Nearly every time someone recognized Jesus and acknowledged Him as the Messiah, it was because of His acts of mercy and compassion. It’s no different today. Non-believers recognize Jesus in us when they see His love flowing through us. People see hope through the help. They assume that if someone is willing to help, then they may be a source of hope as well. It is our actions (Care), when combined with our words (Share) and our pleas to God to reconcile someone to Him (Prayer), that open eyes to see and ears to hear.
“Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name.” (John 2:23)
“Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.” (John 4:48)
What signs and wonders did they want to see? The arrogant and unbelieving sarcastically asked Jesus to perform a magic trick that was either self-centered or for self-preservation – associating him with their own priorities. They were not compassionate and therefore did not ask for compassion.
However, those who were humble and expectant asked for practical help like healing or food. They were in need and simply asked for kindness.
In either case, the arrogant and humble were alike in one respect – they wouldn’t believe unless Jesus did something. Jesus refused to perform on demand if intended as a test, but fulfilled requests that were rooted in compassion. As a result, many who were lowly and oppressed witnessed and were deeply impacted by Jesus’ demonstrations of love and empathy, whereas few with superiority complexes got to see Jesus in action or acknowledged His divinity when they did.
The lesson from all this is clear – people won’t recognize Jesus in our lives and in His Church if we do not practice what we preach. Words are not enough – we can’t “outpreach” Jesus. Although He had the perfect words, He still led with compassion. Yet today churches devote less than 1% of their time, energy and budget to local missions. Sad considering churches followed Jesus’ model and took the lead in compassion for 1900 years.
How People Recognized Jesus…
People did not recognize Jesus was the Messiah simply because He told them He was the Christ, but only after He had done something to demonstrate His compassion and love for them:
- John recognized Jesus, exclaiming “It is the Lord” only after He filled their nets with fish (John 21:6-7)
- The two men Jesus met on the road to Emmaus recognized Christ only after He handed them bread to eat (Luke 24:28-35)
- The royal official recognized and believed in Jesus only after his son was healed (John 4:53)
- The man born blind recognized Jesus as God’s son only after He was healed (John 9:35-38)
- The disciples recognized it was Jesus and not a ghost only after He saved Peter from drowning (Matthew 14:26-33)
- The city of Genneseret recognized Jesus for His ability to heal and brought Him all who were ill (Matthew 14:34-36)
- The woman at the well recognized Jesus as a prophet (and the Messiah) only after He conveyed an intimate knowledge of her personal history (John 4:7-30; 39-42)
- Nathaniel recognized Jesus as the Son of God only after He showed He cared enough to understand and acknowledge him personally (John 1:47-49)
- Mary recognized Jesus was not the gardener only after He spoke her name (John 20:14-16)
- The Roman soldier recognized Jesus was the Son of God only after He died for our sins (Matthew 27:50-54)
What does that mean for how Jesus recognizes His followers and how others recognize Jesus in us?
How Jesus Recognizes True Believers…
Are you like many Christians disturbed by Jesus’ parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25? Maybe you find it a bit uncomfortable to read Jesus’ warning in Matthew 7 that even many of those who are highly “religious” will find themselves on the outside looking in on Judgement Day? Yes, each of us is saved by grace and not by works, yet as the Book of James contends, faith without works is dead. Jesus questioned whether someone lacking the compassion to feed the hungry, clothe the poor and help those imprisoned (for their faith in Christ) is really a Christian at all. We should too.
Christ recognizes His followers by their sincere compassion and love (demonstrated by actions), not simply by their status or nice-sounding words:
- Jesus was toughest on those who were the toughest on others (arrogant) and chose to use those who were toughest on themselves (humble).
- American Christians are not great judges of genuine believers. Our culture tends to glamorize the wealthy and devalue the poor. We often see humility as a sign of weakness and want the most self-confident person on our team.
- When God picks his teammates, He looks for those most likely to bring glory to Him (not to themselves) and to love others well. Thus the Lord chose the “lowest of the low”, like shepherds and fishermen.
- God recognizes greatness in low places where we usually look for it in high places.
- The Lord recognizes the righteous, but we are often fooled by the self-righteous.
- Jesus says we will recognize false prophets and true believers by their fruit. Most of the fruits of the Spirit have to do with how we treat others (i.e. love, forbearance, kindness, goodness, gentleness).
How People Recognize Jesus in Us…
Those who are “blind” can’t recognize Jesus. Jesus came to give sight to the “blind”. (John 9:39) The spiritual leaders of that time claimed they could see, but did not recognize Jesus or John the Baptist. (Matthew 17:12) They lacked compassion and love for others. Likewise, it is our caring and concern for others that will cause believers and non-believers alike to recognize Christ in our churches and our personal lives.
Predictably, efforts to attract and retain church members have had the opposite effect – redirecting energy from building disciples who follow Jesus’ model of leading with compassion to instead building churches. Society understandably no longer recognizes Jesus in most churches, instead seeing churches as uncaring and judgmental. As the evil spirit said in Acts 19, “Jesus I know, and Paul and I know about, but who are you?”
Non-believers are more apt to recognize something different and alluring about a mature church (which has little to do with how long it’s been in existence) – those with strong discipleship programs and compassion ministries. Older churches can become faint of sight, no longer recognizing the Great Commission and Great Commandment because they have been indoctrinated in (internal) churchdom for too long. The pastor’s initial vision of community transformation may have become clouded by increasing demands of keeping up with the operations of the church. The community will notice – not recognizing Jesus in that church because they do not see His love flowing through it.
It’s Your Turn…
Have you seen a church begin with excitement and tremendous impact, then slowly lose sight of its passion for bringing help and hope to those outside of the “4 walls” (who do not recognize Jesus as Lord and Savior)?