The God We Want To Know
December 28, 2008 | Central Presbyterian Church
I wish to read for you now from the Gospel according to John, Chapter 12. I shall begin to read at the forty-fourth verse. This is the Word of God:
“Then Jesus cried out, ‘When a man believes in Me, he does not believe in Me only, but in the one who sent Me. When He looks at Me, He sees the One who sent Me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in Me should stay in darkness. As for the person who hears My words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. There is a judge for the one who rejects Me and does not accept My words. That very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. For I did not speak of My own accord. But the Father who sent Me commanded Me what to say and how to say it. I know that His command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told Me to say.'”
May God bless to us the reading and the hearing of this portion of His Holy Word.
Let us pray: “Give me Jesus, Lord. Give me Jesus. You can have all the rest. Just give me Jesus. Amen.”
Some years ago, Pope John the 23rd, arguably the most beloved pope of the 20th century, visited a prison in Rome on the day after Christmas. In greeting the prisoners, Pope John said a very tender thing. He said, “You could not come to me, so I have come to you.” That, in essence, is what God is saying to us at Christmas. When finally, fully and completely, God had exhausted all the ways that He could convey His love to His people in the world, what did He do? He sent a baby. And by so doing, God was saying, “You could not come to Me, so I have come to you.” He came to us in the baby of Bethlehem in order to show us what He is like. You see, God knows that we cannot think of Him in anything other than human terms. And so what did God do? He came to us as a human being. God understands that His image, which He has planted within us, has become twisted and distorted by sin.
And so what did He do?
He came to us in one in whom that image is absolutely flawless, namely Jesus Christ. God understands that what is reflected of God in my life and in yours is bent and broken at best.
And so what did God do?
He chose to reveal Himself with crystal clarity in the form of Jesus. And the reflection of God we see in Jesus is 100% pure and perfect.
And so God says to us, “If you want to know what I’m like, if you want to know the way I am, the way I love, and the way I work, then look at Jesus.” I would put it in these terms.
Like Father, like Son.
Look, for example, at the personality of Jesus. His personality was one of startling contrasts. He was the meekest and lowliest of people. And yet, He declared that one day He would return to this earth enthroned in clouds of glory. He was so austere that demons and evil spirits cried out in terror at His coming. And yet, He was so genial and winsome that little children clamored up into His lap and nestled in His arms. No one was ever half so kind and compassionate towards sinners. And yet, no one ever delivered such red hot scorching words against sin. He was a dreamer of great dreams, and a seer of marvelous visions. And yet, He was starkly realistic. He would not break a bruised reed. His whole life was love. And yet, on one occasion at least, He demanded to know how in the world the Pharisees expected to escape the fires of hell. He was the servant of all, literally washing His own disciples’ feet. And yet, one day, when He strolled into the temple courts in Jerusalem, the traders and the hucksters there fell all over themselves in their mad dash to get away from the fiery anger they saw blazing in His eyes.
Yes, His whole personality was a study in contrast. Strength and weakness, love and discipline, compassion and condemnation, judgment and grace. God says, “If you want to know what I am like, look at Jesus.”
Like Father, like Son.
Or look at Jesus’ power. Ever since that day when Jesus took a ghastly cross and transformed it into a glorious throne, His power, like some great streak of gold, has marked the centuries. Empires have gone down before Him. Under His influence, great reforms have swept the earth. He has been the master force behind the onward march of humankind through history. What Emerson said of Jesus is so true. His name is not so much written, as it is plowed into the history of the world. So much is that the case, that now more than 20 centuries later, we baptize our children in His name. When love and marriage come, it is His blessing we invoke. When this life is over, it is beneath His cross that we lay our dead. And it is in His message of eternal life that we find our greatest hope, our greatest strength, and our greatest joy.
10,000 times 10,000 times, His power has shattered the chains of evil habit and injected energy and victory into wasted lives and tarnished souls. I would be willing to wager that there are people sitting right here in this congregation today who would ascribe every virtue they possess, every victory they have won, every noble thought they have conceived, to nothing other than the power of Jesus Christ at work within them. And so God says, “If you want to know what I am like, look at Jesus.”
Like Father, like Son.
