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Dear friends in Christ,
I get pretty upset when people don’t see things the way I do about Jesus. Someone quoted a Bible passage on Social media from the Book of Acts, “There is no other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved.” We say “Amen” to that! Add to that when Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus is the only way to heaven. Yet there are plenty of people out there that don’t really care, or they are Universalists who believe that no matter what anyone believes, everyone will all get to heaven. If that’s the case, why did Jesus come to this earth? What was the purpose of his death and resurrection?
There is something called Christian apologetics. No, it doesn’t mean we apologize for what we believe. The word apologetics comes from a Greek word that means to “give a defense.” Back in the 1960’s there was the “God is dead” movement. Among other things the movement said that Jesus is just a myth. Apologists went into motion. Before long they presented all kinds of proof, even outside the Bible that basically took the God is “Dead Movement” off the table. That doesn’t mean everyone believes in him as the Savior, they just acknowledge that he existed. Apologists got people to acknowledge that.
While we can’t argue anyone into being Christian, apologetics can certainly knock holes in arguments presented by scorners and skeptics who challenge Scriptural truth that come from false premises. Today’s sermon might be considered a form of apologetics as we listen as “Jesus Answers Questions that are Critical of Christianity.
One question that people ask as they criticize Christianity is, “How do I know the Bible is reliable?”
This Scripture is a continuation of the verses that we talked about last week. Jesus is in Nazareth, his hometown. Jesus was invited to be part of the Sabbath Day service. He read from the Isaiah 61. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor.” He read a few more verses all pointing to the Messiah, the Savior who was coming. After he had finished “Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” So what was Jesus saying? This Scripture, given by the Holy Spirit through Isaiah, was not only about Messiah, these words were about him. He was anointed with the Spirit at his Baptism. He was proclaimed then as the Savior of all. He preached the good news. He healed the blind. He got rid of the oppression of sin. Yet the words of Isaiah were only one of hundreds of passages that Jesus fulfilled to the “tee.”
Now think about the question, “How do I know the Bible is reliable? Only God could prophesy with 100% accuracy and fulfill every prediction 100% of the time. That’s why we know the Scripture is reliable. It is his book.
There is a church father by the name of Justin Martyr. Prior to coming to faith he was searching for truth in all sorts of prevailing philosophies that were present in the second century. One day he met a Christian who pointed out to him how the prophets of the Old Testament in the Bible foretold the coming of Christ. He was shown how those prophecies were completed. The Holy Spirit saw to it that he devoted his life to Jesus until he was martyred in 166 AD. He once said about the Scripture, “To describe a thing that should come to pass long before it does and then bring it to pass, this is the work of God.” If anyone doubts the Bible’s reliability, then study it. It’s reliable because God is the author. It’s God’s book!
The second question criticizing Christianity is: Isn’t Jesus just a man? That does seem to be the conclusion that the people of Nazareth had come to. While they acknowledged the fact that Jesus spoke with gracious words, they also then asked the question, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” In other words, isn’t this someone just like us?
Just a man? Look again! The people ofNazarethwere not pleased with Jesus. He made a point that we are going to talk about later in more detail. When the people ofNazarethrejected this hometown boy, Jesus warned them that when people despise opportunities to believe they might never get that chance again. In fact, Jesus took them to the classroom and gave them a history lesson. There were plenty of widows inIsrael, but Elijah took the Lord to the widow of Zarephath inSidon. She wasn’t a Jew but a Gentile. Another example - Elisha took the Gospel to Naaman who was fromSyriaanother Gentile. In other words Jesus was pointing out that these people fromNazarethwere just like the Jews of times past as they passed on the LORD.
The people of Nazarethgot perturbed. They took Jesus by force and took him to a cliff outside of town and were going to make Jesus walk a very short plank. What happened? “But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.” No one laid a hand on him because no one could lay a hand on him. By his power he walked right through them.
Was Jesus just a man? Yes, he was a man but Jesus wasn’t just man. He walked right through them. The Bible says that “God was in Christ.” The apostle John wrote that the Heavenly Father had a most unusual name. He was called the Word. In John chapter one, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Later in the chapter it says that “the Word became flesh.” God took on flesh. He ate; he drank; he slept; he awakened; he wept and hungered. He required the same sustenance that you and I do. So who is Jesus? Why both? He had to be man to die and pay the wages of sin. He had to be God to offer a payment that could cover everyone. No mere human being could do that! No, Mr. Skeptic, Jesus isn’t just a man!
