Friday, January 24, 2014

Why is Jesus the perfect example to follow?

Three Important Questions about Jesus Christ:
1. Why is the Life of Jesus the perfect example to follow?
2. Why is the philosophy Jesus teaches perfectly truthful and practical?
3. How did Jesus show perfect love and compassion?

We'll be looking at three foundational questions to the ministry of Jesus Christ for the next few sermons.  I'd like to look almost entirely to the Gospel of John for our answers, which is often referred to as the passion of Jesus Christ.  

Three important questions, on the example Jesus set with his actions, the philosophy Jesus expounded with his words in comparison to other philosophies in the world today, and finally on the love, passion, and mercy of Jesus and how he showed it.  

Today we'll look at the physical example Jesus Christ set for us, and specifically how we can mimic that example in our lives on Earth.  Let's jump in:

John 1:9-13 (NIV) The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

Scripture says that everything in the world was made by Jesus Christ, and for Jesus Christ.  We don't belong to ourselves, but we belong to him. The true light became manifest into the body of a human, and came into the world.  God came into the world, himself.  

We look to Jesus Christ as the example of how to live in this broken world.  His life is the perfect example to us.  And if we live like Jesus did, we can expect the end that he displayed.  Jesus' own life is a living parable to us.  

But why is Jesus' life the perfect example to us Christians two thousand years later?

Do you know what's interesting?  After two thousand years, very little has changed.  Then as today, if we choose to live the Way Jesus did, we will be persecuted for it.  We will be hated for it.

John 15:18-20 (NIV) 18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’[a] If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.

Of the twelve apostles, ten were murdered for their faith.  One betrayed Jesus and his guts spilled out onto the ground before he could hang himself over the incredible guilt he felt.  The ten others were killed because they simply would not shut up about Jesus Christ.  John, the writer of the book of John, was the only one who wasn't murdered for this faith.  But they did try to poison him.  It just didn't kill him.  Perhaps because he was the only apostle to stay with Jesus through the crucifixion.  However, John had his life attempted on, and when they couldn't kill him they exiled him to the island of Patmos, a rocky hell hole to die slowly, alone with nothing.  The point?  It's tough out there.

Romans 12:12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 

Ironically, there is the greatest joy in being a Jesus follower.  There is the greatest happiness.  There is an incredible loyalty in my heart to my maker.  I sincerely love Jesus Christ.  And I didn't think I could love anymore, not after all I'd seen and been through.  I was scared for my first year as a Christian, I often prayed "Father, please teach me how to love." 

And, "Father, please change my heart."  

Most certainly that has happened.  God answers prayers.  And ironically, I do absolutely say being a Christian is a better life.  Things don't go better.  But obviously, it's a much, much, much, much, much, better life.  Why?  Because I never knew the truth until now.  And I love truth.  And because, I'm loved by the architect of the universe.  Also, because I'm being taught how to love.  Really, it can't be explained.  It's an entire reframing of everything.  Of course it's better.  Much, much better.  Materially, no.  But materials never mattered anyway.  It was always about what was unseen.

So when Pastors and preachers say Christianity isn't about prosperity, I disagree.  It's all about prosperity, prosperity of the spirit, of the soul, the pouring of sweet nectar into the spirit.  But people talk about it like, well thats not "really" prosperity, the only way to apply prosperity is to material success.  But honestly I never wanted that, it never enticed me in the least, and that is not prosperity, it leaves us empty very quickly, almost before even starting down that path, it's emptiness.  So prosperity is of the mind for the Christian, a prosperity of the unseen, the spirit. 

Jesus Christ gives us a perfect picture of a life focused on the unseen.  But why?  How did Jesus really live?  I always hear about what a great teacher Jesus was, but how did he really live?  For that purpose, we'll turn to the book of John.  John focuses heavily on the actions of Jesus, rather than his vocal teachings.

In John Chapter 2 is Jesus first miracle.  At a banquet for a wedding, they ran out of wine.  So Jesus changed water into wine.  

John 2:7-10 (NIV)
Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.
Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”
They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

This is a living message in and of itself.  Jesus Christ himself represents the best wine.  Inspired by God, the master spoke a representation of how from the dawn of time in Genesis to their current time, the world had not tasted the best wine, but now it had.  Jesus Christ is the very best wine, saved until this point in history. 

But to me it also says, Jesus Christ loved his friends and family.  They had run out of wine for the get together, so he provided more for them.  Jesus Christ was not a strict mean spirited guy.  He loved his friends, and he loved his family.  He endorsed banquets, weddings, and family get togethers.  He loved sitting down for those sort of hearty social endeavors.  
John 2:13-17 (NIV)
13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”[c]
 Jesus stood for what he believed in.  He cleared the temple of banksters and business men.  He did so with passion.  Jesus went to the temple, the church of that day, and cleared the criminals out of it.  Once again this is a living parable, that Jesus came to set things straight in the places of worship.  So maybe you and I need to make a whip from cords and clear out some mega-churches.  To me, obeying this example is ensuring corruption, legalism, and God-forbid faith for profit is kept out of my church, and all Bible following churches. 

