Sermon: "A Personal Relationship With Jesus as Lord and God"

First in a Series on Central's Core Values,
Delivered January 10, 1999 by Dr. Ronald W. Scates
Other sermons in this series - 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8 / 9 / 10 / 11
See also Becoming a Christian.

Sermon Text: John 14:7-10
7 If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.
8 Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us."
9 Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, `Show us the Father'?
10 Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work."

Jesse "The Body" Ventura, former pro wrestler, now the new governor of Minnesota. That's the image I want you to keep in your mind -- shaved head, body slams -that's the image I want you to keep in your minds over the next three months as we begin a new sermon series around Central's Core Values. Now you are thinking, why in the world Jesse Ventura? Because Central's Core Values, those are the things we are willing to go to mat for -- with Jesse or anybody else. Those are the nonnegotiables about who we are as a congregation of believers. And our Core Values are not mere beliefs. Beliefs are things you are willing to argue about. These are convictions. Convictions are things you are willing to die for.

Remember back in the 80s, Boy George? He had a hit song called Karma Chameleon, and one line went like this, 'I'm just a man without convictions.' And sadly, there are a whole lot of individuals and churches today that lack convictions. The problem is, when you are a church or an individual and you lack convictions, you become like electricity or water. You flow along the path of least resistance.

The scripture text we are about to read comes out of the context of death. It is a part of a conversation between Jesus and his disciples about death. Funny isn't it, how death seems to focus questions of life and faith like nothing else will. In our Core Values as a congregation, they too come out of a context of death: a commitment by your Session, the elders of this church, to the death of Central Presbyterian Church. Death in terms of just doing church the way church has always been done before. Committed unto death that we might be raised by Christ anew to be the kind of church he wants us to be as we go into a new millennium. We are committed to Christ's agenda. To letting him set the agenda for this congregation. And so we are committed to death that we might have new life. Our Core Values arise out of -- they are resurrected out of our death to all that Satan would want for us, and resurrected to life out of what Christ wants us to be. And so these Core Values are who we are. I would invite you to turn in your bulletin and on an insert there you will see the eleven Core Values. We are committed to thinking outside the box here at Central, to coloring outside the lines as a church as lead to do so by the Holy Spirit. But to do that faithfully and biblically, first of all we have got to be anchored. And so to help fashion the anchor here at Central, last fall, we invited an outside consultation team from The Navigators to meet with the elders. And they put us through a grueling process and out of that process came these 11 Core Values that define who we are. These are the things we will go to the mat for with Jesse and anybody else, and especially Satan.

Core Value #1 is a personal relationship with Jesus as Lord and God. And over the next few months, we are going to unpack another one of these Core Values each Sunday. Turn with me now in your Bibles -- and keep them open during this sermon -- to the fourteenth chapter of John's gospel as we listen in on this conversation between Jesus and his disciples about death. This is the Word of God. Jesus speaking.

If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him. Phillip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us." Jesus answered: "Don't you know me , Phillip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father? Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father living in me, who is doing his work.

Join me as we pray. And now Father, as my words are true to your Word, may they be taken to heart. But as my words should stray form your Word, may they be quickly forgotten. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This just might well be the most important sermon I have ever preached at Central Church. Because if you get it, then you'll understand what a Christian is. If you don't get it, then you are going to still be chasing around after myths. Every time I lead one of our new member classes, I do a talk entitled, 'What is a Christian?' And I always begin with the illustration of Roger Staubach, former quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. It was a game, on national TV, somewhere around 20 years ago. And the Cowboys went into the last quarter terribly behind. It looked like certain defeat. And then "Roger the Dodger" did those things that eventually put him in the Hall of Fame. He ran, he passed, and seemingly, in a miraculous way, the Cowboys snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. The crowd went wild. After the game, a reporter went down on the field and interviewed Staubach. Now to my knowledge, when a reporter does that, he goes down with a set of questions that he knows he is going to ask. And so he said, 'Roger, this is one of the greatest games of your career. Unbelievably you brought the Cowboys back.' And Roger Staubach said, 'Well yeah, I just thank God that He gave me the gifts to be able to do this.' And at that point, I think, I can't prove it, but I think the reporter strayed from his questions. Because he said, 'Oh, do you believe in God?' And Staubach, on national TV says, "Well yes I do. I am a Christian.' Then the reporter says to him, 'Well, what does that mean?' And I'm sitting there going, 'Great! Roger Staubach - who is a committed Christian by the way - is gonna give a testimony on national television.' I'm not sure the folks up in the CBS control room were quite as excited as I was. I imagine they were running around screaming, 'Cut to a commercial...cut to a commercial!' Because all that Roger Staubach was able to get out of his mouth was, (and I think it was a preface to what he really wanted to say) 'Well for me it means every Sunday when I go out to play, I give it my very best.' And then poof--- "Brill Cream. Try it." Commercial. The sad thing is, once again, millions of people all over this country were left with the myth. The myth that being a Christian is all about just trying to do your best.

