Call to Worship: Mark 12:28-31
This is Jesus' statement about the two greatest commandments. Thus the service begins with a foil that the minister can use later on in the sermon.
Opening Hymn: "Christ Is Alive!" (another foil)
[RSH 413, PH 108]
Read responsively the Ten Commandments, alternated with some of our Lord's moral teachings (e.g., the Sermon on the Mount). You'll find a good example on page 1013 of the worship edition of the 1987 Psalter Hymnal.
Hymn of Response: "Living for Jesus," verses 1 and 2
(Hymn) Prayer for Illumination:
"Open our eyes, Lord, we want to see Jesus."
Scripture: Luke 12:49-53, John 5:17-18,8:51-59
The Luke passage depicts Jesus using language that doesn't sound particularly "moral." And in the passages from John, Jesus uses language that today might be considered evidence of psychiatric problems.
- Acknowledge that Jesus was certainly at least a great moral teacher and give some examples, perhaps harking back to the call to worship and the reading of the law.
- Acknowledge that the objection is very relevant (compared, for example, to the superficial judgment, "The church is full of hypocrites, so why should I go?"). The objection deals with a central theme of the New Testament (see the climactic passage of Mark 8:27-30).
- Acknowledge emphatically that Jesus was genuinely human; the doctrine of his divine nature does not undermine the reality of his human nature.
- Change your tone into one of puzzled worry and point out an initial problem with the objection: It makes Jesus sound too "nice"— like someone with lofty, noble sentiments who could have written an Ann Landers column even better than Ann Landers can. Contrast this idea with the harsh tone of the Luke passage and other passages like Luke 17:2, where Jesus speaks about people who should have millstones tied around their necks. Jesus doesn't just talk about peace, love, joy, happiness, and birds and lilies of the field.
- Become more aggressive and point out a second problem: Most of the "nice moral sayings" are deeply interwoven with the stories of Jesus' miracles. Point out how hard it is to edit out the miracles and still have any moral teachings left. It has been attempted, and it doesn't work!
- Draw their attention to another serious problem: Nobody in Jesus' own day, including his opponents, ever thought that Jesus was simply a great moral teacher. If we were to meet him today, there's little chance we would describe him that way either. On the contrary, we might well conclude that he required psychiatric care.
Point out weird verses like "Before Abraham was, I am." And drive toward the conclusion so ably expressed by C.S. Lewis:
A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse ... But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher" (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 42).
- Conclude by exhorting the people, including teens and young adults, not to duck the issue of Jesus' identity nor to allow others to duck it. This first objection to our faith simply does not stand up to scrutiny. We need to face the actual challenge that God puts before us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
Emphasize that we offer not only our money but also our obedience to Jesus' moral teaching.
Give some extensive thanks for Jesus' moral teaching and its impact throughout history.
Options include Heidelberg Catechism Q&A #12-18, Belgic Confession Art. 18, or Our World Belongs to God #24-29 (PsH pp. 1026-1028).