Jun 3 - Can I Look To Jesus For Answers?

Can I Look To Jesus For Answers?

June 3, 2018

John 8: 12-59

 

CAN I LOOK TO JESUS FOR ANSWERS?

June 3, 2018

John 8:12-59

 

All of us have questions we would like answers to.  Our own knowledge, life experience, or limitations just aren’t enough to answer every question. 

 

Some of the questions we have may have to do with the present – for example, why is there so much hate and violence in the world? Or maybe, why am I so angry? Or maybe, am I doing with my life what I should be?

 

Or the questions may have to do with the future – for example, will my children live happy and fulfilled lives?  Will I regain my health?  Should I change the direction of my life?

 

Or the questions may have to do with God – for example, does he exist?  And if so, what is he really like?  Why does he allow the innocent to suffer? And what, if anything, does he want from me? 

 

Atheists might wonder why Theists at times seem so gullible and naïve.  Theists may wonder why Atheists at times are so cynical and sceptical. 

 

Everyone has questions.  Sometimes questions can lead to anxiety, to fear.  Will something bad happen?  At other times, questions can lead to courage, to stepping out, to discovery.  In fact, most of the great discoveries and breakthroughs in science or technology came about because someone had a question they wanted answered. 

 

So what are some of the questions that you have?     

 

In a similar vein, I also thought about the questions that would motivate someone to come into a church for the first time? 

 

What would they want answers to go to a place they’ve never been to, not knowing what they might encounter, or what the people there might be like?  

 

1. Is there a God? 

2. If yes, how can I better connect to him?

3. Why am I here?  What’s the meaning of my life?

4. Is what I am experiencing in my life all there is?

5. Is there something that could help me or my kids to live my life better

6. Will I find help dealing with my problems?

7. What happens after I die?

 

The common thread that likely runs through most of these kind of questions is a search for truth and meaning.

 

People who come visit the church for the first time likely are not asking whether or not the music or the speaker are great.   Of course, if the music or the speaker are lousy, they’re very unlikely to return. 

 

In fact, I heard a stat, that most people who visit a church for the first time will make up their mind about whether or not they will return within the first 7 minutes after their arrival. 

 

That’s before the service started, before they listen to the worship music, before they hear the message, before they have discovered whether or not there may be some truth there. 

 

That’s because, beside all of the truth questions they might have, they are also asking a different set of questions: 

 

1. Is this a safe place?

2. Will I feel at home?

3. Will I be welcomed?

4. Will I meet people who I can relate to? 

5. Will I fit in?

6. Will I meet people who will care for me?

7. Will I meet people who will enrich my life?

 

Think about this for a moment.  What if you visited a church for the first time and ...  

  • ...you have a hard time finding a parking spot. 

  • When you get into the foyer, you don’t recognize anyone. 

  • No one talks to you, because they’re all busy talking to people they know. 

  • You’re left to figure out where the kids should be dropped off for their program and when. 

  • You can’t find the washrooms. 

  • When you enter the sanctuary, all the seats at the back are taken.  And then you’re asked to sit in one of the front rows, where you feel completely conspicuous.   

 

Liam Neeson:  I don’t know who you are, but if you’re sitting in the foyer because you were late to church, I will find you and I will tell you there are plenty of empty seats in the front of the chapel.

 

Maybe the usher is Liam Neeson. 

 

I would venture to guess that at that point, you’ll have so many negative vibes, that you will not care to come back, regardless of the music and message.  After all, who wants to be in a place where you’re not made to feel welcome and where you end up feeling uncomfortable?    

 

This is the reason why Christians who regularly attend church need to view Sunday morning as a time of service.  If believers are only consumers, if they only attend church is because of what’s in it for them, something has gone wrong with their faith. 

 

Now there may be some exceptions.  If, for example, a person has been emotionally burned out, then there is a time to do little more than sit and soak.  But nothing should permanently side-line someone.  Christianity, after all, is not a spectator sport.

 

Do you remember what Jesus said at the Last Supper when he washed his disciples’ feet, the task of the lowest household slave? 
 

I have given you an example to follow.  Do as I have done to you.                                              John 13:15

 

People who walk into a church for the first time will know whether or not those who attend there actually take those words to heart.  When it is all about me, then I will grab the parking spot closest to the entrance, especially when it’s raining, even though I have no problems walking;

I will sit in the best possible seat.

I will not go up to people I don’t know to welcome them.  I will not teach in kidzone.

I will not serve coffee.

I will not hand out bulletins.

I will not invite someone over for lunch.  

