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LIFE’S GREATEST QUESTION - A CHRISTMAS SERMON

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached on Lord’s Day Evening, December 26, 2004
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles

“What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?” (Matthew 27:22).


Macy’s Department Store deleted the word “Christmas” completely from all its advertising this year. So did K Mart. So did most other stores. The only place I saw the word “Christmas” was on signs in front of two Christmas tree lots near our home. An employee at Ralphs supermarket, a large chain of stores in Southern California, said to me, “The manager told us we can’t say ‘Merry Christmas’ any more.” And two weeks before Christmas, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors removed a tiny cross from the county’s official seal to avoid a lawsuit from the relentlessly anti-Christian ACLU.

In Plano, Texas school officials banned red and green colors during December because they “remind people of Christmas.” Students in Texas schools are prohibited from writing “Merry Christmas” to U.S. soldiers in Iraq. In Temecula, California the court forbade the school from having Christmas programs, but ruled that the school could celebrate “The Day of the Dead,” in which food is left at the graves of dead relatives. Christmas was banned but “The Day of the Dead” was acceptable. Christmas programs are now called “Winterfest.” Santa Claus is banned as a Christian religious symbol. In San Jose, California junior high school students are forbidden to sing “Silent Night,” “The First Noel” and “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” One mother said, “They can’t even call them Christmas trees anymore. We have to call them holiday trees…This has gone too far” (cited from The Los Angeles Times, December 22, 2004, p. A-34).

Is all of this part of a vast conspiracy to silence any public reference to Christ? Yes, I think so. I think that was the true reason so many attack dogs in the liberal-dominated media flagellated Mel Gibson and his movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” earlier this year. It will be interesting to see what the Academy of Motion Pictures does with “the Passion” during the upcoming Oscar awards. The movie is the top money-maker of 2004, grossing 370 million dollars in the United States alone. It is now considered a work of art by millions around the world. What will the Academy Awards people do about it when Oscar time comes next spring? You can be sure that many members of the Academy are struggling over this question tonight. When it comes time for them to vote for best picture and best director, each member of the Academy will be confronted with Pilate’s age-old question,

“What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?” (Matthew 27:22).

Every movie mogul who votes for best picture and best director will be faced personally with Pilate’s question. I’m sure that most of them will wish they could avoid answering it. It puts them in a tight spot. They won’t like being forced by the squeeze of circumstances to answer it any more than Pilate did.

But, you know, every human being on earth ultimately has to answer that question,

“What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?” (Matthew 27:22).

This year Jesus Christ is the most controversial and important figure Hollywood will have to deal with when the Oscars are given out. I think a good deal of prejudice, as well as peer pressure, will cause these Hollywood movie moguls some sleepless nights pondering this question - as it well should.

Will they reject this movie on Christ’s passion outright - and reveal themselves as bigots? Will they try to “dodge” the question and not nominate the picture at all? Which one of their dirty little films will they honor instead of the greatest story ever told, the love of mankind by Jesus on the Cross? The Bible says that Jesus will cause “the thoughts of many hearts [to be] revealed” (Luke 2:35).

All these events, from the refusal of big retail businesses to mention His name at Christmas, to the ACLU working feverishly to remove all reference to Him from public life, to the quandary the Oscar people will find themselves in trying to figure out how to respond to Mel Gibson’s great film - all of these events show that Jesus Christ is indeed the most controversial figure in our nation and the world.

But I am not talking to big business, movie moguls or the ACLU tonight. I’m talking to you. Make no mistake on this, for you too must answer the question,

“What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?” (Matthew 27:22).

Jesus stood before the governor Pontius Pilate in the early morning that day. The chief priests had Him arrested the night before while He was praying. They beat Him with the palms of their hands and spit in His face. Now they dragged Him to the Roman governor and accused Him of forbidding the people to pay taxes to Caesar. This was a lie, for Christ had said the opposite. In fact, Jesus Himself paid taxes. They also accused Him of stirring up the people in sedition, ostensibly against Rome. This was another outright lie. You see, they couldn’t tell Pilate the real reason they wanted Jesus crucified. Pilate would not have understood if they had told him they simply did not want to accept Him as the Saviour. So they had to make up lies to get rid of Him.

Each year at the Passover, the Roman governor released a Jewish prisoner. This was a gesture that Rome did to please the Jews. The Jews could choose whichever prisoner they wanted to be released.

