What answer would you give this person? "I have heard people talk about Jesus, but I know nothing about him. My family was never religious. As a child, I never visited a church. I have been to a church very few times as an adult. I have heard that he was killed, and I have heard that he came back to life. You are a Christian. You know all about Jesus. I want to understand Jesus. What is the first thing I need to know?"

What is the first thing that you would share with this person about Jesus?

  1. That is a tough question.
    1. There are many appropriate "first things" to share about Jesus.
      1. He willingly left heaven to come to earth and share totally in our physical experience so he could experience life in this evil world.
      2. He was the most unselfish person who ever lived, and in that unselfishness he became the perfect Savior.
      3. He was the most caring person who ever lived, and his concern for you is genuine.
      4. He was the most powerful person who ever lived, and he can forgive you and free you from guilt.
      5. He is the resurrected one; he literally defeated death for you.
      6. All of those are appropriate "first things" to share about Jesus, and that certainly is not an exclusive list.
    2. In my younger years I would have shared a different type of "first thing" about Jesus. I would have emphasized that:
      1. Jesus is the head of the church and emphasized the importance of that fact.
      2. Or, Jesus possesses all authority and emphasized the meaning of that fact.
      3. Or, Jesus is our eternal judge, and emphasized the necessity of being prepared to stand before him as our judge.
      4. But those would not be the "first thing" that I would share about Jesus today.
        1. First, when I stressed those things in the past, I assumed that people understood the basic facts about Jesus, but sharing with people from many backgrounds has taught me that I assumed too much.
        2. Second, many people, both religious and non-religious, have a very negative concept of "church"; they view the "church" as hostile and unhelpful.
        3. Third, people who are hurting commonly judge themselves very harshly; they need to learn about a Savior.
    3. My concern as I share Christianity is the same concern that I see in God and Jesus.
      1. Peter told us that God is patient because he does not want anyone to be destroyed, but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
      2. Jesus was repeatedly presented in the gospels as the Savior of the world who wanted to give rest to all who were burdened and weary (Matthew 11:28-30).
      3. Today, people who are struggling and seeking are not attracted to Jesus by:
        1. Understanding his authority.
        2. Understanding that he is head of the church.
        3. Understanding that he is the eternal judge.
      4. Is he our spiritual authority? the head of the church? the eternal judge?
        1. Absolutely!
        2. But to the person who is hurting and seeking today, those things have no meaning and little importance.
      5. What about you? What is it that bonds you to our Savior?
        1. What is the powerful attraction that makes you willing every day to surrender your life in love and devotion to Jesus?
        2. What draws your heart as well as your mind to the Son of God?
        3. What moves your heart and binds your soul to Jesus? his authority? his headship over the church? the fact that he will be the eternal judge?
    4. As we mature as Christians, as we grow into the new self given to us at our spiritual birth, our minds and hearts are continually opening to new and deeper understandings.
      1. We begin to understand that Jesus did not come to obligate us; he came to help us.
      2. He did not come to suppress us; he came to free us.
      3. He did not come to diminish life; he came to give us life in all its fullness.

  2. It is fairly common for Christians to complain about our pessimistic, skeptical, negative society.
    1. And too many in our society are pessimistic, skeptical, and negative.
      1. It is not unusual to hear people complaining about virtually everything in our society.
        1. They complain about government on both state and national levels.
          1. People have little confidence in political leaders or political institutions.
          2. Regarding the government, people are pessimistic, skeptical, and negative.
        2. They complain about our judicial system.
          1. They have no confidence in a judicial system that appears more concerned about technicalities than truth, that gives special consideration to people who have money or popularity, and that is too expensive for most people.
          2. When it comes to our courts, people are pessimistic, skeptical, and negative.
        3. The list can be expanded at length--public schools, taxes, social security, government spending, ethnic problems, marriage, and the church.
          1. Everywhere you look, there is widespread loss of confidence.
          2. Everywhere many are pessimistic, skeptical, and negative.
    2. At times we Christians join the pessimism, skepticism, and negative outlooks, and at other times the pessimism, skepticism and negative outlooks distress us.
      1. We are especially disturbed when the pessimism, skepticism, and negativity is directed at Christianity, at the church, and at our faith.
        1. It cuts deep when people complain about the indifference of the church.
        2. It distresses us when people talk about how uncaring Christians are.
        3. And as it cuts and distresses us, it is easy to react with hostility.
      2. May I suggest that instead of reacting to pessimism and skepticism, we need to try to understand why it exists.
    3. One primary reason for widespread skepticism and pessimism in our society is the loss of hope.
      1. Economically, many have lost hope.
        1. Job security does not exist for many.
        2. Everybody wants an improved standard of living, but costs make that increasingly difficult.
      2. In the home, many have lost hope.
        1. Abusive spouses are too common.
        2. Neglectful parents are too common.
        3. Rebellious children are too common.
        4. Misery in marriage is too common.
        5. Divorce is too common.
      3. What place does hope have in the following matters?
        1. Hope and a secure future?
        2. Hope and job benefits?
        3. Hope and retirement?
        4. Hope and quality medical care?
        5. Hope and your children's future?
        6. Hope and the church?
        7. Hope and your salvation?

