The Year of Following Jesus!

The Year Of Following Jesus

MAKING CONTACT! – Part #1

Pastor Chuck Hill – Trinity Fellowship Church

November 22, 2009

John 1:1-18

Do any of you remember the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. It came out in the late 60’s…now, I wasn’t alive then — but I remember the movie. But there was a sequel made in the mid 80’s — do any of you remember what it was called? It was entitled 2010: The Year We Make Contact.

Well, it was all about the potential of making contact with extra terrestrials. And after it came out, there were a host of other movies about the same thing. Well, I never saw the sequel…but the title intrigues me a bit.

2010: The Year We Make Contact!

As I was preparing for this message and the direction I felt God wanted us to go this year…I couldn’t help but be reminded of that movie. Not because of the story line…but just the title.

As we enter into the second decade of the 21st century, I want to make it meaningful. I want this to be the best year of my life! And like the movie, I’d like this to be the year we make contact — with God! Like never before.

I want 2010 to be — the year that we make contact with the loving, merciful, all knowing, all giving, all forgiving, all powerful, ever-present God of the universe.

I want to begin 2010 by declaring, that there is a God, and He is good, and He loves you and me, and He wants us to know Him, and to love Him, and to walk in fellowship with Him.

It is my prayer that this is the year that we make contact with Him in a greater, more powerful, more personal, more dynamic way than ever before!

This series will take five weeks, but for you I hope it turns out to be 52 weeks long. I hope this series will inspire you and motivate you to seek the presence of God in your life tenaciously, and to experience a life-changing connection with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

One of the writers I tend to follow and read quite often recently wrote these thoughts about his own life recently. As he was looking back over the past few years and what they’ve meant to him…he wrote,

“…2006 was a pivotal year for me. For quite some time I have begun each new year with the idea that I would focus on one particular topic or theme — that I would read about it and study it and learn all I could about how to make it a permanent part of my life. One year my theme was perseverance; I decided I would learn what it means and what it takes to be the kind of person who never gives up. One year my theme was prayer; I studied prayers of the Bible and prayer traditions of the historical church and I read books about prayer and, of course, I practiced learning to pray more effectively. One year my chosen topic was vision; I asked God to help me plan my life not in terms of what is realistically achievable, but in terms of what is supernaturally possible through the power of faith and focused living. 2006 was a pivotal year for me because I decided that year that I would learn everything I could about Jesus. At this point I had been a believer for 30 years and of course I had read the gospels and had had heard countless sermons and I knew all the stories and events of his life, but I decided that I would focus more than ever on knowing everything one can possibly know about him. I not only read and reread the gospels, I also watched every movie I could find about him, and I read several books about his life — from all points of the theological spectrum. As the year wore on, I made an amazing discovery: I know him. He is real to me. In the years before he had been, in many ways, a one-dimensional character. Of course, I believed in him, I loved him, I served him. But in the year 2006, I grew to know him like never before. He became a greater part of my life than ever before.”

He goes on to write…

“I got the idea from Phillip Yancey, (an author) who realized that — after decades of being a Christian, and being, in fact, a best-selling evangelical writer — he didn’t know Jesus as well as he would like to. He devoted himself to studying the life of Christ and later wrote about it in the book The Jesus I Never Knew.”

Now, I share that with you, because I think it’s both intriguing and challenging!

I was just wondering what it would be like if our entire church family began to do the same thing. Maybe we could take this year and focus on Jesus and just learn everything we could about Him and how we lived. We could study about how He touched peoples lives and how He served those around Him. We could rediscover the love that He has for us…and the lengths to which He went to demonstrate that love.

Wouldn’t that be an amazing adventure for us?

Well, the story I shared with you a few moments ago about the author that took a year to dedicate to knowing Jesus isn’t the only one to do that.

Last year, another author (and former pastor) by the name of Ed Dobson did something along the same lines, but he did it to a much greater degree.

Shortly after being diagnosed with Lou Gherig’s disease, Ed decided to spend a year living — as closely as possible — the lifestyle of Jesus

He decided to live just as Jesus lived, eat just as Jesus ate, and pray just as Jesus prayed

He attended the same Jewish festivals as Jesus would have attended them. And in order to really know Jesus better…he committed to reading the gospels (all four of them, all the way through) every week.

He noted that In the process two significant things happened in his life.

  1. He grew a very long beard…and
  2. He learned what it really means to be a follower of Jesus.

Now, I’m not suggesting that this coming year — that you follow his example to the extreme level that he did. But, I am suggesting that you begin this year with a commitment to connect — or reconnect — with Jesus in a more personal way than ever before.

Here’s the thing…Jesus really ought to be the central focus of our spiritual lives.

Because, being a Christian is not just about trying to be good, or trying to be nice, or voting a certain way or even following a certain type of fashion. Being a Christian is about having a personal, one-on-one relationship with Jesus Christ. And that relationship begins when we invite Him into our lives and ask him to be our Lord — which simply means “boss”! It’s in that moment that we agree to follow Jesus as closely as you can, that the relationship begins!

