Since last Sunday's Super Bowl lacked both of the teams I follow and care about - the Green Bay Packers and the Denver Broncos - I can honestly say that I was completely neutral about the outcome of that game. I was just hoping for a game that would be at least as interesting as the commercials. And although it looked like it was going to be a snoozer at halftime, it ended up being a great game. But it didn't make any difference to me that the Ravens eventually prevailed.
Nearly 2,000 years ago, the people of Nazareth thought they could respond to Jesus in much the same way. Jesus had become something of a celebrity. Crowds gathered wherever he went. So when he came to his hometown for a visit, he was asked to read the Scriptures and deliver the sermon in the synagogue he had grown up attending. At first, the people were looking forward to hearing him speak. He was a local boy made good: a popular rabbi and a powerful speaker. But beyond being interested in what he had to say, they really didn't have any sort of opinion on him. They thought they were neutral.
But that quickly changed. After reading a messianic prophecy from the Book of Isaiah, Jesus said, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." In other words, he told the people that Isaiah had been writing about him seven centuries earlier. He, Jesus, was the Messiah, the promised Savior, the Son of God. And a line in the sand was drawn. No longer could the people of Nazareth be neutral. They now were forced to be on one side or the other. Did they believe what Jesus said about himself, or didn't they? Sadly, they chose to be on the side that rejected him. In fact, the Gospels tell us they drove him out of town and attempted to kill him by throwing him off a cliff.
Today, many people try to approach Jesus the same way that the Nazarenes initially did. They look at him as merely a great teacher, a wonderful humanitarian, and an important historical figure. But nothing more. They like to quote Jesus as saying things, like, "Love one another," and, "Turn the other cheek."
But Jesus said so much more than that. He also said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). Jesus drew a line in the sand. He said that he's not merely a prophet or teacher or do-gooder; he claimed of himself that he is the eternal, almighty, holy Son of God. He said that he is the Savior of the world. He told us that he is the only way to heaven.
One cannot be neutral when it comes to Jesus. Either we believe what he says about himself, or we don't. Either we love and trust in him as our Savior, or we reject him in unbelief. Those who reject him in unbelief do so by their own choice, of their own free will, and to their eternal peril. Those who accept him, believe in him, trust him, and love him do so not because of their own goodness, intelligence, or any sort of moral superiority, but rather, by the grace of God.
Give thanks to God if you are on the side of those who believe in him. And keep on sharing God's Word and praying that others might be on this side, too.
- Brent Merten is pastor of Mountain Valley Lutheran Church, 802 Brush Creek Terrace, Eagle.