"Getting to Know Jesus—the Big Picture"#86-42
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on June 16, 2019
By Pastor Paul Schult, Guest Speaker
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Philippians 3:8
God's peace to you, in the Name of Jesus, our Savior and Redeemer. Amen.
Have you ever heard a sermon, or read a devotion, or perhaps a Bible passage that help you discover something new, and then it really changed your life? I had that experience when I was a sophomore in high school. My high school basketball coach encouraged me to attend a week-long Christian basketball camp. We had college basketball players who were like our camp counselors, and every night one of them would lead the evening devotions. One of those nights, my counselor shared a devotion about the difference between knowing about God, and knowing God, and how understanding that difference really changed his life. The point of his devotion is that we often know a lot of facts and answers about God, about Christianity, about the Bible. But God's ultimate desire is that we not only know about Him, but that we also know Him. That devotion really got my attention. And it set me on a lifelong path to not only know about God, but to know Him.
There's a big difference between those two ideas. And that difference can make all the difference in the world. Well, eventually when I became a pastor, I started teaching a new members class, "Introduction to the Christian Faith," and I began to realize that this insight was helpful for a lot of people. I began to talk about the core teachings of the Christian faith in relationship language. And after over 20 years of teaching, I finally sat down and put those thoughts into a book and called it Getting to Know Jesus, using the six core teachings of the Bible to grow in a deeper relationship with Jesus. And so this is the first of a sermon series, "Getting to Know Jesus," and my job this week is to help you see the big picture, to kind of get things started. I'm one of those people who needs a map before I start traveling, and so today I'd kind of like to give you a little bit of a roadmap, a big picture view of the Christian faith, and the message of the Bible.
Martin Luther wrote the Small Catechism to kind of function that way, like a map, a big picture view of Christianity. And the book I wrote follows the same structure of the Small Catechism, the six core teachings of the Christian faith. In the coming weeks, we'll get into more detail about that. But this week, it's the big picture, the roadmap. And so today I'd like to cover two things. The first is that relationships are the core of God's design for life. And then the second thing is just a quick overview of those six core teachings in relationship language.
In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul wrote, "The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. But to those who are being saved, it is the power of God." When we hear the phrase, "message of the cross," most of the time our minds go to the crucifixion of Jesus, and rightly so, that's the climax of the message of the cross. But the message of the cross is a much longer narrative that began all the way back in the first chapter of Genesis. In Genesis 1, God created everything in heaven and earth by the power of His Word. He spoke everything into existence. "Let there be light, and there was light." But when it came to creating human beings, God did something very different. He didn't speak Adam into existence. Instead, He formed him from the dust of the earth, and He breathed into him the breath of life, there was something different about Adam than all the other lifeforms. Adam was created in God's image. Adam was capable of living in relationship, in a much more sophisticated and advanced way than all the rest of creation. Adam could talk and communicate. He could think and feel. He could love and be loved in ways that no other lifeform could.
God created Adam to join in the fellowship of our Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Adam was alive and living in fellowship with God, and God was delighted with His creation. But God didn't stop there. After Adam named all the creatures of the earth, God saw that it was not good for Adam to be alone. So God created Eve, another creature to live in fellowship with God. But also to live in fellowship with Adam, fellowship with God, and each other. And that was God's blueprint for human life. The essence and central purpose of life by God's design was to live in fellowship with God and each other. The vertical relationship with God, and the horizontal relationship with each other.
The shape of the cross, that was God's plan for life. I think it's so incredibly fascinating that God designed our human bodies to reflect His design plan. Our bodies in the shape of a cross. Our body's physical design proclaiming God's design for life. Standing with outstretched arms, we are a picture of how God designed us to live: open to God and open to our neighbors.
Well, it didn't take long for God's design to be damaged by Adam and Eve. By disobeying God's command to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they turned away from God, and they turned in on themselves. That's how Martin Luther often described sin: to turn in on yourself and away from God. Sin is essentially being self-centered. But when human beings turn away from God and other people, when we turn in on ourselves, it doesn't bring the life that we think it's going to. Instead, it brings death. Complete isolation brings death. Just think about that for a minute. Isn't it interesting that human beings are incapable of surviving in complete isolation? That should tell us something. God didn't design us that way. Being separated from God and other people brings death. And so that's why God sent Jesus.