Now, in order for us to follow him, we must know him.

One of the greatest tragedies of life is that Jesus came into the world (the world that He Himself had created) and yet He was rejected. John writes in His gospel about this. He writes…

“He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.”

John 1:10-11

We don’t want to make that mistake. We want to recognize him for who he is and receive him for who he wants to be in our lives. John wrote…

“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become the children of God…” John 1:12

Today, let’s take a closer look at who Jesus is, and let me offer some thoughts as to how we can strive to know Him better this year.

John points out three characteristics of Jesus. And the first is that…

1. He’s the Eternal God.

(v. 1) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Jesus existed in heaven before he came to earth. In fact, we say that “God created the heavens and earth,” but the Bible is even more specific than that. The Bible states that Jesus created the heavens and earth. John says…

(v. 3) Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

The writer of Hebrews states…through him he made the universe. (Hebrews 1:2)

In Colossians Paul writesFor by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:16-17)

The writer of the book of Hebrews also states that Jesus “sustains all things by his powerful word.” (Hebrews 1:3)

And he goes on to say that Jesus “…is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.”

Jesus is more than just a good teacher. He is the eternal God. He existed before his birth in Bethlehem and lives even after his death at Calvary.

Christians believe that God is a Trinity. We believe in God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. All three equal, all three separate, yet all three are one!

The Bible teaches that Jesus existed from the beginning. He was not created; he is the creator. He has always been—along with the Father and the Spirit.

So, when we hear the words of Jesus, we’re not just listening to a “good teacher,” we are hearing the teachings of God himself.

Buddha was an enlightened individual, but he was only a man. Mohammed was only a man. Confucius was only a man. Jesus is God. He made that claim, and he proved it: when the government put him to death, he came back from the grave. He was dead, then he was alive. No other religious leader has done that. No other religious leader could do it.

Jesus could do it because He always has been and always will be God.

Secondly…

2. He’s the Light of the World.

“The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” John 1:9

What do I mean by “light of the world?” What do I mean by the “true light that gives light to every man?” I’m saying that Jesus was the greatest teacher that ever lived, and he taught us what it means to walk with God.

If we were to compile all of the wisdom of the ages into one volume—the greatest teachings of the greatest teachers throughout history–the teachings of Jesus would dominate the contents of that volume. He was, simply, the greatest teacher this world has ever known. His views of ethics, spirituality, and morality have shaped the way the world thinks about these issues.

Thich Naht Hahn is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who has lived in exile in France for the last 25 years. He recently wrote a book entitled Living Buddha, Living Christ offering a comparison of the two ideologies. Hahn is not a Christian, and I don’t agree with some of his conclusions, nevertheless the book is fascinating. In reference to the teachings of Jesus, he makes some interesting comments. First of all, he says that it was an obstacle for him to even consider the teachings of Christ, because of the negative opinion he had about Christianity. This was the result of the political shenanigans of so-called Christians whose idea of ministry was killing Buddhists! Also, he admitted that he had a personal prejudice against Jesus’ teachings before he ever read them, simply because Jesus taught only 3 years, and the Buddha taught for 45 years. Because of this, he thought the Buddha must certainly have been a more accomplished teacher. His opinion changed, however, when he actually examined the teachings of Christ for himself. He couldn’t deny that Jesus was a great teacher. This Buddhist monk is not a Christian, yet he recognizes the greatness of Jesus’ teachings.

Neither was Gandhi a Christian, but he patterned his life on the teachings of Jesus—specifically the Sermon on the Mount. His nonviolent approach helped India gain independence from British oppression.

In the movie Gandhi there is a scene where he is walking down the street with an Anglican priest. They are about to face an angry mob. The priest wants to run, but Gandhi says “Didn’t Jesus say we shouldn’t resist an evil person?” The priest’s response is something to the effect “I always interpreted that passage figuratively, not literally.” Gandhi understood the power of Jesus’ teachings to the extent that one time he said, “You Christians have in your keeping a document with enough dynamite in it to blow the whole of civilization to bits; to turn society upside; to bring peace to this war-torn world. But you read it as if it were just good literature, and nothing else.”

There is no doubt that Jesus is a great teacher. At one point in Jesus’ ministry, when the Pharisees wanted him to be arrested, the temple guards were sent after him. Instead of arresting him, they just listened to him. Later, when the Pharisees and chief priests asked the temple police why Jesus had not been arrested, the police answered,

“No one ever spoke the way this man does!” John 7:46

In the gospel of Luke, Jesus visited the town of Capernaum and began teaching at the temple.

