On December 13th I sent out a text message to all our Hispanic members and prospects. I said that while I know that COVID-19 has a lot of people unsure about whether they should attend public worship, Christmas is nevertheless a good time to rediscover Jesus. Yes, we know about him, and at the same time, we easily become inattentive to him. Christmas is a good opportunity to replace our attention on him, and rediscover what he is all about.
On Tuesday of this past week, I was in the backyard thinking about the Sunday sermon. The thought of rediscovering Jesus once again came to mind—this time regarding the Gospel lesson. And so did Philip Yancey's book The Jesus I Never Knew. This is a great book, by the way. It was voted best Christian book of the year when it came out. The general premise is that the Jesus that many people grow up knowing is not actually the Jesus of the Bible. At least that was the case for the author.
So, I took the book off my shelf and paged through it, briefly looking through the many highlights I had made years ago. I said, "I'm going to read this book again and see if I still think it is as good as I did back in 2002.” According to Yancey, "No one who meets Jesus ever stays the same." I agree. You either come to embrace him or reject him. But at least let that be on basis of the real "him".
Would you believe that my overnight shift manager at the grocery store I worked at one summer during college, had never even heard the story of Jesus' death and resurrection? I didn't think it was true myself, but one night, as we were stocking shelves, he asked me what I believed, and his comment at the end of it all was, "Oh, that’s who the guy on the cross is! I never knew his name was Jesus.”
Well, you may have known it was Jesus since you can remember. But do you know him as well as you think you do? I don't. I'm surprised each sermon when it comes to things I don't know about Jesus and his Word. So, I thought I'd not only theme my sermon but also this entire new year, "Rediscovering Jesus." And I would like to encourage you to do the same.
For now, though, listen again to the differing opinions about Jesus by the Jews of Jerusalem. Verses 40-43: On hearing his words, some of the people said, "surely this man is the Prophet." Others said, "He is the Christ.' Still others asked, "How can the Christ come from Galilee? Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David's family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?" Thus the people were divided because of Jesus.
So, there you have it: the people were divided because of Jesus.
I wonder how much division really exists in our personal lives because of Jesus. And, it doesn't have to be polemical in nature. It doesn't mean that family members get angry with each other, or that friendships are lost because of it. And yet, when it comes to the most fundamental issues of life, one has to concede that there is a lot of disagreement.
What stuck out to me as I read these verses from John, chapter 7, is that the same amount of disagreement existed back in Jesus' day, even though the Jews were all agreed upon the foundational issue of the Bible as the Word of God! Today that is not the case. Many don’t accept the premise that the Bible is the Word of God, but the Jews all did! They even correctly referenced the Old Testament as a means of identifying the Messiah (v. 42).
So, it is not just that each one made up whatever he or she wanted to believe about Jesus. They had a starting point. The starting point were the Holy Scriptures, and in that day, they were the Old Testament Scriptures. So, they had the same Bible, if you will. And yet, the people were still divided because of Jesus.
Does that frustrate you? Do you ever wonder why it is that there are so many different beliefs within the context of Christianity when there is only one Bible? Here is the thing: most Christians know bits and pieces of the Bible. Some Christians know big swaths of the Bible. But very few people really know the Bible, that is, all the Bible, what it says about Jesus from beginning to end, what it says about Jesus in the Old Testament and the New. Because it is all about Jesus, you realize that. The Bible is not a book about you, first and foremost. The Bible isn't even a book about the Jews, first and foremost. It is the revelation of God about his Son, Jesus.
Now, that is a word worth latching onto for a moment: "revelation". How does anyone know anything about God? Is Grandma always right in what she says about Jesus? Or is it a matter of piecing together the bits and pieces of wisdom you glean as you grow up, and then forming your own opinion of him?
I would say that the typical western approach—and this is true in both North America and South America—is to see the Bible as a Chinese buffet. There are lots of items involved. You can't digest it all in one sitting. So, you have to pick and choose. You see one dish and say, "That looks pleasing to me. I think I'll try it." You see another dish—the one with the fish head and the eyes—and you say, "I don't think I'll try that." But you choose. You're in control. You determine what is good and what is not.