The third question often critical of Christianity is: Why don’t miracles happen today like they are supposed to have happened in Jesus’ time? This Sunday is the Super Bowl. I was going to high school when the Green Bay Packers played in the first Super Bowl. It was an awful game. Green Bay won but it was a blow out. I didn’t even watch it all. Of the forty six that have been played, there really haven’t been too many of them that I have watched from beginning to end. I am not so sure I am going to watch it all today. Yet if I want to find out the score it wouldn’t be hard. I could call almost anyone at random to get it. I could go to my neighbors and they would know.
The people of Nazarethwanted to see a miracle. Like everyone knows the score of the Super Bowl, they heard all the stories about Jesus. They heard about his miracle. They thought, “Now do a miracle for us…for me!” Jesus knew exactly what they were thinking. Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’” If they didn’t see it they wouldn’t believe it. To them the reports of the miracles were counterfeit even though many reported that they happened.
The Bible is filled with accounts of miracles. There are multiple authors who witnessed the same miracles and wrote from their perspective or interviewed the people who saw. Over 500 people saw the most earth shaking of all that changed our future – the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Yet people doubt. Why? Because someone else saw it and not them! Mr. Skeptic, are you really being fair?
There isn’t a person here who hasn’t wanted to see some spectacular miracle. We want the cancers to go away. Some have gone away, but then the credit is often given to the surgery or chemo or radiation therapy.
One more point ought to be said about miracles. Remember that being cured of blindness or deafness or even cancer doesn’t save eternally. Faith alone in Jesus does. Why and how we have faith is a miracle. Jesus’ wondrous love, his righteousness credited to us, our sins laid on him, his willingness to go to the cross to pay for them all, his resurrection to assure that every last one is paid for – a miracle to undeserving sinners. There is more. The miracle that our stony hearts that keep us from believing the grace of God was miraculous replaced with a heart of flesh by God’s Spirit in Baptism is indeed a miracle. The Words of Scripture and its wonderful promises and power to change us from hell-bound to heaven bound is nothing less spectacularly miraculous. All miracles, Mr. Skeptic!
Now to the fourth question - Do you really mean that everyone had their sins paid for? Jesus pointed out something that really irritated the people of Nazareth but ought to be comforting to everyone else.
During the time of Elijah, many centuries prior to Jesus’ visit to Nazareth, a horrible drought and famine hit the landof Israel. Many widows in Israelwere hurting and desperate, but Jesus pointed out that Elijah didn’t go to one of Israel’s hurting widows to help but to a widow in Zarephath. Jesus pointed out a similar story when Elisha was used to prove God is a lover of all nations when he healed Naaman, the Syrian and not someone from Israel. That’s when “All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff.” Not only how dare Jesus make the claim to be the Messiah, but how dare Jesus think that God would actually save such wicked people as the Gentiles!
Times haven’t changed much. Everyone has his biases and prejudices. We like to think that we are better than others. I am not condoning that; it is the reality of the sinful heart. It doesn’t make any difference if you are Jew or Greek or male of female. Prejudice is an affliction everyone struggles with. That’s why the citizens ofNazarethneeded Jesus as much as the Gentiles. Trouble is they didn’t know it.
I read something this week that I found rather interesting and ironic. In our nation farmers import millions of honeybees that aren’t native to our land, to pollinate crops like apples, strawberries, and almonds. But those imported honey bees are dying quickly from the ravages of the still mysterious colony collapse disorder. People are concerned that plants won’t be able to grow if there is no pollination that will not happen if there are no bees. ABerkeleyconservation biologist did some research with test farms inCaliforniaand showed that importing those fragile bee populations weren’t necessary. Wild bees, which have so far been unaffected by colony collapse disorder can provide enough crop pollination to keep us fed. The answer was right under their nose all the time.
The answer to the problem ofNazareth’s sinful arrogance was right under their collective noses too. The people ofNazarethneeded forgiveness for their arrogance and self-righteousness. They needed to repent. Yet the solution to their problem was right under their noses all the time. But they wanted to throw the solution over the cliff.
Only you and your God know your sins; only you know how hard they are to admit. But rest assured, the Savior found right in here came to take them away…every sin from everybody, no matter how great, how repeated, how ugly. Jesus paid for them all.