Picture of Pastor Carlson

Sermon delivered January 14, 2006 by Pastor Paul Carlson

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

Biblical quotations are from the New King James Version, NKJV, unless otherwise noted. Divine pronouns and titles are capitalized.

Making Jesus Real

(RealAudio available)

The disciples were watching intently. Perhaps their necks were straining, but they didn't care because they were watching their ascending Master who had been with them for three and a half years. I imagine the minutes must have seemed so precious, so short, and then suddenly He was gone. And then He was no longer visible to their eyes, no longer audible, and no longer by their side. I imagine them wondering to themselves, would they ever see Jesus again soon? And perhaps more importantly, the question 'Would they still have a close relationship with their Master whom they could now no longer see?'

And then the angels' voices rang out in answer to these unspoken questions... "This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven."1 That simple statement tells me that those who believe in Jesus can still trust in Him today. This same Jesus will come back, not a different Jesus whom we don't even know. It tells me that the Jesus that we have up in heaven, who is our High Priest, and who will come back for His people is the same one, will be the same One that we have known from the Gospels. "This same Jesus" hasn't changed, and He won't change.

I'd like to share with you some thoughts about how this "same Jesus" has encouraged my own spiritual life and devotional reading. In my mind I go back to my days in college where the president would often walk out late at night just to see how many lights were on in the dormitories. He would do the same in the early morning hours to see how many lights were on. I guess he didn't get much sleep. But he would tell us with pride that there were only a few lights on at around 9:00 to 9:30 in the evening and that most lights were also on early in the morning. The idea that came across was, "You are not a good Christian unless you have devotions." And yet what made devotional reading so meaningful that I would keep doing it?

I remember times of trying to pray on my knees when it was dark outside, early in the morning. I would start sincerely enough. But then before I would realize it, my mind would be running away from me. Or the dreams would start to take over. Have you ever had that problem? I remember trying to read the Bible or some other book about the Bible in those early morning hours. And having woken up very early, I also remember times of closing the book up and using it as a pillow. Aha! More than one way to have devotions.

The question for us is, how can devotions be meaningful and alive to us? Let me share with you three principles that I have found that make my own devotional reading and prayer life exactly that. Three principles to help us be ready for meeting "this same Jesus" who will come back to take us home. Three principles that have even inspired some of the very sermons that I have preached.

The first principle to start making our devotions meaningful is from Hebrews 4:14-16, our scripture reading. Open to that passage again, if you'd like. Hebrews 4:14-16. We know what Jesus is like now because we know what He was like then. That's what the passage is telling us.

Hebrews 4:14-16, Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. And then it goes on and reminds us of the truth that we can't relate to Jesus now unless we know what He is like. Unless we know Him. And we can't know what Jesus is like uless we know what He was like when He was here on earth. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. And that is the reason, knowing that we can come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace in time of need.

It is important to remember that we have a high priest who is not a cold, hard, unsympathizing High Priest. Are you glad for that? The writer of Hebrews looks at Jesus, our high priest through the viewpoint of His earthly life. He is saying, "Because of what happened to Jesus here on this earth--because He lived as a human

We wouldn't even know what Jesus was like today unless He had first come down to this earth and inspired four authors to write four gospels. We wouldn't know what He was like or is like today. In fact, we wouldn't even really know what God Himself is like.

Principle #1 . . . Realize that the Christ in heaven that we talk to today is exactly the same as the One who walked on earth 2,000 years ago. In other words, Christ has not changed any since those days. In other words, we take the things that we learn in the Gospels about Jesus and use them in our minds to paint a picture of what Jesus is like today. As we read the Bible devotionally, we'll want to ask ourselves, 'What is the passage I am reading telling me about what Jesus is like right now?'

This may seem elementary--it is. But oh, so important. But thing is that our memory is elementary, too. It can be easy at times to forget the connection between Jesus' past and where Jesus is right now in the present. We may even tend to think that Jesus' life on this earth is, somehow, not relevant to Jesus' work in heaven or that somehow Jesus is different. So the first thing that helps is making a connection between the Jesus that we cannot see today, Who is in heaven, to the Jesus, Who when He was here on this earth, could be touched, seen, heard and felt. In fact, He would have the same attitudes toward us today as he did toward people back then.

In my own quiet tiem, I have read about the life of Christ and many the gospels and the Desire of Ages, that wonderful volume about the life of Christ, things jump out at me because of this very principle. One of my first sermons was based on my reading about Jesus and His disciples on the stormy Sea of Galilee. Jesus said to His disciples, upon calming the angry sea, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" Those words seemed to leap out of the page right to me. Would Jesus say the same things to me today? Would He say the same thing to you today? Because Jesus would be no different today, I believe He would ask the same things. He would ask, "Why are you doubting? Am I not able to take care of you just as I took care of my disciples on that stormy sea? Won't you trust me?"

So to restate principle # 1: Remember that the Jesus in heaven that we talk to today is no different than when He was here on earth. An important corollary to that is that the Jesus we know from His time on earth is exactly like the God we long to know now. For He said, "If you've seen me, you've seen the Father."

Principle #2 Take Jesus' words and actions personally.

In other words, apply them personally. Read them to find out how Jesus would relate to you today. Read with the question in mind, "What does Jesus want to say to me today? What would He do, what would He say? How does Jesus want to act toward me right now?" What would He do? What would He say to me? Ask yourself, "What is Jesus trying to tell me through this Scripture passage?"

