I want you to turn with me to two texts this morning. First of all Isaiah 53, and then the second is John 1 - Isaiah 53, and then the Gospel of John chapter 1. I want to speak to you this morning under the title: 'The Unwelcome Christ'.
Isaiah 53 verse 3, speaking of our Lord Jesus of course in a prophetic sense: "He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not". Then John's Gospel chapter 1, and again one verse, verse 11: "He came unto his own, and his own received him not".
Let us all pray: Our Father, in the scripture we have come again face-to-face with Your only begotten beloved Son. Lord, we pray that as the word of God is exegeted, expounded, and applied, that we will focus more on Him, and face Him more in His person and in His claims upon our lives. For we ask these things in the Saviour's name, asking that never in this church or in any of our lives that the Lord Jesus Christ and His influence would be unwelcome, in His name we pray, Amen.
Now verse 10 of John's Gospel chapter 1 tells us that the One who came into the world, in one sense, was never out of the world. Verse 10 says: 'He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not'. So Christ, in His pre-incarnate form, was always here, for He has always been the eternal Son of God. Long before His virgin birth into humanity at Bethlehem's manger, He was in existence. From the very beginning, we read within the Scriptures, He was ruling, He was ordering and governing the whole of His creation. Colossians 1 and verse 17 tells us that by Him all things consisted and still consist. We know from, indeed, this particular passage of Scripture that, indeed, the world was made by Christ, and without Him was not anything made that has been made. He is the giver of all life, the One who gives life and breath, rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons to the earth. In a political sense, He gives kings their sovereignty to reign, He gives nations increase, and He causes them to diminish when it is His will.
This 'Word' that is spoken of in John chapter 1 is, of course, the second Person of the blessed Trinity, the Son of God, the pre-incarnate, coequal, divine Son who has always been, and will always be. Yet the fact of the matter is, verse 10 tells us that even though Christ, as the Word, has always been here, yet men knew Him not nor honoured Him. Indeed, Paul tells us in Romans 1 that they worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator. But in verse 11 we have what I would say is the greatest fact in the history of mankind, simply this: He came. He came! This pre-incarnate Christ who created the worlds, who held all things together, who has been reigning sovereignly in the lives of all of His creation; He took upon Himself the form, as it were, of a creature in outward appearance. He came in the likeness of sinful flesh. The greatest fact in the history of mankind is that Christ came into humanity.
Christ came visibly into the world as man at Bethlehem, but the sad tragedy - indeed, the greatest tragedy in the history of mankind - is that they received Him not. The One who they knew not before He came, who was already in the world and in all of the universe, when He came into the world as a man, He fared no better with His creatures. The greatest tragedy in the history of mankind is that He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. Now, of course, that's not just the only note that is struck, a negative one, for in verse 12 there is the positive, which is the greatest hope for the future of mankind. It is simply this: though He came unto His own, and His own received Him not, 'as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name'. Yet the sad fact of the matter is, in the 21st-century the man Christ Jesus and His message, the Gospel, are both still rejected. Are they rejected in your life?
Now I want you to look very closely at verse 11 for a moment, because there's a distinction here in the original Greek words which are used, which is not preserved in our English translation - that is the distinction between 'His own', the two uses of 'His own'. Look at it: the first used in the original Greek is in the neuter gender and plural - that means it's neither masculine or feminine, and it's plural, plural meaning that it is speaking of things rather than a person or one thing. So you could translate it like this: 'He came unto his own things', and it's speaking of property or possession, He came unto His own property and possession. Now what it's speaking of is the land of Israel, His land. It's speaking of the city of Jerusalem, it's speaking of the Temple on the mount, it's speaking of the fact that Christ came as Messiah, and as Messiah He had messianic rights and possessions that were rightly His by prophesy.
Now there's a different word that is used for the second 'His own', because it's not in the neuter gender, but it's in masculine. It speaks of a people, not a possession but a people - that is, the Jews, His own peculiar people. Matthew told us in chapter 15 of his gospel that Christ said: 'I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel'. He is Israel's Messiah and Israel's King. So in the narrowest sense, the second 'His own' is speaking of a people, His intimates. It may even refer to His own family, or His kinsfolk in Judaism. It speaks of His own friends. So please look at the meaning: 'He came unto His own possessions, Israel, Jerusalem, the Temple, His messianic rights as His possessions; but His own people, the Jews, received Him not'.
