Close Encounters of the “Jesus Kind” (Part 1)
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.2 I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:1-5 NIV)
Can you hold on to what Jesus said there? “I am making everything new.” It’s the main point of the sermon and we’ll get back to it.
In 1977 a science fiction film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, was released (Spielberg, Dreyfuss). UFOs visit the US and draw people to devil’s Dome in Wyoming where people and aliens actually meet. Investigate it… decent movie.
Some may wonder what “3rd kind” means. In UFOlogy a “of 1st kind” encounter is a sighting within 500’, a “2nd kind” encounter involves the UFO causing a physical alteration of its surroundings (e.g., cars won’t run, people can’t talk or move, earth scorched, or tracks left), and an “of the 3rd kind” encounter is the actual sighting of an “ET” (whether humanoid, robot, or other). There are “encounters of the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th kinds,” too, all fascinating.
Genuine Christians have had a close encounter with One both this-worldly and other-worldly, Jesus Christ, God and man. And so I want to consider “close encounters of the Jesus kind.” He travelled a vast distance to contact us! It’s strange that many in our world today believe in UFOs but not in Him. Evidence that ETs have visited earth is speculative; evidence that Jesus visited is enormous.
A hymn poses the question, “What will you do with Jesus?”: “What will you do with Jesus? The question comes to you, and you must give an answer… What will it be? What shall your answer be?” “Must” do? “Must” answer? Indeed, Jesus is impossible to avoid and everyone will meet (“encounter”) Him! God has made it non-negotiable: “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ…” (Philippians 2:11). What is in our control is the “when” – now, while we live, or after earth, on the Great Day.
Perhaps seeing what meeting Him was like in the New Testament will answer many of questions. So we’ll look at people who “encountered” Him and how that meeting affected them.
Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10)
Zacchaeus was “a chief tax collector” (likely a district tax commissioner). That description tells us he was rich and connected with the Roman occupiers of Palestine. Jericho where he lived was an area rich with agriculture and the mining of minerals which would mean bountiful tax collections. He was most likely among the most hated persons in Jericho – can’t we hear the sneer in people’s voices when the say of Jesus, “he has gone to be the guest of a sinner…”
Zacchaeus was short in stature and curious. He saw the big crowd, in some way discovered that the famous rabbi Jesus of Nazareth was passing through, so, for a good vantage point he climbed a tree for a look-see. There Jesus noticed him, called him down, and invited himself to Zacchaeus’ house for dinner that day.
We have here a meeting of great opposites: a chief sinner meets love and com-passion and forgiveness in the flesh, and love and compassion and forgiveness win! We see a true Christian rebirth. In the presence of Jesus and by way of learning more about Him, Zacchaeus’ heart was touched and laid bare (as is always true when meeting Jesus) and he freely and openly confessed all his sins. He might have neglected the poor since he announced “half of what I own I’ll give to the poor” (Jewish custom asked for 1/5). And then he wanted to cover, if not a likelihood, at least a possibility of overtaxing his countrymen by declaring, “If I have cheated any man, I will restore it (what I shouldn’t have taken) four-fold,” 2x what Moses demanded in such instances (Exodus 22:1; Numbers 5:6).
Zacchaeus was a man who began one ordinary day lost, saw a crowd that raised his curiosity, encountered Jesus the Messiah in the process, and was saved, and forever changed! It’s true because Jesus Himself announced, “Today salvation has come to this house. This man is also a Son of Abraham. The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost” (vv 9-10).
The “woman at the well” (John 4:5-42)
That day when Jesus met a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well in Shechem, the Jews and Samaritans were still feuding in a bitter 400-year disagreement. How bitter? One rabbi preached, “Let no man eat the bread of the Samaritans; he who eats their bread is as one who eats pig’s flesh.”
Naturally, Jesus asking her for water shocked her… Jew speaking to Samaritan, man speaking to woman, and perhaps, anyone speaking to her – it was not the custom to draw water at mid-day.
