ALZHEIMERS’ EYE TEST
Count every ‘ F ‘ in the following text:
HOW MANY ?
WRONG, THERE ARE 6 — no joke.
READ IT AGAIN !
Just from these few examples, it is clear that first impressions cannot always be trusted. Jesus was, and still is, the most misunderstood man in history. Even in his day, the Jews judged him by their first impressions. Those who had met Jesus in the synagogue said ‘He is Elijah.” And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.” At first impression, Jesus’ own disciples thought they knew him, until they were shocked by Jesus’ calming of the storm saying ‘Who is this even the wind and the waves obey him?’
Mark records how Jesus and the disciples travelled in a boat across the lake in search of a peaceful place. While on their journey, many people recognized it was Jesus and raced ahead of him. On their way they called out many more from the towns around the shore line to come and see him. Did those who recognized Jesus, really know who he was? Did they hold the correct doctrinal view of Jesus? Did those running so desperately, carrying the sick, leading the blind and lame, hold to a clear understanding of who he was? Did they know he was the messiah, the ‘Christ’? (ask confirmees what that means)
If they did, if they understood Jesus to be more than just a healer or prophet, but the messiah, true man, true God and held all the right doctrinal confessions, Jesus would have no need to ‘have compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.’ Their first impressions about Jesus, their emotions and gut feelings about him were not enough to reveal the truth. Many in the crowds gathered around him, came only urged on by first impressions; they ran because they recognised Jesus, they ran because they wanted to be healed and they gathered because they saw that Jesus had the power to do it.
Perhaps their first impressions were mostly wrong; however, Jesus used their weakness as the impetus to teach them about the kingdom of God, as Mark records ‘he then began to teach them many things.’
Jesus never turned anyone away because they had the wrong impression of him or gathered around him for the wrong reasons. Remember those pictures I showed you, where you only get a fuller understanding of them after spending time looking at them. Jesus drew people into a deeper relationship with him by spending time with them ‘teaching them about the kingdom of God’. Jesus rewarded all who came to him seeking his compassion and healing by opening to them ‘the kingdom of God’ by the power of his Spirit filled, life giving word. He changed them from a wrong belief into strong belief.
Are you someone who wants a deeper knowledge of Jesus? Want to move on from your first impressions of Jesus or feel you need a stronger belief in him? Jesus will never turn you away. He is always present with compassion to bring you into a deeper relationship and knowledge of him through the power of his word. Yet its so easy to think, ‘I have already heard all Jesus has to say. I heard him in Sunday school. I heard his word in confirmation and at youth camps and in church every Sunday.’ It is sometimes even tempting to think ‘I know all there is to hear, of the cross, how he died and rose again for my sin. The message will never change’. This is a wrong belief about Jesus.
This leads undoubtedly to thinking there must be more needed, than Jesus’ word, to improve my Christian faith? Like when we first read the sentence, we were sure there were no more ‘F’s’, we are sure that there is no more to Jesus’ word. It is now up to us to make the relationship deeper; up to us to ignite the passion in our heart. The missing piece of the jigsaw of spiritual growth is found in our personal spirituality.
Spirituality is the new buzz word in the church for gaining a deeper understanding of Jesus. Its about exploring the big changes God wants in our life. Its about finding our passionate heart; one that is on fire for Jesus; its about a heart that pumps love for God and for others. Its about changing ourselves through fervent prayer and strict obedience to Jesus commands. A meaningful faith is grown and nurtured through inner personal development. How? Well there is a plethora of books on this. From eating what Jesus did, to doing what Jesus would do. But are these personal inner spiritual improvement methods in line with Jesus’ earthly ministry? How did Jesus change people from a wrong belief about him to a strong belief about him? And how does he today continue to grow you and me into a closer relationship with him?
Everywhere Jesus went, there were large crowds gathered around him, like sheep without a shepherd following Jesus everywhere he went and listening intently to what he had to say. St Matthew alone lists 15 separate incidents of crowds gathering around Jesus to hear what he had to say. Even the Pharisees saw the crowds and became jealous saying “Look how the whole world has gone after him!” The Pharisees where jealous because the people no longer listening to them about spiritual technics to be closer to God, but were turning to Jesus. No longer where the ‘sheep’ of Israel listening to the ‘blind guides’, as Jesus once called them, on the ‘how too guide’ of becoming more religious through personal spiritual development.
Instead, crowds of people went to the source of the Spirit, the source of truth…Jesus and his word on the kingdom of God, as he said ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’ His word remains true for you and me today. Leave the books about the kingdom and go the source of the kingdom; Jesus and his good news of salvation. He is still the only true source of spirituality. The word of God is the only power we have available to change us from wrong belief into strong belief. And that word of good news is written in John 5:24 “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.’ By the power of this good news, that Jesus is the Christ, who died and rose again for our salvation we are brought to faith in Jesus.
Deeper knowledge of him and a closer relationship with him come from the outside in, not the other way around, as many believe. The good news is that our spirituality, our relationship, our faith in Jesus, and our growth in our faith come from the very words and gospel of Jesus, as we hear it proclaimed and as we read it and study it.
Listen to what Jesus says in John 6:63 ‘The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.’ And as Paul writes, ‘faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.’ The crowds gathered around Jesus to be transformed by his proclaiming of the kingdom of God. As we gather at church, we are now the crowds gathered around Jesus who is really present proclaiming the kingdom of God in word and in the sacrament of Holy Communion, to create faith in you and transform you from the outside in.
The word and the sacraments (hold and show) are like the pictures I showed earlier. On first impressions, they just look like normal worldly things, but Jesus never turned anyone away because they had the wrong impression of him or gathered around him for the wrong reasons. Jesus welcomes you into a deeper relationship with him by spending time with him in the word. By partaking of his word, both spoken and in the sacrament, Jesus changes you to see, by the eyes of faith, that he is truly present to give you life and salvation; to change you from wrong belief into strong belief. Amen