Among the Jews there were His brethren, His own brothers, the other sons of Mary - she did not remain a perpetual virgin, as the Roman Catholic Church teaches, but she had other children. We read in John 7:5 that even His brethren did not believe on Him - rejected by His intimates! In Mark 6:4 we read that His home town Nazareth and the Galilean area rejected Him as a prophet. Jesus said: 'A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house'. The town of Nazareth where He lived, where He grew - Luke chapter 4: 'And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong'. Matthew 13:58: 'And he did not many mighty works there', in His own hometown, 'because of their unbelief'. He came unto His own possessions, but His own people received Him not.
A tremendous illustration of this truth that Christ was unwelcome is given to us by the Lord Jesus Himself in Luke's gospel chapter 20, in what is called the parable of the wicked husbandmen. Listen to it: 'Then began he to speak to the people this parable; A certain man planted a vineyard, and let it forth to husbandmen, and went into a far country for a long time. And at the season he sent a servant to the husbandmen, that they should give him of the fruit of the vineyard: but the husbandmen beat him, and sent him away empty. And again he sent another servant: and they beat him also, and entreated him shamefully, and sent him away empty. And again he sent a third: and they wounded him also, and cast him out. Then said the lord of the vineyard, What shall I do? I will send my beloved son: it may be they will reverence him when they see him. But when the husbandmen saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, This is the heir: come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours. So they cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him'.
The writer to the Hebrews teaches us: 'God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds' - but the tragedy of it all is this: when He came unto His own, His own received Him not. He was not the Messiah they expected. They longed for a deliverer to free them from Herod and the Romans, but the liberty that Christ offered was one from the chains of sin that they loved too much. He came unto His own people, the Jews, a privileged people, a people who have been enlightened, a people who have been exalted by divine revelation. Romans 9 says: 'Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory', the glory speaking of the Shekinah glory of God that followed His ancient people through the wilderness and right throughout their history, 'and the covenants', Paul says - that is, the covenant with Abraham and the patriarchs, and with Moses and the people at Sinai - 'and the giving of the law', Paul says, the law of Moses, the legal ceremony, the political rule, and Paul goes on 'the service of God, and the promises of God' - the promises made to Abraham and to his seed forever. The Jews are a privileged people above all other people. Indeed, in Romans 3 Paul asks the rhetorical question: 'What advantage then hath the Jew?'. The answer is: 'Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God'. What a privileged people! But the fact of the matter is: the more God loved them, the less they loved Him.
A good illustration of this is in 2 Corinthians 12:15, where Paul speaking to the Corinthians says: 'I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved'. The more God loved the Jews, the less they loved Him and took advantage of His mercy and His grace. So much so that in Isaiah 1 verse 2, the prophet speaks the word of God to a rebellious people and says: 'Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the LORD hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me'.
The unwelcome Christ: He came unto His own possessions, and His own people received Him not. Now I want to apply this text to you in a twofold manner. First of all I want to apply it to God's present-day people, that is the church, you. Then secondly I want to apply it to the lost who may be among us this morning, who still reject Christ irrespective of the great spiritual privileges that you enjoy in this land, or perhaps even in the family that you've been brought up in.
Let's first of all look at this application to God's present-day people, the church. Now, in Acts chapter 7 the apostle speaks to the Jews, God's Old Testament people, as being a stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart people. Jeremiah 7:25-26: 'Since the day that your fathers came forth out of the land of Egypt', Jeremiah said to them, 'unto this day I have even sent unto you all my servants the prophets, daily rising up early and sending them: Yet they hearkened not unto me, nor inclined their ear, but hardened their neck: they did worse than their fathers'. Each Jewish succeeding generation depleted and digressed in their sinfulness before God. Isaiah 65 illustrates this again, verses 2 and 3, God says through Isaiah again: 'I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people, which walketh in a way that was not good, after their own thoughts; A people that provoketh me to anger continually to my face'.
That was God's Old Testament people, that was the people who were Christ's own possessions as Messiah, and the people who, when Christ came to them, received Him not. But I ask you the question this morning: have God's people changed much today? Have they? Are they not stiffnecked at times and rebellious? Are they not a people before whom the Christ of God opens His hands, and offers His mercy and all the blessings that he accrues to us through His sacrifice at Calvary and His resurrection - and yet how impoverished we are as God's people in the New Testament. Could it be said of the church today, certainly in the West, perhaps even this church: 'Christ comes unto His own' - doesn't He own the church? - 'and His own people receive Him not'? Could it be? Is this a misapplication on my part, that Christ can at times be unwelcome within His church?