Folks being a Christian is about a whole lot more than just being some sort of spiritual Boy Scout. In fact, being a Christian has everything to do with knowing God at more than secondhand through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Knowing God is what being a Christian is all about. Look at verse seven of your text. There in that one verse, three times Jesus uses a form of the verb to know, to talk about what he wishes for his disciples in terms of a relationship between himself and them, or God and them. And in both the Greek and in the Old Testament Hebrew, the verb to know has a connotation which is far above mere intellectual assent or head knowledge. In fact it's covenantal language and has everything to do with a personal, intimate, relationship between God and human beings. How intimate? There are places in the Old Testament where the verb to know is used sexually. "And Adam knew Eve, and she gave birth to a son." Now don't get me wrong, there is nothing sexual about our relationship with God. But I think Jesus chooses the verb to know here in the Greek because he wants to get across to his apostles how personal and intimate they are to be in relationship with him.

To be a Christian is to know God in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. A lot of folks, a lot church folks even, don't quite understand that. You are not alone. Look at verse eight of your text. Even Phillip, an apostle, has a hard time figuring out what is going on here. He says, 'Lord, show us the Father and that is enough for us.' And Jesus's response to Phillip is one of the most poignant in all of Scripture. It is a response of radical astonishment and drives home the point, that merely hanging around with Jesus or hanging around a church makes you as much of a Christian as hanging around a pizza parlor makes you a pepperoni. Phillip here personified many folks who follow Jesus. Want to be Christians. Even church members, but who have no clue as to what faith is really all about. For you see faith is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, plain and simple. That is what faith is all about. And Jesus has to hit Phillip with the heartbreaking question, 'Phillip, don't you know me?' That is the key question in this text. And that's the key question in your life and mine. You can substitute you name for Phillip here, do that. 'Don't you know me Ron? Fred? Jane? Steve? Margaret?' And if our answer to that question is no, then we have completely missed the boat in terms of what being a Christian is all about. Completely. You can be member of a church. You can serve on committees. You can chair a task force. You can be ordained an elder. You can build homes for the poor. You can work for Social Justice. You can even have Rev. in from of your name, but if you don't know Jesus personally, then you are not a Christian. Oh don't get me wrong, you might be a wonderful, spiritual, religious person. But that's just it. You are religious. Christian faith has nothing whatsoever to do with religion. It's all about relationship. Religion versus relationship. Another way of putting it is: it's all about the difference between knowing about God and knowing God. You see, Phillip is the epitome of religion. He hangs around Jesus. But he doesn't know him personally. Knowing God is faith. And faith is a personal relationship with Jesus.

Now some of you might be saying, 'Yikes ! I've been a church member for 25 years, but I really can't say I know Christ personally.' Others of you here this morning may be saying, 'Well you know, I would like to know Christ but I have no idea how you begin. Isn't he dead?' No. Having a relationship with Jesus Christ is not all that much different than having a relationship with any other person. Let me give you some clues as to how to establish and maintain a relationship -- a personal relationship -- with Jesus as the Lord of your life.

Step #1: You need to ask him to reveal himself to you. You can't know another person unless they choose to reveal themselves to you. Say you wanted to know me. How would you go about doing that? Well, you could follow me around, watch what I do. You could interview my wife, my children. You could go back in my records and check my college transcripts and you can gather a whole lot of information about me. You can even hang around with me. But you can never know me, unless I choose to reveal to you who I really am. I can reveal a false persona to you. But you can never really know me until I make the choice to reveal myself to you.

Friends, the good news of the gospel, is that God, the Father, has chosen to reveal himself to us through Jesus Christ. Supremely in Christ Jesus. You and I can know God personally. Now some of you here this morning are saying, 'My goodness, that is the most arrogant statement I have ever heard anyone say.' In fact, I have had people come to me and say in response to when I have said, 'Yeah, I know Christ.' They go, ' You are arrogant.' You know what? They're right. They're right. That is the most arrogant statement anybody can make if it wasn't for the fact that God has initiated the relationship. If it wasn't for the fact that God is the one who invites you and me to know him personally. If it wasn't for the fact that from the beginning of creation, that has been God's desire for every human being all along. It is only your sin and mine that knocks us out of relationship with God and it is grace that God extends to you and me, open arms, and says, 'Come home. And come to know me. Not as some transcendental being who is way out there, but someone who is intimately and personally involved in your life.' Ask God to reveal himself to you. And ask him to give you eyes of faith that enable you to see Jesus for who he really is.

