Jesus Is Real

Pastor Rachel B. Livingston 

I. Do You Know Jesus Is Real?

Have you ever had a moment or experience that showed you, without a shout of a doubt that Jesus Christ is Real, that he can be felt deep in the soul, that he is our salvation, our liberation, that even in our darkest hour, Jesus can bring about light? Have you ever felt the presence of Jesus right there with you, soothing your pain and bringing about comfort, even within the deep guttural moans of the deep darkness of midnight?  Have you ever witnessed a moment where Jesus so deeply touched your heart that you knew that Jesus was real and that in your relationship with him, everything was changed, that your life was transformed, to the point that you felt like you had to follow that man from Nazareth, a place where it was rumored no good could come from?  Have you ever had a revelation that reveals what some might think is unthinkable, but presents the truth of Jesus Christ, even if it presents something that lacks all common sense? Has something so miraculous happened to you that it was extremely evident that Jesus is real and present within your life?  If so, you are witness to the transformational power of Jesus Christ, and you have a testimony to share with the masses.

As I ask these questions this morning, they may be odd questions for Christians, those most faithful to the church, to hear, because of course we know Jesus to be Real. We have dedicated our lives to understanding that Jesus Christ is real.  We know Jesus is real because we feel him in our soul, we know he has sacrificed his life for us that we might be washed and made whole.  We have determined our life and our after-life on the simple understanding that Jesus is real.  We have decided to put our hands and our very souls within the hands of a very real savior, Jesus Christ, who is the very cornerstone of our faith.  We have chosen to follow a faith that believes that the Real Jesus Christ gifted us with grace, has forgiven us from sin within the action of his death, and granted us salvation and new life in his resurrection.  Of course, we know that Jesus is real because we have claimed ourselves as Christian, we have proclaimed that our truth is that Jesus is the real Son of God, who in his complexities is both human and divine, God made flesh here on this earth.  Our faith claims that we know this one thing, that Jesus is real, and we can feel it deep within our soul.  But maybe the deeper question is, have you seen it for yourself, have you known Jesus for yourself?  Not just carrying on the monotonous rituals of what people say Christianity is, but have you witnessed Jesus Christ for yourself?  And if so, have you proclaimed it to the world that they might know that not only is Jesus real, but that you are a witness that Jesus is a transformational presence that brings joy in sorrow, hope for tomorrow, peace in the midst of chaos, and love in the very presence of hate?

It should be no secret that I, as your pastor, am willing to profess to the world as a witness, that I know that Jesus is real, because he is real to me, I have felt his realness within my life and I feel him deep in my soul.  There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus is real because I have seen him in my life, I have felt his presence, I have been assured of his comforting existence, and I know that Jesus has transformed my life inside and out, and I would not be standing before you this morning if it had not been the for the presence of Jesus Christ in my life.  This is not just a cliché proclamation, but a bold statement that claims that because of Christ in my life I want to share love with the people I meet; because of Christ I know that racial injustice is not just the problem of people of color, but everyone because just like Jesus we care for the “least of these” the ones that society has cast out;  because of Jesus Christ I know that equal opportunity for women within compensation, opportunity, and employment is necessary because Jesus valued the presence of women in his circle; because of Jesus I know that we should value the rights of children and protect them from abuse and negligence, because Jesus said suffer the little children to come unto me; and because of Jesus I know that I have been set free because I am redeemed.  I am a witness, and my story can tell you, that I know that Jesus is real, and I can feel him deep within my soul.  I may not have touched that hem of his garment, but just like that woman with the issue of blood who crept to the foot of Jesus, I have been transformed, I have been washed and made whole, and I will never be the same again.