The easiest way to gauge that is to look at your own life, to look at how you live before Him, and how you appropriate His claims, His principles and promises in your life. Thomas Guthrie, that great Scots Presbyterian, used to say, and I'm quoting him: 'If you find yourself loving any pleasure better than your prayers, any book better than the Bible, any house better than the house of God, any table better than the Lord's Table, any persons better than Christ, or any indulgence better than the hope of heaven, take alarm!' - that's tantamount to not receiving Him. Receiving Him is not just about getting saved, that's the evangelical language we use, but receiving Him is about receiving Him every day of your life - allowing Him to have sway, allowing Him to come in and out of your life at His pleasure, as you go in and out and find pasture through Him who is the door.
I know that people don't like talking in this way about the church today, because people have this view - looking through rose-tinted glasses - that the church, because it is, if you like, God's plan and complete epitome in Christ, that it's somehow perfect. Far from it - but yet folk really don't appreciate talking about it in these terms. Recently I received a message from someone who had been challenged and blessed through a message that I preached several years ago which was entitled 'A Time to Cry'. It was on the subject of the need for God's people to mourn and to pray today, rather than to celebrate anything, because there is great dearth within the spiritual life of the church. The message came that though she enjoyed it, she passed it on to a friend. Her friend listened to it, and came back to her and said these words very bluntly: 'Never give a tape like that to me again! Never!'.
Apparently she took exception to the fact that I had likened the church today here in the West, the state of it, to what the state of the church was in the Isle of Lewis before the revival hit it during the 1940s, through the instrument of Duncan Campbell and others. I was referring to the fact that the saints on that Isle once experienced God's refreshing Spirit, they once knew the presence of the Lord in their gatherings, but their spiritual vitality had grown cold and indifferent - and in view of that situation the Free Presbyterian Church presbytery in the Hebrides, particularly of Lewis, decided that they would make a public declaration in the press.
So in the Stornoway Gazette and in the West Coast Advertiser, they expressed this deep concern. I'm going to read it to you again, I know I've read it to you before, but ask yourself: does this apply to us today in the church here in Ulster? 'The Presbytery of Lewis, having taken into consideration the low state of vital religion within their bounds, and throughout the land generally, call upon their faithful people in all their congregations to take a serious view of the present dispensation of divine displeasure, manifested not only in the chaotic conditions of international politics and morality, but also and especially in the lack of spiritual power from Gospel ordinances', that is, the preaching of the Gospel, 'and to realise that these things clearly indicate that the Most High has a controversy with the nation. The Presbytery affectionately plead with their people, especially with the youth of the church, to take these matters to heart and to make serious inquiry as to what must be the end should there be no repentance! They call upon every individual, as before God, to examine his or her life in the light of the responsibility that pertains to us all - that haply, in divine mercy, we may be visited with a spirit of repentance and may turn again unto the Lord whom we have so grieved with our iniquities and waywardness'.
I think that is a very accurate description of the way things are in the church in Ulster today, but the fact of the matter is: many are out of touch with the way things really are. That's why people resent such a suggestion, that Christ could come unto His own in the church, and the church receives Him not - but Laodicea teaches us that that is the case. We believe, perhaps, that the Laodicean spirit is that which prevails in the church today. Christ said to that church in Revelation 3: 'He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me'. The unwelcome Christ in the church! He comes unto His own, and His own received Him not.
Is Christ still rejected by His own? I believe He is. He is rejected as Lord. He is rejected as Head of the church. He is rejected as Head of the home. He is rejected as guide of our lives for our way. His Word is rejected as our standard and our rule of faith. Instead Christians are choosing human wisdom, academia, public opinion, pop culture, career, family, luxury, happiness, comfort - over Christ! Is He unwelcome? Is He standing outside the door knocking in your life, in your home, in this church? Dr. A.J. Gordon, when he was preparing a Sunday message, was so tired on Saturday evening that he fell asleep in his study. He dreamed of being, the next morning, in his own pulpit, and the church was packed. A stranger walked in, and a deacon let him have a seat right at the front. The stranger was very commanding, and yet listened attentively to Gordon's message. Gordon found himself as if speaking to him alone. He decided that after church he was going to meet this individual. As the congregation filed out one by one the pastor - of course, in his dream - looked in vain for the stranger until everyone was home. He found the deacon who had led him to his seat, and he said: 'Do you know that man?'. He said, 'Why, yes! He is Jesus Christ!'. 'Oh, how I wish I could have talked to Him', Gordon lamented in his dream. 'It's alright pastor', assured the deacon, 'He'll be back next Sunday'.