Pilate had already questioned Jesus and found that He had not committed any crime. He wanted to release Jesus. He knew that it was because of envy that the Jewish leaders wanted Him killed. But Pilate thought the ordinary Jews would be happy to have Jesus released. Only a week earlier they had shouted “Hosanna!” as Jesus entered Jerusalem. But now, a few days later, the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release the murderer Barabbas instead - and they were crying out for Jesus to be crucified.

Earlier in the day Pilate’s wife had a dream about Jesus. She sent Pilate a message which said, “Have thou nothing to do with that just man…” (Matthew 27:19). But Pilate gave in to the priest-led rabble and released the murderer Barabbas as they shouted “crucify him” (Mark 15:14).

“And so Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified” (Mark 15:15).

But Pilate’s words remain an archetype, mirroring the question that faces every person on earth,

“What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?” (Matthew 27:22).

That is really the greatest question you will ever face. What will you do with Jesus? There are three possible responses.

I. First, you can mock Him.

That’s what the chief priests and elders did.

“Then did they spit in his face, and buffeted him; and others smote him with the palms of their hands, Saying, Prophesy unto us, thou Christ, Who is he that smote thee?”
      (Matthew 26:67-68).

“Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him” (Matthew 27:41-42).

What if Christ had done what they said? What if He had come down from the Cross? He certainly could have done that. He stilled the waves. He walked on the water. He cast out demons. He healed the sick. He even raised the dead. He certainly could have come down from the Cross. But what if He had? Why, if He had done that, none of us would be saved!

Jesus said to Pilate, “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world” (John 18:37). Jesus came into this world to die on the Cross.

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”
      (I Timothy 1:15).

“Christ died for our sins” (I Corinthians 15:3).

“While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life” (Romans 5:8-10).

When Christ died on the Cross, He made possible the salvation of sinners. He made possible justification by His Blood. He made possible salvation from the wrath of God. He made possible reconciliation to God. None of these things would have been available to you or anyone else if Christ had listened to those who mocked Him and had come down from the Cross.

The chief priests and elders were archetypes of those who mock Jesus. And so it is today with those who ridicule and despise the Son of God, who relegate him to the role of a mere teacher or prophet, or think of Him as a deluded madman.

“What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?” (Matthew 27:22).

You can mock Him and slander Him - but if you do, you have rejected His love and the salvation He offers you.

“He that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16).

What will you do with Jesus which is called Christ?

II. Second, you can pretend to be neutral.

That’s what Pilate did.

“Pilate…took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person”
      (Matthew 27:24).

Dr. Ryrie points out that when Pilate washed his hands in front of the people he was following “a Jewish custom which when used legitimately (though not so in Pilate’s case) was a symbol of absolution of an innocent man from implication in a wrongful death” (The Ryrie Study Bible, note on Matthew 27:24).

Why was Pilate’s use of washing his hands not legitimate? This custom was based on Deuteronomy 21:1-7. It says,

“If one be found slain in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee to possess it, lying in the field, and it be not known who hath slain him …all the elders of that city…shall wash their hands…And they shall answer and say, Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it” (Deuteronomy 21:1, 6-7).

Pilate wrongly used this custom in an attempt to remain neutral. It was no secret who killed Christ, so the passage in Deuteronomy did not apply. Everyone knows that Pilate was responsible for Christ’s death. They knew it then - and they know it now. And Pilate himself knew it. He said to Jesus,

“Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?” (John 19:10).

Pilate could wash his hands and go away and blame the chief priests and the crowd - but in his heart he knew that it was he,not them,that had the power of Rome behind him. It was he,not them,that had power to crucify Him. It is true that they were responsible, but it was Pilate who

“…gave sentence that it should be as they required”
      (Luke 23:24).

“And so Pilate…delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified” (Mark 15:15).

“He delivered him to be crucified” (Matthew 27:26).

That’s why the old creed says, “crucified under Pontius Pilate.” It was under Pilate’s orders that Jesus was nailed to the Cross.

Pilate, too, is an archetype. He pictures the person who pretends to remain neutral. Many who are raised in a Christian home but remain unconverted are like Pilate. You use word tricks and logical games to fool yourself into thinking you are not put on the spot by Christ. But you are put on the spot. You must decide what to do with Christ. There is no way you can wash your hands and escape the question,

“What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?” (Matthew 27:22).

Note that Pilate’s own question reveals that he could not be neutral, “What shall I do then with Jesus…?” He reveals in that very question that he must make the final decision. And the words of his own question show that Pilate already knew that the final decision was his - not theirs. No matter what they said or did, in the end the choice was his alone.

