Isaiah 61:1-3, II Corinthians 3:12-18
February 5, 2017
A couple of weeks ago – when I was here last – we read this passage from II Corinthians. “And we, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness, from one degree of glory to the next.”
I love those words! (Paul could really write, couldn’t he!) Well, if you think back, we started the year thinking about being “New Creations.” And what we said about that was that, yes, we are made new in Christ Jesus, but what then? What do we do about that? Well, we said last time that we need to be thinking about “Moving Forward.” We need to know that we are called to grow in our faith, not stand still, and be content with where we are. And I quoted you a number of passages in the New Testament that talked about that.
So, today I am revisiting this one. I am focusing in on these words from II Corinthians. Because I believe this is one of the most important ways we move forward in our faith. We take Paul at his word, and we realize that we are “being changed into the likeness of Jesus Christ!”
That sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? “We are change into the likeness of Christ, from one degree of glory to the next.” Again, Paul was very good at saying such things. However, I’m not so sure we are all that crazy about it actually happening. I’m not so sure we want that kind of change in our lives. Sure, we want that in the next life, in the life that is to come? But in this life??? That’s what I want you to think about today.
A few minutes ago, we read from Isaiah 61. Here the prophet talks about “the year of the Lord’s favor.” I love the descriptions Isaiah gives us! Think about this for a moment. “The spirit has sent me to bring good news to the afflicted, to bind up the broken-hearted, and to proclaim liberty to the captives.”
There’s no doubt that Jesus saw himself in that prophecy. In fact, I think there’s no doubt he had that quote in mind in Matthew 11. If you remember that passage, John (the Baptist) had sent word to him, asking if he really was “the one who was to come.” “Or should we look for another?” Do you remember what Jesus said? (And remember what an old pastor friend of mine used to say, that Jesus was constantly quoting scripture!) “John is asking if I’m ‘the one?’” he asked. “Go tell John what you have seen and heard. The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up and the poor have the good news preached to them.”
I want you to think about those things, as we consider what it means to be “changed into his likeness.” Because that “likeness” is not as easy as it sounds. Think about how Jesus conducted his life. Jesus “hung out” with the wrong kinds of people. He disregarded the religious conventions of the time, and he opposed the religious authorities who oversaw them. And I would remind you, that those religious leaders were men the people of Israel had known all their lives! They had come to respect them as their leaders! Now, Jesus was opposing them, and they were telling the people that Jesus was wrong.
And they seemed to have good reason! Jesus changed the interpretation of their scriptures. He “updated” their teachings. He told the people to love their enemies! And he turned their ideas of “neighbor” and “enemy” on their ear.
I remind you of all those things about Jesus today. Because I think that’s what we need to keep in mind as we think about the kind of people we might be, as we are “changed into his likeness” – as we strive to “be like Jesus.”
So, it might be a good place to start, if we remember the people Jesus reached out to in his ministry. He reached out to the broken-hearted and the outcast – that’s right out of Isaiah 61! We might think about who are the broken-hearted and the outcast in our world. And we might then think about how we can reach out to them.
Think about that. Who are they? They might simply be people who are “not like us.” We humans tend to be more “comfortable” with those who are like us. Isn’t that true? Well I believe “being like Jesus” means looking beyond that tendency, and reaching out to the those who are “not like us,” or as the people of the Old Testament put it, “The foreigner and sojourner in our midst.” (I love the way the Bible puts things, sometimes!)
That’s not easy. Because maybe we’re talking about people of a different race, or culture, or religion… or “political leaning!” (Horrors!) How can we accept and love them? That might mean simply showing respect, even though we might disagree with them. Maybe it’s something simple as having a “friendly conversation” with someone who might not be expecting us to have a friendly conversation. What “connections” can we make with “The foreigner and sojourner in our midst?”
The other people we might consider reaching out to – as Jesus did – might not be so easy to identify. As Isaiah said, he came to “bind up the broken-hearted.” There is a lot of “brokenness” in our world. “Broken-hearted people” are all around us. And we may or may not see that in them. Sometimes a kind word or an unexpected action makes all the difference for such people. I know I’ve been On the receiving end of that. Maybe you have, too. There have been times I was having a bad day, or I was hurting for some reason, and someone simply treated me kindly. And just like that, it changed my whole attitude! We can do that, too! And we never know what effect it has on someone else!
As we think about that kind of thing, I think it’s helpful to try to see others as Jesus would see them. In our first service, we sing a song called “Through Jesus’ eyes.” Maybe that’s a good thought to let run around in our heads today. “Look at life through Jesus’ eyes.”
In all this, as we “move forward” in our faith, the question is, will we strive to see Jesus, not only as our Lord and Savior, but also as our example and guide? That’s the hard part. Jesus didn’t come just so we could “get to heaven” in the next life. He came to show us how to live in this life. And we are to strive to be like him, because we are the continuation of his ministry here on earth! That’s a tall order! Isn’t it? But the good thing, and the next thing we will look at, is that it’s not totally up to us. If it were, it would be difficult, if not impossible! In striving to “be like Jesus,” we can know that he is with us!
The other thing that’s important here is that we don’t do this alone. We’re here for each other. Paul also knew the value of our “interconnectedness.” He loved words like “forebear,” “upbuild,” “encouragement,” and my favorite “edification.” (Which means to “build up.”) Remember the age old question, “Can I be a Christian and not go to church?” Well, the first answer to that is always, “Of course!” But there’s always a “But…” “Of course you can! But… can you have a living, growing faith which sustains you through the trials of this life – without going to church?” And the answer to that is, “It’s very hard!” I’ve said that before. But I’d like to add another question. “But… can you be the kind of person God wants you to be, and can you be like Jesus, without the support and encouragement of others?” “That’s very hard, too!”
Remember what we said at Kirkwood this summer. “It’s easier to be God’s people when you are with God’s people!” That’s true here, too. Together we look to Jesus, “the Author and finisher of our faith.” The other way that’s translated is, “The pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” Those are the words we’re going to take up next week. So I want you to be thinking of them this week.
As I started out, “Being like Jesus” is not easy. We need to understand what he was like in order to know what we should be like. We need to look to him as our guide. And we need to bring each other along. That’s how we “move forward” in our faith. We seek to be like Jesus – together!
Eternal God, help us to see the world through your eyes. Help us to know how you love people so we can learn to love them, too. Help us to keep Jesus and his ministry in mind as we go about our daily lives, considering always how we can “be like him.” For this we pray in his name, Amen.