Who Is Jesus? — Part Three
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Who Is Jesus? — Part Three

Selected Scriptures  (ID: 1767)

At Christmastime, many of us are indifferent to Jesus. We may think He was a benevolent man who lived a long time ago, and we’re happy to join in the tradition of giving gifts on His birthday. Alistair Begg teaches us that if we truly confront the Jesus of the Bible, we cannot be indifferent to Him. The Scriptures show us who Jesus is, why He came, and what His ministry has to do with our lives today.

Series Containing This Sermon

Who Is Jesus?

Selected Scriptures Series ID: 21301

Encore 2024

Selected Scriptures Series ID: 25920

Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you once again to take your Bibles and turn with me to Luke’s Gospel and to chapter 4, which is the section of Scripture from which I read at the beginning of our worship. The reason that we are studying this is because it’s vitally important. The task we set ourselves was to seek to address the question “Who is Jesus Christ, and why did he come?” We spent two weeks on who he is, and we come this morning to the issue of his purpose. And in reading the Gospels, we discover that Jesus was a man with a mission.

And we read from Luke’s Gospel in chapter 4 because it summarizes for us Luke’s record of the early days of Jesus’ earthly mission. He has at this point of our reading, around the middle of Luke 4, just completed his first preaching tour, and it has been very impactful. There have been a number of people who have been healed. A number of people have believed his message. And he returns to Nazareth.

Now, the custom in the synagogue at that time was that if a visitor came who was of some note, then the individual should be afforded the privilege of reading from the Scriptures and also making comment on them. And so it is that as Jesus returns to Nazareth, which was his hometown in terms of where he’d grown up, he is given the opportunity of reading from the Bible. And he takes the scroll, in verse 17, and he unrolls it to “the place where it is written” concerning the one who is to come, the prophecy regarding the Messiah, the one for whom the people were waiting. And reading this portion of Scripture, he then, in verse 20, we’re told, rolls back up the scroll, gives it to the attendant, and he sits down.

Now, it’s not in the way that we do it here, where somebody would come up, read, and sit down. But when they read, they sat down, and every eye “fastened on him,”[1] because they stood to read, and they sat to teach. And so they now anticipated that Jesus was going to teach on the strength of what he had just read. And he preached a sermon for them. The headline of it is all that Luke has recorded for us, in verse 21: “And he began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’” In simple, clear, unmistakable terms, Jesus identifies himself as the fulfillment of the prophecy.

And then the buzz started to go around—we have a little selection of it here—as they began to speak of him and speak “well of him” and express amazement “at the gracious words that came from his lips”—summarized in Luke’s statement, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”[2] Of course they were saying things like that! There were people in the synagogue who had spent their middle years with Jesus. There would have been people there who’d gone fishing with Jesus. There would have been individuals there who had been the recipients of his work within the carpenter’s shop. Some of them would have had oxen that were yoked by pieces of wood which had been constructed by Jesus in the time that he’d been working with his father there. And so they began to say to one another, “This is quite remarkable”—not simply that he would read from Isaiah but that he would make this unbelievable statement: “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Doubtless there were some who were saying, “You know, he’s not even a proper rabbi. He hasn’t had the training.” And some would have presumably cast doubt on what he was saying: “Can we take him seriously? People were saying that he’s been doing healings in Capernaum, but how do we know he’s been doing healings? If he’s planning on doing healings, then presumably he’ll do some here.”

And Jesus anticipates this, and in verse 23, he says, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’” And then he goes on to say, “You know, it’s an interesting thing that the prophets in the Old Testament didn’t pay a lot of attention to the place of their origin. They didn’t treat their own locality with a special sense of privilege, and in point of fact, they often disdained the region from which they’d come, and consequently, they caused great aggravation.”[3] And that is exactly what happened. In a moment, the crowd turns from adoration to aggravation, from amazement to disgust.

And so it is that they rush Jesus out of the synagogue. They drive him, verse 29, “out of the town.” You’ve got to try and picture this in your mind’s eye. Here is the man. He’s come in. They said, “We’re very glad this morning to have Jesus with us. Jesus is going to read from the Bible, from the scroll.” Jesus comes up and reads from the scroll. People are interested. He reads it, and then he says, “This is it. You wonder who this is? It’s me!”

I mean, that’s a heavy-duty Sunday morning, wouldn’t you say? That’s a big Sabbath day. You know, people have been reading this for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years, saying, “I wonder who this is?” And they come to synagogue in the same way on the same morning, and they say, “I wonder who it is?” And he says, “Guess what? It’s me!” And then when they realize that he has an edge to him in terms of his proclamation, they say, “That’s enough of that.” They chase him out of the synagogue. You can imagine the crowd growing as they chase him out of the town, perhaps pushing him, cajoling him, some even beginning to spit on him and curse him. And they bring him to the edge of a cliff, and they wanted to “throw him down”[4] to his death. And somehow or another, miraculously, he turns around, and he walks right out through the crowd, and he leaves them all behind. And they must have said to one another, “I don’t know who that was that just went there, but there is something about that man.”