  3. There are three great hungers in our society that are easily identified and recognized: the hunger for hope; the hunger for unconditional love; and the hunger for the caring that comes from genuine concern.
    1. All of us hunger for those three things, as does everyone we know.
      1. Everyone is starved for hope, but in their heart of hearts, the majority think there is no hope.
      2. Everyone yearns for unconditional love, to be loved just because he or she is a person, not because he or she meets someone else's expectations.
      3. Everyone dreams of experiencing the caring that comes from genuine concern.
    2. We hunger for these things:
      1. In our homes and families.
      2. In our friendships.
      3. In our relationships.
      4. And in our relationships with God and His people.
      5. Be honest with your own heart: isn't that what you hunger for?
    3. "Oh, but David, what you are talking about is permissiveness."
      1. No, I am not taking about permissiveness; I am talking about the hope and caring that comes from love--real, genuine, life-giving love.
      2. Permissiveness is never a genuine source of hope; it never extends unconditional love; it does know how to be caring through genuine concern.
      3. Permissiveness is either:
        1. Too indifferent to care.
        2. Too afraid to care.
        3. Or too selfish to care.
      4. Genuine love is never indifferent, afraid, or selfish in the caring it extends.

  4. This is the astounding truth: what we hunger for, what the people of our society hunger for is precisely what Jesus offers everyone.
    1. Hundreds of years before Jesus was born, God promised that a loving Savior would come who would be gentle, compassionate, and caring.
      1. Isaiah 9:1-7 talked about this promised Savior. Verse 6 declared this about him:
        For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on his shoulders; and his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
        1. In context, it is evident that people will find peace through him.
      2. Isaiah 53:1-12 gave a striking description of Jesus hundreds of years before he was born.
        1. It declares how he will suffer, how he endured abuse for us, how he refused to retaliate or defend himself, and how God used him for our sin offering to pay for the evil that we have done.
        2. Listen to verses 5 and 6:
          But he was pierced through for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon him, and by his scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on him.
      3. Isaiah 42:1-4 gave still another descriptive statement of this Savior.
        1. And in this description, verse 3 makes this statement:
          A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not extinguish.
        2. To me that is one of the most powerful, moving insights given about our Savior, a truth Jesus verified throughout his ministry from the day of his baptism to the moment of his death.
    2. He will not break a bruised reed; he will not put out a dimly burning wick.
      1. "Please explain the bruised reed."
        1. The bruised reed was a symbol of absolute weakness, weakness that is so terrible that it makes something completely useless.
        2. What we call cat tails are a type of reed; reeds were the long, hollow stems that grew along the rivers or in marshy ground.
        3. They were used in making mud bricks and for measuring rods.
        4. They were also used to make flutes: break off a stem, cut it the proper length, and cut a hole in the right place, and you had a flute.
        5. Reeds cost nothing; they were too common to be of any value.
        6. So if you bent one while making a flute, throw it away and get another.
        7. In making flutes, nothing was as worthless as a bent reed.
      2. "Please explain the smoldering wick."
        1. We all have seen a candle wick just after the flame was blown out.
        2. Smoke curls as it rises from the wick.
        3. All that is left of the flame is a tiny, glowing ember in the wick.
        4. People who depended on wicks for light put that ember out quickly before it burned any more of the wick.
        5. There is so little fire in a smoldering wick, you can pinch it between your fingers and snuff it out.
    3. Hundreds of years before his birth, God said Jesus would be so loving and caring toward the burdened, the distressed, and the guilty that he would not throw away a person who was as weak and worthless as a bend reed, someone in whom only a spark glowed.
      1. With this Savior, no one would be automatically rejected because of his or her weakness.
      2. No spark would be so dim that he would pinch it out.
      3. One of the earliest messages God wanted people to understand about the Savior is this: no one is so weak that he or she is worthless to Jesus.
      4. And when you read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, you see how very true that is of the man called Jesus.

If I am asked by someone who knows nothing about Jesus, "What is the first thing I should understand about Jesus?" that is the first thing I want to share. And that is the first thing I want you to understand about Jesus, God's Son, the one who died to become your Savior. He will never throw the weak away, never snuff the smoldering.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 2 February 1997

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