Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Second Hand Jesus - Acts 19:13-18

New Testament Lesson                                                               Acts 19:13-18

13 Then some itinerant Jewish exorcists tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. 15 But the evil spirit said to them in reply, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” 16 Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered them all, and so overpowered them that they fled out of the house naked and wounded. 17 When this became known to all residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks, everyone was awestruck; and the name of the Lord Jesus was praised. 18 Also many of those who became believers confessed and disclosed their practices.

          A few years ago I went to Haiti on a mission trip, and in getting ready for the travel I had to go to the doctor’s to have some shots -- Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B. 

          So I went to the doctor’s to get my shots.

          This lady comes into the examination room and  she swabs down my arm with alcohol, and then she starts fumbling around with my chart and fumbling around with whatever she has brought with her.  Finally she says, “You know, I need one of those needle things.”

          “A syringe,” I suggest.

          “Oh yes, that’s it.  I need one of those things.  Be right back.”

          She comes back in and she swabs my arm down with alcohol, and then she hesitates.  “You know, I need to get the vaccine.  I’ll be right back.”

          A few minutes later she comes back in and she swabs down my arm with more alcohol.  She looks at me and asks me, “It does go into the arm, doesn’t it?”

          She says she’s going to ask someone about that and she leaves.

          She comes back and says someone else will be giving me my shots.

          Suits me!

          We start talking and at some point in the conversation she says she didn’t get much sleep last night because she was so excited about her new job.  Today was the first day she was working in the doctor’s office.

          The only thing that kept me from asking this lady about her last job was the fear of hearing her tell me that she had worked at McDonalds, or some place like that.

          I’m sure she was trained, but she just didn’t seem to have any experience.

          At least no first hand experience.

          A lot of us are like that woman.  We have lots of second hand knowledge, but no first hand knowledge or experience in certain areas of life.

          I watch a lot of medical shows on television – ER and shows like that.  I know all about subdural hematomas and defibrillation and saline solutions.

          Well, I don’t really know about them.  But I have this second hand knowledge about life in a hospital.

          I have second hand knowledge about what the White House is like because I have watched lots of episodes of West Wing.

          I have second hand knowledge about the military, because I talk to people who serve in the military.

          Second hand knowledge is good, it’s helpful, it’s interesting – but it is no substitute for first hand knowledge and experience.

          In our New Testament lesson from the Book of Acts we read about a time when the news of Jesus Christ was growing.  The whole world was beginning to hear about Jesus – but for many people this news was second hand information.

          As the New Testament reading from Acts tells it, “Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, "In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out."   What’s interesting here is that they did not know Jesus personally.  Their Jesus was a second hand Jesus.

And of course, it does not turn out very well for them.  As they were trying to deal with a demon possessed person, the evil spirit answered them, "Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?"  Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.

It is a dramatic illustration about how dangerous “second hand” knowledge about Christ can be.

Here is the question for the day -- Is your Jesus a second hand Jesus?

Do you know of Jesus only from what you have seen in the movies, or from what you have read in books, or by what you have heard from teachers and preachers?

I said a moment ago that second hand knowledge was a good thing – up to a point.

Knowing Jesus second hand is never quite sufficient for us.

It is not enough to know about Jesus.

One must know Jesus personally and through one’s own experience.

How do you do that?  For many people, Jesus is an abstract thought.  They know about him like they know about Abraham Lincoln or about George Washington.

How do you make Jesus personal in your life?

In our reading from Acts, there are three things the people do to move from knowing ABOUT Jesus, to the point where they know him PERSONALLY.

1.     Respect the Name

First – there must be a respect for the name and person of Jesus Christ. 

In the Book of Acts, news about the power and authority of Jesus begins to spread.  As our New Testament lesson puts it, “When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor.”

Many people who know about Jesus will never move to the point of personally knowing Jesus because they do not hold the name of Jesus in high honor.

Have you ever seen the movie "O God?" George Burns plays God himself, who has come to earth to speak with a grocery manager named Jerry Landers. In one of their conversations, Jerry, without thinking, says to himself, "O

And God says, "Yes, Jerry? What is it?"

And Jerry says, "Huh?? Oh, it’s nothing, Lord. It’s just an expression. A figure of speech. Nothing more."

