How is it possible that so many people don’t know who Jesus really is? More has been written about Jesus than all the U.S. Presidents combined. More has been written about Jesus than any other leader in history. There is more historical evidence about Jesus than anyone who has every lived.
With this much history and literature all devoted to one person, you would think that everyone would have a pretty good grasp on who Jesus really is. But actually, the exact opposite is true. It seems like almost no one can agree on what Jesus was like, who He was, what He stood for, what He did and didn’t do, etc.
One of the saddest things I’ve done in a long time was to do a Google image search for “Jesus.” That’s an eye-opening experience. It made me mad. But more than that, it broke my heart. It’s heartbreaking to see how many people just have no idea of who Jesus really is. They mock Him. They insult Him. They mischaracterize Him. But they don’t know Him.
If you do just a cursory search, you’ll see that some people say that Jesus was a pacifist. Others say He was a warmonger.
Some believe He was the first hippie. Others claim that He was a staunch conservative.
Jesus was white. No, Jesus was black.
Jesus was a Democrat. Nope, He was a Republican.
Some believe that Jesus was a prophet. Some believe He was a good moral teacher. Some believe He was the Son of God.
People have tried to take the story of Jesus and bend it and shape it to fit their stories. They want Jesus to conform to their own personal agendas.
We aren’t going to do that in this series. We are setting out to discover the real Jesus. We want to see Jesus as He actually is. We want to find the real Jesus. Not the Jesus that we want. Not the Jesus that we create. Not the Jesus that fits with our preconceived ideas and beliefs. But the real, authentic Jesus.
There are four different books in the New Testament that tell us the story of Jesus’ life. We call them the gospels. They are the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Over the next four weeks, we’re going to see pictures of Jesus from each of these four books. Each book gives us a different picture and perspective of Jesus. And when you combine them all together, you get a true picture of who Jesus is.
That’s how we’re going to kick off 2014 here at Connect. In fact, we’re all going to join together over this next month to read through the four gospels. We’ve put together a reading plan for our entire church.
Each week, we’re going to preach from one of the gospel books. And then the following week, we’re all going to read through that gospel.
The reading plan is on our website. We’ve also give you a hard copy as you leave today. I can’t think of a better way to kick off this New Year than by all of us joining together and reading through the life of Jesus, discovering who Jesus really is.
And when you get to know the real Jesus…not the fabricated, manmade, fictional, Google Jesus…but the real, true Jesus…that’s when everything changes. Fairytale Jesus can’t do a thing for you. But when you know who Jesus really is, it will change your life.
We’re starting the series in the first New Testament gospel: the book of Matthew. Matthew might be the most challenging gospel to read, but it’s chocked full of amazing insights into who Jesus really is.
There are a lot of different pictures of Jesus in Matthew, but here’s the one we’re going to zero in on today. Jesus is Messiah.
That means that Jesus is the anointed one. He is the promised one. He is the one who was to come.
For centuries, the people of God had been waiting on the one. The one who would deliver them. The one who would fulfill all the promises that God made through the prophets.
That’s what the Old Testament in the Bible is all about. The Bible is divided into two parts, the Old and the New Testaments. The New Testament is all about Jesus, what He did, His death and resurrection, how His church began, etc.
But the Old Testament is about what happened before that. It is the story of God’s people as they were waiting for the Messiah. The one who would deliver them. They one who would be the fulfillment of all the prophecies and promises that God had given them.
Matthew clearly and unapologetically tells us that Jesus was that one. He was the anointed one. The one who had been promised.
Matthew’s claim about Jesus as the Messiah becomes crystal clear right in the very beginning of his book. That’s where we’re going to be today. We’re just coming out of the Christmas season. This passage is read a lot at Christmastime, but this is far more than just a Christmas passage. This is an amazing truth about Jesus in the very beginning of the book of Matthew.
But before we start reading, let me set the scene for you. Joseph and Mary, who were Jesus’ earthly parents, were pledged to be married. They hadn’t slept together because they held to the truth that God created sex for marriage only.
So imagine Joseph’s surprise when he found out that she was pregnant. He was ready to call off the whole deal, and who could blame him? This pure, godly girl that he thought he was marrying turned out to be a loose and promiscuous woman.
Not so fast. After he found out about the pregnancy, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. And that’s where we’ll start reading. Pick it up in Matthew 1:20. Joseph was ready to leave Mary.
Matthew wrote, “But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21, NIV)
Matthew introduces us to Jesus while Jesus was still in the womb. And he wastes no time telling us that Jesus is the Messiah. He is the one.
Let’s work through what Matthew tells us that the angel said to Joseph. The angel told Joseph, “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife.”
Joseph had planned to walk away, and no one would blame him. In fact, his friends and family would even praise his decision. They would say, “Good riddance. You don’t need that tramp. You’re too good for that. You wait until you find someone who is worthy of you.”
