This morning I begin a new sermon series entitled-"As Jesus Passed By". I want to base these messages on the narrative of the Gospel of Mark. Most scholars agree that Mark was likely the first Gospel to be written about Jesus. The Church Father Papias testified that Mark was not the author of the book but was actually the editor that took the recollections of the Apostle Peter and put them together to form an exciting narrative about the ministry of Jesus and the lives He transformed by "passing by". One of the best books about Jesus you could ever read is The Jesus I Never Knew by Phillip Yancey, written in 1995. After reading the book Billy Graham said, "There is no writer in the evangelical world that I appreciate more". Lewis B. Smedes said, "This is the best book about Jesus I have ever read, probably the best book about Jesus in the whole century. Yancey gently took away my blinders...until I saw the Savior anew and thought I heard Him ask me, 'Now who do you say that I am? and I understood the question as I never had before'." Upon concluding the book, Yancey wrote, "In writing this book I attempted to tell the story of Jesus, not my own story. Inevitably, though, a search for Jesus turns out to be one's own search. No one who meets Jesus ever stays the same!" That is what we are going to find as we highlight the Gospel of Mark as we make our way toward Easter Sunday. In the next seven weeks we let Jesus pass by in our lives. My goal is to let His pulsating personality invade our lives with His powerful passionate pardoning presence and stand in awe as he transforms our lives by His life, as He did those recorded on the pages of this magnificent Gospel. I came across a quote that surprised me and blessed me. It is a quote from one of the most intelligent geniuses of all time-Albert Einstein. Listen to what he said, "As a child I received instruction both in the Bible and the Talmud. I am a Jew. But I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene...no one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No mere myth could be filled with such life!"
In the Gospel of Mark, as Jesus passed by, every life that came in contact with Him was forever changed-for good or bad. No one could meet Him and remain the same. Pray that as we go through this series of messages the same presence and power of our Savior will be manifested again to touch and transform lives today.
The first time I can remember Jesus passing by in my life was reading a plaque that hung on the wall in my Mother and Father's bedroom. It read, "Jesus Never Fails". I remember seeing that as a child and wondering "Who is Jesus?", but thinking He must be someone you can trust and depend on if you ever need Him. My next introduction to him was at Vacation Bible School at the Woodlawn Avenue Baptist Church, the guest of a girl in our neighborhood, Debbie Seaton. They showed a film strip of Salman's picture of Jesus standing at the door knocking (circa 1942). The teacher gave all of us opportunity to pray the prayer to invite Jesus into our hearts and lives and assured us He would enter in. Somehow it did not resonate with me at the time, and though others did, I opted out as a seven year old second grader to begin my journey as a Christian. Jesus surfaced again, in a paradoxical way this time, in the lyrics of a number one song in 1968, to the movie The Graduate, by Simon and Garfunkel, called Mrs. Robinson. The song's chorus said, "And here's to you Mrs. Robinson, Jesus loves you more than you will know, wo, wo, wo...heaven holds a place for those who pray...hey hey hey...". There He was again! Jesus loves us. Somehow praying to Him seems to be the key to heaven. But the teenage years of the sixties was not really fertile soil for the Gospel seed to take root and grow in the heart of a 15 year old who was more concerned with high school football, rock music, friends, being cool, and girls, so I let Jesus pass by again...not realizing that soon I would meet Him face to face in a salvation encounter. Already I had experienced three experiences of Him passing by and knocking on the door of my life, waiting for me to open that door and invite Him in.
Who is Jesus? Did He really exist? Or is He a myth made up by some religious fanatics nearly 2,000 years ago? The amazing thing about Jesus is there is so much controversy about His life. Bertrand Russell, skeptic of yesteryear, said, in his book Why I Am Not a Christian, "historically it is quite doubtful whether Christ ever existed at all, and if He did we do not know anything about him". H.G. Wells, noted historian, and not a Christian, says, "I am an historian, and not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all of history". Which is it? A myth with no historical root? Or the most dominant figure of all of history? Can we know for sure? Yancey speaks to this question-"In the midst of such confusion, how do we answer the simple question, 'Who was Jesus?' Secular history gives few clues. In a delicious irony, the figure who has changed history more than any other, managed to escape the attention of most scholars and historians of his own time. Even the four men that wrote the Gospels omitted much that would interest modern readers, skipping over nine-tenths of his life. Since none devotes a word to His physical description, we know nothing about Jesus' shape or stature or eye color. Details of his family life are so scant that scholars still debate whether or not he had brothers and sisters. The facts of biography considered essential to modern readers simply did not concern the Gospel writers".
Is Jesus an historical figure? Did anyone but his own followers write about Him? F.F. Bruce writes, "Some writers may toy with the fancy of a Christ-myth, but they do not do so on the grounds of historical evidence...Jesus Christ is as historical as Julius Caesar" ( New Testament Documents are they Reliable? p. 119). Otto Betz says, "No serious scholar has ventured to postulate the non-history of Jesus". Four First Century historians allude to Jesus in an historical context. Tacitus (55-120 A.D. in The Annuls writes, "to suppress the rumor (of his starting the fire) Nero charged the Christians with the guilt and punished them with exquisite tortures...the persons commonly called Christians were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate procurator of Judea, in the reign of Tiberius". Suetonius, the Roman historian under Hadrian, in his Life of Claudius wrote, "The Jews were constantly making disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus...so Claudius expelled them from Rome". Pliny the Younger, Governor of Bithynia told about his experience of trying to force Christians to bow down to a statue of Trajan and confess Caesar as Lord. He wrote, "their guilt ...was they were in the habit of meeting on a certain day...singing a hymn to Christ as a god...and bound themselves by an oath to Him." Of course Jewish writings of the day also referred to Jesus. Even the Jewish historian Josephus in his Antiquities spoke of Jesus as "a doer of good works, a teacher of truth...He drew over to himself many Jews, and Gentiles. Pilate...had him condemned to the cross...those that loved him...did not forsake Him...and are not extinct...to this day". The historicity of Jesus is irrefutable!
Historian Phillip Schaff wrote, "Jesus is a character, so original, so complete, so universally consistent, so perfect, yet so high above all human greatness, he can neither be a fraud nor fiction. The poet, as has been well said, would in this case be greater than the hero. It would take more than a Jesus to invent a Jesus". Peter Larson states the case quite convincingly when he says, "Despite our efforts to keep Him out, God intrudes! The life of Jesus is bracketed by two impossibilities: a virgin's womb and an empty tomb. Jesus entered our world through a door marked 'no entrance' and left through a door marked 'no exit' ".
By the way, on a November afternoon in 1994, my mother, right under that plaque in her bedroom, succumbed to the ravages of lung cancer, but found out that "Jesus indeed never fails" as He carried her across heaven's threshold, to the place he had prepared for her. And by the way, later in the year, in September of 1968, I personally found out that Jesus loved more than Mrs. Robinson, and I found out that heaven holds a place for Ron Woodrum, for calling on the name of Jesus...hey hey hey. What about you?