During the time I was going to school at Andrews, I went on a weekend trip to the Michigan Conference camp during winter break. It was cold and dark outside when I got up that early Sabbath morning and walked to the lodge ice and snow crunching under my feet. I was going to spend some time studying and praying. What a wonderful time to do that. There by the crackling fire in the lodge, I asked Jesus to commune with me through my reading. As I opened my Bible, my eyes fell upon what for many and for me as well as others is one of the most beautiful promises in scripture, Isaiah 43:2, 3, When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned nor shall the flame scorch you.

You know, I as a seminary student, with many of the seminary professors being European in origin, they would tend to put all of your grades on one final test. That was it for the whole quarter of semester. One final test, often a written essay. So I often went to this promise in Scripture. Those words always seemed to give me the courage to think calmly when taking exams. Somehow, I always managed to get through unscarred by those flaming questions. But this time as I opened my Bible, a new idea came out. But let me give you some background first.

Two years before this, I had been in a relationship with a girl and after three months of dating she broke up with me. I did not want to break up. At the time, I was quite devastated by it. That experience left me feeling completely without confidence to start up a new relationship. I was afraid to open up my emotions, my joys, my heart to someone else.

And as I read these verses that cold, dark morning in Michigan I realized that God was bringing my attention to an insecurity so that He could give me the courage to trust Him. God was bringing up the fact that I was insecure at forming relationships, unsure about how or when I should do them, and that I wasn't trusting Him. I felt insecure enough that it wouldn't be easy for me to open up to someone, even though I really wanted to. And as I read that God would be with me, that the rivers wouldn't sweep over me, that the fire wouldn't burn me, I realized that,

Why? Because I knew that God would be with me.

The conviction from these words was that God would be with me. I could trust Him no matter what the outcome. And that very weekend, I met someone who caught my eye. And in the long run, it didn't matter that that relationship didn't work out. But it didn't matter because what mattered was that I had learned that God's word applied to me could give me the courage to live genuinely and without fear. Especially since there was a woman named Becky in Georgia waiting for me. But you see, I learned through that experience to take the words of God or Jesus in a personal way as something that he would say to me in the background of my own personality and my own experience. What mattered was that I learned that God's word, applied to me, could give me the courage to live genuinely and without fear. Then and there I learned a valuable lesson in my relationship with God. I learned to take the words of God, of Jesus, in a personal way, as something that God would say to me in the background of my own personality and experiences. I learned to take God's words personally.

To restate principle # 2: Apply Jesus' words personally, letting His words and actions tell you how He will treat you--as if God is speaking to you and to no one else in the world.

Principle # 3 Take the things you read about Jesus and pray about them.

Pray about the words about Jesus. I am suggesting we use the things we read in scripture that day, that very moment, to form the substance of our prayer response to Jesus. I'm suggesting that we respond emotionally, intellectually and thoughtfully to Jesus then and there in the light of what we read about Him in the gospels.

You see, if we do that prayer and the Scriptures become relevant to each other. Reading the Scripture actually becomes prayer. That's how God is speaking to us. Most of us speak to God when we pray. But the Scriptures, that's how we hear God's voice to us. That's god speaking to us. talk to Jesus. And it's not just praying, and falling asleep. That means that we thank him for the character traits that we see in Him, realizing that is what He is like toward us today as well. That means that we thank him for being as kind as He is, or as unselfish as He is. When I read about how Jesus was so patient with His disciples, it makes me want to thank Him for being patient with them when they were so stubborn and so slow to learn. I thank Him because I know that is how Jesus is today toward His followers including me.

And so when we keep that in mind, it becomes not just reading the Scriptures and going to sleep, but it takes on a relational purpose, in other words, what I am reading tells me about my very own personal relationship with Jesus and I use what I read to

If we do that, prayer and the Scriptures become relevant to each other. It becomes a conversation. Not just reading the scriptures and going to sleep. Reading the Scriptures takes on a relational purpose. In other words, what I am reading tells me about my very own personal relationship with Jesus. I'm using what I am reading to talk to Jesus. Not just praying and falling asleep. It gives prayer some substance so that we don't just pray the same boring things like "Lord, please bless me today. In your name, Amen."

Jesus told the Jews sarcastically, "You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life." What Jesus said there tells is clearly that we can only have eternal life as we respond to Jesus as we read Scripture.

To restate principle # 3: Make reading the Scriptures and prayer intertwine with each other, praying about what we are read, praying to Jesus about Him.

I believe that these three principles will help us to find our fulfillment of God in our lives. God's word exists so that our joy and our relationship with Jesus will be real and alive. It exists so that we can have the kind of relationship with Jesus that He wants us to have. And this is a kind of relationship with Jesus that your pastors at this church want to have. I want that for myself, what about you?


1. Acts 1:11.

Three Principles:

#1 - Realioze that the Christ in heaven that we talk to today is exactly the same as the One who walked and talked on earth two thousand years ago.

#2 - Take Jesus' words and actions personally.

#3 - Take the Scriptures you read about Jesus and pray about them.

 Hymn of Praise: #506,  A Mighty Fortress
Scripture:  Hebrew 4:14-16
Hymn of Response: #460,  As Water to the Thirsty

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