No one was going to praise him for staying with Mary. Instead, it was going to be, “Are you crazy? Have you lost your mind? You’re going to stay with her after what she did?”
It was going to be much easier to do what his culture wanted him to do rather than what God wanted him to do. That’s why the first thing the angel said to him was, “Don’t be afraid. I know it’s going to be tough. I know bailing out is easier. But don’t be afraid because if God called you to it, then God will sustain you through it.”
That’s a principle that we have to own in our lives. If God called you to it, God will sustain you through it. Some of you are ready to quit. You’re done. You’re ready to throw in the towel. You didn’t jump into this New Year. You limped in. You’re just done.
I know what that feels like. I’ve been there. This month marks my 8th anniversary as the pastor of our church. And as I think back on some of the tough times early on in my tenure here, I’m amazed that I’m still here.
I knew the changes that God was calling me to make in our church, but I had no idea how hard it would be. I had no idea how personal some people would make it. I had no idea the intensity of the criticism that I would face. I had no idea of the battles that would have to be fought. And I had no idea of the personal toll it would take on me.
It took a toll on my health. It took a toll on me emotionally. I had to see a counselor. You have no idea how close I was to quitting.
But I will never forget one specific night. My wife looked at me and said, “God’s not finished with you here. You’re not done yet.” She reminded me that God called me here, and if God calls you to it, He will sustain you through it.
And now I look at where our church is today…and I’m blown away by everything I would have missed if I had left. Our best days are still ahead of us, but our current days are pretty dang good. God is blessing. Our church is unified and on-mission. And lives are being changed because of it. But I came so close to missing out on this. No one but my wife knows just how close I came to quitting.
If God called you to it, God will sustain you through it. The story of Jesus…the story of our Messiah…is that God has bridged the gap between us and Him.
That’s what the cross is all about. Jesus died on a cross to pay the penalty for our sin so we would never have to. He takes our punishment, and we are set free. And the wall of sin that separated us from God is completely destroyed.
Because of who Jesus is, we have a God who will never leave us. He will never take His power away from us. Whatever you are facing, your God is bigger.
Everybody say that out loud with me. My God is bigger! Say it again. My God is bigger!
Whatever happened last year. Whatever will come this year. Your God is bigger. And like we talked about all through the month of December, your God is present. He is with you. If God called you to it, He will sustain you through it.
The angel went on to tell Joseph why he could trust God in this. “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:20b, NIV)
“Yes, Joseph, she’s pregnant. There’s a bun in the oven. But that bun didn’t get in that oven the way you think it did. What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”
Most of the time when something is conceived by the Holy Spirit, it won’t make logical sense to us. This couldn’t have made any sense to Joseph. And that’s exactly the point.
The Holy Spirit is not confined by human logic. When He conceives something in you, it might not make sense to anybody else. It might not even make sense to you. And that’s where the resolve of your faith is really tested.
Last year, when it became clear that God was calling our church to step out and take a risk, it was hard. When it became clear that God was calling us to pull up stakes and move…to leave an established building where we had been for years and move to a portable situation…it was tough. Not everybody thought that was a good idea. We took some shots. We got some criticism. (Almost all of it came from people who weren’t part of our church, which is interesting. But that’s a topic for another time.) It just didn’t make sense to some people.
But that can’t be the litmus test. If something is conceived by the Holy Spirit, chances are good that it won’t make sense to some people. It might not even make sense to you.
But if God calls you to it, He will sustain you through it. If the Holy Spirit has conceived something in you…a dream, a mission, a purpose, a passion…you can’t let the illogical nature of it stop you. Impossible is not a word in God’s vocabulary.
In fact, when an angel appeared to tell Mary that she would be pregnant with God’s Son, the angel said, “For nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37, NLT)
Nothing is impossible with God. Your God is bigger than your impossible circumstances. The virgin birth proves that. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead proves that. God doesn’t know the meaning of the word “impossible.”
I’ll be honest…I came into this year with a lot of doubts and a lot of stress. We’ve got some big decisions ahead of us as a church. Decisions that have been weighing really heavy on my mind. While it’s really exciting, it’s also really stressful.
I’ve also got some personal health issues going on. I’ll be having a second sinus surgery later this month. It’s more invasive and more extensive than the surgery I had last year. I don’t talk about this often (and I never do publicly), but my health has been terrible for the last several years. Absolutely terrible.
So if I can use this as my own personal confessional for a minute…I did quite a bit of complaining and worrying on New Year’s Day. I just felt overwhelmed.
But then as I got into preparing this message, God reminded me that He is the God of impossibilities. He is bigger than anything I’m facing. And if God called me to it, He will sustain me through it.
Some people might be uncomfortable with a pastor being this transparent, but I really don’t care because I know that someone else is really resonating with this today. You needed the same reminder that I needed…your God is bigger. Nothing is impossible with your God. And it’s all because of who Jesus really is.