God promised Adam and Eve, and the world, that He would send a Savior, a Redeemer, who would reconcile us back to God and restore His creation. 2 Corinthians 5:19 says, "God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them." And here's what's so interesting to me. Why was Jesus nailed to a cross? Because a Roman cross was designed in the shape of a human body. Sometimes I like to say that the copyright on the shape of a cross doesn't belong to the Roman government, it belongs to God. It was God's design first. Jesus was nailed to a cross because it was the shape of His body, designed by God. And when Jesus gave up His life on the cross, God's plan for creation was restored. Sinners could be reconciled to God through the blood sacrifice of Jesus: the sinless, spotless Lamb of God.
And so when the religious leader approached Jesus and asked Him, "What was the greatest Commandment?" Jesus was very clear. The single greatest Commandment was love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. But then He added something, as if to say there's actually two, and you can't separate them. The second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself. To live in loving relationship with God and your neighbor. This is God's design for life. The vertical and the horizontal—the cross.
1 John 4 says, "This is love. Not that we loved God, but that He loved us. And sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear brothers, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." So God's plan for our lives is all about living in fellowship with God, and fellowship with each other through Jesus. That is His vision for His creation. And His one and only mission is to make that vision a reality. To that end, Jesus sends us out to make disciples of Jesus, baptizing and teaching. "Go take this good news of Jesus to the world, to all nations." This is the one and only thing every human being needs, to live in fellowship with God through Jesus, and in fellowship with his people, the church.
Do you see? God's design for life is all about relationships. When you read the Gospel, story after story, it's about Jesus connecting with people. Jesus spending time with people. He was interested in them. He slowed down and spent time with them. He cared deeply for them; He loved them. Think of the people Jesus took the time to get to know personally. He went to the home of Zacchaeus and spent the day with him, the woman at the well, Mary and Martha, Mary Magdalene, the man born blind, the list goes on and on. And here is why this is so important. He feels the same way about you. His great desire is to be close to you, to live in intimate fellowship with you.
As I began to see this more and more clearly, I started to also see that Martin Luther's Small Catechism was all about this reality, too. The Six Chief Parts of the Christian faith are really about how God brings us into deeper relationship with Himself, and each other through Jesus. This is what the next six weeks will be all about, digging much deeper into each of these core teachings. But today, let me just give you a very quick summary of the six core teachings, and how they help us know Jesus better. Those core teachings begin with the Ten Commandments: God's truths that govern life. They help us know what God loves and what God hates, what gives life and what destroys life. God's desire is that they would have a profound effect on the way we live our lives. They are the truths that guided all the actions of Jesus. He lived out God's Law perfectly without any sin. They naturally foster the one thing that God loves and desires most—relationships.
Ultimately, the Ten Commandments are about relationships: Commandments 1-3, about living in relationship with God; Commandments 4-10, about living in relationship with each other. The underlying purpose of every Commandment is to build and strengthen relationships. Let me just give you one example, the Eighth Commandment tells us not to lie, to bear false witness. What happens when you lie to other people? What happens is people can no longer trust you. And what happens when people don't trust you? They start to stay away from you, to avoid you. Your relationship is damaged. So why does God not want us to lie? Simple, because lying damages relationships. See how it works? The more we take God's values to heart, the more we make them our own, the more we love, and cherish, and learn them, the more we will know and love the heart of Jesus, and grow in relationship with Him, and other people.
The second core teaching of the Christian faith is God's identity, which is revealed in the Bible and summarized in the Apostle's Creed. A person's identity is intimately connected to their name. Think about it for a second. If you know someone's name, you can easily find them on social media or other places. But what happens if you don't know a person's name? Think how hard it is to find out that person. If you don't know someone's name it can be very difficult. But knowing a person's name opens the door to a relationship. That's why it's the first thing we share when we meet a new person, our name. Well, God already knows us by name; He knows everything about us. But because He wants us to know Him intimately, He gives us His Name: Jesus. And by knowing His personal Name, we can call upon Him; we can identify Him, who He is, and what He's done, and knowing Him we can grow in relationship with Him.
The Lord's Prayer, that's the third one, it's how we communicate with God. I probably don't need to say much about how important communication is to a relationship. It's the lifeblood of relationships; it's what connects people to each other and to God. And so in the Lord's Prayer, God gives us kind of a list of vital things to constantly be discussing with Him, in order to grow, and foster, and deepen our relationship.