And then God says, "Jerry, that’s why I’m here. I want people to know that I’m not just a figure of speech. I’m more than just a phrase that people blurt out when they get frustrated. I want you to tell people to take me seriously. That I am the Lord!"

For all too many people, Jesus is an empty phrase.  An empty word.  The name of Jesus is spoken as a curse, or as a word of exclamation.

More than that, people often ridicule Jesus. 

Now, you can make fun of preachers – and I know you do!  Some of you email me your best preacher jokes!  Some of them are actually funny! Well, the jokes about Presbyterian preachers aren’t funny – but I’ve heard some hilarious jokes about Baptist preachers!

And people can make fun of the church.  The Lord knows we deserve it.  We don’t always practice what we preach and sometimes we deserve for folks to poke fun at us.  A little humor can sometimes help the church understand the way the world sees us so we can correct ourselves and put us on the right track.

But it always hurts to see people ridicule Christ.

I’m not saying we can’t use humor to teach about Christ – I’d be the last to say that!  But what I am talking about is the disrespectful humor and comments the world often aims at our Savior.

If you want to have a relationship with Jesus Christ, you must respect the name and person of Jesus Christ. 

That’s what happened in the Book of Acts.  People began to respect the name and person of Jesus Christ, and if you want to have a relationship with Christ, that is what you must do.

2.     Confession

The second thing you need to do is to be open and honest with God about who we are.  The old fashioned word for this is – confession.

          In our New Testament lesson, when the word gets around about the power of Christ, people begin to respect the name and person of Christ – and then, in the words of our New Testament reading, “Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds.”

          Confession helps move us from the point of knowing about Jesus to the point of actually knowing the Person of Jesus.

One of the most important moments in our worship services comes with the prayer of confession and the assurance of God’s grace.

God knows our sins and failures.  He knows when we have failed to love others.  He knows when we have been selfish. 

Confession is not telling God anything He doesn’t already know.

But it is our act of admitting of our sins so we can get our past out of the way and be freed of guilt. 

          It is not so much that God needs to know what we have done – he knows that!  WE need to get it off our chest and out of our souls.

When we sin, we are separated from God.

Our joy disappears,
our sense of God’s presence evaporates,
and we live in a gray world of uncertainty and frustration.

If we continue to sin, then we continue in a separation from God and Christ.  We spiral downward into despair, regret, anger, and deep-seated bitterness.

We got to put the past behind us!  Confession helps us heal our souls and helps open us up to a personal relationship with Christ.

That’s what the people in the book of Acts began to do – they confessed their sins so they could move from just knowing about Jesus, to the point where they personally knew Jesus.

3.     Repentance

The third thing we must do, and this comes right after confession, is repentance.

This is not only a turning away from sinful activities, but a change of one’s mind and heart.  It is a change of one’s lifestyle.

Referring again to our New Testament reading, after the people make their confession, they destroy the things that tempted them.  As the Book of Acts puts it, “A number of those who practiced the occult collected their books and burned them publicly; when the value of these books was calculated, it was found to come to fifty thousand silver coins.”

   Repentance means that I own responsibility for my part in what was unsatisfactory behavior.  I accept responsibility for my part in what is and what will be new behavior.

   Repentance is owning responsibility for what was, accepting responsibility for what is, and acting responsibly now.

   It is responsible action.  It is not a matter of punishing ourselves for past mistakes, hating ourselves for past failures, and depressing ourselves with feelings of worthlessness.

   Repentance is finishing the unfinished business of my past and choosing to live in new ways that will not repeat old unsatisfactory situations. In the full Christian meaning of the Word, repentance is a process.  It is a thawing out of rigid lifestyles into a flowing, moving, growing, repenting process.

   A Sunday School teacher once asked a class what was meant by the word "repentance."  A little boy put up his hand and said, "It is being sorry for your sins."  But then another little child girl also raised her hand and said, "It is being sorry enough to quit." (Donald Grey Barnhouse)

There are so many people who know about Jesus, but they have never built a relationship with Jesus.

They know a second hand Jesus – not a first hand Jesus.