Now, when you understand, when we understand, what the Bible says about Jesus, we will also understand that it is impossible to adopt a position of neutrality in relationship to him. I want to underscore this, as I’ve done before. Because many of our friends are living with a response to Jesus which is one of complete indifference. The reason that they express this indifference towards Christ is because of the way they have been introduced to him. They have been introduced to a Jesus of a kind of sentimentalism, a benevolent person whom they see as irrelevant. The average sixteen- or seventeen-year-old says, “So there was a Jesus. Who cares? He was a nice guy, and he did some nice things. What does that have to do with me?” Or that he was introduced as a social activist, and he changed some things at the time. And still people have said, “Well, that’s very interesting, but it doesn’t relate to me.” Or that it is engaged in terms of philosophical speculation, and the average person says, “Enough of that. I’ve got too much laundry to do to be fiddling around with this.” And so they’re able to say, “Forget it. It’s an irrelevance.” But it’s because they’ve never confronted Jesus.

When they actually hear what Jesus said, when they begin to understand why Jesus came, when you as a believer go out and engage them meaningfully in conversation, then it will be impossible for them to adopt a position of neutrality. And it is to this end that we want to move our friends. We may not be able to move them to convinced faith, but we can at least shake them out of the silly idea that they can remain indifferent without it mattering. No. Jesus demanded either enthusiastic acceptance, or he created bitter hostility, but he did not leave open the option of neutrality.

It is impossible to adopt a position of neutrality in relationship to Jesus.

So don’t, this morning, if you come agnostic to worship with us, tell me that you are just totally neutral in relationship to Jesus. If you’re neutral now, you won’t be by the time I finish. You will come down on one side or the other. You must.

False Reasons for Jesus’ Coming

Now, let’s assume that we have the opportunity to present the evidence concerning why Jesus came to a friend, a neighbor, a colleague, someone at school, whatever it might be, and this individual is an honest seeker. We’re not talking to somebody who’s trying to justify their unbelief. We’re engaging in dialogue with somebody who is genuinely interested to find out why Jesus came. And they have lived with a number of mistaken notions about why he came, and so, in having the opportunity to talk with them, we say to them, “Well, let me tell you four reasons why he didn’t come, first of all. Four reasons why he didn’t come. Because if you are living with these misconceptions, they will be so focused in your mind that you will be unable to open your mind to the truth as it is presented to you. So let’s get rid of these four silly ideas.”

First of all, he did not come to call the righteous. He did not come to call the righteous. Someone says, “I don’t even know what that means.” You say, “Well, basically this: he did not come to establish a holy club and hang around with religious people.” “Well,” they say, “how do you know that?” You say, “Just read the Gospels. Let’s just look and see.” Who was it that got ticked off with him more than anybody else? Answer: religious people. The religious guys couldn’t stand him, because he kept telling them, “Hey, I didn’t come here to hang out with you. I didn’t come to hang with the righteous. I came to call sinners.” Indeed, in Mark chapter 2 he says, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”[5]

Now, why would this be important? Well, it is very important if you’re talking to somebody who says, “I’m just not the religious type. You know, I’m just not religious.” Answer: “I’m glad! Because Jesus is not interested in religious people.” Now, that’s a mind blower for most people right off the bat, because they have got the preconceived notion that Jesus is heavily into “religious people.” And so we have the opportunity to just chip away a little bit of their foundation by saying to them, “No. He was hanging with a different group.” Or the person who says, “You know what? I have been so bad. I have done so many wrong things. I’m sure that Jesus, since I know that he likes people to be good and kind and all that stuff, he’s got no time for me.” You say, “No, I’m glad you mentioned that, because you’re the kind of person he’s got a lot of time for. He came for someone like you, you see?”

So, first of all, we’ll tell them he didn’t come to call righteous people. Secondly, we’ll let it be known that he didn’t come to judge the world. This is important as well when you come up against an individual who says, “You know, don’t give me any more of that Christianity. I have had enough religion up until this point of my life to absolutely neutralize me with religion for the rest of my life. I’ve had rules. I’ve had regulations. I’ve had judgments. I’ve had people tell me how bad I am. I am absolutely bowed down by it all, and as soon as I saw a door of opportunity to run away from all of this stuff, I took it the first chance that I had. And I don’t want to hear any more about the judgment.”

