Proper Identification

Several years ago, I was at the saving’s store. You know the saving’s store. Can I be honest with you? Every time, I go to the saving’s store, I end up back in the electronics department. I am not a big television watcher, but I love to look at all the televisions mounted on the back wall. The screens are all different sizes, but each picture is equally beautiful. I love it when all the screens have the same picture. I was just standing their admiring a picture of a parrot when someone jolted me back to reality. This woman grabbed me by my right arm, spun me around and said, “Randall, is that you?” She gave me a big hung and continued, “Are you home for a visit or have you moved back?” I looked at her and said, “I am not Randall.” She turned a million shades of red and said, “I am so sorry. You look just like my cousin, Randall.” I said, “It is fine. He must be an extra good-looking man.” She smiled and said, “Yes, he is.” Making a proper identification is important!

Several years ago, I received a bill from Alpine Visa. I opened it and discovered I

had been shopping at the Belk’s Department Store in Guntersville, Alabama. I owed about $375. There were only two problems. I have never been to Guntersville, Alabama, or a Belk’s Department Store. I Googled Alpine Visa and found out it was all part of a larger scam. The site suggested I go to my local police department and file a report. About an hour later, I was sitting at the police department and filing a report. The officer told me I was smart for coming. Many would have paid the $375. I am too cheap to pay an extra $375. The officer also said I was a victim of identity fraud. Making a proper identification is important.

In 2014, Katheryn DePrill (born 1987) lived in Allentown, Pennsylvania, along with her husband and three children. She will tell you; life is full of surprises. Her biggest surprise came when she was 12 years old.  She was working on a school project about her family tree. Her parents, Carl and Brenda Hollis, slid a scrapbook in front of her and told her the truth. She was adopted! There is nothing glamorous about her story. She was abandoned by her biological mother in the restroom of the local Burger King. In time, she was adopted by Carl and Brenda, who gave her a loving stable home. Katheryn will always consider them her parents, but she was determined to find her biological mother. She holds no hard feelings against her. She just wants to meet her to fill a void in her heart. It was her mother’s idea to seek help on Facebook. More than 30,000 friends helped Katheryn find her. At 27 years old, Katheryn met her biological mother for the first time.  At the time of Katheryn’s birth, her biological mother was seventeen years old. She had been raped in a foreign country. That story grabbed my attention at several levels. Making a proper identity is important. Making a proper identification is at the very heart of our scripture lesson for today.

We find ourselves in the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark. The first eight verses of Mark introduce us to John the Baptist. He is an interesting character. He wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt. He ate locust and wild honey. His wardrobe and diet underscored his one-word message: repent! Unlike Jesus, who went to people, John retreated from people, living in the wilderness. However, the scriptures tell us people responded to his message. Many found John in the wilderness and repented. Each one received a sinner’s baptism, each one needed a sinner’s baptism, except one. The lone exception to the rule was the sinless Jesus. It is his baptism that grabs our attention today. According to Mark, Jesus was immersed in the Jordan River.

The question that haunts this story is, why would the sinless Jesus need a sinner’s baptism? It is an important question with three answers:

  1. Jesus’s baptism fulfilled all righteousness. In other words, Jesus was part of God’s plan for the salvation of the world.
  2. Jesus’s baptism ignited his earthly ministry and ended John’s contributions.
  3. Jesus’s baptism shows us that he completely identified with the sins of mankind.

Jesus’s baptism should never be dismissed. It was a red-letter day in Jesus’s life. Even God, Himself, was there. As Jesus is pulled out of the water, the Almighty speaks, “You are my Beloved Son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased.” That line is significant because it eases any doubt of Jesus’s identification. Jesus was the son of God. Jesus was the incarnation. Jesus was the greatest life who has ever lived because he died to make salvation possible for all. Making a proper identification is important. Jesus knew a proper identity was important too.

