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Keeping Our Eyes on Jesus

Keeping Our Eyes on Jesus

April 14, 2024 | by Pastor Peter

When the Disciples heal a man who has never walked, they call attention to who Jesus is, and give him credit for the transformation in the person’s life. The Church will demonstrate Jesus is with us, when we become a healing presence in our community.

Sermon Summary

In the name of Jesus 

Mohandas Gandhi was born in India but spent a great deal of his young adult life in South Africa. Both in his time in India and in South Africa he came face to face with the exploitative evils of colonialism carried out by Christians. While Gandhi was open to thinking about faith differently than the way that he grew up, the hypocrisy of the Christians that he observed turned him off of the Christian faith. He is reported to have quipped “I like their Christ, but I don’t like their Christians.” In about 1927 he is reported to have said, “The Christians above all others are seeking after wealth. Their aim is to be rich at the expense of their neighbors. They come among aliens to exploit them for their own good and cheat them to do so. Their prosperity is far more essential to them than the life, liberty, and happiness of others.” This is a stinging indictment of Christianity. Gandhi was reacting against the evils he witnessed in the practice of colonialism. 

Thankfully, this practice has been relegated to the dustbin of history. At the same time though, Christians don’t look great to everyone. In 2022, the Pew research foundation conducted a poll of Canadians to find out about their views on religion. The poll found that the majority of Canadians believe that Catholicism and evangelicalism cause more harm in society than good. Clearly we have an image problem. Not all of this is fair. There are far fewer people going to church than there used to be. Many Canadians probably have limited or no contact with practicing Christians on a regular basis, and so their opinions about Christians are largely shaped by what they see in the news. The news is always going to cover. What is novel, new, or unexpected. So when a congregation of Christians faithfully follows Jesus’s command to love others, no one is going to write a news article. But when a Christian leader gets caught in a salacious scandal, there are bound to be plenty of stories. The effect of this is to make the very worst Christian behavior seem like it is the most typical Christian behavior. At the same time, however, if we are to be honest, we must admit that Christians have done some terrible things. We probably all know people who have been turned off from faith because of church-related hurt. People are going to draw conclusions about Jesus and the church by the behavior they see displayed by Christians. This is true now, and it was true at the beginning.

Vindicating Jesus

Jesus looked very different from what most people assumed the Messiah would look. He wasn’t Rich, he wasn’t powerful. He died on a cross. At the same time, the miraculous healings that Jesus did vindicate his ministry and his teaching. People may have a hard time swallowing the idea that God’s Messiah would be like this, but it’s hard to argue with the miracles. Miracles. Nicodemus, a. Pharisee, and a member of the Sanhedrin, admitted that while he didn’t understand who Jesus was, he understood that the miracles meant he must be from God. When Jesus was confronted with a group of Jews asking whether he was the Messiah, he points towards the work that he does, saying, “Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father” (John 10:37-38, NIV). And when Jesus ascends into heaven following his resurrection from the dead, he commissions his disciples to continue this work in his name. Early in the book of Acts. We see the disciples doing exactly this. 

Peter and John went to the temple to pray and encountered a man who had been born lame. The man asked for money but Peter instead healed him in Jesus’s name. The man everyone was used to seeing begging for money and unable to walk was now leaping and jumping and praising God. As you might imagine, this drew quite a crowd. :Peter took the opportunity to give Jesus the credit:

Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.

Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord (Acts 3:12-19, NIV)

Peter and John realized that they have no way of healing a person themselves. This miracle is Jesus working through them, and so they tell everybody that Jesus healed this person. Many people respond and become Jesus followers themselves. This shows us an important truth: when Christians lives reveal Jesus’s healing power at work in them, people see Jesus and respond to him. The opposite is also true: When we pursue our own selfish ends, we discredit Jesus

At this point, we can get into an argument about whether miracles happen today or not. Some people believe this is a pre-scientific understanding of the world. Other people believe that miracles used to happen, but don’t anymore. Miracles all around them. I’m going to sidestep this issue, because I think that the manner of the healing is less important than the fact of the healing. God can choose to heal miraculously, or by less spectacular means. How he heals is not our concern. That he heals is.

A focus on miracles also distracts us from the reality that healing is more than a physical phenomenon. Often, people experience hurt in various areas of their life and need healing and all of them. A person who has suffered emotional harm needs emotional healing. Someone who has experienced marginalization and exclusion needs relational healing. Often these places of healing are more important. I used to volunteer at a drop-in center that realized that relational healing was central to healing other parts of a person’s self. The drop-in center was open three times a week and we made coffee for the kind of people that were usually excluded from polite society. Our culture told them that they were mooches, that they were unworthy. Waste of oxygen. We showed them a different way to view themselves. They were made in the image of God and therefore worthy of respect whether we agreed with their life choices or not. So we served them coffee, we played board games with them and we conversed with them. I wish I could say this radically changed all of their lives. It didn’t. Old habits die hard. But I believe that the people who came into Nightlight understood that we saw them differently And so many others did. I think they saw Jesus at work through us. 

Are We a Healing Presence in Our Community?

The Pew pole suggests we have work to do. The Christian community will not be seen as a healing force until we learn to lay down what is in our own interest for the sake of others. We see this in the life of Jesus. In his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul says that Jesus didn’t consider equality with God, something to be used to his own advantage. Instead he emptied himself and became like a slave. We see this same disregard of the consequences in the disciples. Following the story we looked at above, Peter and John are arrested, imprisoned, and then threatened by the Sanhedrin. How then, do they respond to the next time they have an opportunity to be a healing presence in the world? Do they say, “I’d like to heal, but I can’t pay that price”? No. They go on healing and proclaiming Jesus is Lord. The next time they’re arrested they are also flogged, and upon their release we’re told that they rejoice that they have been counted Worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus. The disciples took their eyes off of themselves, their hopes and agenda for their lives, and lived like Jesus did, giving themselves for the sake of other people. Others noticed and were drawn to that christ-like love. When the church’s focus is on how it can maximize benefits for its members, it won’t be seen as a healing presence. Our focus needs to be less on how we can get what we want, and more on how we can serve others. If the Christians in South Africa and India had lived like this, how do you imagine Gandhi would have viewed Christianity? It’s very hard to move our focus off of ourselves and onto what Jesus is doing. This is something that we can only do by the power of the Holy Spirit. But it is the way that the world will see Jesus through us. Being a healing presence doesn’t have to look spectacular. It can be in quiet faithfulness in unnoticed places. Maybe volunteering to sit with people in a nursing home, or making food for people who don’t have any.

Repenting When We’ve Been Wrong

Up to this point, I’ve been focusing on what we can learn from the disciples. We can also learn a lesson from the crowd. Peter and John are at the temple, meaning these people are likely religious to some extent. Religious people have deeply held beliefs about God. Peter and John challenge those beliefs. Some of the people accept their testimony because of the sign. Others refuse to consider that Jesus could be God’s self-revelation because they feel it would be disloyal to God to even consider that. Of course, they wouldn’t be being loyal to God, rather they would be being loyal to their ideas about God. When we are certain that we’re right about God, we close ourselves off to God’s correction. To be sure, we all have mistaken understandings of who God is. Jesus comes to show us who God is. As the archbishop of Canterbury once said, “God is christ-like. In him is no unchristlikeness at all”. Jesus reveals the places where we have mistaken assumptions about God. But there are many ideas that are tolerated or even promoted in the Christian culture that are inconsistent with the teachings and example of Jesus. For example, there are people who promote militarism. They say that godliness and patriotism mean that we should have a strong military to defend our population. They might cite examples from the Old Testament of God commanding the Israelites to go to war, or David writing how the Lord strengthens his hand for war. But Jesus tells us to love our enemies. Other ideas that Christians hold on to that are inconsistent with the gospel are nationalism. (God doesn’t favor my tribe above others) and materialism (Jesus calls us to focus our attention on heavenly treasures, rather than being focused on earthly ones). We can justify these using the old Testament, but not if we read the old Testament through the lens of Jesus. 

The resurrection vindicates Jesus. Before he ascends into heaven, Jesus tells us that all authority on heaven and Earth has been given to him (Matthew 28:18) This means that Jesus must be Lord. Making Jesus Lord means doing some uncomfortable unlearning about the things we believe about Jesus until all of our ideas bow to his authority. But this comes with a promise. When we repent of our sins, God will forgive and refresh us. So let’s keep our eyes on Jesus–He is our Lord and our God.

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