Well, you say, “Well, I’m glad you mentioned that. Because, John 3:17, ‘God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save [it].’ I’m not here to talk to you about condemnation. I want to talk to you about salvation. I want to talk to you about liberation and about transformation. I want to talk to you about freedom. I want to talk to you about peace and love and joy and forgiveness and freedom from guilt and a change.” “Ah. Hm!”

Thirdly, “I want to tell you that he didn’t come to abolish the Law and the Prophets.” You say, “Well, I’m not sure I really was too concerned about that, actually.” You say, “Well, you might not be, but it’s important.” Why is it important? Well, because this Bible has sixty-six books in it. This is a library with sixty-six books, and from Genesis all the way through to Revelation, the whole book is about one thing. It’s about one person. The person’s Jesus.

Now, this is very important when we talk to our Jewish friends. Because one of the biggest stumbling blocks in the Jewish mind (the untaught Jewish mind, particularly) is that in the intertestamental period, between Malachi and Matthew, there is a huge divide—not only a huge transition of a number of a hundred of years, but there is actually a totally different change—and that what the Christian is speaking about is totally different from that foundational element of Judaism. And we’re able to say to the person, “No, absolutely not. Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 5:17, points it out perfectly clear. He says, ‘I didn’t come to abolish this stuff. I came to fulfill it.’”[6]

Fourthly, he didn’t come to be served and waited upon. He didn’t come to be carried around in a big chair. Mark 10:45: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” Now, this is very important for the kind of person who says, “You know, I’m really just a man of the people. I don’t know why these religious people have to get all dressed up in that gear and carry around those big sticks and wear the pointed hats and why the kind of higher up the line you are, they carry you around on chairs and do all that kind of stuff. What’s that got to do with Jesus Christ?” Answer: not a lot. Not a lot!

So let’s put that aside, and let’s look at how Jesus did. Could you have picked him out because of his clothes? No! Could you have picked him out because of the religious processes he went through? No! How would you have picked him out? You would only have picked him out as a result of his words and as of a result of his deeds. He didn’t come to be served. He came to serve.

That’s particularly important, you see, when you engage the mind of the idealistic youth, who says, “You know, if we’re going to change this world, we’re not going to change it with talk. We’re going to have to change it with deeds. We’re going to have to be involved. We’ve got to care.” And the answer to that is “Yes, yes, yes. Now let me introduce you to somebody who is the epitome of all the things about which you’re concerned.”

Why Jesus Actually Came

“Well,” says the person, “that’s pretty good. I never thought about those four things in that way. But still you haven’t told me anything about why he actually came.” You say, “Well, I’m glad you’re still with me. Let me try and turn to the positive side now. Let me give you one or two reasons as to why he did come.”

Number one: he came to do his Father’s will. Person says, “Uh-huh, yeah. I don’t really figure that very much. I don’t know what that means, but thank you for sharing it with me. And where’d you get it from?” Say, “Well, I got it from John’s Gospel.” John 4:34: “‘My food,’ said Jesus, ‘is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.’” John 5:30: “I seek not to please myself,” says Jesus, “but him who sent me.” John 6:38: “I have [not] come down from heaven … to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” John 8:29: “The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.”

Why is this important? Well, it’s important because people like to suggest that Jesus woke up one morning, and somehow or another, he had been reading an old book that he found somewhere, and he found out that there was stuff in here about a Messiah, and so he decided that maybe he’d try and become him. So we need to go to the Scriptures and say, “Well, let’s see whether that kind of allegation is substantiated in the Bible.” And when we go to the Bible, we discover that here is an individual who understands that the frame in which he’s operating goes right back into eternity. “In the beginning,” as we said last week, “was the Word, and the Word was … God, and the Word was [with] God.”[7] And this Word lived to fulfill his Father’s purpose.

Secondly, Jesus came to fulfill the Scriptures. This is another way of saying essentially the same thing. He was the one promised in the Old Testament, John chapter 6—and it’s important to know the Gospel of John if we’re going to speak meaningfully to our friends. John 6:14: “After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, ‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.’” They saw the feeding of the five thousand. Five loaves and two fish—some little guy brings his lunch. Jesus takes it, he blesses it, he gives it to the disciples, and he says, “Now give it to the group.” Five thousand men, plus the women, plus the children, and everybody’s sitting there eating. Anyone in their right mind knows that five loaves and two fish are not going to get much beyond the front row—especially a greedy front row. And here all are fed, and when all is said and done, the disciples are dispatched with baskets to pick up everything that’s left over, and they end up with a substantial amount that can be used later on[8]—the kind of genesis of the doggy bag phenomenon of this fair and pleasant land. They’ve got twelve gigantic doggy bags left over because of the miraculous provision. And people are going down the road going, “That is unbelievable what happened there. What in the world happened there? Nobody had food. A kid shows up, he’s got a little sandwich lunch, and we’re all eating. What happened there?” And somebody says, “You know, this is a far-out thought, but the only explanation I can give is this must be the Prophet in here, in the scroll. Maybe he came!” “Maybe. Maybe that’s him.”