Secondly, you want a relationship with Jesus Christ? You need to spend time with him. Just like you would with another person if you wanted that relationship to go anywhere. And as Christians we do that through prayer. Prayer is not some fancy trying to think of high-faluting words to address to God. Prayer is merely conversation with God as a friend. Also through reading Scripture. That's where we hear God speak to us. Then another way to spend time with Christ is in corporate worship. Jesus makes the promise to us, 'I will be with you always.' But he also makes an even greater promise, and that's this, 'Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there are I am in the midst of them.' And I think what Jesus means by that, is that when the body of Christ comes together, just like we are right now, Christ is present there in a unique and dynamic way as in no other way. Special time to seek Christ amongst the body in worship. Another way to spend time with Christ is to be involved in ministry. Servanthood ministry. When you and I do that, what happens? We are merely going wherever Christ is going, getting involved in what he's already doing out there in the world. A number of you have come to me and said "One of the ways I've really gotten to know folks at Central is I've gotten involved in going down with the Habitat crews as we work on a house every year. It was amazing, I didn't know anybody, but there's a camaraderie there and as we nailed nails and cleaned out and rehabbed houses, I got to know those people." There was a horizontal bonding there. That's also a good way to build up the vertical bonding in a relationship with Christ - because guess who goes with you down to Habitat? Jesus. Jesus is in there nailing nails too. Great way to build your relationship,. Another way, if you want to come into a good relationship with Christ is to be a reader. And I'm going to suggest that in 1999 you read a book. And if you go through this year and you haven't read this book you will wind up going into Y2K as possibly one of the most deprived people on planet earth. How about that? The book, it's about 25 years old, written by J.I. Packer, an Anglican theologian, called Knowing God. Folks, if Jesus doesn't come back in 500 years, 500 years from now this will still be read as a Christian classic. Knowing God. Listen to what Packer says in here:

When the New Testament tells us that Jesus is risen, one of the things it means is that the victim of Calvary is now, so to speak, loose and at large, so that any man, any where, can enjoy the same kind of relationship with him as the disciples had in the days of his flesh.
-- Knowing God, by J.I. Packer.

And if this personal relationship with Jesus thing isn't quite clicking with you this morning, I would encourage you to come up after the service, there's a stack of these little green booklets called "About Having a Personal Relationship with Christ". This is sort of the Cliff's Notes to Knowing God. But I wouldn't read this in place of that. Be a reader. Your relationship with Christ is going to improve the more you become a good theologian.

I can't stand it when people come to me and say (whines) "I'm not a theologian". Everybody is a theologian. Madalyn Murray O'Hair - if she's still alive - is a theologian. That just means you have thoughts about God. The only question is: Are you going to be a good theologian or a bad theologian? And when you read something like Packer's book, you will begin to become a good theologian. And the reason I push you in that direction is because - and I can't say this passionately enough - bad theology hurts people. I've seen enough of it in our Presbytery. Bad theology hurts people. And if you don't become a good theologian, if I don't become a good theologian, then we end up hurting people.