I’m not sure if you know the song, by John P. Kee, entitled “Jesus is Real”  but it’s almost as if, this morning, I can hear the melody and the syncopated rhythm as I proclaim this message, because the words, simple as they are, are written upon my heart. They say, “ Jesus is Real, I know the Lord is real to me. Sometimes when I’m feeling down, no one around, Jesus is a friend, that I have found.  For I know, Jesus is real.”  I have had moments when I am all alone and Jesus shows up right there answering prayers in ways I could never have expected.  Just being here serving as pastor was an answered prayer, as I was feeling stuck where I was trying to fulfill the fullest extent of what God was calling me to in the moment. And one morning, I was sitting at home working from home in a new COVID world, and I received a phone call about a new appointment.  I was just feeling low and confused, trying to see if there were ways that I could change up my work where I was to work better toward my call, but Jesus showed up and showed me that not only does he answer prayer, but he was right there present with me. Sometimes we think we know what we need, but Jesus has responded to our needs in ways that have been better than what we ask for because Jesus responds to our need and not just our desires in the moment.   But what is significant about these words, is that they present a specific affirmation of assurance of undeniability that there is no doubt that Jesus exists and is present, there in the midst of our lives.  These words proclaim a strong confidence that implies a first-hand account of Jesus moving in one’s life with continued grace and mercy.  But some might ask the question, “How do you know?  How are you so sure? What brings you such confidence in knowing that Jesus is Real?”

 II. How Do You Know Jesus Is Real?

And it is no wonder that this question is asked, because as we look at the problem of evil within the world, there are many people trying to determine where Jesus is.  They are on an eternal quest to find some solace, in the midst of the evil that is present in their lives.  They question, how can Jesus be real when I am struggling to pay my bills and I don’t know where to turn, they proclaim how can Jesus be real when COVID is present in our world and keeps us locked up and away from one another, they ask how can Jesus be real when we don’t know how to treat one another with love and kindness, they ask how can Jesus be real when there is sickness in my body, they ask how can Jesus be real when I have lost a loved one, they ask how can Jesus be real when hunger is a present reality and an empty stomach is an unwelcomed companion, they profess that Jesus can’t be real when I am deep within the throws of anxiety and depression, they ask how are you so sure that Jesus is real, because the world around me is beating upon me and I am struggling to see Jesus. 

But I am sure, of this one thing, Jesus is real, for I can feel him in my soul.

 III. Peter, James, and John Witness the Transfiguration

Our scripture this morning, as we celebrate Transfiguration Sunday, places Peter, James, and John in a place where they are a witness to a miraculous moment of affirmation.  These three disciples, which some say are the core disciples, because they were mentioned quite often as the ones that Jesus took along with him, were able to witness at phenomenon of a lifetime.  These three men, Peter, James, and John had dedicated their life to following Jesus, they had laid down their nets as fishermen and sought to follow Jesus throughout Galilee and into the area of Jerusalem, sitting and listening to his teachings.  They had taken on what it meant to learn from this radical teacher, that challenged societal norms, made the scribes and the Pharisees uncomfortable, and uplifted those on the fringes of society.  Jesus had shown them how to live, how to love those that had been rejected, how to be more concerned about the person than the societal structures that forbid us from connecting with others because of their ailments, uncleanliness, or shameful professions.  Some might say these men already knew Jesus was real, the real Son of God, the one they had been waiting for, the coming messiah, if they had left everything to sit at the feet of Jesus and follow his teachings.  But many have dedicated their lives to following a teacher that they might be taught by someone who knows more.  But there is something that must be said for witnessing a moment, where EVERYTHING is made clear, where all the doubts of what you know to be are cast out.  And where they knew that Jesus was not just a teacher, but the actual messiah, the Son of God, the one they were waiting for.  It is something different when you have proof of something you have seen with your very own eyes, to bring you assurance, when you have a moment where you know that if you ever doubt again, you can think back on this moment and know that you are a witness to the realness of Jesus, the son of God, the messiah, the salvation of the world.  