John 11:27, you find the same kind of emphasis. Martha speaks to Jesus surrounding the death of her brother Lazarus. Jesus makes this profound statement concerning the resurrection. She says to him, verse 27, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was [the one] to come into the world.”

See, what we have to say to our friends is this: “We’re shut up to the evidence here. We’re not fabricating this stuff. We recognize that we are speaking from this book, and we can have another day when we talk about the foundations of this book. But for now, here is the evidence that we’re both agreeing upon, we’re both looking at. Now, look at John 11:27, and what is it saying there? It’s saying that this Jesus of Nazareth not only came to fulfill his Father’s will, but he came to fulfill the Old Testament Scriptures.” And we would turn them to the portion with which we began in Luke chapter 4 and draw out for them the implications of this.

By the time you get to the history book of the church in the Acts of the Apostles, you find the exact same thing taking place. One of the most wonderful stories in the early chapters of Acts is about a guy who was a high-ranking official. You can read it in Acts chapter 8. He had a sort of economics job. He was chancellor of the exchequer, in British terms, and secretary to the treasury, probably, in American terms. And he had a chariot, and he was making a journey, and as he made his journey, there was some kind of spiritual quest going on inside of him, and he was reading from the scrolls. And he was actually reading from the scroll of Isaiah the prophet.

And as he read Isaiah the prophet, in chapter 53, there came this description of a man who would not be attractive in the way he looked. He would have no form to him or beauty that would attract us to him.[9] He would be “despised and rejected by men.”[10] He would be “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.”[11] And the fellow’s sitting in his chariot, and he’s reading this stuff, and he’s thinking to himself, “Who is this?”

Philip is dispatched to come and engage this chap in conversation, and he runs up beside the chariot, and he hears the guy reading from Isaiah. And he says to him, he says, “Hey, buddy, do you understand what you’re reading?” The chap says, “No. How would I understand unless somebody explained it to me?” And he says, “Come on up here, and sit with me.” And so they start to read the thing together, and the Ethiopian chap says to Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?”[12]

Now, these are the great opportunities in personal evangelism for which we long. This is the open sesame right here. We’ve got a guy or a girl who is reading their Bible. They’re reading their Bible without understanding. They are saying to themselves, “I wonder what this means. I wonder who this is? I wonder what Christmas is all about? I wonder: Who is Jesus, and why did he come?” And into your life they are brought, and they say to you, “Who is this?” And Philip says, “This is Jesus”: And beginning “with that very passage of the Scripture,” he “told him the good news about Jesus.”[13]

Acts 17: Paul is in Athens—multicultural society, idols everywhere, syncretism, pluralism, a lot like twentieth-century Western culture. Guys are into all kinds of spiritual facets and cosmic consciousness and all kinds of schemes and dreams and notions and ideas. And the apostle Paul walks into Athens, and he goes to the synagogue, and on three successive Sabbath days, he reasons with the people in the synagogue. Acts 17:3: “He reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. ‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ,’ he said.” And “some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women. But the Jews were jealous,” and they “started a riot.”[14]

Listen, let me say to you again—dear ones, listen, please: the time has long since passed in this country when you can simply go out and assume a level of biblical understanding on the parts of the people to whom we speak. Multiculturalism is not only embraced as an act of generosity on the part of the host nation; multiculturalism is embraced as an expression of truth. And growing up with that idea of not only blended natures and blended backgrounds but blended notions of truth, it is increasingly difficult to engage the mind of a contemporary student in this country without we are armed and ready to reason with them from the Scriptures and to prove that Jesus is the Christ.

Now, don’t let’s misunderstand this. We know that it is the Spirit of God who opens people’s eyes. We know that it is the Spirit of God that illumines the minds of people, but that God has ordained that through your words and mine and our lives and our examples, we would be a means to that end.

It’s not infrequently that people will say to me, “You know, I had somebody staying in my home.” Somebody said the other day—I can’t remember who it was—“I had a niece come and stay with me in my home. She was fifteen years old. We were reading the Bible together at night, and the girl said to me, ‘You know, this is the first time in all of my life that I have ever read one verse from the Bible. I do not know a thing about Jesus Christ. I do not know one thing about Christianity.’” Now, it is impossible to start with that girl on the basis of our traditional little clichés. Simply to say it clearer and a little louder is to say very little. We have to be able to come to the mind of the individual and to say, “Now, come, let us reason together.[15] Let us think this out. Let us see whether your ideas fit with the truth.”

