Being known

Scriptures: Psalm 4; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48

Everybody wants to be recognized. Everybody wants to be known. From a child to adult, that desire doesn’t change.

Many of you have had children or grandchildren, and you know that the time has come when the child learns something new, like a somersault or cartwheels or something like that, and what’s the first thing they do? They come running up. “Mommy, mommy, look at me!”

“Watch me.” We always love to see the little kids up there singing in the chorus and stuff, and part of what we find so amusing is that about half of them are just going [smiles and waves]. They want to be recognized. They want to be known.

It’s part of our makeup, and it seems like even some adults just haven’t grown up. They do all kinds of things to make themselves known. “Watch me.” And even if we’ve grown up, we don’t do it so obviously, but it’s still there.

That’s why, in corporations and politics and in so many other things, you get to hear the saying “Failure is an orphan. Success has many fathers.” Because everybody wants a piece of success. Everybody wants the “attaboy,” to say “Look at me. Know me.”

Likewise, everybody wants to be loved. Now, that phrase rang a bell with me, so I had to do a Google search, and sure enough, just in the last thirty years, there have been four different modern songs with this title, in different genres: “Everybody wants to be loved.”

Well, here’s a newsflash. God loves us and knows us and He showed us this in a variety of ways. All the way back from the time that He chose Israel through Abraham, then when He freed the Israelites from Egypt and Pharaoh. When they thought He had forgotten them, He showed that He still knew them and loved them.

Then through their time in the wilderness, and all the centuries beyond, all the way to Jesus Christ, where Jesus came and lived among us, and then suffered and died for us, to show us just how much he loved us, and cleansed us from our sin. And then, that wasn’t the end of the story. He was raised again on Easter.

Why? Not for Himself, but so that we might have new life in Him, abundant life, and an eternal life in heaven. He loves us that much. He knew us from before time. God still loves us today, and He knows us.

He takes care of us, not only in our salvation when we accept Christ as Savior, but in giving us a purpose, guidance, blessings, material blessings – all these things. And challenges. He is with us, providing for us.

I’d like to go to Psalm 23. I share with people that when it talks about “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou are with me,” it doesn’t say, “Yea, though you give me a helicopter to fly over the valley of the shadow of death.” We still have to go through it. But He will be there, providing, supporting, loving, knowing us.

The world isn’t so discerning in that manner. The world doesn’t really understand and know us, as God does. Let’s look at the passages from Luke and 1 John. In Luke, Jesus himself, even with the disciples, it says, had to open up the Scriptures that they might know why he came, that he must suffer and die and be raised again after three days.

The world still doesn’t know it today, even though we share this with them on a continuous basis. The Bible says it’s going to be a stumbling block, because they just can’t get hold of it, that and the resurrection. They just don’t understand, and thus they can’t know.

The world doesn’t know us, and given the persecution Christians face everywhere, and they face from culture and other religions, etc., how can we understand this? I mean, they know us well enough that they are singling us out, in so many places?

Well, it’s best if we understand “know” in Biblical terms. The Bible frequently talks about somebody “knowing” somebody else. Adam knew Eve. And yes, I’ll be frank – in most of those cases it’s talking about sex. But it’s also talking about something far more than physical intimacy. It’s talking about an emotional and spiritual intimacy, where you are made vulnerable.

You allow yourself to be vulnerable with someone, and they are vulnerable with you. Together, then, you have a closer bond and relationship, you know more about each other than anybody else could ever know. That’s what the Bible means when it talks about knowing someone.

You see, the world can’t know our hearts, our passions, and our drive, if we are true Christians. Our direction comes from God, our morals from His Word, and our perspective from Easter and the resurrection. Our passion is the Gospel, our love shaped by the desire for all people to be righteous and know that love that we have known in Jesus Christ.

You can see this today in a number of empirical ways. There have been any number of studies that show and look at patterns of giving, whether it be volunteerism, money, assets, endowments, whatever. And this is the facts that have showed up time and time again. Christians – not any other religion – those that call themselves Christians outgive by a three-to-one ratio to those who aren’t.

They outgive by a three-to-one ratio no matter which measuring stick you use. Because man is tainted with self-interest, and it’s only in Jesus Christ that we can truly understand what it means to give sacrificially.

Even within the church itself, we see a differentiation between what Barna calls cultural Christians, which I’ll get into in a minute, and those that are considered to be evangelical or regular attenders – they go to church at least once a month, which is a pretty low bar, but even just that, just once a month, those that have gone at least once a month on a regular basis for over a year outgive those Christians in the church who aren’t that frequent by a three-to-one margin.

Generosity. Because we’re known and loved, and we can give back. And within the church itself, those that go regularly and give, we do see a differentiation among denominations. I’ve always found it fascinating that those who are poorer, when you look at it on the basis of income, and percentage of income and assets, the poorer outgive the wealthy by a five-to-one ratio.