In John chapter 3 we see Jesus teaching a religious leader by the name of Nicodemus.  They met together, one on one to discuss issues paramount to the faith.  Then we see one of the most popular verses in scripture.

John 3:16-21 (NIV)
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

Foundational to the entire life of a Christian is the life of Jesus Christ.  We believe in Jesus Christ, and we are born again, just as Jesus taught Nicodemus.  As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to teach of what we learn from the Bible.  And not just to try and teach non-believers, but to teach and train up those who love Jesus as well.

John 4:7-14 (NIV)
When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.[a])
10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
 Jesus Christ shared his message of eternal life.  He was evangelical at the well.  This is once again a living parable.  Samaritans were hated by Jews.  Jews wouldn't even eat or drink out of the same cups or bowls that Samaritans used.  Jesus was a Jew.  Oh, and what did Jesus teach about enemies?  He taught to love your enemies.  More importantly, what did Jesus do?  He loved those who were considered his enemies.  

In Chapter 5 Jesus healed the child of a Roman soldier, from a distance.  How can we obey this example?  We can pray for people in other states, other parts of the country, or other parts of the world.  We can pray for healing for children around the globe.  See?  It's not so hard.

In Chapter 6 Jesus feeds five thousand people.  There is much symbolism, but there is also the reality of Jesus feeding the poor.  We can do the same today, by donating to food drives or pantries.  Every little bit helps.

John 6:16-21 (NIV) 16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 17 where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. 18 A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles,[b] they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” 21 Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.

This is a beautiful metaphor, and one of my favorite parts in the Bible.  If you've ever seen the movie "The Gospel of John" they portray this scene in scripture wonderfully.  It's a sort of living parable for humanity.  Humanity is lost in their sins, in a storm of sin on the corrupt Earth, struggling, afraid, doomed, and then Jesus, God himself, comes to save humanity, walking out across the water to save them.  Humanity welcomes God onto the boat, within their hearts, and by this, they are saved.  Absolutely beautiful.

How can we obey it?  Often, I can be a picture of Jesus in the world.  For someone struggling, I can be a picture of what Jesus would do.  I can't walk on water.  But when on Christmas eve this year, the temperature -5 degrees, I saw a woman laying against the front of the closed library doors, I could be a picture of help and support from God to man.  I welcomed her into my car, cared for her, talked to her, and encouraged her.  Believe me, in this world you will have many opportunities to be the living helping hand of God.  

Just after this event, a crowd stalked Jesus, the same crowd of thousands that had eaten the bread and fish he'd provided:

 John 6:25-27 (NIV) 25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”
26 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”

And just as Jesus Christ had people come to him who truly wanted him and needed help, so he also had people who came to him to use him.  I've spoken to the Pastor at my home church, as well as others, and they often have people approach them seeking to prey on the charity and generosity of their hearts.  It happened to Jesus, so it will happen to us.  

So if you've been used, stolen from, abused, or hurt by people you were trying to help, don't worry, you're in good company.  And I want to tell you something right now, if that's happened to you, don't give up.  Just refuse to give up.  Did Jesus quit after 6:25-27?  Is that where the book of John ends?  Did Jesus get back in his boat and sail back to heaven?  No, Jesus used the opportunity to try and teach the people about himself, even though they were just looking for something to eat.  Keep trying, fight the desire to close off your heart.  Remain compassionate. Many will abuse you, and use you, and abandon you.  But a few will receive your blessing, and be saved.  That makes it all worth it.

Jesus taught the plain truth.  A truth often hard to understand it.  But he never wavered from the truth.

John 6:60-69 (NIV) 60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit[e] and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”
66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

God himself is walking the Earth, the perfect teacher with the perfect message.  Yet still we see John 6:66, that many disciples turned away and no longer followed him.  This is the greatest teacher in the universe, this is Immanuel, God himself, and still many turned away.  If it happened to God, it's gonna happen to us.  Assuming we endure sound teaching, many will not like it.  So be encouraged, if people have fallen away from your church, your bible study, your group, you're in good company, assuming your teaching right doctrine.  Many will turn away, but the true believers will stay.

Jesus and his followers then went to the festival of tabernacles, a yearly festival taking place in Jerusalem.  It was the most important festival of the year for the Jews.  They would spend seven days in tents or what they called booths, to remind them of how God had cared for them during their departure from Egypt and their time in the wilderness.

John 7:16-19 (NIV)16 Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. 17 Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. 18 Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him. 19 Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?” 
Jesus showed up halfway through the festival and began teaching.  Notice his wording, "my teaching is not my own."  Why not?  If he's God, he could very well teach on his own.  