Go back and look at what the angel said when he fully revealed God’s plan to Joseph. “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
This is where Matthew really hones in on the first picture of who Jesus really is. He would be born and He was to be named Jesus. The reason for that name is that He would save His people from their sins.
Jesus is the Greek form of the name Joshua, which means, “the Lord saves” or “the Lord is salvation.”
Matthew will go on to write the personal name of Jesus over 200 more times in his book. And every time he does, he underscores who Jesus is. He is bigger. He is greater. He is the one that God promised would come. He is the one who came to save us from our sins. He is Messiah.
You can’t measure the implications of this. It is life-altering. It is eternity-changing. And as the people of God, we’ve got to get this.
Jesus is the one that God sent to save us from our sins. Any other messiah…any other savior…is going to fail miserably and completely.
That means that you can’t be your own messiah.
A lot of people who claim to be Christians live in this fairy tale world where they can actually save themselves. They operate on the hash mark system. If I can get more hash marks in the good column than the bad column, then I’ll be alright. Then I won’t go to hell. I’ll get to go to heaven if I’m good enough.
Do you understand how disgusting this is? In this system, God is no longer a loving Father. He just becomes a scorekeeper, keeping tabs on your every move. He becomes a referee that is just waiting to throw that yellow flag.
And another thing that this belief system does…it completely negates Jesus. It makes Jesus totally unnecessary.
In Galatians 2:21, Paul writes, “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:21, NIV)
The Old Testament law was all about keeping the rules. Do this, don’t do that. Do this, don’t do that. Do this, don’t do that.
Here’s Paul’s point. If we could actually keep those rules and make ourselves righteous before God, then why did Jesus die? Why did He give His life for us if there was another way? It was actually pretty stupid for Jesus to go to such an extreme measure if there was another way.
The point is that there is no other way. Later on in the book of Matthew, Jesus even prayed for God to reveal another way.
Look at what Matthew writes in chapter 26 of his gospel. Right before Jesus was arrested, Matthew wrote, “Then [Jesus] knelt with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, don’t make me suffer by having me drink from this cup. But do what you want, and not what I want.” (Matthew 26:39b, CEV)
There was no other way. We couldn’t work our way back to God. We couldn’t do enough good to achieve eternal life. We couldn’t do anything to earn God’s grace and forgiveness and love. The only way to God was through the cross.
It’s not about what you do or don’t do. Rule-keeping doesn’t cut it. Because, first of all, we can’t keep all the rules. And secondly, it makes us more concerned about the rules than the relationship.
God doesn’t want a bunch of robots that are programmed to keep the rules. He wants us as His children. Yes, there are commands to follow. But those commands are given for our good. They are there to keep us from turning our lives into a train wreck.
But too many of us have made the rules the main thing. We’ve chosen rules over the relationship. And what that gives us is moralism. Not Christianity.
Christianity is about Jesus. Moralism is my ability to keep the rules. My own morality is my messiah. Instead of being defined by Jesus, I’m defined by what I do. And more often than that, I’m defined by the things I avoid; the things that I don’t do.
That is completely contradictory to everything that Matthew wants to tell us. Jesus is the one who would save people from their sins. It’s Jesus. He is the Savior. He is the Messiah.
You can’t fill that role. You can’t save yourself. You can’t rule-keep yourself into heaven. You can’t be your own messiah. And another person can’t be your messiah, either.
We try to make it happen. We try to set up some other person to be our Jesus, to be our messiah. And every time we do it, we crash and burn.
Go back and read what the angel said again in Matthew 1:21. “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21, NIV)
The angel said, “Name Him Jesus because He will be the one to save you from your sins. Jesus will be your Messiah.”
He specifically said that the Messiah’s name is Jesus. Did you notice that the angel didn’t use the name of your husband? Or your wife? Or your kids? Or your boyfriend or your girlfriend?
There are a whole lot of people who look to someone else to be Jesus for them. They try to prop another person up as their messiah.
If I can just find a man, then everything will be perfect. If I can just find a woman, my life will be great.
My boyfriend is so amazing. He has changed my life. Have you seen my girlfriend? She is the one I need.
Life will be complete when we have kids. That’s all I need to be whole and fulfilled.
Guess what? You are going to be disappointed. In fact, you will experience disappointment on a mammoth scale because none of these people can fill that role in your life.
No man, no woman, no child can complete you. They can’t fulfill you. They can’t save you.
There is a reason that Matthew uses the specific name Jesus. Jesus is THE ONE. HE is your Messiah. HE is your Savior. No one else can fill that role.
That’s why so many relationships are in such deep trouble. Because we expect the person we’re dating, our fiancé, or our spouse to be our Jesus. And so, in a very real way, they become our idol. They are a false god who has replaced Jesus in our lives. And so it’s no surprise when disappointment and discouragement soon follows.
