>(Note: This is a sermon series focused on misconceptions of Jesus in our culture where Jesus is all around us. I’m using Jared Wilson’s book, Your Jesus is Too Safe as a springboard into the series and will follow along with some of his themes. For those of you who haven’t read Wilson’s stuff, I encourage you to at least check out his blog, The Gospel-Driven Church. This sermon functioned as the introduction to the series, trying to convey the notion that it can be hard to find who Jesus is in our culture.)
Text: Matthew 16:13-20
Title: “Our Quest To Find Jesus: Introduction”
Betty Stephens was the pastor’s wife at First United Methodist Church in Marion, Indiana when I was in High School. She was a neat lady. Thin as a rail. Full of life. We were in the Midwest, home of lots of Wesleyan Churches and in at town with Indiana Wesleyan University—“IWU” as we called it. Our church was the big, downtown church. It was country-clubbish and in it’s heyday it might have been the biggest church in the town. Betty, as I said, was full of life and I’ve shared here that, as the conversation around her turned to salvation and whether or not she or someone else had “found” Jesus, she would say, “I didn’t know he was lost.”
And while her response, I’m sure, rubbed some persons the wrong way, there’s some good theology rooted there. It’s not a matter about US FINDING JESUS but us BEING FOUND BY HIM. The old hymn says, if I remember, “I once was lost, but now am found.”
And I think Betty saw the face of Christ all around her. She saw Jesus on the children and in the other members. She saw Christ in the community. I don’t think, theologically, she could imagine not finding Jesus. I don’t know that for sure, but I believe it’s the case, and it’s partly how I see Christ in this world of ours. How could I not see him?
And, as we look at this world of ours…particularly the American culture in the latter part of the 20th Century, leading to the 21st Century, we can find a whole lot of Jesus around us. We are a Jesus-fixated culture. You hear his name used in vain. You hear him mentioned from the stages of the Oscars and Grammys and when championship rings are placed on fingers. And the cross on which he suffered and died had been reduced to a popular piece of fashion jewelry.
And just as we can take a few magnetic pieces and dress Jesus up to make him look like whatever we want, we can also morph our understanding of Jesus to speak to us as different time and place and so he comes to us in different guises.
The following are all found in brief searches on the internet. Take a look at all of these Jesuses. (I had lots of pictures of Jesus to show on the screen.)
BLOND HAIR ED BLUE-EYED JESUS
ROCK N ROLL JESUS
JESUS IN A LATTE
JESUS THE REPUBLICAN
JESUS THE DEMOCRAT
JESUS THE AMERICAN
And, to show just how far this can go…
Why do we have to go on a quest to find Jesus? Because he is lost in the confusion of our culture.
Starting in the 1950’s there was a television show on called, “To Tell the Truth.” On this show, three persons appeared before a panel of judges. And each person claimed to be, for instance, Rosie Fletcher (an Olympic snowboarder in our community). Two were imposters who were up there trying to convince the judges that they were Rosie Fletcher while one was the real Rosie Fletcher, who, as the name of the show implied, had “To Tell the Truth.” After as series of questions and answers given by each of the contestants, the host would say… “Would the real Rosie Fletcher please stand up?”
Well, that’s the kind of problem we have in our world when it comes to Jesus. But, instead of just two imposters…we have hundreds of them, thousands up them and they come to us every day.
Jared Wilson, co-founder and pastor at Element, a Christian Community in Nashville, addresses this very issue in his book, Your Jesus is Too Small, which serves as the springboard into the Jesus discussions we’re going to have over the next eight weeks or so:
The man known as Jesus of Nazareth—Jesus the Christ, or Messiah, to Christians—is undoubtedly the most popular, the most recognizable, the most cited, the most admired, and the most controversial figure in all of history. No other person has been more scrutinized, studied, or cited—ever. Entire philosophies and religions have been founded on his teachings. More books have been written about him than about any other person who ever lived. Every day, his name is spoken more than any other name, whether in affectionate admiration by his followers and fans, or in absentminded curses or denouncements by those ambivalent or antagonistic toward his fame…
No message has been more used and exploited and appropriated than Jesus Christ’s. It happens whenever a politician co-opts one of Jesus’ quotable quotes to promote his own platform. As a result, every careerist soul climbing the ladder of American political engagement—in either major party or neither—and every one of their constituents believe that Jesus is on their side. Every religion in the world, too, Christian or not, has to factor in some appraisal of Jesus himself, whether it’s to honor him as one of God’s prophets or as an enlightened man, to reject him as a false prophet, or hail him as king of the universe. Indeed, a handful of religious leaders today cannot even avoid claiming to be him (12-13).
Is it any wonder, in our culture that Jesus is LOST and we need to go on a quest to find him?
And it’s not just the culture. It’s the church as well. We, too, want a Jesus that looks and acts and talks like us. If our theology seems to focus on the primacy of sin, then it’s hard for us to avoid an angry Jesus who’s here to give us a stern talkin’ to. If we love the environment, it’s hard for us not to have a Jesus who looks to the lilies of the field and caries sheep around his neck. If, like the Doobie Brothers sang, “Jesus is Just All Right With Me,” we have a Jesus who’s cool with us and loves us man and “would never harsh our vibe because he like[s] rock music and [wears] blue jeans” (13). If, we look at Jesus and we see America and we look at America and we see Jesus, God and country kind of morph into one thing, indistinguishable from each other. Or, perhaps, like in the current “prosperity gospel” we avoid all that sacrificial language and know that Jesus Christ just wants us to be rich.
I know that at this point in my life and ministry, I resonate with the language of Jesus reaching out to the least, the last, and the lost…the hurting. The Scriptures are full of that language and that that’s the side of Jesus that I think comes through in how I conduct myself as Pastor in this place. The Jesus who turns over tables in the temple? The Jesus who curses fig trees? Not so much.
So, how do we find the real Jesus here?
A.W. Tozer, an evangelical preacher and author in the middle part of the last century said, “What comes to our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us” (The Knowledge of the Holy).
Fine tuning that a little bit… “What comes to our minds when we think about Jesus is the most important thing about our Christian faith.”
It is for this reason that Jesus asks the question in today’s Scripture reading:
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.” Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
It’s interesting here that Jesus starts off by asking the disciples “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” That easier. That’s safer. The answer they give here requires very little of them.
“Well, Jesus, some say you might be John the Baptist. We can kinda see that. There are others that have thrown out the names of our prophets…you know, Elijah, and Jeremiah or a couple other ones. Yeah, that would be cool.”
It’s always easier when it’s not your faith that’s on the line.
Perhaps their answers are good. Perhaps not. But the real question comes next. “But who do you say I am?” And we get Peter’s answer, “You are the Messiah, Son of the Living God.”
This question from Jesus is a call to the disciples to step up to the plate and not rely on the perspectives of others but claim him as our own. This, as you might guess, is no small issue for those of us who say we’re believers and followers of Jesus of Nazareth.
Present day scholar N.T. Wright pointed out, “What you say about Jesus affects your entire worldview. If you see Jesus differently, everything changes.”
We are going to try to see Jesus differently over the next 8 weeks. We’re going to look at some of what he means to us and for us as we embark on this quest to find Jesus.
For a culture that lives and breathes as much religious language as ours does, it’s amazing how lost Jesus can be.
Over the next several weeks we’re going to find him.
As a prophet, and the forgiver, as a Man, as the Shepherd, as the Judge, as the Promise, as the King and as Savior.
Who do you say that he is?
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.