The longer I go on in ministry, the more I realise the great and pressing need for people to know Jesus Christ. That may seem like an obvious thing – “Duh, you’re a minster of the gospel!”, you might be saying.
I know. But don’t you ever have those times when the obvious things take on a new importance? This is one of those times. I see the need in myself; I see the need in the people at SPC; I see the need in and around Solihull.
Yet again, last week, I met an elderly lady who goes to church. She enjoys the social aspects of church life. She also had a sense of comfort in her trials which she attributed to God. As I often do, I asked her what Jesus Christ meant to her. She spoke of him in terms of the comfort she felt. I asked her more pointedly, what she thought Christ had done for her. Still, the experience of comfort she was receiving.
This nebulous idea of a Jesus who is “up there” somewhere giving us comfort (how?) is very common. The idea of Jesus can be very therapeutic.
Of course, there are two big things missing. The first is any sense of the real identity of Jesus. People will attach the labels – “Son of God”, “Saviour” but the real significance of those terms is lost on them. What on earth do those things mean? Some will describe him as a good, moral teacher or a prophet or even a healer (especially if someone is a Muslim). These are just attempts to fit him into known categories alongside Buddha or Gandhi or Bono or Mother Teresa. I guess you have to start somewhere. The essential thing about Jesus’ identity is his divinity.
John the Apostle has this as a thread through his book. He starts with a bang: “In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God and the word was God.” (John 1:1). Last Sunday at SPC, we looked at the rather surprising conclusion that “the Jews” came to in John 5:18 that he was “making himself equal with God”. Jesus did not try to correct them. John the writer does not point out that they were in error. Jesus was indeed claiming divinity.
Here’s the second big thing that seems to be missing from the consciousness of anyone who knows anything about Jesus – his saving work. Through John’s gospel he records Jesus declaring his intentions:
- to make the blind see (John 9:39)
- to bear witness to the truth (John 18:37,38)
- to give life (John 10:10)
- to be “lifted up” (John 12:32) – a reference to his future exaltation through suffering
- etc, etc
It baffles me that so often I meet people who go to a church somewhere (some of them supposedly gospel-preaching churches) and they have to be prompted to remember that Jesus died and rose again from the dead! Now to be fair to some poor church members, I have met pastors who will not preach the death and resurrection of Jesus as having saving significance. Instead they preach the moral content of Jesus teaching as they see it. The hearers effectively are invited to put faith in themselves and their abilities to conform. Their teachers are blind guides who will answer to God for their evil works. But sadly the people are left build on sand.
But is not just the liberals I am concerned about. Evangelicals too seem to suffer from a lack of a sense of the significance of Jesus and his work. If this were not true, I would expect churches to be busier than they are because
- Christians want more of Jesus Christ in his word as it is preached to them (yes, I am thinking of people coming twice to church on Sundays because they can’t get enough of him)
- Christians want more people to hear about him and are willing to take risks to help them do so (yes, outreach, witnessing, evangelism)
That means there is work to do for us pastors. As shepherds of our flocks we are called to minister the word to the people that God brings. We must preach Christ – I must preach Christ – and pray for the converting power of the Holy Spirit.