7/23/2000, P6, Year B
is Jesus so Popular Today?
t is happening all around the world where Jesus, name is lifted up; he is more popular than ever. In churches where Christ is regularly proclaimed, there is growth. In families where Jesus is Lord, there is a haven of security from the secular world. In so many millions of human hearts where Christ reigns supremely, there is joy and peace and a sense of glory.
Jesus is a hit! He is more famous now than ever before. More people are hearing about him and more are turning their lives over to him. Churches are growing more rapidly than ever before in the two millenniums of Christian history. There are more disciples of Jesus than ever.
But why? Why is Jesus still sought by so many after so many decades?
It is really nothing new. Our lection for Sunday records how charismatic Jesus was and how the apostles, and thousands of others in Palestine, gathered around him to the point that several times he became overwhelmed by the crush of the crowds and had to get away. Mark's gospel records one of Jesus' efforts to have a brief vacation:
"Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.' For many were coming and going, and we have no leisure even to eat. And they went away in a boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things" (6:30-34).
Mark also records what happened after they had crossed the sea and arrived at the nation of Gennesaret:
"When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed." (6:54-56, NRSV).
Why is Jesus still the most popular figure in our day? Let us look at why he was the most popular figure of his own day.
First, it is obvious that Jesus was a charismatic person. People were attracted to him because he loved them and cared for them. The Apostles gathered around him and pledged their lives and fortunes to his cause, even though they did not understand what he meant by a kingdom. A larger circle of disciples, including women and children, followed him in his preaching/teaching circuit. Then, there were thousands of others who were drawn to him because of the massive miraculous meals that he sometimes fed them. Thousands came to him for healing of physical problems. However, all who came to him believing, received something that they did not expect because they had never heard about it: They received peace in their hearts that made friendship with the Father seem so natural. This new spiritual experience naturally resulted in a deep bond with Jesus. And as the word got out as to what was happening in peoples' hearts, many more came to Jesus: Thus, his great popularity in his day.
The great sociologist of the Church, Lyle Schaller, says that this same evangelical fervor is the reason that Jesus is so popular today. This is why more individuals are accepting Jesus Christ as their Savior than at any other time in history. There are other contributing factors in this current success in world evangelization; such as, the ability to distribute Bibles and books in native languages, satellite and video television, ease of intercontinental travel, the waning of totalitarian communism, the affluent economy of western nations. However, the main factor in the boom in evangelism is found in the wonderful gospel of Jesus Christ that is being proclaimed for which the world is hungry, Jesus is the reason for the popularity of the gospel.
However, Schaller also says that the question remains whether the former "mainline" denominations will become a part of the world wide success story. Many have grown accustomed to resting on our laurels of decades gone bye-bye. We have created artificial liturgical and creedal barriers that have the effect of keeping a less formal generation locked out. However, in our mainline churches (Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, etc.) where the person and work of Jesus is proclaimed foremost, there is success as great as what has been happening in more traditionally evangelical and pentecostal churches.
Just as on the hills of Galilee, and the beaches and towns on Gennesaret, Jesus Christ is the one who draws all spiritually needy people to himself. Our part in the process is the proclamation of his wonderfully attractive glad tidings of great joy to all people.
What we, here at this strategic center of one of the world's great cities, need to know is that by proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ we will continue to grow. More and more of us are believing that it is God's will that Methodism should not abandon the city. New York, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, indeed most great metropolitan areas, have strong churches at the core. Half of the largest churches in the United States are in the center city.
Our church has shown a consistent gradual gain in membership and ministry during the past three years. We have had a net gain of sixty, growing from 908 to 968. The rate of growth has increased in the past year and we expect the rate to continue to increase as the smoke turns into fire. The secret of our "success" has been that we have attempted to faithfully proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is never void, in all that we do.
All has begun to happen because Jesus is so popular today!
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor