"No 'Neutrality' About Jesus!"
(Delivered Sunday, November 5, 2005 at Bethany Bible Church. All Scripture quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the New King James Version.)
Let me begin with a simple affirmation: No one can be "neutral" about Jesus Christ. Jesus - as He is presented to us in the Bible - forces everyone who encounters Him to make a decision about Him. He put it very simply when He declared, "He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad" (Matthew 12:30).
The things that Jesus did - and the things that He claimed about Himself as He did them - are of such a nature that they force us to choose what we will do with Him. We must either worship Him, or we will have to reject Him out of hand. We must either bow to Him, or we will have to oppose Him. We must either be for Him, or we will be set against Him.
Every one of us in this room today MUST choose what they personally will do with Jesus. But whatever we may choose, none of us can choose to be "neutral" about Him.
When it comes to Jesus, "neutrality" is simply not an option.
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Now, that's not to say that many people don't try to be "neutral" about Jesus. Many folks often boast in a "moderate view" toward Him. But when they do so, they are either unaware of the claims He made about Himself, or they are choosing to ignore those claims. They may be able to act "sentimental" about Jesus, but they can't be "sincere" - not, at least, if they truly know what He says about Himself.
In his classic book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis expressed the impossibility of a "neutral view" of Jesus. He said,
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: "I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God." That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic - on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg - or else he would be the devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.1
Perhaps you've heard that quote before. If you were to ask me, I'd say that those words are among the most profound words that C.S. Lewis ever wrote. They express perfectly why no one can be neutral about Jesus - given the things He said about Himself!
We have been studying the Gospel of Matthew. Just think with me of some of the things that Jesus said about Himself - as they are found in Matthew's Gospel alone! For example, in Matthew 7 - in the Sermon on The Mount - Jesus made one of the most outstanding claims about Himself than anyone could ever make. He said;
"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'" (Matthew 7:21-23).
Many people claim to love the Sermon on The Mount. Even unbelieving people - people who say that Jesus is a great teacher and nothing more - claim to love it. But do you realize the astonishing things Jesus claims about Himself in these words? He is claiming (1) that the God who sits upon the throne of heaven is uniquely His Father, (2) that He Himself will be referred to as "Lord" on the great day of Judgment, (3) that people before the judgment of God will be making their appeal to Him, and (4) that He will be the One who will decide who may come into heaven!
Now think of it! Either what He is saying is true, or it isn't! There's no way to make what He said only "moderately" true. And if what He said about Himself isn't true, then whatever else He may be, He is certainly not a great teacher! He is either a madman of the most pathetic type imaginable - someone who, under no circumstances, ought ever be held up as an example, or quoted from, or even listened to; or else He is a demonic liar who has perpetrated the most destructive lie ever told - a lie that, over the last two-thousand years, has given countless millions of poor, suffering, dying people a tragically false hope of eternity! How can any thinking person be "neutral" about such a thing as that?
Or think of this. Jesus once said,
"If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matthew 16:24-26).
Look at what He claims about Himself! He claims that "finding life" or "losing life" hinges upon taking up our cross - that is, the instrument of our own death to "self" - and following Him! He even claims that following Him is worth more than gaining the whole world; and that choosing not to so follow Him, and choosing to cling to one's own life instead, would eventually lead to the loss of one's own soul.
Now you tell me; can these honestly be considered the words of a "great moral teacher" and nothing more? Certainly not! . . . not if they're untrue! Just think of the countless martyrs and missionaries who have taken Him at His word, and have gladly laid down their lives for His cause! Just think of those who still do so today! If what He said about Himself was not true, then there is nothing noble about what any of these followers of His have done, or of the sacrifices they have made in His name! They will have either laid down their lives for the babblings of a lunatic, or will have helped to advance the monstrous lies of the most notorious deceiver who ever walked the earth!
And as if that were not enough, look at what He goes on to say!
"For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works" (Matthew 16:27).
Here, He claims to be the Son of Man - a name by which He identifies Himself to be the Head of the human race; a name that speaks of nothing less than His divine right to rule and judge all of humanity. By calling Himself the Son of Man, He makes Himself your Judge and mine! Can any of us be neutral about such a claim?