The average giving in a lot of these black Baptist churches and poor churches, urban churches, is fifteen percent of their assets and income. In the Presbyterian church, which is not the wealthiest but one of the wealthiest and best educated, it’s two and a half percent, in terms of giving. And again, that includes time for volunteering, efforts, money, whatever measure you want to use.

I wonder about that sometimes, and wonder if maybe it’s because those who are poorer understand God’s blessings better. I’m not some liberation theologian who claims that God has a special place in His heart, a special place higher for those who are poor than the wealthy, because I think that’s nonsense.

God loves us all the same, and the ground is level at the foot of the cross, when we’re concerned with sin. But the fact is, sometimes we who have want to hold onto what we have, instead of giving as God would call us to give.

Note that I spoke above about true Christians. Through the centuries, this has always been an issue. What is the true church, and who are the true followers of Christ? How can they be known? This is important, because that’s what John was writing to.

He wasn’t writing to the world at large, when he wrote the letter of 1 John. He was writing to a church, and he was talking to the people in the church, about dealing with each other in the church, as well as the world. But primarily within the church.

Note that these historical examples I’m going to give don’t include flat-out heretics and cults and wars between denominations, where people have argued that one is the true church and one isn’t, like the Protestants and the Catholics in England and Scotland, for a long time.

With the Thirty Year War in Germany, they had something similar, with Lutherans and Catholics. And then we have, still going on today, in Ireland, although it’s gotten a lot quieter, the Catholics and the Protestants, at war with each other. But I’m not talking about that when I talk about the true church or true Christians. But historically, there has still been this issue.

From the very inception of the church, you had something called Judaizers. Paul mentions them a lot. These were folks that – you know, the church started with Jewish people, and there were those that decided that, if you were going to be a believer in Christ, first you had to be a Jew. That meant you had to be circumcised.

That meant you had to eat a kosher diet. That meant you had to follow the Law of Moses. And if you didn’t do that, you weren’t really a Christian, which was really hard on a lot of Gentiles. (That’s you and me.) So Paul talked with the people in Jerusalem, the leaders, the elders of the church in Jerusalem, and finally they came to a decision.

They said you don’t have to be circumcised, you just need to be baptized. You don’t have to live a kosher life, you just have to abstain from drinking blood and eating the meat of animals that had been strangled. (I don’t know about you personally, but I think I wouldn’t have any problem with following that rule.) So we have some rules that were set, but you don’t have to be a Jew to be a Christian. You just need to know Jesus Christ.

The church underwent persecution for the first couple of centuries, and sometimes there were those that were faithful when the Romans would come and bang on the door and require them to say, “Caesar is lord.” The faithful Christians said, “Jesus Christ is Lord.”

There were those who broke under the force of the persecution and they said, “Caesar is lord.” Then when the persecution died down, they tried to come back to the church, and there were Christians there who said, “No way Jose. You are not a true Christian, because you weren’t willing to give your life to proclaim the lordship of Jesus Christ.”

Now, later on they set up an official policy, if you will, for the forgiveness of those who broke under that kind of pressure, that kind of persecution, and then wanted to come back. After all, we’re all sinners. We all break, and we all deny Christ in our own way, all the time. The wondrousness of God’s love is that He loves us still, and gives us a way to start over, as long as we repent.

Later on, that flipped as the emperor decided to become a Christian, and then all of a sudden everyone became a Christian. Because, you know, if the emperor becomes a Christian, then it’s not good for your health if you don’t. Now you have what are called cultural Christians.

So from about 400 A.D., we’ve had the phenomenon called cultural Christians. They’re present, and they’re always an issue. Those that come to church, even, on a regular basis, but they really don’t know Jesus Christ. He’s not an active part of their life every day.

One of the most infamous of those was the father of Karl Marx. Everybody knows who Karl Marx was, right? The guy that said religion is the opiate of the masses. The one who was the big designer of communism and socialism, in certain ways.

And I’m not getting political here, I’m talking about religion. He was very atheistic and very anti-Christian. And part of it was his father. Karl Marx’s father was a tailor. His father was a German Jew. But his father converted to Lutheranism and went to the Lutheran church every single week.

You might say, “That’s wonderful.” The problem, according to Karl Marx’s diaries, his father told him, he said that the reason that he did it was not because he understood Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, but because the best business was there. The church takes care of its own, by patronizing each other’s businesses. So they would go to him, and they were wealthier, and he would be able to make more money.

He was there every Sunday. He was a faithful attender, but he was not a follower of Christ. This so jaded Karl Marx and made him cynical, because of his father’s cynicism, that he threw out all religion later on in life. Just think how the world might be different if his father had been faithful, either to the Judaism he started in, or if God had brought him to salvation through Jesus Christ and he was a true follower of Jesus Christ. It would have been radically different.

We discussed it in our own confessions of Presbyterianism, the traditional marks of the “true church”:where the Word is rightly preached, the sacraments are rightly received, and the discipline of members is rightly administered. I’ve talked about those before in the past, so I won’t spend time on them now.