And then there's Baptism, God's covenant promise to us. When two people become engaged, they make a promise to each other. The promise is that they will begin making plans to bring their two lives together in marriage. A promise they make to each other gives them the confidence and trust to begin building their future lives together. That's exactly what God does for us in the waters of Baptism, He makes a promise that we are His children. It gives us the confidence to know that we belong to Him, and that He'll never leave us or forsake us. It gives us courage to follow Him by faith, knowing that we are secure in His love and grace.
Then is confession and forgiveness. Just being honest with God. Being open and honest with other people is something that makes us vulnerable. It can be a little scary to tell people about our greatest sins or failures. But it's the assurance of God's unfailing love and faithfulness that begins to give us the courage to face up to our darkest sins. The Bible teaches us a lot about confessing our sins and failures with honesty, knowing that God will never abandon us. And it connects us more deeply to Jesus.
The final step in a relationship then is intimacy, another word for closeness. Marriage, the most intimate of all relationships, a man and a woman become one in heart, mind, and body, and that incredible intimacy of marriage becomes a living picture of the very intimacy God desires to have with you. On this side of heaven, that kind of intimacy is found with God in the Lord's Supper, the very body and blood of Jesus, consumed and absorbed into your flesh and blood. Jesus can't possibly be any closer to you. He is in you, and with you. You are united with Jesus. You are connected to the body of Christ. No wonder Jesus compares His relationship with us to that of a husband and wife.
John 17 is often referred to as the High Priestly prayer. Before Jesus was arrested and crucified, Jesus prayed these words for His disciples. "Now this is eternal life: that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent." The more deeply we come to know Jesus, the more connected we are to the heart of God, and the more compelled we become to share the perfect, divine love of Jesus with our neighbors, and with the world.
It's my prayer for you, that God would give you His Spirit of wisdom and revelation. So that you would know Jesus better. For in Him, are all the riches of life. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
Note: The Lutheran Hour is produced for the ear and designed to be heard. If you are able, we encourage you to listen to the audio at lutheranhour.org., which includes emotion and emphasis not reflected in the transcript.
Reflections for June 16, 2019
Title: Getting to Know Jesus-the Big Picture
Mark Eischer: Now here's our Speaker, Dr. Michael Zeigler.
Mike Zeigler: Thanks, Mark. You just heard the message from Pastor Schult. Welcome and thank you for being here with us, and also in the studio I have joining us Deaconess Dorothy Glenn. She serves as Deaconess at Grace Chapel Lutheran Church here in the St. Louis area. So, Thank you, Paul and Dorothy, for joining us.
Paul Schult: It's great to be here.
Dorothy Glenn: Great to be here.
Mike Zeigler: I really enjoyed how you approach the six core teachings of the Bible as you described them, and which form the Catechism, and making it be all about relationships. That's exactly what it is. So first of all, what prompted you to write this book, Pastor Schult?
Paul Schult: That's a really interesting question. I really kind of stumbled into it. When I first became a pastor and started teaching adult instruction classes and people were coming, I was looking for material to teach the Christian faith and the Small Catechism. I just started teaching it, and I'm not even sure how to tell you. A few of those key bible passages really kept jumping out at me from Philippians about "I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of my Savior Jesus" and from Ephesians 1:17 of Paul's prayer that we'd have a spirit of wisdom and revelation so that we'd know Jesus better—just that relational language was what engaged people, as I saw people engaging in the conversation.
So ultimately here was my discovery: when I came at it as a starting point with kind of theological biblical language, people who were very unfamiliar with the Bible of the Christian faith were kind of left out of the conversation because they had to learn the vocabulary and the concepts. But once I put it in relationship language, then from beginning point, they could be engaged in the conversation because they know about relationships. So they could use that language to discuss these concepts. So they were just immediately engaged in the conversations and then were able to understand these biblical theological concepts more quickly and more easily, but most of all just to kind of be engaged in dialogue. Then I just started processing it more of looking at each part as components of relationships.
Mike Zeigler: Dorothy, how would you answer that question, thinking about a person that you know well and how you've come to know them?