Gordon awoke realising in a new way that every time that he preached, Christ was there. But he realised the sense of His presence more - to such an extent that Christ, experientially, came into the midst of that church and into his ministry. The word of Christ was heard, and that dream revived the pastor and the church, and Gordon preached with a new power. He established what he called 'Salvation Centres' in Boston. He gave great sums of money to missions, to weak churches, to the Jews, to the Chinese. He started schools to train missionaries. He died at the age of 59 with the word 'Victory!' on his lips, all because he and his church gave Jesus His rightful place and recognised Him. When He came to His own possessions, His own people received Him. Are we receiving Him? Am I receiving Him? So often I feel I'm not...
Secondly, can I apply this text to the lost who still reject Christ, irrespective of the great spiritual privileges that they enjoy. In a wider sense, the whole world is included in this verse in 'those who received him not'. It's the same idiom that's used in the Greek in John 19:27, when you remember that the Lord Jesus turned to the apostle John, the disciple, and referring to His mother Mary, said: 'Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his' - and this is the idiom - 'unto his own home'. It's the same usage. So what John 1:11 is saying is that 'He came unto His own possessions, unto His own home, and His own people received Him not'. What John is painting for us is the picture that this Word, the logos who created the worlds, came into this world, and it was rightfully His own home because He made it. As He makes a self-disclosure of Himself to humanity as a human being, to His own home, His own people, human beings reject Him. 'The foxes have holes', He said, 'and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head'.
'Earth gave Thee a cradle, O Christ, and a cross;
Hard roads for Thy journey, reviling and loss.
Earth gave Thee Thy wounding, Thy shroud and Thy tomb,
But Earth gave no welcome, and Earth gave no home'.
He wasn't trespassing on somebody else's property, rather He was coming to the planet that He had made. Yet, the apostle said to the Jews and to all humanity: 'They denied the holy one of God, and desired a murderer'. Imagine this! Who is he speaking to in Acts 3? He's speaking to people who had friends healed by the hand of Christ in His earthly ministry. He was speaking to those who had loved ones who had their sight given to them again after suffering many years of blindness. He was speaking to those who knew lame men who begged by the roadside, those who were sick for many many years completely healed - and yet those people led Christ to execution! They raised no arm of objection, they did not speak a voice for Him, but against Him, and said: 'Crucify Him! Crucify Him! Away with this man! We will not have Him to reign over us! Give us Barabbas!'.
With all their privileges they rejected Him. Charles Spurgeon said these profound words: 'His own kinsmen rejected Him, and too many of the children of godly parents refuse the Saviour'. In his sermon that morning he said: 'May it not be so in this house'. What about you? Do you have folk in your family who have been touched by the Lord Jesus? You've seen what He can do. You've perhaps grown up in this church, but you're unconverted, you're a backslider, you've been dabbling in sin. In a very broad sense, because Christ came to this world, He comes unto His own - those who have had privileges, like you, above all others. Yet you still reject Him. Did He not fulfil every prophecy concerning His lineage, His birth, His death? Did He not show all the mighty signs and wonders, witnessing to His Messiahship? He came as Saviour to deliver people, but they denied they were in danger - is that you? 'I don't need saved! I don't need Christ!' - He came to redeem people, yet they denied they were in bondage - 'I don't need to be forgiven, converted!'. He came to offer eternal life, but they didn't have any fear that they could lose their life in death, let alone eternal death. Maybe you think: 'I'm not in danger of hell! I'm not in danger of God's judgment!'. He came to make them the sons of God if they would only receive Him, but they refused Him who alone could give them the power to be called the sons of God!
He came to be the fountain, in shedding His blood to make them clean of all their sin. He came as the physician to heal them of their sick disease, but they did not affirm that they were sick, they did not agree that they were filthy in God's eyes. He came as their rightful ruler, and was treated as an intruder by His own subjects. How has He been treated by you? Has He been treated as the unwelcome Christ? He has come unto you, but you've received Him not! Spurgeon once told the story about a soldier who had been kindly rescued from shipwreck. He was given hospitality and entertained, and he was so mean and showed so much ingratitude that he actually sought to obtain from Philip of Macedon - who was the leader at that time - the house and farm of his generous host, the one who had brought him into his home. Philip, in just anger, commanded that that man's forehead should be branded with the words 'The Ungrateful Guest'.