And then look at Jesus’ presence. The Bible tells us that Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. Because that is true, we know that our God is not the kind of god who seeks to cram us into a mold. But rather, He says in Jesus, you shall know the truth, and the truth will not cram you into a mold, the truth will set you free. He is not the kind of god who stands over us, ready to knock us flat. But rather, He says in Jesus, “Lo, I am with you always.” He is not the kind of god who is intolerant and unforgiving of our shortcomings, but rather he says in Jesus, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” He is not the kind of god who puts us down, but rather we know through Jesus Christ that He is the kind of god who puts up with us, and He’s been doing it for centuries. He is not the kind of god who comes smashing and crashing and forcing His way into the midst of our lives. But instead, He says in Jesus, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. Open your heart to Me.” That’s the kind of god He is. He says, “If you want to know what I am like, if you want to know the way I am, the way I love, the way I work, then look at Jesus.” It’s true.
Like Father, like Son.
Yes, that’s why God came to us in the baby of Bethlehem. To show us what God is like. But also God came to us in the baby of Bethlehem to give us the gift of life eternal.
A young doctor had been ill for a considerable period of time. He had been through a strong and difficult and challenging medical process in order to regain his health. Physically, he seemed to have recovered. But emotionally, somehow he was still trapped in despair and depression. Nothing could shake him out of it. He lost interest in his medical practice. He refused to see his friends. He spent every day brooding about the house. His wife tried everything she knew to help, but to no avail. She was afraid that his despondency was going to wreck his career, maybe even wreck their marriage.
And so, she devised a scheme. It was an act of desperation. It came at Christmastime. She managed to secure the cooperation of the minister at their church in this scheme. And she asked her husband if he would go with her to church late in the evening on Christmas Eve, after the worship service was over. She knew that he would not go to the worship service itself, and so she asked him if he would go late in that evening. By that time, the sanctuary would be lit only with candles. The place would be deserted, except for the minister, who unseen would step into the balcony and suddenly begin to read the familiar verses of the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke. All of this, the wife had arranged unbeknownst to her husband.
Well, she was happily surprised when he agreed to go with her to the church late that Christmas Eve. But he insisted that he go alone. He suggested that she could come and meet him later at the church. And so it was that, late on that Christmas Eve, he made his way to the church and went into the sanctuary, and found a pew, and he sat down. And in the stunning silence, and in the soft candle-lit beauty of that place, for the first time in months, a sense of peace began to wash over his being. Ah, but then suddenly, the silence was shattered by a strong, rolling voice reading words, not from the Gospel of Luke, but from the Gospel of John. “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent His Son into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world, through Him, might be saved.”
As those magnificent words echoed about the empty sanctuary, something happened down inside that young doctor. It was almost as if an evil spell had been broken. Almost as if some great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. Almost as if some great healing, liberating, redeeming force invaded his life. He got up to leave. He met his wife coming in the door to the sanctuary. In great joy, he swept her up in his arms. And in greater joy still, he began to tell her what had happened. She was astonished, stunned, totally stunned. Why? Well because, just a short while earlier, she had received an apologetic phone call from the minister, saying that he would not be able to be at the church that evening.
I know, you may be thinking to yourself, “That’s just a sentimental story.” And I cannot keep you from thinking that, even by telling you that I know it actually happened. But you see, that’s not really the point. No. Here’s the point, the real point. The truth that story contains is not mere sentiment. It wasn’t sentiment that compelled the Apostle Paul to carry the gospel to the Mediterranean world, upheld only by his vision of Christ on the Damascus road. It was not sentiment that enabled Francis of Assisi to hear the voice of God’s Son whispering in his ear, “Rise up and rebuild My church.” It was not sentiment that drove Martin Luther to risk his life by nailing 95 theses to the cathedral door. It was not sentiment that compelled Mother Teresa to throw her life away tending to the poor and the dying in the teeming slums of Calcutta. That’s not sentiment, no. That is truth, absolute, unchanging, everlasting, truth. Truth which has been proved again and again and again in radiant, victorious, triumphant Christian lives.
Truth which may prove itself once more in your life and in mine, if only we would believe that just as God in Christ could come to a manger bed in Bethlehem, so God in Christ can come into your heart and mine. Oh, yes. God so loved the world, God so loves me, God so loves you, God so loves all of us, God so loves the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. You know, come to think of it, I believe that I can say it all in a single sentence:
God cared enough to send the very best, Jesus Christ, His only Son.
Pray with me, please. “God on high, hear my prayer. Enable us to be gripped by the greatest joy the world can know—the joy of knowing Jesus Christ, and knowing that we have in Christ the gift of life—Life here— and life hereafter.