It was an early September morning in 1910 when Clarence Hiller was murdered. His wife immediately got in touch with the police, who within an hour found a man believed to be his killer by the name of Thomas Jennings. He had blood on him, and his arm had been injured badly. And yet, it was obvious the police had no clear proof that Jennings had committed the crime. So they began poking around the Hiller home, and they discovered that whoever killed Clarence had come in through the kitchen window leaving four fresh fingerprints. It’s here where they decided for the first time in U.S. history to submit fingerprints as evidence in a case, and they won the conviction sending Jennings to jail.
Creating the Need
All of us in this room have a unique set of ridges on our fingers called fingerprints. These ridges are so unique that no two people have the same exact pattern. Our fingerprints are key to our identity. When it comes to Jesus Christ, I want you to see the four biographies written about him called the gospels, as his unique fingerprints. They point to the unique identity of Jesus Christ. What is that unique identity? Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the anointed Son of God. He’s not just a good man. He’s not some prophet, nor was he a fictional character. He was a real person, who made real valid claims of deity, died a read death and rose to a real life so that we could have a real future and a real hope. This is who Jesus is! And over the next several weeks of advent season I want to draw our attention to the fingerprints, the identity of Jesus.
Now some of you are here and you would say, not buying it. I just can’t accept that Jesus was God. He was a good man, not God. Listen to what the lead singer of U2, Bono, says to this, “I think it’s the defining question for a Christian: Who was Christ? And I don’t think you’re let off easily by saying, ‘A great thinker,’ or ‘A great philosopher’. Because actually, he went around saying he was the Messiah. That’s why he was crucified. He was crucified because he said he was the Son of God. So, he either, in my view, was the Son of God, or he was nuts! When people say, ‘Good teacher,’ ‘Prophet,’ ‘Really nice guy,’ this is not how Jesus thought of himself. So you’re left with a challenge in that, either Jesus is who he said he was or a complete and utter nut case. And I believe that Jesus was, you know, the Son of God”- Bono, Focus on the Family Interview, 2013.
Do you get what Bono is saying? The defining question of your life, that everyone must answer, is who was Jesus? Now here’s where Bono nails it- If anyone says they are the Messiah you have one of two extremes. Either they are completely nuts, or they are completely right, no middle ground. And if Jesus is who he said he is, then this completely changes everything. I must take him seriously. I must see his words not as some tweets to contemplate, but inspiring directives to organize our life around. This is Jesus.
I want you to track with me over the next several weeks as we look at the fingerprints, the identity, of Jesus. No this is not going to be a series of lectures in which I prove to you his identity, as much as it will be a series wrestling with what it really means to follow Jesus, this man who said he was the Messiah. Because if he is right- and he is- then we need to know what it means to follow him. So my hope is if you’re not a Christian you are convinced and inspired to follow him. If you are a Christian that you will be inspired and emboldened to follow him even closer. Let’s look at it.
The Identity of Jesus is Comprehensive- Luke 4:16-19
As we come to Luke 4 you should know this is right at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. In Bay area speak our passage represents Jesus’ IPO- his initial public offering. This is a key moment in the life and ministry of Jesus. So where do we find Jesus? He’s in the synagogue, Luke notes, “as was his custom”. I love this, and won’t park here for too long. In other words, Jesus made a regular practice of going to church every week. That’s interesting. Jesus, who is God, who wrote the book, and was the focus of the worship songs that were sung, went to church every week. It was his custom to be a part of corporate worship. If Jesus prioritized this, then how much more so should we? And while in church, Luke says Jesus goes up onto the stage, unfolds the Scriptures to what we know as Isaiah 58 and Isaiah 61, reads the verses, and says repeatedly that what you just heard has been fulfilled in me. Drops the mic and sits down! Do you see why we say you don’t have the option to say he was just a good man. Like if I did what he did I’m either crazy or who I said I was, no middle ground.