C.S Lewis said, “Idols always break the hearts of their worshipers.”
That was never more true then when you try to make someone else into your messiah. They are a flawed, imperfect, limited, sinful human being. They are going to let you down. They can never fulfill your expectations. They can’t be your Jesus.
And in fact, if that’s what you expect from them, it will be crushing to them. That is way more pressure than anyone can handle.
I feel this pressure myself at times. Some people look to me as their pastor to be their messiah.
I will never forget seeing what happens when a pastor becomes a pseudo-messiah. I knew a pastor who fell into sin. And I mean big time. It was sinfulness that would blow your mind.
When his sinfulness came to light (and by the way, it ALWAYS does) it was an incredible blow to the church. But it went a lot deeper than that for some people. There were some people who almost couldn’t walk after hearing the news. It seemed to wreck their entire lives. Their hearts were devastated and their spirits were crushed.
I’m not trying to minimize the impact when a leader sins. I know that I’ve got to guard my life because if I fall into sin, the consequences would be devastating.
But at the same time, when this pastor’s sin was revealed, a lot of people lost their faith entirely. Because their messiah turned out to be a flawed, sinful human being.
I commit to you that I will live a life of purity. But I won’t live a life of perfection. I can’t. I can’t do it anymore than you can do it.
I’m going to let you in on a secret…I will disappoint you. I will let you down. If you stay in our church long enough, I will disappoint you. I’ll make you mad. I’ll hurt your feelings. I’ll let you down. Not because I want to. Not because I’m trying to. You want to know why all those things will happen? Because I’m a screwed up, sinful human being.
I’m trying to live more like Jesus, but I can’t be your personal Jesus. If you’re here because, “I like his preaching,” or, “He’s got a lot of energy and charisma,” you are looking in the wrong place. What happens if I go out and get plowed by a bus this afternoon? Where does that leave you? If I’m your Jesus, you’re up a creek because I won’t be rising again in three days. I’m gone.
If there are people who come to this church, not to follow Jesus, but to follow Mike Edmisten, then you need to know this. You know where following Mike Edmisten will get you? Hell. It will lead you straight to hell.
I can’t be your messiah. I might be your pastor, but I can’t be your savior.
No one can be your Jesus except Jesus. And in reality, why would you want somebody else? Why would you want a fake when you can have the real thing?
Matthew tells us that the Messiah’s name is Jesus. Did you notice that he didn’t use the name of a politician?
Did you hear what Barbara Walters said in an interview on CNN last month? She was asked a question about President Obama, and she said, “He made so many promises, we thought that he was going to be…the next messiah.”
Are you serious? I don’t care what you think of his policies…did you actually believe that Barack Obama was going to be a “messiah?” A savior? Sent from God to redeem us?
Wow. I don’t care if you’re a Democrat or a Republican or an Independent. That is seriously jacked up. And yet people do it all the time.
It will happen again in 2016. When our nation holds the next presidential election, people on all sides of the political spectrum will point to their candidate and say, “He’s the one. She’s the one. They are the one who will set everything right. They are the one to save us.”
And it’s foolishness. It’s all folly. I don’t care who it is…no political figure on the left or the right can be your messiah. The government can’t be your messiah. No other person can be your Jesus. Jesus is the one and only person who is up to the task.
Anytime we look to someone or something other than Jesus to comfort us and complete us, we’re setting ourselves up for big trouble.
I figured out that this was my problem. I told you how bummed out and stressed out I was on New Year’s Day. This was my problem. I was trying to be my own messiah. I put all the pressure on myself. I have to make this happen. I have to do this. Everything is relying on me.
But if Jesus is really our Messiah, then that kind of thinking gets turned completely on its head. The pressure isn’t on me because my God is bigger than what I’m facing…and He’s also with me, regardless of what I’m facing.
That’s why the very first core value of our church is, “It’s all about Jesus and it’s not about us.”
When it’s all about you, you get stressed out. Your nerves get frazzled. The pressure keeps building. And life eventually just becomes impossible. That’s what life is like when you try to be your own messiah.
And if you look to someone else to be your messiah, you end up disappointed. Discouraged. And eventually, devastated.
But if Jesus is your Messiah…if He really is your Savior…then that takes all the pressure off. You don’t have to save yourself. You don’t have to go it alone. It doesn’t all rely on you. The world is not resting on your shoulders.
If Jesus is the Messiah, that means you’re allowed to be who you are. A flawed, limited human being who will falter and fail.
And it also frees the other people in your life to be who they are. Flawed, limited human beings who will falter and fail.
And you know why? You know why you’re allowed to falter and fail? You know why other people are allowed to falter and fail?
Because you have a God who never will. That’s what it means for Jesus to be your Messiah.