Today in Canada we face a grave danger that may affect the condition of millions of souls and the direction of the nation. What is this danger? We are too familiar with Jesus. Far too many Canadians have heard of him. “Now hold on a minute” you may say, “shouldn’t a Baptist pastor be thrilled that so many Canadians have heard of Jesus?” Well actually, no. Why? Consider what happens when Jesus goes back to his hometown as recorded in Mark chapter 6:
When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. (Mark 6:2,3 NIV)
Familiarity with Jesus led the people of his hometown to be offended in him. Despite the miracles they had heard of, and despite the wise and remarkable teaching they were hearing, they could not get past what they thought they knew of him. “Isn’t he someone we know quite a bit about already?” As it turns out, the hometown crowd does not know much a out him at all. What they thought they knew about him prevented them from really knowing him.
“Isn’t he . . .?” That is how many Canadians will respond when the name of Jesus is mentioned. “Isn’t he from that religion that was important to our grandparents but is no longer relevant to us? Isn’t he that teacher that religious nuts made out to be a god after his death? Isn’t he . . . ?” and on and on will come opinion after opinion about Jesus. The problem is the same today as it was for The people of Jesus’ hometown. What people think they know about him becomes “gospel truth.” But it isn’t. And it becomes an obstacle to faith, a stumbling block at the entrance of the the Kingdom.
So how can the Church respond to this danger of familiarity?
First, we can get to know the hometown crowd. The study of apologetics is increasing in importance in the current Canadian scene. Apologetics is not being sorry for our faith, but rather is the reasonable defense of our faith. Some would sum the task up under the verse from Peter:
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15 NIV)
One side of the coin in apologetics is defending the truth of what we believe as Christians reasonably and rationally. The other side of the coin is planting seeds of doubt that what the hometown crowd thinks is true, is actually true and reasonable. The journey to faith for many Canadians will, I believe, begin with doubt. Very few Canadians today have a blank ’belief’ canvas without some notion or opinion of who Jesus is. Some falsehoods may need erased before truths can be written in. Familiarity can be a curse! I believe the Christian must help those familiar with Jesus know Jesus instead.
Second, we can pray for miracles. An interesting story in the New Testament records how James, the brother of our Lord, moved from apparent skepticism to passionate faith. During Jesus’ public ministry he seems to be, along with the hometown crowd a sceptic. Can you blame him? I wouldn’t know what to make of it if my brother started doing the he things Jesus did and teaching the things Jesus taught. Yet we discover that by the end of the Biblical record, James is a key leader in the church in Jerusalem. How did this transformation from hometown sceptic to key leader and believer in Jerusalem happen? Paul tells us in 1st Corinthians 15:
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8 NIV)
“He appeared to James.” That is a miracle. And that is a miracle we need in our day in Canada, a miracle that we can and should be praying for. There are so many who think they know something about Jesus. They are familiar with him. We can pray for them, for the miracle of knowing Jesus. Let the hometown Canadian crowd inspire us to pray for miracles. Perhaps you can think of someone right now who needs that miracle? Maybe it is you.