So now we come to the passage in 1 John, and we ask ourselves, how are we to recognize each other? Because I guarantee that if we who supposedly partake of the life of Christ can’t know each other, then the world has no chance. The world has no chance.

Well, if we look at that passage, he says, “See what love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God. And that is what we are.” Jesus himself said we get to call God “Abba” – “Daddy.” We’re adopted as His children. But the world still doesn’t know us, because it didn’t know Him.

And even now, we don’t know what we’re going to become. He talks about how the fulness of God has not been revealed, and neither has our fulness. But the potential of what God wants us to be – Paul talks about it in Thessalonians, how we will all be changed in the twinkling of an eye, and we’ll see God’s glory face to face. And it says here in I John:

We will be like him. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves just as he is pure.” We will be made pure. This sin will be a problem no more. Then he goes on to say, “Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness. Sin is lawlessness. You know that he was revealed to take away sin, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins. No one who sins has either seen him or knows him.

And I find that disturbing, because, let’s face it, as I noted earlier, I’m a sinner still. Even though I know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, I bet I’ve sinned a couple dozen times at least this morning – probably about every other time I open my mouth.

So does that mean I’m not in Christ? Does that mean I can’t know Him? The answer to that is no. What he’s talking about here, when he’s talking about sin, he’s talking about it being lawlessness, he’s talking about those who willingly and knowingly disobey the law of God in Jesus Christ.

And what is the law of God in Jesus Christ? The first was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And the second one is like it, to love your neighbor as yourself. We’re to follow the rule of faith and love, are we not?

Now, we might stumble in doing that at times. We might get frustrated. We might fall. But if we repent and turn our hearts back to Christ, then we’re given that second chance.

I always like to tell people who tell me that they don’t go to church because it’s full of hypocrites – well, my first response I admit is a little snarky: “Well, join the party,” however true it might be. The second thing I say, though, is that I’m not a hypocrite if I truly believe but sometimes I stumble, and my faith if shown in how I pick myself back up.

Sometimes we need help. Addicts understand this in depth. They have their Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Because that addiction is physical and mental and spiritual in nature, and it’s constantly calling to them.

Well, I tell you, beloved ones, sin does that to all of us. It was our master. Its chains were broken by Jesus Christ, but the call is still there. It takes constant effort and constant devotion to stay on the true and right path.

If we fall from that, and we stumble, that is not the same as, say, an alcoholic who deliberately goes to a bar and goes on a bender because he says, “Forget this. I’m just not going to do it anymore.” We’re not doing it intentionally, most of the time, and we repent of it afterwards.

The Bible understood sin in a way that might be helpful by looking at Psalm 1. “Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked,” or as I learned it, who do not walk in the way of the wicked, “who do not stand in the way of sinners, and who do not sit in the seat of the scoffers. Their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.”

You see, there’s a gradation that goes there. If you walk in the way of the wicked, that’s usually when you’re starting to be led astray, your sin has made its call, and you are starting to follow it.

Then if you stand in the path of the sinners, you are invested in your sin. The word for stand is the kind of thing where a military man is told to hold a hill. You stand firm. You have invested in your sin and you’re going to keep sinning because it brings you whatever gratification it brings you, even if you know it’s wrong.

Then the seat of the scoffer is those who teach others. Because in their day, teachers sat and everybody else stood. (That would make me a lot more comfortable, but probably not you.) So they sit in the seat and they teach others, they are invested so much in their sin, and that is the worst of the way of sin.

So John here, a fully cognizant Jew, is telling people that everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness. If you deliberately decide to turn away from the law of God and to sin, then you have committed lawlessness, and at that moment you’re not walking in Jesus Christ or participating in Him.

Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he [Christ] is righteous. Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning, and the Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.

This is why Christ came, to destroy the sin that is within us. So as we follow Christ, as we dedicate ourselves to Him, as we make God the priority in our life, then we walk in righteousness, and we are righteous as He was.

We’re not to use that to look down upon somebody, because, as the liturgist noted, the moment we do that, we’ve now suffered the sin of pride. We become self-righteous. It’s only by God’s grace, and the presence of the Holy Spirit, and God with us and knowing us, that we can succeed. And succeed we can, because the victory has already been won.

So my prayer for you, as you go out from this place, as you begin to live life to its fullest at the beginning of this week, is that, first and foremost, you would know one another, that you would be open and vulnerable to one another, that you would love them with God’s love, with the love of Jesus Christ – which takes risks and is vulnerable to being hurt, that you would be open to correction if somebody lovingly reaches out to you because they’ve seen that you have stumbled on the path.

As you go out into the world, then, strengthened by that and supported by that, you begin to love the world as God loves you. And share the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, because that’s what we’re supposed to do, according to the Great Commission. And make disciples of all nations, and to teach them what Christ has commanded us.

Now, the world may not get it. We have a pretty good notice that they won’t. But that doesn’t absolve us of the responsibility to try. To give God glory every day of your life, that others may join in, and give Him praise. May this be your life and your love, and your dedication.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.


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