Do You Want Jesus To Entertain You?

Text: John 4:46-55

In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

In John’s Gospel, Jesus changes water into wine, heals an official’s son, heals a paralytic, feeds 5,000 people, walks on water, gives sight to a blind man, and raises Lazarus from the dead.  Now, regardless of who you are, these miracles are enough to turn anybody’s head. 

Now, what we must keep in mind about these miracles is that they are what the Apostle John calls ‘signs.’  As signs, these miracles were like a catapult that grabbed ahold of people’s attention and then launched them to the person, work, and words of Jesus for eternal salvation.  Like a short preview for a movie that makes you want to go to the theater and watch the whole movie, these miracles worked to make people go to Jesus for the whole package. Indeed, these miracles were signs because they revealed a little about Jesus and refocused people’s attention on the one performing the miracles. 

As signs, the miracles were intended to make people say,

“Who is that person who changes water into wine?  What kind of person can heal sick people?  How can that person walk on water?  If He can raise a person from the dead, maybe we should hear more from Him!” 

But as you already know, this is not how it typically works with mankind.  Instead of the miracles serving as signs that pointed beyond themselves to Jesus and His identity as the Messiah, well… many people in the first century saw the miracles only as sensational wonders.  They became entertained with the miracles and wanted more miracles.  To the point; as they say in that old game of monopoly, the people did not pass go, they did not collect $200 – they got hung up on the miracles and failed to see the one doing the miracles.  Clinging only to the miracles, they were short-sighted, foolish, and imperceptive.  

Dear friends, considering all of this, are we any different today?  Truth be told, we are no different than the people of the first-century.  All of us have this peculiar characteristic - we are easily entertained by breathtaking spectacles.  We like a good show.  We want to be wowed and amazed.  Magic shows, circuses, specials effects, and impressive theatrics have a way of grabbing our attention.

Now, here is the catch, because mankind loves dramatic performances, there is a profound temptation for pastors and churches to create amazing spiritual events and performances to gather and attract crowds.  To make things worse, instead of admitting that these spiritual events and performances are playing with people’s emotions, well… these events and performances are labeled as signs – signs of God’s presence, approval, and work in the church. 

One does not have to look too far to see this at work.  Simply turn on your television at night, and you will find yahoo preachers who do this with so-called healing ministries.  You know what I am talking about, these are the fools on late-night religious channels that have people coming on the stage to be healed.  After a so-called healing, everyone cheers for they have witnessed a so-called sign.  And because the so-called sign of healing is amazing and astounding, it must mean that God approves and that you should send them your money. 

But most people recognize these churches and pastors for what they are – hoaxes and religious peddlers who fabricate signs and wonders for a cheap buck.

The temptation still remains to perform signs and wonders to gather a crowd, and it comes in even more subtle ways.  For example, just recently, I noticed a person on social media asking for recommendations on a church to attend in his area.  Immediately people began to respond. 
“Go to Faith Evangelical, for their music is the best, it makes you feel God’s presence.” 

“Go Pastor Anderson’s church, he is such a great preacher; you feel God speaking to you when Pastor Anderson really gets into the sermon.” 

“Church of Grace is the best; they have a huge youth program.  Lots of kids.  So much excitement.   They are really on fire for the Holy Spirit is at work!” 

“That new church on 31st Avenue is packed every week.  You can't even find an open parking spot.  God is definitely moving in that place.” 

I finally decided to chime in saying,

“Check out Bethel Lutheran.  They are a small church with a bunch of sinners who have made a mess of their lives.  But they still gather together to hear from Jesus’s Word, how we are all forgiven by Christ’s blood.”

You see, we Christians try to create signs to grab the attention of people.  Often in the interest of trying to grow the church, we create so-called signs that demonstrate to the world that the Christian faith is relevant and that people should join our church.  But there are two problems with this kind of thinking. 

First, when we create signs and wonders to grab the attention of people, more often than not these signs we create are meant to bolster not the greatness of Christ and His Word but the institution of the church.  When we hold up big attendance, powerful music, dynamic speaking, great chanting, beautiful architecture, and the enthusiasm of parishioners as signs why people should join a particular church, we are not point to Jesus but point to the institution of the church itself – we point to mankind.   

Secondly, this kind of mindset creates a kind of faith in signs and wonders and not the Word of Christ.  When we Christians conjure up manmade signs to woo people into the doors of the church instead of pointing to Christ, we are not sowing faith in God’s Word but sowing faith in manmade signs.  We are actually feeding the entertainment appetite of the old Adam.  We are doing the same thing that the people of the first-century did with Jesus – grabbing ahold of the miracles and failing to see the one performing the miracles. 

Keep in mind that the old Adam – the sinful nature – loves to be entertained by having a circus, magic, special effects, and great theatrics in the church.  The old Adam has no problem holding to a sign, as long as the sign does not point to Jesus.  Even the devil gets excited to send people to a church full of exciting signs, as long as the church avoids Jesus and His Word.       

Dear friends, what we are learning is that just as Jesus brought the royal official, in our Gospel reading, from faith in signs to faith in Him and His Word, the same has to be done to you and me.  Even though Jesus did miracles, the main purpose of the miracles was to focus people’s attention upon Him and His Word.  The signs and miracles showed the truth of Jesus.  Faith must always rest not on the signs but upon what the signs point to - Jesus and His Word.    

So what does this mean?  It means that we must confess our sins of clinging to manmade signs and wonders rather than the Word of God.  It means that we must confess our sins of wanting to create amazing spiritual events and performances to gather crowds rather than longing for the proclamation of the Word of God. 

God forgive us. 

What is quite amazing, though, is that in spite of our sin, the Lord God has already given you and me signs.  And the signs that the Lord gives you and me are so much better than whatever we could create. 

You see, you are given the ultimate sign of an empty tomb.  Just think about that for a moment.  You have been given an empty tomb, which points to the reality that Jesus defeated sin, death, and the devil for you. 

And there is more.  You are given the sign of Baptism.  But unlike the signs we have been talking about so far, the sign of Baptism does not merely point you to Jesus and His Cross but gives you Jesus and the accomplishments of His Cross by connecting you to His death and resurrection.    

And with the Lord’s Supper?  Unlike a sign that only points you to Jesus, the Lord’s Supper actually gives you the body and blood of Jesus upon your mouths and into your bellies for the forgiveness of all of your sins.     

And so, you not only have all the signs recorded in the Bible that point you to Jesus, you actually have Jesus right here and right now through His Word and Sacraments. 

You have the Lord’s signs.

The tomb is empty! 

You are snatched from darkness in the waters of baptism!

You are absolved in the Word of absolution!

You are forgiven in the Lord’s Supper!

You don’t need a circus, magic tricks, special effects, and great theatrics in church, for you have something much more – you have the Lord’s signs that not only point you to Jesus but give you Jesus completely this day. 

And Jesus?  He is enough for you and for this church. 

In the name of Jesus.  Amen. 

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