And as He use this name, Jesus goes on to claim that He will one day come (1) in the glory of the Father in heaven, (2) be accompanied by the angels of heaven when He comes, and (3) then reward every human being according to his or her works. Again, these words are either divine words of sober truth, or they are expressions of insanity, or worse - they are diabolical lies from the evil one! No one can be merely "neutral" toward the One who spoke them.
When you think about it, one of the most remarkable affirmations Jesus made about Himself was through what someone else said concerning Him. He asked His disciples, "Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?" And they recited some of the various things people said about Him. But when He asked what they - His own disciples - believed about Him, Peter said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
Now, if a statement of that significance wasn't true, a "great teacher" would have been very quick to correct His students! But Jesus never claimed to be merely a "great teacher". Listen to how Jesus responded to this remarkable evaluation from His own disciples:
"Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:17-19).
Now, such words as that can only be responded to with three responses: either deep pity, or with horror and revulsion, or with reverent submission. But no one can respond to them with indifference and an attitude of neutrality - unless they are simply not thinking, or unless they believe that words mean nothing!
Matthew records other shocking claims from Jesus. He encouraged His disciples and said,
". . . Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life" (Matthew 19:29).
He told them of things that were yet to occur, and said,
"Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away" (24:35).
He stood resolute when He was arrested in the Garden, and said to those who tried to rescue Him,
". . . Do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?" (26:53).
He stood before Pilate and dared to say,
". . . I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven" (26:64).
Who can possibly remain "neutral" about Jesus, when they think seriously about such remarkable statements as those He made about Himself?
Certainly, no one can be neutral about Jesus when it's claimed that He was seen alive from the dead! And what's more, no one can remain neutral to what it's reported that He claimed about Himself after His resurrection! Matthew claims that He stood before His astonished disciples - some who Matthew tells us even "doubted" what they were seeing - and said,
"All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:18-20).
Now, if these are the words of someone who didn't rise from the dead - if they are, in fact, words of either a sick mind or a sinister monster - then they are dangerous words. We should work to rid the earth of them, and see to it that people will never again hear them or be deceived by them.
But then, if they are in actual fact the words of the risen Savior of mankind, then they constitute the greatest commission ever given - a command that every one of us should be eager to give his or her entire life to keeping!
But here's the point of it all: Whatever one chooses to do with Jesus, it is impossible - absolutely impossible - to be "neutral" about Him!
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All of this leads us to this morning's very short passage. In it, we're dealing with more than just the things that Jesus said about Himself. We're also dealing with the things that were DONE by Him - things that He did that confirmed the claims He made about Himself! And it was the things that Jesus did that forced the people around Him to make a decision about Him.
Matthew tells us;
As they went out, behold, they brought to Him a man, mute and demon-possessed. And when the demon was cast out, the mute spoke. And the multitudes marveled saying, "It was never seen like this in Israel!" But the Pharisees said, "He casts out demons by the ruler of the demons (Matthew 9:32-34).
In this passage, it was said that "It was never seen like this in Israel!". Jesus' actions were unprecedented - for even so great a land of "miracles" as Israel. His actions identified Him as more than just a mere "man"; and removed the "neutrality" option even further.
And what's more, we see that, in this passage, a decision was made about Him! The Pharisees who saw what He did could in no way deny the miracle they saw. He actually cast out a demon, and healed the man of his muteness before their very eyes. A decision about Jesus was impossible to avoid. He was either a pathetic madman, a deceitful devil, or the true Son of God. And since no mere crazy-man could do the Jesus did, and since the only options left before them were to either bow down to Jesus as God in human flesh or to revile Him as an instrument of the devil, they chose the latter.
These Pharisees would not be with Him; so they must - by necessity - be against Him. They chose to blaspheme Jesus, and to interpret Jesus in this way: "He casts out demons by the ruler of the demons." In short, they actually dared to say that Jesus was more "demon-possessed" than the man He healed.
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As we go on in our study of Matthew's Gospel, we'll see that Jesus will deal with those accusations very effectively (Matthew 12:24-37). But for now, the "big lesson" of this passage has to do with that great choice we all must make about Jesus. There is no difference between those Pharisees then, and us today. Just like them, everyone here today is confronted with the same choice: What will you do with Jesus? How will you choose to respond to Him?
If you have a sense of the greatness of your need - if you realize that you are a desperate sinner in need of a Savior, and that Jesus proves Himself to be that Savior - then you will run to Him and receive Him as the Savior that He proves Himself to be!