Luke says,

“They were amazed at his teaching, because his message had authority.” Luke 4:32

About his teaching, Jesus said,

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” Mark 13:31

He also said,

“The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” John 6:63

And he said,

“Anyone who keeps my word will never see death!” John 8:51

Jesus is the final word. All we need to know about having a relationship with God and living the Christian life we can learn from Jesus. There is nothing anyone can add to his teachings to make them better.

You cannot improve on a statement like “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

You cannot improve on the power and simplicity of the Lord’s Prayer.

You cannot improve on the Sermon on the Mount.

As preachers, it is not our job to embellish the teachings of Christ; it is our job to help you apply the teachings of Christ. Preachers don’t need to search for “new material”—we simply need to help people put the teachings of Christ to work in their daily life.

Next, I want you to see that he is…

3. He’s the source of GRACE & TRUTH.

John said…

“We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14

“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. John 1:17

The world’s religions most often preach a message of an angry God and a message of judgment. Without a doubt, there will be a judgment someday, when all of creation will stand before the throne of God and give an account for everything they’ve done. But we need to remember that we don’t face this judgment alone. We stand before the throne of God under the covering of Christ, who paid the price for our sins.

Jesus didn’t come to earth 2,000 years ago simply to enlighten us. Yes, he taught us how to live, but he knew that we needed more than just to be taught: we needed to be saved. His primary role in coming to earth was to save us from our sins.

When Jesus went to be baptized by John the Baptist, John saw Jesus and said…

“Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29

Jesus said of himself…

“For the Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost.” Luke 19:10

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.” John 3:16

Saint Jerome was a Church Father who translated early Greek manuscripts into Latin. He lived in Bethlehem, because he wanted to live in the town where Jesus was born. One night he had a dream in which Jesus visited him.

In the dream, Jerome put all of his money together and offered it to Jesus. Jesus said, “I don’t want your money.” Jerome then began assembling all of his possessions together, to offer them to Christ. Jesus said, “I don’t want your possessions, either.” In his dream, Jerome looked into the face of Jesus and asked, “Then what can I give you?” Jesus said, “Give me your sin. That’s what I came for. I came to take away your sin.”

We may want to live by the teachings of Christ, but we have a problem that first must be addressed. Sin. Our sins have created a gap between us and God. Jesus Christ came into the world to bridge that gap. Hebrews says that his death on the cross provided purification for our sins. Our sins can be removed forever. Our guilt can be removed forever, and we can live with a clean conscience. In chapter 2, the writer of Hebrews says that Jesus frees those whose lives are held in slavery to fear.

If Jesus is only a “good teacher” he wouldn’t be able to do this. Through out history many have tried to teach the way, or have tried to lead the way. Jesus, however, is the way. He came into the world not only to be our teacher, but also to be our savior.

CONCLUSION

John begins his gospel by reminding us that Jesus is our savior, he is our light, he is source of grace and truth. In order to thrive in the Christian life, we need to know him, personally, one-on-one.

With the coming of this New Year, comes a new beginning…and an opportunity for us to resolve to let go of our past, to embrace Christ in our present, and bring change to our future!

With the coming of a New Year we can determine to FOLLOW JESUS like never before. To experience His presence in a new and dynamic way and to embrace the person He has created us to be.

With the coming of a New Year, we can remember what the Apostle Paul said,

“…if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” 2 Corinthians 5:7

This year, let’s determine to cast off the old habits that have weighed us down and let’s pursue a deep and personal relationship with Jesus. Let’s really get to know Him. As the writer of Hebrews has said, let’s “…draw near to God, and He will draw near to us!”

This morning I want to close with 3 suggestions of how we can do just that in the year to come.

First, read the gospels. Ed Dobson read all four gospels every week. That probably isn’t realistic with your schedule, but here’s a good plan. Read about a half chapter a day. There are 89 chapters in the 4 gospels, so you can get through them 2 times this year.

Now, the goal is not just to get through them; the goal is to encounter Jesus in the process. So take your time, but strive for consistency. Keep going back to this objective throughout the year every time you find yourself off track: read through the gospels in order to encounter Jesus in a personal way.

Secondly, watch a few movies. There are a number of DVDs available on the life of Jesus — one from Matthew, one from John that both follow the text accurately. There’s also several other good movies about Christ — the Passion of the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, The Greatest Story Ever Told...and more.

I encourage you to try to watch a film about Jesus a couple of times this year. Some movies are better than others, but you can find something encouraging in all of them.

Thirdly, read a biography. I’ve already suggested you read the gospels during the year. But I’d also encourage you to read a biography of Jesus — a book that presents His life in historical context, that helps you enter his world and experience him there. (One good biography is The Hidden Jesus by Donald Spoto.)

The goal is to connect with Jesus in a more personal and real way this year.

The fact is…He’s here. He’s available.  He’s waiting for you. And He really wants you to know Him.

Take the first step toward making this an unforgettable year.

So, just reach out to Jesus; because I know He’s reaching out to you!


(*Much of the inspiration for this message came from a message preached by Pastor Steve May)
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