Wesley’s Questions: “Is Christ Real to Me?”

 

Wesley’s Questions: “Is Christ Real to Me?”
A Message on Colossians 1:24-29
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
April 7, 2019
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Colossians 1:24-29 (NRSV)

I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. 25 I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me.

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Today we conclude our sermon series “Wesley’s Questions,” based on the 22 questions John Wesley and his “Holy Club” of students at Oxford University asked each other daily. Today’s question that we will explore is: “Is Christ real to me?”

Now at first glance it may seem to be kind of an unnecessary question. After all, Christ should be real to Christians, right?

But I think the reason Wesley uses this question for daily reflection is because it is easy as humans to make Christ just sorta-real to us. I think Wesley wants to know, “Is Christ real to me. Really real?”

There are a lot of people in the world who call themselves Christian who believe in a sorta-real Jesus.

I’m embarrassed to say that some of these are United Methodists. Back in 2002 a United Methodist Bishop in the Chicago area, Bishop C. Joseph Sprague, gave a lecture at a United Methodist seminary in Colorado. In that lecture he said that the virgin birth of Jesus was a myth and not historically accurate. He also espoused that Jesus didn’t really have a bodily resurrection.

In my opinion it sure sounds like that Jesus is sorta-real to Bishop Sprague. Just a nice guy, not different than anyone else, and not divine. Not really real, but just sorta-real.

I don’t believe that was the case with the Apostle Paul, who wrote the epistle (letter) we call Colossians. Here’s The Message paraphrase of the scripture we read today from the first chapter. As I read it listen for ways that Paul believes Jesus is really real:

“I want you to know how glad I am that it’s me sitting here in this jail and not you. There’s a lot of suffering to be entered into in this world—the kind of suffering Christ takes on. I welcome the chance to take my share in the church’s part of that suffering. When I became a servant in this church, I experienced this suffering as a sheer gift, God’s way of helping me serve you, laying out the whole truth.

This mystery has been kept in the dark for a long time, but now it’s out in the open. God wanted everyone, not just Jews, to know this rich and glorious secret inside and out, regardless of their background, regardless of their religious standing. The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, so therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory. It’s that simple. That is the substance of our Message. We preach Christ, warning people not to add to the Message. We teach in a spirit of profound common sense so that we can bring each person to maturity. To be mature is to be basic. Christ! No more, no less. That’s what I’m working so hard at day after day, year after year, doing my best with the energy God so generously gives me.”

In our worship services we say creeds. We don’t do this “because we have always done it.” We recite the creeds to remind us that Jesus is really real. These creeds state what we believe as Christians. The Apostle’s Creed, one of the oldest writings we have about Jesus, starts with “I believe…”

The Apostle’s Creed says this about Jesus:

And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord:
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

The Apostle’s Creed reminds us that Jesus is real. Really real. And that’s why we say it.

Now another aspect of the question “Is Christ real to me?” I think can be perceived by changing just one two-letter word in that question with another two letter word: “Is Christ real in me?”

This goes beyond a belief in the historical Jesus of Nazareth. It goes beyond believing that he crucified for our sins and on the third day rose again. This question gets to where we have faith in a living Christ, alive and present within us at this moment.

If Jesus Christ lives in us, by the power of the Holy Spirit, then the fruit of that presence will be evident in the words we say and how we act.

We know that the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. If the really real Jesus lives in us, then that is the kind of fruit we will bear.

In the scripture we read today from Colossians Paul says, “To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

In John 15 we read Jesus saying, “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” — John 15:4-5

If Jesus is real to you, and real in you, then you will bear fruit.

Another way that we remember that Jesus is real to us is through participating in the Lord’s Supper. When we come and kneel at the altar we are given real bread, which reminds us of the real, bodily sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross. And we are given real wine (well, real grape juice) which reminds us of the blood that Jesus shed on the cross. Real blood, his own blood, shed through tremendous amounts of pain.

(Note: Do you know what blood type Jesus was? “B Saved.”)

So my challenge to you this week is to ask yourself every day, “Is Jesus real to/in me?” Practice those spiritual disciplines like Bible study and reading, prayer, works of mercy, and acts of kindness.

Make sure Christ is not just sorta real, but really real.

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

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