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.