But if you are so committed to sinful habits and practices that you will not allow yourself to change them - if you are too proud and self-righteous to admit your sin or recognize your need for a Savior - if you have so constructed your view of the world that it will not admit the truth of anything other than what you choose to believe - then you will eventually come to hate this Jesus and slander Him as those Pharisees did.
You can sum it up this way: What you do with Jesus, and how you respond to the claims the Bible makes about Him, reveals the true condition of your heart.
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Look at the details of this story once again with me. We're told that this happened "As they went out". That is, it happened as Jesus and His disciples left from the house they were in - the very house in which Jesus had just healed two blind men who had come to Him (Matthew 9:27-31).
Think, then, of this story in the context of all that had proceeded it. Not only had Jesus just healed two blind men, but - in the sight of eyewitnesses - He had also healed a leper of his leprosy (8:1-4), had healed a centurion's servant with just a word (8:5-13), had raised Peter's mother-in-law from her bed of sickness of a high fever (8:14-15), and spent an evening healing all who came to Him of sick or demon possessed (8:16-17). He had even immediately healed a sick woman when she merely touched the hem of His garment (9:20-22), and had even raised a young girl from the dead (9:23-26). In other words, He didn't merely speak about His authority; but He actually demonstrated that He had power over all kinds of sickness, over demonic spirits, over the weather, and even over death itself!
And did you know that, in all of this, He was fulfilling God's prophetic word concerning the Messiah? Jesus once quoted from Isaiah 61:1-2 - words that spoke concerning the Messiah - and said:
"The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD" (Luke 4:18-19).
And then, looking upon all who heard Him, He dared to say, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing" (v. 21). His actions had proven Him to be the Messiah promised by the prophetic scriptures.
No doubt, many who watched the things He had been doing thought of Isaiah 35:4-6; where it says,
"Say to those who are fearful-hearted, 'Be strong, do not fear! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God; He will come and save you. Then, the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped . . ."
And there Jesus was - healing the eyes of the blind, and unstopping the ears of the deaf!
Perhaps you remember that John the Baptist had gone through a time of doubting. He was in prison; and sent some of his disciples to Jesus to ask if He truly was the Messiah. And Jesus assured him by sending them back; saying,
"Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me" (Matthew 11:4-6).
Now, given all that had proceeded the events of this morning's passage, it should have been clear who Jesus was - especially to the Pharisees, who were so learned in the prophetic scriptures. And yet, when someone brought a man to Jesus who couldn't speak because of a demon that was afflicting Him - and when Jesus cast the demon out, and the man began to speak - the Pharisees refused to respond with reverence and worship.
They could not argue with what they saw. There was no trick involved. Jesus had clearly cast out the demon and healed the man before their very eyes. But in the hardness of their hearts, they simply would not accept it. They said, "He casts out demons by the ruler of the demons" (that is, by Satan).
Their response to what they clearly saw about Jesus revealed the true condition of their hearts. On another occasion, Jesus told His disciples about such people and said;
". . . Seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says;
Truly then, what we choose to do with Jesus, and how we choose to respond to the claims the Bible makes about Him, reveals the true condition of our hearts.
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What should we do, then. with this Jesus who makes such remarkable claims about Himself - and then proves those claims by His actions? Let me close by sharing with you the response of another Pharisee - one, however, who had a far different heart than the others. He saw the works of Jesus, and came to a completely different conclusion than they did. His response shows us what to do.
The apostle John tells us,
There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him" (John 3:1-2).
This very astute man Nicodemus saw the works of Jesus, and believed Him to be the Teacher come from God. And in response, Jesus told him what He truly needed.
Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (v. 3).
Jesus went on to explain to Nicodemus that to be "born again" means to be given new birth from God in a spiritual sense. And He told him that the experience of becoming "born again" is granted to those who place their faith in Jesus as He truly is. It's then that we read the words of one of the most famous passages in all the Bible:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved" (John 3:16-17).
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So then, every one of us MUST choose what we will do with Jesus. There are only three options: We will either reject Him as a madman, or we will oppose Him as a diabolical liar, or we will bow to Him as Lord and receive Him as our Savior. But which ever option we choose, none of us can remain neutral about Him.
What will you do with Jesus?
1C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1960); pp. 40-41.
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