But Jesus set a humble example for us to follow.  I'm not called to teach anything but the Bible.  I certainly need to teach and translate it into applicable situations and practicality.  But still, the principles are there within the Bible.  And so we must all teach humbly, and more so, teach for the purpose of glorifying God.  All else is worthless, useless manure.  

The church leaders of that day did not like Jesus.  He kept pissing them off and teaching stuff they didn't like.  So they started conspiring against him.  Then they tried to trap him into incriminating himself:

John 8:3-11 (NIV) The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Your enemies in this life, generally people who are profiting from lies while you tell the truth, will try to trap you.  They will try to set you up, they will try to put you in jail.  And if you're engaged in missionary work in countries hostile to the Bible, they will try to kill you.  The Pharisees did this to try and trap Jesus, so they could accuse him.  What did Jesus do?  Did he call them out on it? No.  Did he condemn them?  No.  But he did manage to lay out the total truth of the situation, and at the same time show ultimate mercy to a prostitute.  

And who is that prostitute?  Is that some woman two thousand years ago?  No.  That prostitute is me.  I've engaged in sexual immorality.  Sex outside marriage.  And what about you?  Is that woman just some woman, or is it you as well?  And cast down on the ground by religious leaders we would all expect to be condemned by God, at least with most people and their vague conception of religion.  We would expect to be condemned by God, and ridiculed and thrown out of town, even stoned.  But that is the lie, the generalization, what in fact does God, Jesus do?  He reminds the crowd that they are all sinners, puts the religious leaders to shame, and forgives you, setting you free from sin.  

And I just shine with pride in Jesus Christ, my God, and who he is and what he stands for.  He is truly loving, and truly merciful.  And so we should be as well.

Later in Chapter 8, Jesus spoke to a crowd regarding the truth.  Naturally, they didn't like it very much.

John 8:31-38 (NIV)31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”
34 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word. 38 I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing what you have heard from your father.[b]
Remember something very important, that when you go about your work: the truth is always your greatest ally.  Especially when you think it is your worst enemy.  When it would be so easy to lie, to sneak out of something, tell the truth instead.  Remember it's not between you and that person.  It never was.  It's not even between you and the possible consequences of speaking truth.  It's between you and God.   Yep, sometimes it will cost you dearly, but do it anyway.  Uncompromising.  

A few verses later in Chapter 8 Jesus calls this crowd hes speaking to "children of your father the devil."  And they try to stone him.  

Jesus made waves.  He spoke the truth, did the truth, lived the truth.  Maybe that's the secret to freedom in Christ.  The freedom to ignore all social standards, taboo topics, and unspoken rules for the outright raw free expression of truth.  That's what it seems to me, true freedom is all about.  Truth is not binding, not at all, it's the lies that are all surrounding and suffocating in our society that are the chains that bind us.  

In Chapter 9 Jesus heals a man born blind.  In Chapter 11 Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.  Continuously Jesus taught to crowds and within the crowds there was always great division.  Some received his truth, others rejected it.  We often wonder today, why doesn't God just come out and prove himself to us?  Two thousand years ago when God walked the Earth, he did miracles right in front of people's eyes.  They still refused to believe in him, or justified it away by saying he was a demon.  When Father God spoke to Jesus, the people who overheard it said it was just thunder!  There is documentation of a Roman official in his diaries having witnessed the crucifixion of Christ, whom he referred to in his journals as "Christos."  He explains that the whole sky darkened when Jesus died.  Then he tries to explain away the sky darkening by trying to claim an eclipse of the sun.  

I imagine today, should God come out and say hello, everyone would have it explained away in a few months via the latest scientific fad or that it was by the power of the human mind that some sort of mass delusion was created.  In the final analysis the truth seems to matter less to us than what we want to believe about the world around us.  

In Chapter 12 is my favorite part in the Gospel of John.  It's commonly referred to as the triumphal entry.  

John 12:12-15 (NIV)12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”[e]
“Blessed is the king of Israel!”
14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:
15 “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion;
    see, your king is coming,
    seated on a donkey’s colt.”[f]

It gives me chills to picture this scene in history.  Jesus Christ, God himself, riding a donkey into the city of his people, Jerusalem, the people shouting and praising the true God, thousands waving palm branches.  And just as it ought to be.  The Pharisees could not keep him down, they could not hide him.  Here he comes, and thousands praise him and call him Lord.  I just love that.

We can have great victories like that in our lives, if we live like Jesus did.  From his teaching, to his humble nature, Jesus Christ is the perfect example of how to live on Earth.  

In the next entry we'll go into the second half of John's gospel, looking at how Jesus finished his ministry.  We'll look at his character, how he lived, and how we can live the same way, and what the end result is.  

Thank you for reading :)