If you know about Jesus, but you don’t know him personally, this is a good time to begin that process of knowing him personally.  It is a good day to confess one’s sins and to repent and turn from a former way of life and to turn toward a life devoted to Christ.

And now unto God the Father,
God the Son,
And God the Holy Spirit be ascribed all might, power, dominion and glory, today and forever, Amen.
Copyright 2017. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Why We Celebrate - John 1:1-18

New Testament Lesson   John 1:1-18

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life,[a] and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.[b]
10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own,[c] and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son,[d] full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son,[e] who is close to the Father’s heart,[f] who has made him known.

          There are 361,481 babies are born each day around the world. That works out to be 251 babies born worldwide per minute. Oh baby! Babies are popping up all over the place!

          The thing is, when these babies are born their birth is the most important event in the life of the parents, and of the relatives, and of a few friends.  It somewhat important to friends and co-workers and acquaintances.  The birth is largely ignored by the rest of the world.

          At Christmas we celebrate the birth of a child whose birth has become more and more noticed throughout the world. 

          And even though the whole world essentially gets involved in the celebration of this one birth, a lot of important facts get lost in the imagery we have of the first Christmas.

          I have a manger set in my house.  How many of you have one at your home?

          Joseph is looking devout, and clean, and well rested.

          Mary is looking devout, and clean, and well rested.

          The baby Jesus looks devout, and clean, and looks about one year old.

          When my wife and I were expecting the birth of my son, I told my Dad that I planned to be there for the delivery.  My Dad said, “Oh son, you do not want to do that.  When your sister was born the doctor came to the house and your mother was in bed.  She wouldn’t stop screaming.  My arms were scratched and bleeding from the scratches from your mother who was in such pain.  And when your sister was born, she was wet, and hairy, and was the ugliest thing I ever saw.  I asked the doctor what was wrong with her, and he said this was normal.  And by the way,” my Dad added.  “Don’t you ever tell this to your sister.”

          Of course, before the end of the day I was on the phone with my sister telling her about all of this, and she said, “Oh know all that.  Mom told me years ago.”  Apparently, when the story was told from my mother’s perspective, Dad scratched his arm when he fainted.  My Dad’s uselessness had a lot to do with the fact that I was the first in my family to be born at a hospital.

          But I think about the story of my sister’s birth, from either my mother or my Dad’s perspective, and I picture the birth of Jesus being very different from the scene of my manger set at home.

Giving birth in a stable is not a clean and relaxing activity.  We lose sight of that, and we lose sight of a lot of other things about Christmas. 
One thing we should focus on is not so much the historical details of what this birth looked like, but on the reasons why we celebrate this one birth.  After all, sometime in the next 60 seconds 251 babies will be born world wide, so why celebrate this one birth?

          Had the baby simply been born, we would not celebrate that birth.

          But because this child grew up, that is why the birth is worth celebrating, every year.

          The child grew up.

          John’s Gospel does not pay any attention at all to the birth of Christ.  For those details we have to go to Matthew or Luke.  John is more interested in who Jesus grew up to become, because the character of the adult Jesus is what makes the birth worth celebrating.

Jesus is the Word

          First, John tells us that the birth of Jesus is worth celebrating because Jesus is the Word of God.

John’s Gospel begins with a poetic description of Jesus.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
“What’s the good word,” is something we often ask and hear. 

          With a word, I can make you laugh, or cry.

I can draw you closer with words of love and grace.

And I can push you away with harsh critical words.

I can discourage you with things like, “What a stupid thing to do,” and “you’ll never amount to anything,” “loser” “quit now and avoid frustration.”

Or I can encourage you. “Yes you can, I’ll help you. I will never quit on you. You can count on me to be in your corner.” “I WILL love you NO MATTER WHAT!”

If I can speak properly, I can stir up almost any emotion –

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

And what are the words that the Word of God verbalizes?


Jesus stayed a baby for a short time, but he is always the Word of God, even today.

Jesus is God

          Second, John tells us that the birth of Jesus is worth celebrating because Jesus is God.

One of the most important messages of John’s Gospel comes at the beginning.  He is poetically talking about Jesus as The Word.  “In the beginning was the Word – Christ.  And the Word, or Christ, was with God.  And the Word, or Christ, was God.”
At Christmas time, we sing carols that proclaimed that Jesus was God. 