In this moment, these three disciples, Peter, James, and John, had been chosen out of the 12 disciples and led up onto the mountain by Jesus.  And as they were up there, they saw Jesus speaking with Elijah and Moses, and his clothes became dazzling white.  This is a significant moment because in the Hebrew tradition it was believed that both Elijah and Moses did not suffer death, but were taken up into heaven by God.  So, Jesus, their teacher, the one they chose to follow, was standing there, clearly exuding purity as his clothes in their bright, whiteness show that he is blameless and without sin or blemish.  And he is talking to Elijah and Moses, two people that would only be able to be accessed by the Divine because they had been taken up and reside within the bosom of the comfort of the Divine, a place where they live in the presence of God.  Their teacher, was doing something that no one could ever or has ever done, showing that Jesus must be, the son of God, the messiah, the salvation that they have waited for.  And if there was any doubt in their mind, any question in their head that, any belief that they might be hallucinating, there was a cloud that covered them and a voice that exclaimed, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”  Now they know that Jesus is real, not just a prophet or a teacher who has lessons they believe in.  Jesus is Real, the son of God, the messiah, the salvation of the world, and the one they had been waiting for. 

This moment was so memorable to Peter that he wanted there to be proof, he wanted others to bear witness to what they had seen, so he wanted to build three structures that would honor the holiness of Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.  This was a common thing done within the ancient near east tradition, to place an altar or structure to honor an encounter with a deity.  For example, we see this when Jacob had a dream of angels ascending and descending a ladder, he built an altar and called it Bethel, or house of God, because there he met God.  This is the same thing that Peter was trying to do, he was trying to put out a memorial that would commemorate the encounter with God that they had, and the revelation of the realness of Jesus that they were a witness too.  Because in this moment, Jesus was real, and they knew the Lord was real to them, deep down in their soul. 

But what we see here is that Jesus told them to keep quiet about what they had seen.  This is always a very puzzling moment within the life and teachings of Jesus, which happen quite often in the book of Mark, this suppression of who Jesus really is, this messianic secret.  Why does Jesus want to keep the REALNESS of who he is secret?  Here Peter is ready to leave evidence for the rest of the world that Jesus is REAL and Jesus says, don’t tell anyone.   But get this, maybe Jesus was saying, yes you have witnessed the truth, that I am the messiah, the Son of God, but I want you to not just be able to tell people about it, I want you to be transformed by this knowledge so that you can be a full witness to who Jesus is, so that when people see you they will know the essence of Christ that lives within.  I want you to be able to live a life that shows you know this to be true.  Don’t tell people until I have resurrected because then you will have learned what I have taught you, you will have fully internalized who I am, then people will know the forgiveness of sin and the new life that is coming, and then they will know what it is like to live a life knowing the Real Jesus in you.  So, you see its not enough to live a life just knowing Jesus is Real, but you must embody Jesus within you to show the world that Jesus is real, through your love, through your kindness, through living a socially holy life transformed by God.  Quite often in this transfiguration story, we focus on the fact that Jesus was transformed, Jesus was acknowledged as holy.  But it was in that moment, that those three disciples, Peter, James, and John were transformed because they knew beyond a shout of a doubt that Jesus was real, and they knew that they had to learn all they could from Jesus so that they could proclaim and be witness to all the world that Jesus was Real, the Real Son of God, the Real messiah, the real salvation of the world.

