Many Christians bristle at the first mention of “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Xmas” each Christmas season. We understandably get upset when greeting card companies and retailers refuse to utter the words “Merry Christmas” – redefining the holiday in order to avoid backlash and maximize profits.
We want nothing more this Christmas than to see people celebrating the true “reason for the season”. Our only desire is for every man, woman and child to recognize Jesus for who He is – Lord and Savior. We hope our friends, neighbors and coworkers will receive the present they need the most this Christmas – God’s grace and forgiveness. Regifting is normally tacky and cheap, but perfectly acceptable when we pass along our Father’s Christmas gifts of redemption and reconciliation. It would be a shame to watch our world miss another perfect opportunity this Christmas to experience God’s infinite love and mercy.
But is there a way to convey the Gospel message such that it will convince non-believers that Jesus is the answer to life’s most burning questions? Scripture shows that words alone were rarely enough. Jesus had the perfect words but He led with actions, not words.
As we’ll show later in this blog post, nearly every time someone recognized Jesus and acknowledged Him as the Messiah, it was because of His acts of mercy and compassion. It’s no different today. Non-believers recognize Jesus in us when they see His love flowing through us. They assume that if someone is willing to help, then they may be a source of hope as well. It is our actions (Care), followed by our words (Share), while understanding that only God can reconcile someone to Himself (Prayer), that open eyes to see and ears to hear.
“Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs He was performing and believed in His name.” (John 2:23)
“Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.” (John 4:48)
What signs and wonders did they want to see? The arrogant and unbelieving sarcastically asked Jesus to perform a magic trick that was either self-centered or for self-preservation, associating Him with their own priorities. They were not compassionate and therefore did not ask for compassion. However, those who were humble and expectant asked for practical help, like healing or food. They were in need and simply asked for kindness.
In either case, both the arrogant and humble were alike in one respect – they wouldn’t believe unless Jesus did something. Jesus refused to perform on demand if intended as a test but fulfilled requests that were rooted in actual need. As a result, many who were lowly and oppressed witnessed and were deeply impacted by Jesus’ demonstrations of love and empathy, whereas few with superiority complexes got to see Jesus in action – or acknowledged His divinity when they did.
The lesson from all this is clear – people won’t recognize Jesus in our lives or in His Church if we do not practice what we preach. Words are not enough – we can’t “outpreach” Jesus. Although He had the perfect words, He still led with acts of loving service. Yet today, churches typically devote less than 1% of their time, energy and budget to local missions. That’s sad considering churches followed Jesus’ model for 1900 years, taking the lead in compassion in communities across the globe.
How People Recognized Jesus…
People did not recognize Jesus was the Messiah simply because He told them He was the Christ, but only after He had done something to demonstrate His compassion and love for them:
- John recognized Jesus, exclaiming “It is the Lord” only after He filled their nets with fish (John 21:6-7)
- The two men Jesus met on the road to Emmaus recognized Christ only after He handed them bread to eat (Luke 24:28-35)
- The royal official recognized and believed in Jesus only after his son was healed (John 4:53)
- The man born blind recognized Jesus as God’s son only after He was healed (John 9:35-38)
- The disciples recognized it was Jesus and not a ghost only after He saved Peter from drowning (Matthew 14:26-33)
- The city of Genneseret recognized Jesus for His ability to heal and brought Him all who were ill (Matthew 14:34-36)
- The woman at the well recognized Jesus as a prophet (and the Messiah) only after He conveyed an intimate knowledge of her personal history (John 4:7-30; 39-42)
- Nathaniel recognized Jesus as the Son of God only after He showed He cared enough to understand and acknowledge him personally (John 1:47-49)
- Mary recognized Jesus was not the gardener only after He spoke her name (John 20:14-16)
- The Roman soldier recognized Jesus was the Son of God only after He died for our sins (Matthew 27:50-54)
What do those examples in Scripture mean for us today in terms of how Jesus recognizes His followers and how others recognize Jesus in us?
How People Recognize Jesus in Us…
Many Christians are disturbed by Jesus’ parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25. Most find it a bit uncomfortable to read Jesus’ warning in Matthew 7 that even many of those who are highly “religious” will find themselves on the outside looking in on Judgement Day. Yes, each of us is saved by grace and not by works, yet as the Book of James contends, faith without works is dead. Jesus questioned whether someone lacking the compassion to feed the hungry, clothe the poor and help those imprisoned (for their faith in Christ) is really a Christian at all. Jesus will recognize His followers by their faith – an authentic faith that leads to good deeds.
Those who are “blind” can’t recognize Jesus. Jesus came to give sight to the “blind”. (John 9:39) The spiritual leaders of that time claimed they could see, but did not recognize Jesus or John the Baptist. (Matthew 17:12) Their vision was blurred by a lack of compassion and love. Likewise, it is our caring and concern for others that will cause believers and non-believers alike to recognize Christ in our personal lives and in our churches.
America’s church growth model focus on attracting and retaining church members, catering to their needs rather than challenging them to become disciples who follow Jesus’ church growth model (of preceding evangelism with compassion). Churches are no longer society’s food bank and homeless shelter, the first place people think to go to for help. Therefore, society understandably no longer recognizes Jesus in most churches, instead seeing churches as uncaring and judgmental. As the evil spirit said in Acts 19, “Jesus I know, and Paul and I know about, but who are you?”
Our culture will only take notice and recognize Jesus in a church where they see His love undeniably flowing through it. Your circle of influence will be able to see and open to hear about the hope you have within you only to the extent that you demonstrate the love of Jesus to them.
It’s Your Turn…
At Meet The Need, #GiveAnEternalGift is about keeping the focus of Christians on serving and sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ this Christmas. It’s tempting to get caught up in fulfilling social obligations and lured by slick advertising into consumerism during the holidays. However, running yourself ragged and enduring bedlam at the mall for the sake of giving gifts that are quickly discarded is not God’s plan for Christmas. Instead, Jesus wants us to follow His model and live Prayer/Care/Share lifestyles this month and throughout 2020, giving gifts that will never perish. Help Meet The Need equip churches, ministries and Christians everywhere for acts of kindness at #GiveAnEternalGift.