Today, we’re finishing up a series of sermons that we’ve been working our way through all through the month of January called One Year From Now. And throughout this series, we’ve been trying to help you become the person you want to be one year from now. And you know, that’s not an easy thing to do because we all have different things that we want to accomplish in our lives over the next twelve months.
But even though we all may have different goals that we want to accomplish when it comes to our physical or mental health, or our finances or relationships with our families; there is at least one goal that we – as followers of Jesus – should all have.
So what goal should we all have? Well, this is the way that the Apostle Paul explains it in a letter he wrote to some of the first followers of Jesus. In Ephesians 5, Paul says:
1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2 and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Ephesians 5:1-2 (New Revised Standard Version)
So Paul says that our goal should be to imitate God. But what does that mean? Well, when Paul tells us to be imitators of God, Paul is telling us that we should try to follow the manner or the character of God. So ultimately, Paul tells us our goal as followers of Jesus should be to be more like Jesus. So that’s the goal we’re focusing on throughout this sermon series. One year from now, we want to help you be more like Jesus.
One year from now, we want to help you be more like Jesus.
But in order to become like Jesus, we have to know who Jesus is. So all month long, we’ve been working our way through the book of Matthew – which is a biography of Jesus – so that we can learn more about who Jesus is.
But a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned something that a theologian named Elizabeth Johnson once wrote about Jesus in her book Quest for the Living God. In this book, Johnson says that Jesus is “ineffable mystery” – meaning that Jesus will always be beyond our ability to fully understand or explain. And this description of Jesus – that he is beyond our ability to fully understand or explain – reminds me of a famous story involving St. Augustine that I’’ve shared with you before.
As this story goes St. Augustine – who is one of if not the most influential thinkers in the history of our faith – was sitting in a room not far from the sea working on a formal teaching about the nature of God. But he wasn’t making much, if any, progress.
So one particular day, after staring at a blank piece of parchment for hours, he had had enough and he needed a break. So Augustine left his writing table and wandered down to the shores of the sea. As Augustine walked along, he noticed a boy digging a hole in the sand.
After the boy finished with his hole, he took his bucket to the sea and filled it with water. He returned to his hole and poured the water in it. Then he went back to the sea, filled his bucket, and poured it into the hole again.
Augustine watched the boy do this over and over again. And finally, he went to the boy and asked what he was doing. The boy answered, “I’m trying to put the sea in this hole.”
Augustine tried to stifle a laugh, and told the boy, “It will never fit.”
And, as the story goes, the boy immediately transformed into a messenger from God and told Augustine, “Neither will the mystery of the God fit into your mind.”
As I thought about that story this week, it got me thinking. If the mystery of God cannot fit into our minds, then how can we really know who Jesus is?
How can we really know who Jesus is?
And that got me thinking about how we know who anyone is. And, as I thought about that, I realized there are basically two ways that we know other people. The first way is the way that I know Tom Hanks, and I’m not just talking about some guy named Tom Hanks…I’m talking about the Tom Hanks.
Now I’ve been a big fan of Tom Hanks for years…which is probably why I spent so much time talking about his role in Forrest Gump last Sunday. But Tom Hanks is my favorite actor and I’ll watch him in just about anything he does. So I can tell you a lot about Tom Hanks. I can tell you that he’s 6’0” tall, and has blue eyes. I can tell you that he’s had roles in over 50 films ranging from Academy Award-winning performances in movies like Philadelphia to total bombs like Every Time We Say Goodbye.
I can tell you that he’s played Meg Ryan’s love interest three separate times, and that he’s been married to his wife, Rita Wilson, for over 30 years. I can tell you that his big break came in 1984 when he landed the leading role in the movie Splash, and I can also tell you that wasn’t the part the film’s director, Ron Howard, originally wanted to cast him in.
I mean I know Tom Hanks. But he wouldn’t have a clue who I am if I was standing right in front of him. And that’s because I really only know him on an informational level.
And this can be the same way that we know Jesus. We can know Jesus on an informational level.
We can know Jesus on an informational level.
And this means that we know about Jesus. So you can tell me when Jesus was born – it was Quirinus was governor of Syria. You can tell me where Jesus lived – he spent most of his life in an area called Galilee. You can tell me how many disciples he had, or how many miracles he performed, or parables he told.
And because you may know every detail of Jesus’ life, you can feel like you know who Jesus is. But in the end, when we try to know Jesus on an informational level all we end up with is a bunch of information. And all that information might help you in a game of Bible trivia, information alone isn’t enough to help us know who Jesus is.
But the other way that we know people is like the way I know who my wife is. Now, I know plenty of information about my wife. I know how tall she is and what color her eyes are. I know her resume and what she’s accomplished professionally.
But I also know what she’s passionate about and what gets under her skin. I know what makes her tick and what her dreams for the future are. I know what certain looks mean without her saying a word – like the one she’s giving me now, which says, “Stop talking about me.” So clearly I know who my wife is. I know more than just information about her…I also know her personally.