He came, then, to do the Father’s will. He came to fulfill the Scriptures. Thirdly, he came to make the Father known. This is just to say what we’ve said on the last two Sundays, so we won’t dwell here. He came to make the Father known. John 1:18: “No one has ever seen God, but God [the only Son], who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” “Has made him known.”

This is the great message of Christianity, you see. It is not that Christianity, along with all the religions of the world, is involved in some great cosmic search for deity and for God. That is a good starting point, and we want to start there with our friends in the bookstores. I love to go in booksellers and just stand beside the people who are looking honestly, longingly, expectantly at all these books about angels and spirits and the future and all that. And I just want to stand there and say, “Excuse me? You know, are you really interested in this stuff?” And it’s wonderful, because they’ve given you little seats now where you can sit down, and you can get coffee. You have to pay for it, but you’ve got the whole thing right there.

And you go in, say, “Hey.” I don’t suggest you do it with girls if you’re a guy, or vice versa. But there’s an opportunity. They’re not standing there by chance. “There is none that seeketh after God.”[16] “No, not one.”[17] And if they have an interest in spiritual things, we have an answer for their spiritual questions. And if we are not bold enough to address it and to say, “The reason that Jesus came was to make the Father known,” then they will be left up the sidelines of all the literature that is available to them.

I was listening on the radio this morning, sometime after seven o’clock. Somebody was preaching a sermon, and in the course of the sermon this individual says to the group, he says, “And by this means,” he says, “we will come to the fullness, the great fullness, which is the benefit of getting in touch with our own spirituality.” And so I switched the radio off to think about that for a while, and also ’cause I’d had enough of it. And I said to myself, “What in the world does that mean? ‘The great fullness which comes from getting in touch with our own spirituality.’” It’s kind of high-sounding, isn’t it? It appeals to the intellect. It appeals to some kind of pseudointellectual-visceral combination within us. It’s sort of like Zen Buddhism or something: “Well, I’m getting in touch with my spirituality.” Yeah, but what does that mean? Don’t give me that “in touch with your spirituality.” Tell me what it means. I want to talk to you about it. I want to understand it. I want to find out about it. Tell me!

And when we’ve listened, then we can talk. But until we’ve listened, we shouldn’t be so quick to talk. But when we talk, we’re going to tell them, “The quest is not to somehow penetrate spirituality. The wonderful news is that in the baby in the manger in Bethlehem, God, the creator of the universe, has invaded our time-space capsule, and he has come looking for us. And if you are really looking for him, boy, do I have a story for you!”

Fourthly, he came to save sinners. Now we’re at the heart of the matter, you see. Matthew 1:21: “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Paul sums it up to Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:15. He says, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” I like that. Cut to the bottom line. Give me the bottom line. Here’s the bottom line: Jesus came to save sinners.

And because this was his purpose, he spent time with them. And he spent time with them to the disgust of the religious establishment. Despite the fact that we have made of Jesus a kind of transcendent, blond-haired, blue-eyed, nicely dressed sort of individual of our own creation, the projection of our own minds, and we have dressed him up and put him behind little curtains and way back up the chancel and deified him and draped him with lights and all these things, he breaks out of all of those molds. He’s not staying in there. Don’t look for him up there. He’s not there. He was never there, and he ain’t never going to be there!

What did they call him? Read the evidence. This is what they called him. “Hey, have you heard of Jesus?” The religious people said this: “Jesus of Nazareth is a drunk, a glutton, and he hangs around with bums.”[18] That’s exactly what they said. You check the Gospel records. So any idea that we’ve got of Jesus sort of walking around with all the religious people, just kind of high-sounding thoughts, it’s just a fabrication. We just made it up. Two thousand years of religion has made a Jesus that nobody wants to meet. The average university student says, “Where’s Jesus? You’ve got him a way back there somewhere. I wouldn’t even get to him if I could. But if there’s a Jesus that comes down here… Do you mean there’s a Jesus who would come and talk to me in the pub?” Yeah.

You see, that kind of scares some of us. We’re never going to be called the friends of tax collectors and sinners, ’cause we don’t have any tax collectors and sinners as our friends. We’re so busy having little happy times for ourselves and scratching each other’s backs while the world goes on its merry way. Jesus came to save sinners! And the only way you can do that is hang with sinners. Know sinners! Be nice to sinners! Meet them! Greet them! Don’t share with them in their sin. Identify with them in their need but not in their sin. That’s what Jesus did.

