MORE ABOUT JESUS PART 1 — IT’S WHO YOU KNOW
by Pastor Mike Fortune
March 7, 2007
After receiving a lengthy standing ovation, a great actor offered to do recitations at audience request. The delighted crowd called for one recitation after another as the actor complied. A request was made for the 23 rd Psalm, which the actor recited with wonderful expression. As he finished the passage, the audience broke into cheers and applause. Suddenly, the actor noticed an elderly man in the audience whom he recognized as the godly pastor of his boyhood church. On impulse he invited the old man to come forward and asked him to recite the same Psalm. The old gentleman did so, and when he had finished, nearly all in the theater were silent—many, including the great actor, were weeping. Regaining his composure the actor commented, “I knew the 23 rd Psalm, but my old pastor knows the Shepherd.”
The Message, as politically correct as it sounds in Colossians 1:13-23, is: It’s who you know. John 17:3 (NLT) says, “And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth.”
But to be honest, I used to think it was about what we know. Until I read Romans 3:20 (NKJV) which says, “Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” Galations 2:16 (NKJV) adds, “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” Really? Not even for commandment keeping, abiding and loving Adventists? Galations 3:11 (NKJV) says so emphatically, “But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for ‘the just shall live by faith.’”
Okay, so if we’re not saved by keeping the law, how then are we saved? Ephesians 2:8-9 (NKJV) says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Titus 3:5 concurs, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.”
Eternal life comes from knowing Jesus
Isn’t that good news? Aren’t you glad God saves us not because of righteousness we have done but according to his mercy? What did John 17 say? John 17:3 (NLT) says, “And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth.” Trick question: Who spoke these words? Now, I know I just said them. So partial credit for you if you said me. But we’re not playing trivial pursuit here. Christianity is a blast, but it’s eternal significance is much more than a game. Who originally spoke the words found in this verse? Jesus right? So according to Jesus, how do you get eternal life? Simply, you get to know Jesus! But how do you do that? Well, I’d like to suggest you do that the same way you get to know anyone else. Guys, what are some things you did to get to know your girlfriends? Shout them out. Let’s hear them. Valentines Day is right around the corner. This will get your mind spinning about relationships. Those are all good ways to get to know someone. Good. Now let me tell you about how I got to know Jackie.
I was the new kid in boarding school. Transferred in my Junior year of high school from Maryland. Didn’t know anybody. Had never lived in a dormitory where they turn the lights out whether you’re ready for bed or not. Well, one of the first dates Jackie and I went on was sitting together in church. We were in a boarding school, so we would meet at the administration building for Sabbath school in one of the classrooms, and then walk to church. There is a picture of us doing that very thing in one of our yearbooks. I honestly cannot remember a single sermon from any of those church dates. I was so excited to be sitting with Jackie, pretending to listen, that I wasn’t listening to a thing! After church, we walked to the cafeteria and ate lunch together. And we started spending more and more time together. We sat in the library doing home work together. We talked on the bleachers during recreation time. We called each other on the phone. We wrote notes to each other. We sat together on the bus. And the more time we spent with each other, the more our friendship grew.
Until one evening, during a December school social event, while the entire student body was sitting in the chapel watching a cartoon following a banquet, I asked her if she would be my girlfriend, but under my breath, I added, “up here.” I mumbled that last bit quietly, hoping she wouldn’t hear or notice, because I still had a girlfriend in Maryland who I still wrote and talked to regularly on the phone. I wasn’t sure what all was going to happen, but I hoped I could have 2 girlfriends! One in each state. One in each place. Depending on where I was.
Well, guys, multi tasking is not a good relationship characteristic. We know this is true because Jesus tells a story in Matthew 25:1-12 about a bride groom coming for his bride not brides. It is about who you know, not how many you know. And we’ll get to that. But I didn’t know that then. And I didn’t fully realize that until 6 months later when I found out Jackie’s mother lived in Maryland and she would be visiting her mother the very same summer I would be staying in Maryland! That meant there would be 2 girlfriends in 1 state. And they were bound to meet. Which they did. Which is a whole other embarrassing chapter in my life story I’ll incriminate myself with another time.
To know Him, spend time with Him
But what I learned is you get to know someone by spending time with them. By hanging out with them. By talking to them. And by listening to them. Which is most important. Sometimes, I think we Christians think getting to know Jesus is all about talking to him and reading to him like a child at bedtime. And that’s part of it and we’ll be going deeper into those topics soon, for Bible study and prayer are as important today and they were in Jesus’ day. But in order to get to know Jackie, I listened a lot more than I talked. I discovered she has 1 brother, was going through her parent’s divorce and needed a friend as badly as I did at the time, and that she wanted to get baptized because of what she learned about Jesus while in Bible class in boarding school. We all need to learn to listen to the still small voice of the Holy Spirit, in the quiet moments of the early morning, after you’ve spent some time reading more about Jesus. Because He tells you things! He is alive and well! He speaks! And we’ll talk more about ways to hear Him soon.