One of the great stories in the Bible is Peter’s confession. (Mark 8:27-30) It all began with a simple question. Who do people say that I am? (Mark 8:27-30) That is what Jesus asked the disciples. They responded, some thought he was John the Baptist incarnated. Others said, Jesus was the great prophet Elijah. Still others thought he was one of the prophets. They are all impressive answers, but each one of those impressive answers is wrong! It illustrates for us you can identify Jesus in an impressive way and be wrong. That is what we find with other world religions.

If you ask other world religions about Jesus, they have a collection of impressive wrong answers. Let me give you a few examples. Muslims believe Jesus was a great prophet, but he was not the son of God, nor the incarnation of God. Orthodox Jews believe Jesus was the son of Mary, a miracle worker and crucified on a cross. However, he was not the Messiah. Hindus believe Jesus was a Holy or Wise Man. Some Hindus believe Jesus was a god, one of many gods who have existed in history. Buddhists believe Jesus was enlightened. The Bahai faith looks for the best in all world religions. They teach Jesus was one of many manifestations of God. The Druze is a western Asian religion. It is a more of a philosophy than it is a salvation system. They respect the teachings of Jesus and consider him a prophet. They are all impressive answers, but they are all you. Let me ask Jesus’s question again.

Who do people say that I am? In our society, very few completely reject Jesus completely. Most are impressed by Jesus. Some say Jesus was a great role model. He was always loving and forgiving. Some say Jesus was a great teacher. His lessons draw massive crowds, and made each attendee think. Some say he was a great miracle worker, healing the sick, the blind and the demonic. Have you ever called on the name of Jesus to heal a sick loved one? Some say Jesus was a martyr, he died on the cross and created a new way to live. Those answers are not bad answers. They are impressive, but they are incomplete. Making a proper identification is important. Then, Jesus asked the real question.

Who do you say I am? There were twelve disciples, but only one spoke. Peter said, “You are the Messiah.” The rock did not completely understand what he was saying. His understanding of Messiahship would be challenged, but two thousand years later we do understand. Jesus was the very incarnation of God. His three-year ministry changed our world and changed the way we view eternity. Without Jesus, our lives in this world are shallow. Without Jesus, we have no hope of heaven. In the life of the church nothing is more important than Jesus. Without Jesus, we have nothing at all. Making a proper identification is important.

I did some math the other night. I have been on the ministry for thirty-eight years, the last twenty-six here. I am proud of my longevity. My longevity makes me a curiosity in this system, but I feel respected. From time to time, I am asked to be a mentor for a young pastor who come to this district. Generally, I refuse to be anyone’s mentor, but I do offer to be their friend. (Being a mentor would require another pointless form.) I have made some great friends with younger clergy. I feel bad for younger United Methodist clergy because they are beginning their careers in such complex times. The ministry, itself, is simple. I have said it a million times. All one must do is talk about Jesus and care about your people. In the ministry nothing else really matters. Everything else is an extra. Who wants to go to church and not hear about Jesus? God, himself, identified Jesus correctly at his baptism. Jesus was the son of God and our Lord and Savior. In the life of the church, the only thing that really matters is Jesus. Making a proper identification is important.Let me end with an old preaching story, I have told you in the past.

A church received a new minister. The church was full for his first Sunday and he preached a wonderful sermon about Jesus. The second Sunday came, and he preached another wonderful sermon about Jesus. His third sermon was about Jesus. Each week the congregation heard a wonderful sermon about Jesus. This went on for months. Everyone should have been happy, but this was a church. Someone had to complain about all those wonderful sermons about Jesus. One man pulled the minister to the side after worship one Sunday. In the corner of the narthex, he confronted the minister. He began by saying, “Your sermons about Jesus are excellent. However, you have been here for months and all we have heard is about Jesus. Our world is a complex place and there are some many social ills. There are people starving to death. There are diseases that have no curve. There are people who cannot read. There are children lost in slavery and lives being lost in wars. We do not hear about any of those things. All we hear about is Jesus! Doesn’t anything else matter? And the pastor said, “No! Once the world knows Jesus all those other issues will go away.” After all, Jesus is the son of God. Our only hope of salvation. In the life of the church, what really matters to you? Augustine of Hippo (354-430) once said, “Jesus Christ is not valued at all until He is valued above all.”