John Stott, reflecting upon the influence of Christians in the world, writes,
Let me quote from the end of Kenneth Latourette’s seven-volume history of the expansion of Christianity. Referring to Jesus he says, “No life ever lived on this planet has been so influential in the affairs of men as that of Christ. From that brief life and its apparent frustration has flowed a more powerful force for the triumphal waging of man’s long battle than any other ever known by the human race….Through it, millions of people have had their inner conflicts resolved. Through it, hundreds of millions have been lifted from illiteracy and ignorance and have been placed upon the road of growing intellectual freedom…. It has done more to allay the physical ills of disease and famine than any other impulse, and it has emancipated millions from chattel slavery….It has protected tens of millions from exploitation by their fellows, and it has been the most fruitful source of movements to lessen the horrors of war and to put the relations of men and nations on the basis of justice and peace.” This is the influence of Jesus through his followers in society. Don’t underestimate the power and the influence that even a small minority can exert in the community.
Jesus and his movement accomplish influence one relationship at a time, one “warm relationship” at a time. In my own life, I think of Bill Hendrix, an elder at Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Wichita, who listened, cared, loved, acted and lived with compassion prior to, during and after my tumultuous departure from Eastminster and continues to do so today. Jesus lives his life in Bill. Jesus lives his life in you and me too. Bill continues to be the best Jesus I see. Oh I love that man.
God has a warm relationship with us. God loves us and wants us to love others with that same warmth, affection and presence. A warm relationship is characterized by listening, caring, loving, acting, being empathetic, speaking and living with compassion. As you interact with God through prayer, Bible study, small group (fellowship, learning and caring), worship, service and giving, you are encountered by Jesus through his teachings and presence.
The texts in Isaiah 19:1-4, 1 Corinthians 1:10-18 and Matthew 4:12-23 demonstrate that God’s Word, written (the Bible) and living (Jesus), sets the bar for what it means to be fully human. And so often, we only scratch the surface. Our attention, however, will be riveted on the text in Matthew. Matthew gives us insight on how to develop and nurture a warm relationship with God and others.
Matthew 4:12-23 announces the importance of repentance. This text is strategically placed between Jesus’ baptism and temptation in the wilderness, on the one hand, and his Sermon on the Mount, on the other. In this text, we see Jesus implementing his mission. He calls all people to repent that is change direction from a self-driven life to one directed by God. Jesus began his work of gathering and restoring people according to God’s design of redemption/salvation. Jesus identifies twelve disciples to follow him and learn the mission all in the context of warm relationship.
Jesus taught the importance of call, healing and liberation. His mission was first directed to the people of Israel and then expanded to the Gentiles. Jesus’ mission was for everyone, but it was revealed in phases. Jesus brought the kingdom of God near to all. How? Through a warm relationship with individuals one at a time and in group settings. Repentance, the act of responding to Jesus’ teachings takes people deeper into understanding what being human is really about. Responding to Jesus’ message of healing and wholeness is life changing, a series of incremental and intentional decisions. Experiencing healing and wholeness is an ongoing process of repentance. Through repentance, God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is manifested in and through our lives.
Today is The Third Sunday after the Epiphany. The Greek word epiphaneia means “manifestation.” Epiphany is the celebration of the manifestation of Jesus to the Magi and the manifestation of Jesus as the Son of God, fully God and fully human, to humanity at his baptism. Observance of The Epiphany became widespread by the late fourth century. Will things be different in your life because of the manifestation of Jesus? Of course. But maybe a better question is, do you expect things to be different because of the manifestation of Jesus? Richard Rohr, the author of The Universal Christ writes, “We are given permission to become intimate with our own experiences, learn from them, and allow ourselves to descend to the depth of things, even our mistakes, before we try too quickly to transcend it all in the name of some idealized purity or superiority.” Trust and draw from your experience of the manifestation of Jesus Christ in your life…in your encounters through warm relationship with God and others.
God’s Word, written (the Bible) and living (Jesus), sets the bar for what it means to be fully human. And so often, we only scratch the surface. We resist critical thinking and real-life application of God’s promises. As we authentically plumb the “scary” places in our lives…. the hurts…. the misunderstandings…. the mistakes…. the misgivings…. God meets us in warm relationship. And others do as well as our vulnerability invites them in. Again Rohr writes, “God hides in the depths and is not seen as long as we stay on the surface of anything—even the depths of our sins.” Be transformed by the teachings of Jesus. Don’t just scratch the surface. Dig deep into the written and living Word of God through a warm relationship with God and others. God and others will meet you in warm relationship.
John Stott, “Christians: Salt and Light,” on Preaching Today, Tape No. 109.
In this textual analysis, I have benefited from the thinking of Stanley P. Saunders and Mark
Abbott in Connections, Year A, Volume 1 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019), 204-206 and 206-208.
Brett Scott Provance, Pocket Dictionary of Liturgy & Worship (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2009), 54.
Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ (New York, New York: Convergent, 2019), 111.