But the big picture, according to Jesus in John 17:3, is that eternal life is not based on what you do, but who you know. It’s based on knowing Jesus. That’s it! Which is why I can confidently say, if I don’t make it to heaven one day it will be because I don’t know Jesus, not because I’m bad. If I do make it to heaven it will be because I know Jesus, not because I’m good. Therefore, spending time getting to more and more about Him is the most important thing I can do as a Christian! Does that make sense?
But you say, if that is true, why does Matthew 7:21-23 say some startling things about those who say they know Jesus? Are you sure it’s about who you know and not ever what you do? Well, let’s look at that verse. It reads, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'
For those of you reading King James, did you notice that in Matthew 7, the Lord calls these people who do good things “workers of iniquity?” Apparently, the Lord has a different definition for good and evil than most of us do. I mean honestly, by show of hands, how many of you think that prophesying in God’s name, casting out demons in God’s name, and performing miracles in God’s name are good things? These are good things right? But notice, God’s definition of doing good centers not on what we do, even if they’re good, but on who we know. What does he say to these good people doing all these good things? “Depart from Me, for I never knew you.”
Too often we read this verse and stop at the part where Jesus say, “Only those who do the will of my Father in heaven” mistakenly concluding that Christianity is about what we do. But if Christianity is about what we know or how we’re doing, why does Jesus call those that do good things workers of iniquity? No, the logical progression of thought in this verse equates “doing the will of my Father in heaven” not with trying to do more good deeds but with trying to get to know more and more about Jesus. Isn’t that awesome?
Let’s look at another one. Maybe Matthew 7 is just a fluke. Wise Bible interpreters never base an entire doctrine on just one text right? So let’s look at Luke 13 too. Verse 24-27. Which reads, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you, where you are from,’then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’ But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’ There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out. They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God. And indeed there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last.”
It's all about who you know
Let’s take a pop quiz. True or False. A person will be saved by the bad things they do. False. Nobody teaches that. Except maybe satanists I don’t know. True or False. A person will be saved by the good things they do. False. Why? Because it’s not about what you know or how you do, it’s about who you know. And even if it were about what you know or how you do, all the true things you know piled on top of all the good things you do wouldn’t suffice. Jesus calls those righteous things we do works of iniquity! And you don’t even have to be Christian to see that. Common sense will tell you the same thing.
The bottom line is there are many nice people who are not Christians. Right? If a person defines a Christian as someone who is nice or good, there is a big problem because there are many nice and good people out there who are not Christian. Some even go out of their way to say they are not Christian. Do not believe in Christianity. Do not go to church. They have that sign of the fish on their car, but their fish has legs and feet and it is swallowing another smaller fish! Have you seen that bumper sticker? No, these folks do not want to even mistakenly be identified as Christian. But they’re nice people. Good neighbors. Law abiding tax paying citizens. No, if Christians are Christians because they do good things, many of the Buddhists and Hindus and Siekhs and Muslims and even Atheists must be Christian too because they do many good things. Sadly, more regularly and more compassionately than many professed Christians right here in our community. With no strings attached. No, there is something more to Christianity and eternal life than the truth you may know or the deeds that you do. And Jesus tells the story of a wedding celebration to explain more of that.
Let’s look at Matthew 25:1-12. It reads, “Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’ Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’But the wise answered, saying, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us’ But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’”
Jesus is not delayed
First thing we notice is that all ten virgins slept. All ten needed a wake up call. 100% of the church needs a wake up call. But for different reasons. The five foolish ones needed to wake up to the fact that they needed their own oil for their lamps. You cannot depend on someone else’s family, faith, or favor to know Jesus and get into the kingdom of heaven. The five wise virgins needed to wake up to the fact that Jesus is not delayed, that He is coming soon, and that now is not the time for a nap. According to Galations, Jesus came the first time in the fulness of time. And I think He will be on time for his second coming too. He is not delayed. For you must know the time of departure in order to have a delay. But Scripture says nobody but the Father in heaven knows the time of Jesus return—so we know that Jesus is not delayed. His second coming will be in the fulness of time. At just the right time. He’s not delayed. Waiting for the wise in the church to do learn more or do enough good things. For we have not and never will know enough or do enough good things to save ourselves. Besides, we have already seen what Jesus thinks of our good things.