“What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?” (Matthew 27:22).

You must answer it too. You cannot escape it. What will you do with Jesus?

Will you evade Him as Pilate tried?
Or will you choose Him, whate’er betide?
Vainly you struggle from Him to hide;
What will you do with Jesus?
What will you do with Jesus? Neutral you cannot be;
Some day your heart will be asking, “What will He do with me?”
   (“What Will You Do With Jesus?” by Albert B. Simpson, 1843-1919).

“What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?” (Matthew 27:22).

It’s really an inward question. No one but God and you will know how you answer it - although you will be able to give a testimony later if you trust Him. But in that inward moment, only you and God will know what you did with Jesus which is called Christ.

III. Third, you can trust Him.

You can mock Him. You can pretend to be neutral. Or you can trust Him. It seems to me that those are the only three possibilities. Maybe you can think of another one, but I can’t. You’re either dead set against Him, like the chief priests and the howling mob - or you are vacillating back and forth, trying to be neutral, like Pilate - or you trust Him like the thief who was crucified next to Him. Those, I think, are the only three possibilities when you are confronted with life’s greatest question,

“What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?” (Matthew 27:22).

Make no mistake here. That thief did not believe in Jesus when he was first crucified on the cross next to our Lord.

“They crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst” (John 19:18).

Early on in the day, as the hot sun beat down on those three crosses, and the chief priests and rabble screamed at Him and mocked Him,

“The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth” (Matthew 27:44).

The two thieves both insulted Him, saying,

“If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Matthew 27:40).

Then at noon the darkness fell “over all the land” (Matthew 27:45). Jesus said,

“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do”
      (Luke 23:34).

And one of the thieves began to think about his own sins.

When a man begins to think about his sin he may soon be converted. Not death, mind you. Many people know they are dying. The other thief knew he was dying. I once went to see a man who knew he was dying. He said to the nurse, “Get him out of the room. I don’t want to hear about religion.” I left quietly. He died a few hours later. He was my friend. But he never became conscious of his sin and so, even though he knew he was dying, he had no interest in Christ. Even when a man faces death he will not be interested in Christ unless he is under conviction of sin.

Yes, one of those two thieves began to think about his sins.

“And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise”
      (Luke 23:39-43).

Have you heard that story too often for it to make any impression on you? If you have, I pity you. A man or woman who is not moved with emotion when hearing about the salvation of the dying thief is to me pitiable, wretched, pathetic.

This is the archetypical conversion at the Cross - a picture of all conversions that would henceforth follow. From that time to this all true conversions have the same two elements - conviction of sin and faith in Jesus; nor can you have one without the other. Conviction alone is nothing more than the remorse that Judas had. Mental belief in Jesus alone is nothing more than the head knowledge of the scribes and Pharisees. True conversions follow the pattern of the converted thief - conviction of sin, followed by trust in Jesus.

He didn’t get the words right. He didn’t recite the “plan of salvation.” He didn’t “go forward,” get baptized, ask Jesus “into his heart” or make Christ Lord of “every area of his life.” He had no emotional feeling other than conviction of sin. He did none of the things that modern “decisionists” do - for you see, he had an old fashioned conversion. Like Paul, and Augustine, and Luther, and Bunyan, and Whitefield, and Wesley, and Spurgeon - he was convicted of sin - and then trusted Jesus, a simple but profound act. Jesus said, “To day shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

That about sums it up, doesn’t it? You can mock Him. You can pretend to be neutral. Or you can trust Him. Which will it be for you? How will you answer life’s greatest question,

“What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?” (Matthew 27:22).

(END OF SERMON)
You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.realconversion.com. Click on "Sermon Manuscripts."


Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Matthew 27:11-24.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:

“What Will You Do With Jesus?”
     (by Albert B. Simpson, 1843-1919).

THE OUTLINE OF

LIFE’S GREATEST QUESTION

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.


“What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?” (Matthew 27:22).

(Luke 2:35; Matthew 27:19; Mark 15:14-15)

I.   You can mock Him, Matthew 26:67-68; 27:41-42;
John 18:37; I Timothy 1:15; I Corinthians 15:3;
Romans 5:8-10; Mark 16:16.

II.  You can pretend to be neutral, Matthew 27:24;
Deuteronomy 21:1, 6-7; John 19:10; Luke 23:24;
Mark 15:15; Matthew 27:26.

III. You can trust Him, John 19:18; Matthew 27:44, 40, 45;
Luke 23:34; 39-43.