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Beliefs to Believe In: Jesus Loves Me
When I was 18 years old, and a sophomore at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, the District Superintendent appointed me to pastor two Methodist churches. One was in the open country; one was in a small town. If you've noticed, I am somewhat brash, and tend to rush in where even angels fear to tread, so I accepted with alacrity, joyful at a chance to serve the Lord. I soon had a rude awakening when I began to realize what being a minister at the age of 18 meant. My predecessor had a rough time. In fact, in one church only three people worshiped on his last Sunday!
One day I visited with an elderly minister in the next town. He was Dutch, and spoke with a heavy accent. I asked his advice. I asked how I, an 18 year-old, could gain the respect of the congregations. How could I handle the divisive situation? What could I, a kid that is still wet behind the ears, preach? How could I presume to know enough? I can still see him and remember his answer so clearly. He leaned back in his chair, looked over to me, and said, "Tell them about Jesus. Tell them the old, old story of Jesus and his love. They won't dare fight with Jesus."
Well, I took his advice. I preached Jesus, and they responded beautifully. I had a rich, growing, wonderful three years in those churches. We had over 25 kids in each youth group. Some went into the ministry. I'm still taking his advice. I still tell you about Jesus.
This is the second sermon in a series of BELIEFS TO BELIEVE IN. I'm talking about those basic beliefs of the Christian colony, beliefs that distinguish us as Christians, beliefs that are essential to our identity and confidence as aliens in a strange land. Last week we looked briefly at God the Creator. Today we look at Jesus.
Theologians through the ages have discussed and are still discussing two fundamental issues about Jesus, the Person and the Work of Christ. In other words, who was Jesus and what did Jesus do?
Who Jesus was is a question that divided the church in its early history; in fact, declaring who Jesus was is the theme and reason for the early creeds, including the Apostles' Creed. Controversy over Jesus continues into our own day.
I believe and affirm again today, along with most of Christendom, that Jesus was the Messiah or Christ, which is the Greek word for the Hebrew word "Messiah." Jesus was the Son of God which means, after much debate in the early centuries of the church, that Jesus was both human and divine.
The first major position which the church defined as heresy was that taught by those who claimed Jesus was divine, and not really a human; that Jesus only appeared to be a human being, but was really God. They said that God could never suffer or experience pain or death, so Jesus only simulated such human experiences. In response to this heresy, the church wrote the Apostles' Creed which affirms that Jesus indeed was a human being. He was born, really born, of Mary. Jesus was really a baby who cried, had to be fed and toilet trained. Jesus was a real person who actually suffered at the hands of Pontius Pilate. Jesus actually died, says the Creed, "He descended to the dead" means he actually died; he didn't simulate death, he actually died.
The controversy continues today. On one hand are those who speak of Jesus as a man. They call him a teacher who taught admirable ethics. They call Jesus our example, emulating his teachings and life style. To be a Christian, they teach, is to follow Jesus' example, to imitate Jesus. They urge us not to get all involved in "medieval" concepts like blood, redemption, salvation, atonement, etc.
On the other hand, at the other end of the spectrum, are those who speak of Jesus wholly as Saviour. They describe the redemptive work of Jesus on the cross, and preach salvation as a means by which we get to heaven. The humanity of Jesus is essentially ignored. The teachings of Jesus are applied to heaven, rather than a model for our life on this planet.
To both extreme positions, the church has strongly affirmed through the ages: Jesus is the Son of God, both fully human and fully divine. What does it mean to us today to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, fully human and fully divine?
First, we identify God as the God we know in Jesus. The God we worship, the God we obey, is the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ. This belief is of profound significance. Which god do you worship was a common question in Bible days. The Israelites, in contrast to the Canaanites, Philistines, Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians and others in their environment, identified the god they worshiped as the "God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the God who led us out of Egypt." Notice how they called upon the great leaders of their past and a watershed experience in their history.
The assumption was that there are many gods. The first commandment assumed the existence of many gods. "You shall have no other gods before me," Moses was commanded. There are many gods, even today. There are many priorities that claim people's allegiance and loyalty. Money and power are popular gods in our society. There are all kinds of energies, spirits, at loose in the world: satanic, greed, lust, hatred. When people speak of God, an interesting question might be to ask them, "Which god do you mean?" A nebulous blob, greed or power, evil, or the God of Jesus Christ?