All of the sleepy bridesmaids needed to wake up to the fact that we all need a personal and growing relationship with Jesus. If He’s waiting for anything, He’s waiting for us to concede that a relationship is all He really wants. He’s the bridegroom right? And Scripture says the church is the bride not a building. It’s people, inside and outside these walls, that Jesus died to save and sanctify. It’s people that He loves and relentlessly pursues. The party is for us. The wedding celebration is about a relationship with bridegroom. And if we take Paul’s advice, and die daily, spending time getting to know Jesus, we’re also born again daily. Which means, we’re always newlyweds in relationship with Jesus! Happy! At peace. With yourself. And with others.
One of my deans in college always called his wife bride. And they’d been married for many years. Twenty five, thirty years perhaps. But for him, it was obvious he was in a deep and caring and sustaining relationship with his wife even on the football field and basketball court, he glowingly referred to his wife as his bride. So much so that it ceased to sound weird to me. And that’s how Jesus feels about us.
Does it bother you that Christianity is about who you know? Have you ever heard someone say, “In order to get into that club or organization you have to know the right people?” Or “you have to have friends in high places if you want to get in there!” Those statements used to annoy me. Especially when they talked about Jesus this way.
I’m on a waiting list to get a permanent locker at the YMCA so I don’t have to drag my gym bag there every morning. You know what they told me? There are 75 people waiting ahead of you and you’ll get a locker as soon they do. So I smiled, reading the front desk’s name tag, and called Maria by name, “But Maria, isn’t there something I can do about that? To get me to the top of the list?” Maria smiled back at me and said, (I’m paraphrasing now) “Nope, it’s not about what you do.” “But I’ve been coming here 5 days a week for over a year, shouldn’t those that workout regularly get the lockers before the casual hit and miss delinquent dads?” “Nope, it not about how you do.”
He came so we could know Him
And sadly, at my Y, it’s not even about who you know. I now know Maria by name, but she wouldn’t give me a permanent locker in the locker room right next to the sauna. But the good news in Christianity is, it is about who you know. And that shouldn’t bother you for at least 2 reasons. Because first of all, when Jesus came to this earth as a baby, what He said and proved is that He actually wants to be known. The invisible became visible. That we might see. Yes, Christianity is about who you know. But the good news is that anyone can get to know Him because He already came. Was born, lived, and died and is alive again. In heaven and in our hearts. Christianity is not some exclusive club that Jesus is trying to keep people out of. He’s trying to get as many as possible in. He says, “Come, and I will never drive you away.” In fact, I’ll come first. To show you the love of the Father. And He did. Which is why Jesus could say, “If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father.”
He invites you to come...
The second reason I’m not offended that Christianity is about who you know is because it de-emphasizes my natural desire to make it more about me. But if it’s not about what I know or how I do, it takes a big burden of responsibility off my shoulders. My assurance of salvation is dependent on Christ not me. Maybe that’s why Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30 (NKJV), “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
A young boy once walked past a long line of waiting dignitaries and past the guards stationed to protect Abraham Lincoln. Without even knocking, he opened the door and walked into the President’s White House office. Those in line angrily protested to the guards that they had been waiting their proper turn and the boy was out of line. “No he’s not,” came the reply, “His last name is Lincoln and he had gone in to see His father.” Todd Lincoln had a special relationship with the right person and that made all the difference.
The message is still the same. What people need to hear more and more about is Jesus. Only then, will they sing “I know whom I have believed and I’m persuaded that he is able to keep t hose which I’ve committed unto Him against that day.” The most important message the Seventh-day Adventist Church can share at any point in time is that Christianity is about taking Steps to Christ. It’s not about what you know or how you do, it’s about (let’s say it together) who you know.
...and spend time with Him
And getting to know Jesus is as easy as getting to know anybody else. For He is alive and well. You spend time with them. You ask questions. You listen. You talk. And we’re going to be going into more details on those relationship rules in the future so come back for more on that. But for now, rest assured, that Jesus is dying to have a relationship with you. In fact, He already did. The question is, do you want to have a relationship with Him? Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” My question for you is: Will you join Him on the way? If you do, I have a sneaky suspicion that you’ll also discover the truth about getting a life worth celebrating. Both now and throughout eternity. It’s who you know.
Colossians 1:13-23 (The Message) says, “We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God’s original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank of angels—everything got started in Him and finds its purpose in Him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. He was supreme in the beginning and —leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end He’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in Him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of His death, his blood that poured down from the Cross. You don’t walk away from a gift like that! You stay grounded and steady in that bond of trust, constantly tuned in to the Message. There is no other Message—just this one. Every creature under heaven gets this same Message.” And this Message is all about Jesus.