          The rest of the world would say, Jesus was a good man. 
Which he was.

          The rest of the world would say, Jesus was a good teacher. 
Which he was.

          The rest of the world would say, Jesus a real person who certainly in fact lived.
Which he did.

          However, the rest of the world would feel more comfortable leaving out a statement that said that Jesus was the Son of God and was himself, God. 

          We need to believe this all through the year and we need to always proclaim that Jesus is Lord.  Without this, the celebration we are having right now has very little meaning.
Jesus is unchanging

          Third, John tells us that the birth of Jesus is worth celebrating because Jesus is unchanging.

          Nothing brings home how much our world is changing than Christmas, and nothing produces a greater nostalgic longing for the world to STOP changing than Christmas.

          At Christmas, we see changes all around us.

          Children are growing up.

          We may be reminded once again that someone we loved has died and is no longer with us to celebrate the holiday.

          We remember the way things used to be when we were children and we miss the past.

          We may feel overwhelmed by the changes.

          And we may long for the world to stop changing. 

          I don’t think we are opposed to changes in our lives.  We need change.  We’d be very bored otherwise.

          But we need something, or someone, who is consistent in our lives.  Who never changes. And Christ is that unchanging consistency.

          The Gospel of John says, “He (meaning Christ) was with God in the beginning.”

          The Book of Hebrews tell us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (13:8)

          The Character of Christianity is to trust that Christ never changes.  We need to stay in that character.  The world may change.  Christ does not.

Jesus is the Light of the World

          John also tells us that the birth of Jesus is worth celebrating because Jesus is the light of the world.

John goes into great detail here, explaining how John the Baptist came to announce the arrival of the light of the world, and how John the Baptist was not the light, but was announcing that the light would soon arrive.
Jesus is the light of the world.

          And light is a comforting thing.

          All parents know that the best defense against the monster who lives in a child’s closet or under a child’s bed, is light.

          Turn the light on!

          Darkness is a frightening thing.

          Light is a comforting thing.

          I remember when I was 13 years old, I had a frightening experience.

          I was in the shower and I was washing my hair with a new and different shampoo.  Some of the shampoo got into my eyes and it burned.  I mean it was really very painful.  I rinsed my scalp and my eyes the best I could and when I was finally able to open my eyes, they still burned.

          But more than that, I had actually lost my eyesight.  I was totally blind.  I couldn’t believe shampoo could be so strong that it could literally blind you.

          I didn’t want to call out for help because I was standing in the shower without any clothing on, and 13 year old boys are sensitive about stuff like that.  So inspite of the fact that I am now totally blind, instead of calling for help, I grope in the darkness until I find my robe and put it on.

          Just as I am about to yell for help, the electricity comes back online.

          I can see again.

          You see, while I had my eyes closed, the power had gone off for just a moment, and standing there in total darkness – I assumed the worst.

          Of course, I was ONLY 13 years old at the time and those of you who are 14 years old or older know that is the time when your body grows faster than your brain.

          But darkness – it is a frightening thing, and nothing dispels the fear like the light.

          To live in spiritual darkness is to live in loneliness and despair and fear – and nothing dispels that spiritual darkness better than Jesus Christ, the light of the world.

Through Jesus, we have a relationship with God

          Now, John is making several points here, but he is moving all of them into one single, important point.

          Jesus is the Word.

          Jesus is God.

Jesus is unchanging.
Jesus is the light.

          All of these points converge into one most important point – Jesus is someone through whom we can have a relationship with God.

          This is the main reason for celebrating the birth of this single baby.  During Christmas we sing those songs of Christ’s birth and of his salvation he brings.
But as we come to the end of the Christmas Season, we must continue to believe that Jesus was born so that we might have a relationship with God.
That is what Christmas was all about.  And when Christmas is past, and the decorations once again come down, and when the gifts become forgotten or break from being used so dearly for so long, what sustains us through one Christmas after another, and what sustains us in all the months between these celebrations, is the relationship we have with Christ.

And now unto God the Father,
God the Son,
And God the Holy Spirit be ascribed all might, power, dominion and glory, today and forever, Amen.
Copyright 2017. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh

All rights reserved