It stunned her to find this Strange One asking her for a drink, and though making religious arguments, He was compassionate, gently tearing down walls she erected long ago. And eventually offering her more than she could ever offer Him… a “drink” not of “water” but of “living water”! And then opening her eyes so she could see herself and her life. Uncomfortable, of course she tried to shift the subject but would not allow it. But He did not recoil in horror at her past life or present immoral life-style (most would have… “Well, lady, have a nice day, I’ll head on down the road to find someone to talk to who isn’t so complicated.”
Oh yes, she had met God in Jesus! Her encounter ended with her running enthusiastically back to her city (welcome or not, accepted or not) telling her good news: SHE HAD MET MESSIAH! And her encounter at the well and her preaching resulted in many others in her city also meeting Jesus.
One of the aims of the Gospel stories is to show us again and again that encountering Jesus produces radical change. People on those pages began to think and act differently when they met Him. Hearing His voice and becoming a temple of the Holy Spirit meant a change process had begun and new disciples would continue growing more and more like Him. That is God’s intent for all who encounter Him “...to make all things new.”
I mentioned earlier a “close encounter of the 7th kind”… It’s one that brings union of human and alien and the creation of a human/alien hybrid. Not UFOlogy but THEOlogy… God has done precisely that in Jesus. And He is in the process of doing it in us. John exclaimed, “We shall be like him for we shall see him as he is!” (1 John 3:2)
“Justification” and “Sanctification”
There are some big theological words that most don’t know and any who do shouldn’t use much. Self-proclaimed theologians, and even real ones, can easily get their heads in the clouds and disconnect from common folk. So, with apologies, a small glance at a couple of those “big” words might help us better see God’s planned for all who are His Son’s and His.
So, I will speak of “justification” and “sanctification.” JUSTIFICATION happens outside us… a one-time act of God when He claims us as His own. Imagine us before God’s throne and hearing Him, because we are cleansed by Jesus’ blood, saying, “I declare your debt paid in full. You are free from the burden of sin and JUSTIFIED and SAVED.”
But, in that picture, we are not SANCTIFIED. Sin still remains a possibility. We must repudiate old patterns of thought, speech, and behavior. God’s Spirit now indwells us to help, growing “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and faithfulness,” re-making us day by day to be more like Jesus, to think, speak, and act like Him. That process going on inside us as we continue to live and grow more and more like Jesus day by day is SANCTIFICATION. We walk closer and closer to God, more and more thinking and feeling as He feels, and becoming more like Him as we live out all the days of earthly life. One renowned theologian said our goal should not be so much to understand God living in us as to feel Him in us.
We “dedicate” ourselves to God. All through Scripture we see the idea of things (people) “dedicated” to God alone or for His use. An example would be Jericho, the first “fruit” of conquering the “Promised Land.” Or Samuel, the great Old Testament prophet. Another would be Jesus’ chiding of the Pharisees for declaring their wealth and possessions “corban,” i.e., unavailable to help their aging parents because of being “separated for God’s use” (cf. Mark 7:8-11). That’s what we are, what Peter calls Christians… dedicated to God’s use: “You also are like living stones, and God is using you to build a spiritual house] You are to serve God in this house as holy priests, offering him spiritual sacrifices that he will accept because of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5)
8 But now put these things out of your life: anger, losing your temper, doing or saying things to hurt others, and saying shameful things. 9 Don’t lie to each other. You have taken off those old clothes—the person you once were and the bad things you did then. 10 Now you are wearing a new life, a life that is new every day. You are growing in your understanding of the one who made you. You are becoming more and more like him. 11 In this new life it doesn’t matter if you are a Greek or a Jew, circumcised or not… speak a different language… are a [barbarian]… slave or free. Christ is all that matters, and he is in all of you. (Colossians 3:8-11 ERV)
Dear friends, now we are children of God. We have not yet been shown what we will be in the future. But we know that when Christ comes again, we will be like him. We will see him just as he is. (1 John 3:2)
With all due respect to Spielburg and Dreyfuss and their “Close Encounters” movie, we’ve been led to and encountered Jesus at a different mountain, not Devil’s Dome in Wyoming but Mount Calvary at Jerusalem.There we met Jesus, other-worldly because He is God in the flesh, and there at that mountain we saw God make Him a sacrifice to save us all.