Dorothy Glenn: I think that every person that knows me really well has had to be in close proximity with me for an extended period of time where there is no running away.
Mike Zeigler: They're stuck.
Dorothy Glenn: Not that people would want to run away from me.
Mike Zeigler: Of course, no.
Dorothy Glenn: Yeah, they're stuck and you're kind of forced to have some communication whether it's having to be on a nine-hour flight overseas. I mean I don't want to say that Micah, my husband was stuck hanging out with me, but those instances where I got to know my spouse, just hanging out whether it's watching TV or having dinner dates and opening that communication.
Mike Zeigler: So Dorothy, you listen to Pastor Schult's sermon the difference between knowing about someone and knowing them. He mentioned Philippians 3:8. Paul says that he considers everything rubbish compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus. How would you understand or explain this difference between knowing Jesus and knowing about Him?
Dorothy Glenn: When I think about knowing about a person, I think about when you are at trivia night with your friends and the sports section comes up and my husband knows every single answer and I have no idea who these people are that are being asked questions about, but he knows every single sports fact. So I would always have him—I'd love to have him at trivia—but at the end of the day, he doesn't actually know that person. He doesn't know them intimately, and he doesn't have a relationship with them. I think that's the big difference between knowing about a person and actually knowing them. He wouldn't be able to say that he's good friends with Michael Jordan, but he can tell you all of his statistics.
Mike Zeigler: That's a great analogy. Paul, you were mentioning that you use that often when you teach this concept.
Paul Schult: In the Bay Area, Buster Posey, the catcher for the Giants, is a popular figure. I just ask them to tell me about him: what do they know about him? They usually know a lot, but then I ask them to imagine what it would be like if he was their next-door neighbor and they actually were friends with him and hung out with him and had him over for dinner. The kind of things you would actually know then about Buster Posey would be much more intimate and much different than just kind of the superficial knowledge you get from TV and media. It really helps. It kind of opens your eyes to that concept of knowing about vs. knowing. Then jokingly, I always ask them too ... I tell them that I'm ... (They don't know this, but I'm really good friends with Buster Posey) ... the question I always ask comes up. "Well, when was the last time you talked to them?" Then I say, "Well I've never talked to him."
Mike Zeigler: Yeah.
Paul Schult: They usually get a chuckle out of that, but it does. It kind of reemphasizes that point of "Well, how could you call yourself a friend if you've never met him or talked to him," just to start processing and thinking through well, what does it really mean to know Jesus as opposed to just knowing about Him. It's profoundly different.
Mike Zeigler: This is exactly the point you're making with what the Catechism, what the Bible, these core teachings of the Bible are trying to do, to bring us into a relationship, a friendship with Jesus and through Him, the Father.
Mike Zeigler: Dorothy, you've read Pastor Schult's book. You've heard him talk about it. How is this affecting the way you're approaching your faith-this knowing Jesus vs. just knowing about Him?
Dorothy Glenn: It is a little bit convicting in a sense. It makes me evaluate what am I actually doing within my day-to-day to know Jesus myself but also to teach my children to know Jesus. Sometimes it's easy to just put them in bed and be tired and done with the day and try and get out of there as quickly as possible, but really being intentional about praying with my children and teaching them that communication because it is important. We try to keep a routine of dinner, books, Jesus time, bed. Sometimes for whatever reason, it seems so easy to just cut that Jesus time out. "You know what? We're done. You're screaming. Let's go to bed." Or maybe even screaming "I don't want Jesus time," but taking the time to emphasize that actually this isn't just about doing some routine. This is about communicating with our Creator, with a Person who and a God who loves us and cares for us so much so that He sent His Son to die for us and be raised again, that relationship.
Mike Zeigler: It puts a different angle on the idea of saying your prayers. We have to say our prayers vs. we're communicating with a Person with whom we're getting to know more deeply through this.
Dorothy Glenn: Absolutely.
Mike Zeigler: So that's what this series is going to be about. We're very grateful, Pastor Schult, you were here to get us started with it. So continue listening over the next five weeks. We're going to talk more deeply about how these core teachings of the Bible—that is, the Ten Commandments, the Apostle's Creed, the Lord's Prayer, Baptism, the Lord's Supper—how these all are given so that we might come to know Jesus more deeply.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Come, Holy Ghost, Creator Blest" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)