Now Jesus has just created a real awkward moment, hasn’t he? There’s a tension in the room. And if you are in the room you’re left with a huge question of what am I going to do with this? That’s what Jesus does now. Jesus comes in and creates awkward moments in our lives when we least expect it. He creates one in here every week when we give the altar call. Let’s call it what it is- it’s awkward to walk down front and to say I don’t have it all together and I need Christ to fix me. This is what Christ does, he creates awkward moments. Or when you’re just driving along and Christ begins to speak to you about the way you just talked to your roommate on campus and he asks you to repent. Awkward. Or when Christ begins to speak to you about that sinful relationship you’re in and he asks you to end it. Awkward. Or when he asks you to give a generous gift you hadn’t financially planned for. Awkward. Oh yes, Jesus is still in the business of awkward, and the great question of our lives is how will we respond when Jesus drops the mic on us?
But look at what he says in the sermon. Look back at verses 16-19 with me. Now the question on the table is, who are the poor, the blind, the captives and the oppressed? Is this literal or spiritual? Scholars are agreed- it’s both, and this gels with the ministry of Jesus. If you want to investigate the ministry of Jesus you know that he came to offer salvation to those who are spiritually poor, spiritually blind, spiritually held captive and spiritually oppressed. He did this by calling people to repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. So here we see the spiritual sense of it. But we also see Jesus literally opening the eyes of the blind, literally feeding people, literally calling us to visit those in prison, and to reach out to the financial poor and marginalized. So that we see the identity of Jesus, his fingerprints are comprehensive. The gospel he proclaimed was both spiritual and social! This is the way of Jesus.
To go the way of Jesus is to model and proclaim a comprehensive gospel that touches both the spiritual and social needs of people. This is the legacy of Christianity we come from. It was the early Christians who not just met on Sunday mornings to pray, but were the first to care for the hurting in Rome. In fact, one Roman emperor complained that Christians were taking better care of their hurting than Rome! It was Christians who held church councils defending the deity of Jesus and started hospitals for the sick. It was the father of the reformation, a Jesus loving man named Martin Luther, who defended salvation by grace alone through faith alone, but who also put himself in harms way by caring for the sick in a town that was ravaged by a plague. It was a Jesus loving group of “evangelical” Christians in the 18th century called the Clapham Sect who took on and brought down slavery. And it was Christians who marched in the streets of Selma, Birmingham and other places singing the songs of Zion while standing up for voters rights. See, the Bible has no category for a Christianity that is content with Bible studies, church attendance and prayer meetings while doing nothing to address the needs of the hurting.
This is why our commitment at ALCF through our justice and compassion ministry lead by Cheryl Degree is to provide you with opportunities to get your hands dirty by walking with those who are in prison, supporting those who have gotten pregnant out of wedlock and feeding the homeless. In fact, one of the best things you can do today is to go sign up for our angel tree project where you can get gifts for children of the incarcerated. This is the identity of Jesus, and the way of the Christian! This is what it means to follow him!
The Identity of Jesus is Connected to the Needy- Luke 4:23-27
So Jesus ends his sermon, says he is the fulfillment which is him saying he is God, and then Luke notes the crowd began to say to each other, Hey, ain’t that Joe’s boy. We know him. Jesus cuts in and says that doubtless they will quote the proverb saying, Physician heal yourself. What does this mean? This was a proverb that pretty much says it’s one thing for a physician to heal others, but if he can’t heal himself then that’s a problem. Now, Jesus is in Nazareth which is his hometown. They have heard that he’s done some things in other towns and areas. So when they say, Physician heal yourself, they’re saying, if you are really who you say you are prove it to us by doing some kind of a special act right here in your home. In other words, they want Jesus to be like an actor and audition for them, and if he passes the audition then they’ll sign on and follow him.
This still goes on today, and it’s some of you sitting here. In some way you’re saying your own version of this proverb to Jesus. I’ll follow Jesus when he cures me of cancer. I’ll follow Jesus if he fixes my finances. I’ll follow Jesus if he brings my child back to a healthy place. I’ll follow Jesus if he ends the suffering. This is what a young Steve Jobs did. As a little boy he walked into his church one day and demanded to speak to the pastor. He said to the pastor, Can God fix anything? The pastor said yes. Jobs then took out a magazine with a picture of children starving and said then why won’t God fix this? Unsatisfied with the answer Jobs stormed out and never went back to church. Jesus had unfortunately “failed” his audition for Jobs. Now you do see the problem here, don’t you? When we demand that Jesus audition for us, we are putting ourselves in the seat of authority, and making Jesus subservient to our demands, and he will have none of that.