And this is the way that Jesus wants us to know him. Jesus wants us to know more than just information about him…Jesus wants us to know him personally.
Jesus wants us to know him personally.
I mean, just take a minute and think about who Jesus is. The Gospel of John – or John’s biography of Jesus – tells us that Jesus is God made flesh. And what that means is that God wants us to know him personally so much that God actually became a person we could know.
And Jesus walked this earth for decades. He experienced everything it means to be human. He went from being an infant, to a toddler, to a child, to a teenager, to a man. He had friends and followers. He had a group of people he poured his life and wisdom into. And there wasn’t a doubt in that groups mind that Jesus wanted us to know him personally.
But if there were any doubt that Jesus wants to know us personally, he erases it in the last passage from the book of Matthew that we’ll be looking at in this series. So, if you’ve got a Bible close by go ahead and grab it and turn with me to Matthew 22.
And as you’re turning there, let me give you a little background information on this book and on this passage. Matthew is the first book of the New Testament, and we call the first four books of the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – gospels. We call them gospels because the word “gospel” means “good news,” and these four books tell us the good news of Jesus. So they are essentially biographies of Jesus.
So in the book of Matthew, you can read about Jesus' parents and his birth. You can read about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and his most famous sermon—the Sermon on the Mount. You can read how Jesus taught and ministered across a region of ancient Israel called Galilee. And you can read how Jesus’ teachings threatened the status quo, and how the religious leaders started turning against him.
And, as the passage we’re looking at today begins, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day had already started turning against him. But instead of happening in the rural region of Galilee, Jesus has gone to the political and religious capital of Israel: Jesus has gone to Jerusalem.
Many of Jesus’ followers thought that this meant Jesus would soon be overthrowing their existing government and taking his rightful spot on Israel’s throne. So the religious leaders were doing everything they could to try to get people to stop following Jesus. So they’ve found Jesus teaching in the Temple, surrounded by people, and they’ve been trying to trick him. The religious leaders have been asking Jesus questions about politics and religion…but Jesus hasn’t been fooled at all.
And as Matthew 22:34 starts, the religious leaders are going to take one last shot at getting Jesus to stumble. So let’s look at this story together, and see what the religious leaders try to do. In Matthew 22:34 we read:
34 When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had left the Sadducees speechless, they met together. 35 One of them, a legal expert, tested him. 36 “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Matthew 22:34-36 (Common English Bible)
So here we have someone who is a religious leader and an expert in the law – that is the religious law – try to trick Jesus by asking him what the most important commandment is. And this leader had to believe that he had Jesus trapped with this question because no matter which of the commandments Jesus picked, he would be de-emphasizing another part of the law.
But what that religious leader didn’t realize is that he wasn’t asking Jesus a question that would trip Jesus up. Instead, religious leader was asking Jesus a question that would let Jesus reveal who he is to us.
And that’s exactly what Jesus does when he answers this question. Because when Jesus answers this question, he’s not just answering a question about the law. He is revealing the heart of God…he’s revealing what matters the most to God. So let’s see what Jesus told this religious leader. In verse 37 we read:
37 He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. 40 All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”
Matthew 22:37-40 (Common English Bible)
When the religious leaders ask Jesus what the most important commandment is, Jesus tells him. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. The most important thing to God is that we love God.
The most important thing to God is that we love God.
But the kind of love that Jesus is talking about here isn’t merely an emotional love. The kind of love that Jesus is talking about here is a choice. It’s a choice to trust God more than anything. It’s a choice to put God above everything else in your life. It’s a choice to follow God wherever God may lead.
And this is a love that can only come from knowing God personally. Because you’re not going to choose to trust God more than anything if you don’t know who God is. You’re not going to put God above everything else is your life if you don’t know who God is. You’re not going to follow God wherever God leads if you don’t know who God is.
That’s the kind of love that God was talking about when he first gave this commandment centuries before Jesus ever walked this earth. God first gives this commandment back in the book of Deuteronomy. And God gives this commandment in the book of Deuteronomy when the people of Israel are on the verge of entering a land that God had promised to them and their ancestors centuries ago.
But the land they were about to enter was a land filled with other people who were worshiping other gods. So God tells them to love him with all their hearts, all their souls, and all their strength instead of turning to any other god. God is calling the people of Israel to be loyal to him, to choose him, and to trust him.
And why should the people of Israel trust God? Because they know God. They know that God is the one who brought them to the promised land. They know that God is the one who had freed them from slavery in Egypt. They know that God is the one who heard their cries when they were suffering. They know that God is the one who loves them, and who only asks to be loved by them in return.
And God wants the same from us. God wants us to trust him, to put him first, to follow him wherever he leads. And God wants us to do that because we know who God is. God is the one who brought us into this world. God is the one who freed us from our sin. God is the one who hears our cries when we’re hurting. God is the one who loves us.
So, if you want to be more like Jesus you have to love God. You have to chose to trust God, to put him first, to follow him. But that kind of love doesn’t happen if you only know information about God. It’s starts by having a relationship with God.