Here are my thoughts for this Sunday morning.
When did you first know Jesus? I am not speaking of that moment in Sunday school when you first read about Jesus, the Christmas story, the Easter story, or any of the other stories that are so much a part of Sunday school. Rather, I am asking about the time when you first know Jesus in your heart and that He was your personal Savior. This moment, of course, is perhaps the most personal question that one can ever be asked and one that takes some time to answer.
For some, this answer is much like Paul’s encounter with Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus.
As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything. (1)
While, for others, the encounter with Jesus Christ is more like John Wesley’s encounter that evening in the Aldersgate Chapel in May of 1738.
In the evening, I went very unwilling to a society in Aldersgate Street were one was reading Luther’s “Preface” to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt that I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me, that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.
No matter what happened that night, it is clear that the nature of Methodism changed. What was essentially a social movement where people tried very hard to get into heaven through their works on earth became the implementation of the Gospel message here on earth. As Craven Williams wrote,
Aldersgate was critical to Wesley. Aldersgate confirmed the meaning of being “plucked from the burning” at Epworth. At Aldersgate, John Wesley experienced the conversion experience which altered the shape of his entire ministry. He described that experience by saying, “My heart was strangely warmed.” (“Strangely warmed” It is not a fire in the fireplace, but “strangely warmed” may just be close enough to a fire to demonstrate my point.) What did the “Heart Strangely Warmed” experience at Aldersgate mean to John Wesley? It gave Wesley the assurance that he, even he, could be saved; saved completely, and know with certainty that he had been saved. (2)
But what about the people described in the Bible? When did they come to know Christ as their Savior? And what is it about the way they learned of Christ that applies to what we should be doing today?
In the Gospel message for today (3), we read that Jesus went to the home of Simon Peter and Andrew. While there he healed Simon Peter’s mother. And that evening people began to bring “all who were sick or possessed with demons.” (4) And the next day, Jesus told his disciples that they should go to the neighboring towns and proclaim the Gospel message.
The first people who came to know Christ were those who were sick or in some sort of distress. The Gospel message was to proclaim the Good News, heal the sick, let the blind see and the lame walk, and to free the oppressed. By his first actions, Jesus announced His presence to the world and the world began to come to him.
Not all the world came at the beginning of this mission. There were those in the Israelite community still expecting a Messiah in the traditional sense; a Messiah who would deliver the people from the tyranny of rule that they lived under. They were expecting a Messiah with great power, a mighty king who would lead vast armies to defeat the enemies of the Israelites.
But the Gospel message that Jesus preached and lived was not one of power and might but rather one of service and humility. It could only be accomplished if Jesus was a real person who could empty himself and become nothing. There was no pride or honor in what the Gospel message was about; there was nothing in what the Gospel message called for that one could boast about.
As Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians (5), what in the Gospel is there to boast about? One who
lives the life of the cross can hardly find anything to boast about.
It is our nature to boast; boasting is the one way that we can overcome the limits the world sets for us. But if we live in this new age of death and resurrection, one inaugurated by the cross, there is no need to boast. The old answers are no longer sufficient for the new age of Christ.
Christ proclaimed His Gospel message and carried out what he said he would do. He said he would heal the sick, help the lame to walk, the blind to see, and bring hope to the oppressed to the downtrodden. The Old Testament reading for today (6) speaks of the power of what the message was, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told to you from the beginning?”
And that is where we come in. We have known, we have heard and it has been told to us from the beginning that Jesus is the Christ and our Savior. Now it is up to us to take the message out into the world. We have come to know Christ because we were ready and our hearts were open. Like Paul, the obligation to carry the Gospel message forward has been laid on us.
No longer are we asking the questions about who we are or what our purpose in life will be; the world around us is incapable of supplying the answers. The questions that are asked of us are the ones that come from the cross and they have nothing to do with the present age or time. They are questions about how we will present the Gospel to people around us.
There are those who have never known Jesus, in literary or theological terms. They will only come to know Jesus through our works, our examples, and our presence. They will only come to know Jesus by, as Isaiah proclaimed, by what they see and hear.
We who have accepted Christ cannot simply boast about what it is we have gained; we must, like Wesley, move forward with the assurance that what we are doing is the culmination of the Gospel message in our time.
Now is the time that you really need to know Jesus. You do that by opening your heart and letting the Holy Spirit illuminate your life. It may be that you already know Jesus. Perhaps you encountered Him on your own road to Damascus; perhaps you encountered Him in some version of the Aldersgate Chapel; or perhaps you encountered Him through the people you work and play with every day. For you, then the message is to take that knowledge out into the world; for you then, the task is to proclaim the Gospel message in your thoughts, your words, and your deeds.
Now is the time to know Jesus in the most personal way. And if you know Jesus, it is up to you to let others come and know Jesus.
Acts 9: 3 – 9
Craven E. Williams, President – Greensboro College, http://www.gborocollege.edu/prescorner/fires.html
Mark 1: 29 – 39
Mark 1: 32
1 Corinthians 9: 16 – 23
Isaiah 40: 21 – 31