth, He said: “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.” (John 14:6).
Near the end of Jesus’ ministry on earth before the Cross, He was having a teaching time with His men. It was His last night with them – and the arrest was coming in hours. Jesus told the men that He was going away, like a bridegroom leaves to build on to the father’s home – but He would surely return. Some of the men didn’t want to let Him go – they didn’t like the idea of the separation. Thomas – Mr. Happy himself, asked where Jesus was going and how they could join Him or at least keep in contact with Him. Jesus said they did not need to LEARN THE WAY because they had MET THE WAY. Jesus openly admitted to them that He was THE way, THE truth and THE life. If that wasn’t exclusive enough, He added – NO ONE comes to the Father, but by me – no one, no way, nada.
Was He clear? Do you really think you can SATISFY God without His Son? Do you think Jesus meant to say, “No one comes except by me and being a reasonably morally good person?” DO you think He really meant that Sunday School pins, AWANA badges, church attendance, Bible knowledge, and other things we do provide ANOTHER WAY into the Kingdom. The more you read Jesus – the more His words are unmistakable. You need a relationship with HIM – or you cannot get in.
Oh, and one more thing – John reminded…
Seventh, He said: “I am the True Vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.” (John 15:1). Drawing from my strength, your life will become FRUITFUL.
Ezekiel the priest sang a sad lament (Ezekiel 19) in the captivity of Babylon that the VINE of Israel – the princes and ruling family of Israel – was decimated and fruitless. He longed for a TRUE VINE that would come to lead the people home to God and the land. Jesus picked up the anthem and exclaimed: I am the TRUE PRINCE. I can make your life bear fruit again. I can bring us home and bring us peace.
Are you wondering what your LIFE will leave behind? Are you wondering about the FRUIT OF YOUR LIFE? Are you hoping there is MORE to life than just your short one hundred years on this planet? Jesus has an answer for you. I CAN MAKE YOUR LIFE FULL OF FRUIT THAT MATTERS. One thousand years from now, what you drove today won’t matter. What you made last week won’t be remembered. What you have done in your life will only count if it has eternal value. Remember that!
John wrote what is called by some “A Defense of Jesus Christ.” What a funny way to look at the Gospel of John. After all, how EXACTLY do you defend Jesus? I suppose it is like defending a roaring lion, you LET HIM OUT and He will show His power to anyone who encounters Him. How will He show it? In the LIFE of the surrendered believer.
If you truly encounter Jesus…You won’t think like the people around you. You won’t act like them. You will have a purpose that makes the toys of this life much less interesting. You will have a relationship that grounds you when others are knocking themselves out to find an identity and acceptance. You will have assurance in the nights of their uncertainty. Your life will be His portrait! Don’t forget the lost people around you won’t ever get a better presentation of Jesus than the one you can show with your transformed life!
Oh, dear ones! Oh that the church would but stick to the script of the early church, that the power of Jesus would return and renew her!