And when we begin to put this together, you know, after Zacchaeus comes tumbling down out of the tree in Luke chapter 19 (which is a great story for homework)—he comes tumbling down out of the tree, notorious little man—all the religious people can say is “Oh man, he’s gone to have dinner with a sinner. I mean, why couldn’t he come and have dinner with us? I mean, we’re nice people. We’re religious people. We’re reading the Prophets. We’re fasting. We’re praying. We’re doing the whole bailiwick. And he keeps going in places like Zacchaeus’s house.”[19]

Two thousand years of religion has made a Jesus that nobody wants to meet.

Now, what’s the explanation? Because he was fulfilling his purpose. The doctor doesn’t go from house to house of well people; he goes from house to house of sick people. When the doctor does his morning rounds and the staff nurse (in the British context, at least) carries the outline of things, she stands at the end of the bed, and she says to the doctor, “This is Mr. So-and-So, and he’s had a wonderful night. He’s doing well, and he’s probably going to be discharged within the next twenty-four hours.” The doctor says, “Good morning. I’m glad to see you’re doing well.” And he just carries on. There’s no reason to spend a lot of time with this chap. He’s over the hump; he’s on his way. You go to the next bed, and the fellow is all tubed up. They bring the curtains around him, and the doctor goes in, and he gives himself to him. That’s what Jesus is doing. So the people who say, “Well, Jesus was just some kind of high-minded reformer,” or “He was a gentle philanthropist,” or “He was some kind of altruistic social worker”—no, he wasn’t. I’m sorry: no, he wasn’t. And you can’t squeeze out of it by saying that he was, ’cause he wasn’t.

Well, you say, “Well, what are we going to talk about?” You introduced the subject of sin. Our friend says, “You know, I don’t like the idea of sin.” Answer: there’s not many people who do, except when they’re doing it. Where do you go from there?

Well, this week, I’d go right to the president’s speech. Did you hear that Thursday night? Did you hear the president all before the whole nation say, “We all know that something is badly wrong with America”? That’s what he said. He followed up by saying, “There are millions and millions of Americans who are frustrated, who are angry,” and he went on with a number of descriptive epithets concerning the nature of the American populace. He then went on to prescribe by his social Bill of Rights, whatever it was, some political answers to these dilemmas as he saw them.

And it’s not my purpose this morning to address the issue of the politics, but it is to say this: as theologians, as those who understand the Bible, we have the privilege and responsibility of interacting with that kind of rhetoric and seizing on it and saying to our friends, “I think we would all agree that something is wrong with America, right? That whether you are an idealist or whether you’re a philanthropist, or a humanist, or an atheist, or a Christian, we’re all sitting around the table, and we’re all prepared to agree: something is wrong here. We recognize that the misery and the suffering and the ugliness that is so evident in our culture is a disgrace to humanity, agreed?” They said, “Agreed.” Okay, that’s good. So now we have agreement. Now we’re going to talk about how we got in this mess.

It may take us a long time to get here, but we’re going to get to the point where absolutely the lines are drawn, and the disagreement becomes fundamentally obvious. The differences are seen to be not marginal but crucial. And we have to point out that while people like to suggest that Jesus Christ came just to let us know that all was not well, or came down just to say, “By the way, God cares,” or came down just to provide us an example of how to do a little bit better, we have to say that all of those explanations, individualized or combined, fail to take into account the biblical evidence, which says that Jesus Christ came to do, ultimately, none of the above. He came to do one essential thing: he came to address the fundamental human problem, which is sin, and he came in himself, by his death, to provide the only cure.

Now, at that point, you see, we have major disagreement. And it is at that point that we need to be most courteous, most kind, most careful, or we lose in that conversation, and we just blow our friends away. It is possible still to be tolerant without giving up the truth, and so we must.

We need to explain to people that what the Bible says is that we sin because we are sinners. We are not sinners because we sin. That’s a question in a theological paper: “Are we sinners because we sin, or do we sin because we are sinners? What is biblical orthodoxy? Write five thousand words on the subject.” The answer is: we sin because we’re sinners.

If you’ve ever done crown bowls, the bowling that Englishmen do in that “green and pleasant land,” from which I do not come… (That was not any sort of...) They have the grass and the crown bowls. If you’ve ever, as a tenpin bowler, engaged in that, you know that that’s an interesting exercise. And if you anticipated that in rolling the bowl, it was going to do largely what it does for you in tenpin bowling—namely, go down the gutter; no, namely, go straight—then you’re in for a great shock. It is impossible for the thing to go straight, because the bowls are built with an inbuilt bias. They are biased. They are built biased. And consequently, the skill in crown bowls is to be able to use the bias to take the bowl to its destination. It will come in from the left, or it will come in from the right, or you can turn it out the way—or why you would want to I would never know, because the thing you’re aiming for is up the middle. But it will go this way, this way, this way, or this way, but one way it will not go is dead straight.