The God of the Bible broke company with all the other gods, calling them idols. God has broken with all cultural definitions and expectations. The God in which we believe, worship, and follow is the One known to us as the Trinity, the One who created and is creating all there is, the One who came to this earth in the person of Jesus, and the One we experience moving in our lives as the Holy Spirit. What we see in Jesus is what we mean by God. What he taught, how he lived with compassion and courage, how he loved everyone, especially those no one else loved, how he stood up for the oppressed, how he suffered, how he died, this is the God we know. This is the God we worship and obey. Therefore, for Christians, Jesus is the means by which we identify God.
Secondly, Jesus is the means by which we approach God. When we pray, we pray "through Jesus Christ our Lord" or "In Jesus' name." Sometimes I hear people pray, "In your name." I wonder who is "your?" When you pray, name the name of Jesus, so the spirits out there know whom you are addressing! When you pray, focus your mind, focus your spirit, not just on whatever is out there, but focus on the Spirit we know through Jesus.
Thirdly, because we believe and profess that Jesus is the Son of God, we build our church on Jesus Christ. Jesus is the foundation, the solid rock on which we build our program, ministry, hopes and dreams, not just any blob of a god. We build our church not on any whim, not on someone's theology or ideas, not on some minister. We build our church on Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Son of God, fully human and fully divine.
Now, let's look at the work of Christ. What did Jesus do? Jesus died for us. Jesus died for us that we might be saved, redeemed, reconciled to God. Jesus makes us right with God, right with one another, and right with ourselves. We call getting right with God, or entering into relationship with God, redemption or salvation. What Jesus did through dying is called atonement. These are very heavy doctrines. In this series I am only giving you the tip of the iceberg, trying to summarize the beliefs rather than explain them in detail which takes years. Let me put it this way, through the death of Jesus, God acted for our salvation, atoning, making up for our sins. We have been estranged from God through sin. Jesus made up for our sins, compensated for them, that we might enter into a full, loving, dynamic relationship with God.
Let me try an example. An American sergeant, during the Korean conflict, was moved by the tragedy Korean children experienced. He saw countless children running through the streets, rummaging through garbage piles, begging for a few coins. When the war was over, he and his wife adopted two Korean orphans and brought them to their small town in Ohio. But that was not enough, so they and the two children returned to Korea, and rented an old house. They adopted Korean ways--wore Korean clothing and cooked Korean food. Every day, the sergeant went through the streets of Seoul and brought home another child or two, until the old house was fairly bursting with children. At one time, 24 children lived under his roof.
One of the children became ill with a kidney disease. The sergeant took him to Japan, where he was told the kidneys could not be saved. The sergeant volunteered one of his own kidneys. The operation was completed, but the sergeant developed an infection and, after a few weeks, died. The child recovered and returned to Seoul to live a normal life. The sergeant's wife remained in Korea for 16 more years. When she finally came home, she left behind her a family of more than 200 young people.
That is what Jesus did for us. He came as one of us, wore the clothes of humanity, ate our food, lived as we live. Jesus roamed the streets of our estrangement, looking for us, picking us up, taking us to his home. With infinite compassion, he suffered for all of us. He gave everything he had, even his life. He died that we might have life. He died that we may experience the deep, abiding, love of God.
When you work through all the theological concepts, all the language we have commandeered to describe what Jesus has done, perhaps the most profound, deeply moving, personal words we can use are: Jesus loves you. Think of what Jesus has done for you. When you feel hopeless, when you feel helpless, when you don't know which way to go or turn, when you are discouraged, when you do what you don't want to do, and don't do what you want to do, call on Jesus. Jesus gave his life that you may know God the Creator. Jesus wants to be your friend. Jesus wants a relationship with you, not just a theoretical, cerebral concept, but a relationship, where you walk, talk, fellowship together.
Let's say together the creed we have compiled so far in this sermon series. Memorize it, teach it to your children and grandchildren. Say it over and over, day after day. Let it speak to your unconscious. Let it roll around in your heart. GOD MADE ME. JESUS LOVES ME.
© 1990 Douglas I. Norris