So how does Jesus respond to this proverb? He tells them two quick stories. Notice the similarities. Both have people of great need. Both are Gentiles. Both go to powerful spiritual leaders who happen to be Jewish men. One happens to be financially rich, and the other financially poor, but it is their need that drives them to get help. And this is the point Jesus is making. Jesus likens himself to Elijah and Elisha and says in so many words, I am only here for those who see their need, to those who have found themselves in dire straits. In fact, just one chapter later, Jesus will say I haven’t come for the healthy, but for the sick.
Some years ago a friend of mine went to the doctor for his annual physical. They did their usual poking and prodding, asked questions and ran some blood work. A few days later he got a call to come in because his blood work was off. They ran some more tests and discovered he had cancer. They operated, and got it, and today he’s fine. But I’ll never forget what he said. He said he felt completely fine, and the scary part was if he would have allowed how he felt to keep him from the doctors, things could have been far worse.
The problem with many people here in the Bay is they feel fine. Life is great. But they don’t realize that lying under the hood of their life is a devastating disease with eternal consequences called sin. And until you really see and embrace this, you will never go to the Great Physician, Jesus Christ. This is why one of the greatest gifts Jesus can ever give to someone is pain, because it alerts us to our need with the hopes of sending us running to him!
Now what does all this mean for us as Christ-followers? Several things, but let me give you one. If Jesus came for the needy, then the way of Jesus is for us to immerse ourselves with people who are just needy- both spiritual and literal. We need to be around non-believers and the poor. Some years ago I began to be alarmed by the nauseating level of materialism that was in my heart. So I quietly signed up to serve at a local treatment center for addicts. I would go once a week, not to preach, but just pick up trash and clean toilets and talk to the men. This lead to Korie and I throwing a party for them at our home where the whole program came. They ate me out of house and home, but that was one of the best seasons of my life. For the good of our own souls, we need to be with broken needy people not to fix them, but because it reminds us of our own brokenness and neediness, driving us to the Savior.
The Identity of Jesus is Confrontational- Luke 4:28-30
When Jesus gets finished with the story the crowd is not pleased. They’re angry. So angry they form what one scholar calls a lynch mob and they try to kill him. But why? These stories seem really benign? Why are they so ticked? Well, because Jesus likens himself to two great prophets and says that while there was great need in Israel, the only one’s who got helped were these two Gentiles. These words insult their Jewish sensibilities, because the Jews thought they had a monopoly on the favor of God. After all they had kept the law. They had gone to temple. They had memorized the law. They were the keepers of the Sabbath. So because of all their good deeds they thought they deserved to have the Messiah to themselves. Jesus’ words cut against the grain of their moralism.
What is moralism? Moralism is basing my identity, esteem and self worth on my own good deeds and performance and not on what Christ has done for me on the cross. Moralism says that because I go to church, give money, serve in ministry, lead or attend a growth group that I deserve certain things. Moralism produces a spiritual entitlement of sorts where I think I’m exempt from hard times. Listen to what Tim Keller says, “If I obey, if I follow everything the Bible says, if I never miss worship, if I’m very, very good in every way, if I follow every one of the rules, then I have God where I want him. He owes me. He has to give me a good life. He has to answer my prayers. The way you can tell you have that same hostility, the way you can tell that through your obedience you’re rebelling against God, is when he does anything in your life that shows he doesn’t feel like he owes you anything, you go through the roof- TIM KELLER. This is the Jews- they go through the roof. You?
I had a great friend growing up in Atlanta. This man loved the Lord and had a deep love for the Word of God. We would do bible studies together, and serve in ministry together. He even went off to seminary. He also had a passion for music, and did quite well, so well that he was promised a contract by a top executive in California. We were roommates when I lived in LA and we talked about his dreams of making it big. But then the bottom fell out and he never got that contract. When this reality settled in, he renounced his faith, ended up divorcing his wife and years later is far from Christ. He murdered his relationship with God, because God didn’t do what he wanted him to do. Do you act like the Jews when Jesus fails to meet your expectations for life? Have you gone down the path of moralism seeking to put God in your debt? Or do you do good things because you simply love him?
Prayer of blessing over the people…YOU ARE SENT!