And see, you’ve just got to say to people, you say, “You know, look: You grew up in a nice house. Your mom and dad were nice folks. They gave you nice meals. You pulled up your socks. You tied your shoelaces. You went to school. Why is it that you keep going up the left or up the right? Why can’t you just go straight up the middle?” Now, an honest person’s going to say, “You know what? That is the $64,000 question: Why am I the way I am?” Because culture is simply the expression, the cumulative expression, of individualism. But we’re living in a world which suggests that there is no such thing as sin.

Let me ask you this question, believer and unbeliever alike: Do you believe that there is such a thing, such a state, or such a condition as being positively evil? Do you believe there is such a thing as an individual being positively evil? Now, if you as a believer have not immediately marked a Y against that question, it is a wonderful illustration of the phenomenal erosion that is taking place as a result of the impact of a secular world that believes that the issue is not, concerning these matters, an issue of morality but an issue of education.

And the issue this morning, as we’re told by our world, is not that a man is bad; it is just that he’s not as good as he should be. That his problem is that he is ignorant: he’s not sinful; it’s just that he doesn’t know. He doesn’t know about the beautiful and about the pure and about the good. His problem is not that he chooses evil over good, but his problem is that he’s unaware of the choice, and he needs to be educated. Isn’t that what we hear all the time? And that’s, of course, our explanation, all the time. The issue is shifted from morality to education.

So we come to the question of premarital sex. The issue is not a moral issue anymore. It is an educational issue. Therefore, we won’t talk about right and wrong. We’ll talk about educating people as to how they might accommodate this. The issue concerning AIDS: the one thing you cannot say about AIDS is to introduce the issue of morality to it. It becomes only a matter of education. The question of the death penalty is not an issue of morality anymore; it is an issue of education.

Go through the moral law of God, which is the moral law of God, and you realize that the culture in which we live has no possibility of coming to Christ as a Savior, for it is unprepared to admit the predicament of sin! And until a person understands sin, why in the wide world would you want a Savior? So we need to labor to point out to people that if they’re prepared to be sensible, to sift the evidence and to think, they have got to come up with an explanation as to why we are the way we are—and that we want to put it to them that the Bible gives as good an explanation as any that I’ve heard in a long time. And we can start just from there: “Well, don’t you think it’s fairly reasonable to suggest that the reason we are the way we are on the outside is because of a problem that we have on the inside? So we live in manifold confusion.”

Ask your friends in the office, when they give you this hogwash about “We just need education”—say to them, “Listen, there’s a hundred and fifty people in this building today.” Or if you’re in a big building, there may be—you’re in an organization—there may be thousands of people in it, multiple floors. And you say to them when you’re having coffee with them, “Do you really believe this morning that the adulterer, and the thief, and the wifebeater, and the cheat, and the gossip, and the filthy minded in our complex are just in need of a seminar? Is that what you’re honestly telling me? That all we need to do is get in and get educated? Don’t be so jolly silly.” No, you shouldn’t say that. That gets them defensive. Say, “Really?”

You see, that kind of approach denies the existence of conscience. And people want to deny the existence of their conscience. That’s why they want a fancy name for adultery. So when they drive in their car, they don’t want to hear it sounding in their conscience: “Adulterer, adulterer, adulterer, adulterer.” They want to have it People magazine style. They want it to be education, not morality. “Well,” says somebody, “I don’t like the diagnosis. It sounds cruel. It’s unkind.” Listen, it’s the key to a lifelong cure.

That’s the last thing I want to say. I’d say to the person to whom I was speaking, “You know, Jesus came to fulfill the Father’s purpose, he came to reveal the Father, he came to die, and he came in order that we, in recognizing his death, may find life.” The interesting thing is that in Mark 8:31 we read, “For this very reason I came to this hour.” Actually, that’s John chapter 12. Jesus, in looking at the cross, he says, “For this very reason I came to this hour.”[20]

Jesus Christ came to do one essential thing: to address the fundamental human problem, which is sin.

You think about it: biographies don’t spend a lot of time on their subject’s death. You got a nine-hundred-page biography, there might be four or five pages that have to do with the person’s death. I mean, what are you going to say? You know, “He was born here, and he lived there, and he went to this school, and he did all that,” hundreds of pages, hundreds of pages, hundreds of pages. And the end said, “And then he was seventy-four years old, and he died.” Well, you’re not going to write a hundred pages on that, right? I mean, what is there to say? George Bernard Shaw was right: the statistics are in; one out of one dies. Big deal.