Finally, your relationship with Christ needs to be nurtured just like any other relationship. People come to me and say "Ron, God seems so far away." You know what my first question to them is? "Tell me about your quiet time?" "Oh, well, I don't have one." Think for just a moment about your best friend, or maybe your wife or husband, who is it that means the most to you in life, your dearest relationship. Picture that in your mind. Now, lets say for the next six months, you've made a decision, you're not going to talk to that person for the next six months. And you've made a decision, you're not going to respond when they talk to you for the next six months. Hit the fast forward button. Six months. What's that relationship like? Why do you and I think it's any different with Christ? Except it is a whole lot different, because Christ is infinitely more gracious and merciful than our wives or husbands or best friends. That's why, when I talk about having a daily quiet time, where you set aside time to pray, converse with God; read Scripture, listen to Him speak to you, I'm not saying that because I want you to jump through some pious hoops that somehow are going to get you in good with God. No. It's because it is at the heart of a relationship with Christ. Talking with him and responding, listening when he speaks to you. Your Session, as it has hammered out these Core Values, said that if people at Central come into an authentic personal relationship with Christ, there's going to be at least four ramifications that are going to take place in their lives. And here's what the four are: When you come to know Christ personally, more than secondhand, then you begin to be able to trust God. You and I trust who we know. If you don't know God, you're not going to trust him very far. What's amazing is when you and I come into a firsthand, personal relationship with Christ the sovereignty and the providence of God begin to take on a whole new dimension in your life. And I don't know about you, but the more that I come to know Christ, the more I'm able to let go of my life, to give control over, to place the reins of my life in Christ's hands. But I'll also share with you my biggest struggle in growing to trust Christ, and it's yours too. It is the one for all of us who are 20th century, North American Christians - and that's materialism. You want to know what Satan's chief tool in keeping you and me at a distance from Christ is? It's materialism. When you and I get caught up in that, we begin to make idols. Idols out of comfort, convenience, cushion (like in financial cushion). To really grow in a relationship with Christ you and I need to shatter those idols. And when we do we're able to trust in God more.

A second ramification when you and I come into a genuine relationship with Christ is love. Love for God and our neighbor. It's when you and I come to know Jesus firsthand that the unconditional love that Christ pours into our hearts spills over and enables us to love Him back and spills over into the lives of those around us as well. Francis Schaeffer said "Love is THE mark of the Christian." And when you and I, no matter if we have Bible tucked under our arm or not, if you and I go around with a judgmental and condemnatory attitude and a lack of love in our lives, then Francis Schaeffer says, "that gives everybody else who's not a Christian the right to walk from Jesus Christ." Love. If your life - and you're a Christian - is lacking love, then there's probably something wrong with the relationship.

The third ramification is to aspire. To aspire to be like Christ. When we come into a firsthand personal relationship with Jesus, we begin to see him as the benchmark for what a real man or a real woman - what a real human being - looks like. Someone has said that you and I become like whatever it is we worship. And if you and I come to know Christ as Lord and God then we will become like him.

And the last ramification of knowing Christ firsthand is that you and I begin to invite. We begin to invite others into this relationship that we have discovered. The church is not an exclusive club. I love the late Archbishop William Temple's little piece where he says "the church is the one institution in society that exists primarily for the sake of its non-members." And one of you sitting out here this morning this week dared to invite someone else to come to know Jesus Christ. Guess what happened? (For you radio folks, the evangelism candle is lit on the Communion Table.) Someone was brave enough to issue that invitation.

When he was only 13-years-old, child prodigy violinist Yehudi Menuhin was invited to play with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. They were going to back him up. And in the audience that night were some of the world's most famous composers, musicians, personalities. And Menuhin chose some of the most difficult pieces by Beethoven, Bach and Brahms to play that evening. And he was at the top of his game. So much so that the crowd, that staid, symphony-type of crowd, almost went wild. They had to bring police in. One man actually jumped out of the audience, onto the sate, and ran back into Menuhin's dressing room, where he embraced the surprised young violinist and said, "Now I know there is a God in Heaven." Very uncharacteristic behavior for Albert Einstein!

When you and I come to know Jesus Christ at more than secondhand, when we encounter the living Christ, then you and I are able to exclaim with awe and adoration: NOW I KNOW THERE IS A GOD IN HEAVEN! More than that, you and I are able to say "I know 'that' God through a personal relationship with Jesus as Lord and as God." There are a lot of people out there who say "yeah, I follow Jesus, but not as God." That's why our Session put that into our Core Value. This Jesus, the language he uses in verses nine and ten of our text folks, is high, high Christology language. He's making claims to be nothing less than God incarnate. When you come to know Jesus, you come to know God. Faith is nothing less than a personal relationship with Jesus.

Join me as we pray:
Father, we thank you that you are not a God who is aloof, who keeps yourself at arm's length from us, but has come seeking us out, inviting us in your grace and unconditional love, into a life transforming, an eternally life transforming, relationship with yourself. O Lord, may we not let our pride and arrogance get in the way of humbly responding to your invitation, walking into your arms and taking advantage of your request to accompany you through life eternal. O Lord, move our hearts this morning, if we're not a Christian, to receive that invitation and to embrace it. And if we have a relationship with you Lord, may we not become presumptuous about it, but rekindle that fire under us that will enable us to move forward and to move deeper in knowing you. Through Christ our Lord.

© 1999, Dr. Ronald W. Scates
Central Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, MD 21204 410/823-6145
www.centralpc.org