 IV. Tell Your Testimony Of How You Know Jesus

For many of us, who have dedicated our lives to following Jesus Christ, there is that moment where we met Jesus, that moment where it became clear that Jesus was real, that moment when we were transformed.  That moment where we knew Jesus was the one that we were going to follow throughout our life.  John Wesley called in the moment of Awakening, when the Holy Spirit moved and his heart felt strangely warmed.  The moment does not have to be grandiose or miraculous like the account of the disciples. For some of us it was a simple story and for others it was a transformational, life changing event.  For some it was a small moment where we saw assurance; for some of us it was the witness our parents or grandparents; for some of us it was that moment when things didn’t make any sense, we couldn’t pay a bill, we didn’t know how stress would be lifted off our shoulders, we didn’t know how our sickness would end, but somehow Jesus made a way out of no way; for some of us it was the sense of peace that we had within a dark moment; and for others it was the simple realization that of the presence of Jesus within the gentle breeze of the wind as we look out into God’s creation. But many of us who have claimed to be the people of God, have had a moment that let us know that Jesus is Real and that we seek to follow him, that moment where we sought to be Christians and be the people that choose to follow Christ.  For my grandmother and her siblings, it came as their father lay on his deathbed.  When he came to the end of life and was ready to enter into glory, he traveled on this narrow path where darkness lay on either side and falling to either side surely meant his doom.  But as he walked on that path, he heard a voice calling to him, calling him on the path to stay straight on the path toward a bright light and not to waver his sight toward the darkness, but stay focused on the light.  And as long as he focused on that voice and kept his gaze on the light, he was able to make it across that path.  But once he reached heaven’s gate, he asked that he might go back and tell his children, how to make it into to heaven.  So he came back and told his children that they must always take the name of Jesus with them, they must follow Jesus and connect with him along the journey of life.  This is why our family song is “Precious Name” which in the very first words proclaim, “Take the Name of Jesus With You.”  But it was that moment for them that they knew, the moment that they really knew, that their lives were transformed and they determined that they would carry Jesus with them along the journey of life, this was the moment that they really knew that Jesus was real, and they could feel it deep down in their soul. It change their life and changed the way they lived. This is my grandmother and my uncles’ and aunts’ transfiguration story, the story they knew Jesus to be real. 

For me, my story was maybe not so miraculous.  It came when I went off to college.  I had grown up in the church and had done the “church” thing my whole life.  So,  I wanted to venture off, do new things, try something new, explore life and not be tied down by religion or church, but do my own thing not caught up in the good and innocence of always being a church kid.  The hilarity in it all is that was my plan, that was my intention.  But almost as soon as I got to college, I felt Jesus pull me in, expand my mind, teach me new things.  I missed probably one Sunday of church and became extremely involved in the chapel and had close relationships with the dean of the chapel and the chaplains at Howard University.  And it was there that I met Christ, there the Jesus affirmed so much for me there where I saw intimate connection with Jesus that allowed me to dedicate my life to living with and for Jesus.  It was there that I saw the teachings of a radical Jesus, but it was there that I had to choose Jesus for myself, there that I built an intimate connection with God where I could see the hand of God on my life and I could pinpoint the moments of Jesus walking alongside me.  I was able to live in a way that says, Jesus is Real, Jesus is the Son of God, Jesus is the liberator and salvation of the world.  And he declares love, peace, and justice in the places you thought it barren of all hope.  This was my story of transfiguration, the moment I knew the Jesus was real in my soul, and that I could share my story of witness to proclaim the realness of Christ within the world.

It is these moments of awakening that we become a witness to the realness of Jesus.  That we can proclaim to the sick – Jesus is real and we proclaim healing in whatever way that can happen in God’s will, we can proclaim to the imprisoned by the systems that allow us to live in our racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, ableism, and othering – that Jesus is real and you are liberated from all that imprisons you, we can proclaim to those that are physically imprisoned – that Jesus is real and you are loved and acknowledged as human beings despite the stigma society tries to put on you, we can proclaim to those in darkness of depression, anxiety, and mental illness – that Jesus is real and there is light and joy in him who provides resources for help and wellness in communities that will support you, we can proclaim to the hungry – that Jesus is Real and because of that you can be fed, nourished with both the food that nourishes the physical body and food that nourishes the soul. We have witnessed Jesus and his transformational power in our lives, and because of this, we proclaim it to the world in our thoughts and actions.  It is our goal to proclaim our story to a dying world, a world wrestling with the problem of evil, a story that says Jesus is Real, and we know this because we have experienced Jesus at work in our lives, and we know the work that Jesus can do in the world.  And we know this because we have lived a life where we can say:

Jesus is Real, for I can feel him in my soul.

There are some things, I may not know, There are some places I can’t go.  But I am sure, of this one thing, Jesus is real for I can feel him deep within.  Jesus is real, real in my soul. Jesus is Real, for he has washed and made me whole.  His love for me is like pure gold, Jesus is Real for I can feel Him in my soul.