But you turn to the biography of Jesus Christ, and 33 percent of his biography is given over to his death. A third of all the material written about Jesus has to do with his death. A third of the material has to do with the final six or seven weeks of his life. That’s an interesting emphasis, is it not? The evidence seems to suggest that it is vital. John Stott says, “The hour for which [Jesus] had come into the world was the hour in which he left it.”[21] The hour in which he’d come in was the hour he left. So we need to say to people, “Until we see this little cradle in terms of this cross, we’ll never understand it. Until we realize that Jesus on the cross was bearing sin, was taking our place, was suffering the punishment that was due us because we are cheats and thieves and because we have dirty minds and because we go our own way—that Jesus on the cross was doing all of that—we never understood the Christmas story.”

What It Means to Believe

“Oh,” says somebody, “That’s good. Fine. Thanks. Got it. Got it. Wrote them all down, got them all. Fine. Beautiful. I know four reasons why he didn’t come, and I know five reasons why he did. Thanks for telling me that. I actually believe that what you said is true, and I actually believe that it is very important. So, thank you very much, and we must have coffee again sometime.” The person walks out of the place, says, “Guess what? I’m a believer. I’m a believer! The guy hit me with nine things: four reasons why he didn’t come, five reasons why he did come. I bought every one of them. I believe every one of them. I’m a believer.”

Well, you’re a believer in one sense. You’ve given intellectual assent to certain truths. You’re a believer like the devil’s a believer. ’Cause he is absolutely orthodox in his view of why Jesus came. He knows the four reasons why he didn’t, he knows the five reasons why he did, and he’s not in any doubt about any one of them. So is it sufficient to believe just the way the demons believe? Simply to intellectually acknowledge it? Absolutely not. So is there another step? The vital step!

I’ve been using the penicillin illustration all Christmas; another time won’t do any harm. Alexander Fleming, a Scotsman, discovered penicillin. It was first used in Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford in about the early ’20s or so—maybe ’27; can’t remember. It radically changed for all time the issue of blood poisoning. Imagine I’m in my bed, and I have blood poisoning. Somebody comes and places a bottle of penicillin right here on my bedside table, within arm’s length of me, and says, “Listen, that’s penicillin,” and I say, “I believe it.” And the person says, “Furthermore, the penicillin is the cure for blood poisoning, which you know you’ve got,” and I say, “I believe it.” But I’m going to die of blood poisoning, despite all of my belief, unless I personally take that which is held out to me as the cure for my predicament.

You see, I don’t think Sunday by Sunday I am laboring to convince a group of radical atheists that are coming within the walls of Parkside. I don’t think that I am addressing a group of people who are “unbelievers” when it comes to assent to certain basic elements of the faith. But I do believe that regularly I am addressing a group of people who will die in their sins at arm’s length to the cure because you have never, ever personally come to accept Jesus Christ and his offer of salvation.

Some years ago in Edinburgh, when I was there as an assistant minister, a sixty-nine-year-old woman from the Grassmarket in Edinburgh—which is a kind of seedy area where people hang out—the lady, who essentially lived there as a bag lady, was brought before the magistrates’ court, and she was charged, as she’d been charged many times before, as being drunk and incapable. The magistrate looked at her, and he said, “In order that justice must be done, I have to fine you the statutory fine.”

The lady, of course, was penniless. And offering this information, which was no surprise to the magistrate, she then became the recipient of the news that in the absence of the finance, she must spend the time in the cells, and she would be imprisoned. And so she was taken by the bailiff. She was taken out and down into the cells, and it was Christmas. (This is true. This is not a fabrication for effect.) Taken down into the cells. Within an hour, she was released. The magistrate, when he conducted the business of the day and concluded, went down into the cells, having paid the woman’s fine and made possible her release.

In a far more wonderful way, Christ in his coming and in his death has paid our fine and made possible our release. Dear ones, why would you ever want to stay in bondage with such an offer of liberation?

Let us bow together in prayer:

And now may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God our Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all evermore. Amen.

[1] Luke 4:20 (NIV 1984).

[2] Luke 4:22 (NIV 1984).

[3] Luke 4:24–27 (paraphrased).

[4] Luke 4:29 (NIV 1984).

[5] Mark 2:17 (NIV 1984).

[6] Matthew 5:17 (paraphrased).

[7] John 1:1 (NIV 1984).

[8] See John 6:9–13.

[9] See Isaiah 53:2.

[10] Isaiah 53:3 (NIV 1984).

[11] Isaiah 53:3 (KJV).

[12] Acts 8:30–34 (paraphrased).

[13] Acts 8:34 (NIV 1984).

[14] Acts 17:2–5 (NIV 1984).

[15] See Isaiah 1:18.

[16] Romans 3:11 (KJV).

[17] Romans 3:10 (KJV).

[18] See Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34.

[19] Luke 19:7 (paraphrased).

[20] John 12:27 (NIV 1984).

[21] John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1986), 29.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.