This is so common when it comes to how people look at the Bible. People say, "Oh, I like that part about peace on earth, but I don't like that part about a family divided against each other." "I like that part about Jesus feeding the five-thousand (we should feed the poor after all), but I don't like that part about picking up my cross and following him. I don't even understand what that means."
Question: Were the Jews of Jerusalem correct in saying that "the Christ will come from David's family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived" (v. 42)? Yes, they were. But they were incorrect in saying, “How can the Christ come from Galilee?” (v 41). Isaiah clearly says that the Messiah will come forth from Galilee. The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned" (Isaiah 9:2).
That is a direct reference to the region in Israel known as Galilee of the Gentiles. The verse right before it says so. It says, “In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan” (9:1).
And referring to this region it continues, "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light…" Then it says, "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (9:6).
That's just one instance of the Scriptures shedding light on Jesus' origin. Had the Jews asked Jesus where he was born instead of assuming it was up in Galilee, they could have put the two pieces together.
And that is the issue, you see. The issue is knowing some of the Scriptures, but not (as Luther would say) being "married to" the Scriptures. When you are married to someone, you know all about them. You know them through and through. You're not content with only knowing superficial items. You know the good, the bad, and the ugly. How is your knowledge of the Holy Scriptures? Do you know the good, bad, and the ugly?
You say, "Well, there is nothing bad or ugly in the Bible". Have you read the Old Testament? There is sin all over. And you see, when people can't resolve these things in their mind, when they don't have a biblical understanding of topics such as homosexuality, death, guilt, sin, etc., they say "I can't believe in a God like that. I can't accept a church that teaches that." But they don't even know what the church actually teaches about these subjects. They have no idea what the Bible truly says. And so, there is confusion! There is division! How can one truly know?
The place (and the only place) to discover who the real Jesus is, is via his own words which are recorded for us in the Bible. Remember that we said this is a “revelation”. You can't learn about Jesus—his mind, his heart and will—from science, from nature, from dreams, or from the imagination. Imagine someone trying to learn something about you from their own imagination. Well, that actually happens! This is why there are lots of problems in relationships. People assume. They make things up. You need to ask the person what he or she says about themselves rather than assume.
It is no different with Jesus. Which is why God revealed everything that you and I need to know about him in his Word, the Bible. If you want to know the real Jesus, you just need to start reading your Bible. Not every now and then. You need to marry it. It needs to be in your head every single day.
Now, why would you ever want to get that close to God’s Word? Because there are two great miracles at Christmas: 1) that God became a man in the lowliness of the manger, and 2) that he has made this known to me, even to me! Think of that. It is not enough for God to come into this world and become one of us. It is not enough for Jesus to die as an atoning sacrifice for the world. The world also needs to know it! Like the manager at the grocery store. Jesus died for him, but did he know it?
What do you know about Jesus? The answer to that question is going to be as different as each of you sitting in these pews. But the good news is that you all have equal access to God, so that you may know him as well as you want to know him. For the real Jesus, the true Savior, does not give himself apart from his Word.
So, you say, “Well, I know Jesus died for my sins!” Good! That's a start! That's a really good start! And then you say, “I even know that I am going to heaven.” That’s even better!
But there is so much more. And we need to know more if we are going to continue to believe in today's sinful and adulterous generation. The devil does not want you to know the real Jesus. He's content with you to know just the flannel-graph, the feel-good Jesus. He doesn't want you to know the real Jesus because he knows you'll never be the same afterwards.
Let us label this new year as a year for rediscovering Jesus. Each one of our journeys is different, but the goal of life is the same for all: the goal is Jesus. And we offer many opportunities to get to know him at Immanuel. Above all you have your Bible. Therefore, as we begin a new year of getting to know him, let us listen ever more attentively to his Word. Amen.