Ingratitude to the highest extent is found in John 1:11, that the Christ of God came unto His own, and His own received Him not. That means they did not appropriate the fact that He could save them. They did not acknowledge Him as the Christ of God, and the Son of God, and their Saviour. They did not welcome Him into their lives by faith - have you? I'm aware that sometimes we have more unconverted people on a Sunday morning, and more backsliders than we do on a Sunday evening - and this is the message that God gave me to give to you today: is this talking about you? Christ is unwelcome in your life!
Many are not aware that though the German musician, George Frederick Handel, once entertained the nobility and the royalty of the great city of London, in later years he was despised and rejected by the capital's teeming population - particularly those in the establishment. By the time he was aged 60 he was still a bachelor; his hands, we are told, were crippled; his step was unsure; his brain responses slower due to a paralysing stroke which had threatened his brilliant career. We're told that street urchins were paid to pull down the posters that were announcing his concerts in the city of London, and society, women even, planned social events to coincide with his performances in order to draw off crowds from his concerts. On one occasion during one of his despondent rambles through the streets of London, he neared a dull grey edifice of a church, and he says that at that moment bitter and anguished thoughts started to well up within his soul, and he said, crying out to God: 'Why did God permit my resurrection, only to allow my fellow men to bury me again? Why did He vouchsafe a renewal of my life, if I may no longer be permitted to create?'. Then he tells us, as though anticipating the future creation of his masterpiece 'The Messiah', his heart started to fellowship with the dying Saviour, and he groaned: 'My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?'. He longed that there would be someone who could sympathise with him, and give him a listening ear.
Having left the church, he found himself back at his own house, and as he mounted the steps he noticed a parcel sitting at his doorstep. It was from a friend, Charles Jennens, who he describes as a foppish aristocrat, who had arranged some scripture verse for Handel to set to music. The composer began to read the Bible description of the suffering Messiah: 'He was despised and rejected of men, we hid our faces from Him', and so on and so forth. He began to identify with the Christ: 'Here was someone who passed the same way that I have'. Suddenly there was a glow, he said, that suffused his inactive brain - it was as if the heavens opened and Handel saw into an invisible realm, heavenly organ streams floated unbidden through his whole being. He reached for his pen, and with crippled fingers he worked feverishly. The words came alive: 'Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. I know that my Redeemer liveth, and on that day shall stand. Rejoice! Hallelujah!'. For 24 days, almost non-stop, he composed the oratorio in three parts - and eventually his despondency lifted. He believed it was a miracle from God, and after 'The Messiah's' success - because he knew that it wasn't his work but another's - he gave all the proceeds to charity.
Here's what I want to stay with you this morning: despondent that day in the church, he asked the question, 'Why did God permit my resurrection, only to allow my fellow men to bury me again?'. God in His sovereign plan for salvation will not be thwarted by your refusal, my friend - but in your response is it as if the Christ of God who came from eternity into time to be your Saviour, to die on the cross, to rise again, ascend to heaven, send His Spirit - is it as if you would slay Him and bury Him again?
'Why dost Thou pass unheeded,
Treading with pierced feet
The halls of the kingly palace,
The busy street?
Oh marvellous in Thy beauty,
Crowned with the light of God,
Why fall they not down to worship
Where Thou hast trod?
Why are Thy hands extended
Beseeching whilst men pass by
With their empty words and their laughter,
Yet passing on to die?
Unseen, unknown, unregarded,
Calling and waiting yet -
They hear Thy knock and they tremble -
They hear, and they forget.
And Thou in the midst art standing
Of old and forever the same -
Thou hearest their songs and their jesting,
But not Thy name.
The thirty-three years forgotten
Of the weary way Thou hast trod -
Thou art but a name unwelcome,
O Saviour God!
Yet amongst the highways and hedges,
Amongst the lame and the blind,
The poor and the maimed and the outcast,
Still dost Thou seek and find -
There by the wayside lying
The eyes of Thy love can see
The wounded, the naked, the dying,
Too helpless to come to Thee.
So Thou art watching and waiting
Till the wedding is furnished with guests -
And the last of the sorrowful singeth,
And the last of the weary rests'.
Iron Hall, individual, is He the unwelcome Christ to you?
Father, let all of us in this church this morning open the door of our hearts to Christ daily, that we may sup with Him and He with us. May Christ inhabit this church by His Spirit in great power and glory. If there are any that are lost, in spite of the privileges given to them by God, may they receive Him today and become the sons and daughters of God. For Christ's eternal glory we pray, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Evangelical Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording titled "The Unwelcome Christ" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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