 

On the other hand, if it is primarily about serving others, it’s a different picture, isn’t it? 

 

(Pastor Hugh’s parking only - all others will be towed; vs. First time guest parking)

 

In some churches, the pastor has a reserved parking spot closest to the entrance.  In other churches, there are designated visitor or guest spots that are closest to the entrance.  Which do you think is more welcoming?

 

So a non-churched person gets up early on a Sunday morning instead of sleeping in.  They drive themselves and maybe their kids to a church for the first time.  They enter a building where they know no one.  Why?  Because they are in search of truth.  That’s pretty impressive, if you ask me.

 

People who came to listen to Jesus also came looking for truth.  However, the truth they were looking for did not deal with the existence of God.  Most Jews in the first century took God’s existence for granted. 

 

And they were hearing Jesus through a filter, a lens, which, in part, was shaped by what they had been told about God by their religious leaders.  Keep in mind that the very large majority was illiterate.  They did not have the luxury of an education.  They could not read their Scriptures, so they had to rely on what they were told. 

And the messages from their religious leaders were, at times, contradictory.  For example, the Sadducees told them there was no afterlife, while the Pharisees told them there was.

 

One of the things that they were told by their religious leaders is that if you’re healthy or wealthy, it’s because God is really pleased with you, but if you’re sick or poor it’s because God is punishing you. 

 

If you have lots of children and if they are healthy, it’s because God is blessing you.  If you can’t have kids or your child gets sick or dies, it’s because God is cursing you.  You obviously must have done something wrong, because he’s angry with you.  

 

In other words, whatever is happening in your life, you deserve it. 

 

Jesus contradicted this teaching.  He told his followers that bad things will happen to good people, like the unfortunate Galilean Jews who Pilate had massacred at the temple, or the 18 people who had died because a tower had collapsed on them (Luke 13:2-4).  Jesus also told them that a blind person wasn’t cursed by God because of something that he or his parents had done wrong (John 9:1-3).    

 

Jesus’ followers had been told by their religious leaders that the Jewish people were God’s special people; that they were “in”, but that the non-Jews, the Samaritans and Gentiles, were “out.” 

 

Jesus contradicted their religious leaders.  God is interested in Jews and Samaritans and Gentiles.  Jesus told them that God wants everyone “in”.  That’s the whole reason Jesus came.  He didn’t come to save the Jews only.  He came to save everyone because God wants everyone in.[1]  Paul and the author of 2. Peter commented on this.

 

God wants everyone to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.                           1 Timothy 2:4

 

God is patient with you because he does not want anyone to be lost forever, but for everyone to come to the point of repentance.                       2 Peter 3:9

 

But as much as God might desire this, he will not force people to believe what they do not want to believe or to spend eternity somewhere they do not want to go. 

 

Jesus’ followers also were keenly aware that they were being oppressed and taken advantage of by the foreign power that had been occupying their land for 90 years (Pompey, 63 BC).    

 

And they had been told by their religious leaders that their subjugation was a clear sign that God was punishing the nation because he was displeased with it. 

 

They asked the question: What would it take for God to look on our nation with mercy, give us back our land under a benevolent Davidic King?   And, they had been told by the Rabbis, that the only way to reverse the fortune of the nation, was to focus on keeping the minutia of the Mosaic Law

 

Jesus disagreed.  He told the Pharisees that they had it completely wrong.  By focusing on the minutia, they were missing the bigger picture. God’s people should focus on following the two commandments that were of real importance to God, instead of figuring out what everyone had to do in every conceivable circumstance. 

 

Most importantly, they had to connect with God and living according to his will.  Period. 

 

Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, soul and mind.                                                       Matthew 22:37

 

This was the most important commandment in the whole of the OT. 

 

God has to become the most important concern in their lives.  He was to be more important than their careers, possessions, money, even more important than their human relationships.

 

The second biggest commandment, Jesus said, was treating other people with compassion and care.

 

Love one another as I have loved you;

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you;

Love your neighbour as yourself;

Treat others as you would want to be treated by them;

Give a cup of cold water;

Give food to the hungry;  Give the thirsty to drink ...

 

But there was something else, Jesus challenged his listeners to believe that he was the one that would make it possible for them to reconnect and be right with God. 

 

He challenged them to see that he himself - his identity - his person - and therefore his mission - was just as important as his message.

 

In fact, Christianity is not so much about a religious system, a group of people, a building, a liturgy, a dogma, as it is about a person.  Christianity begins and ends with Jesus. 

 

In John 8, we have a series of conversations between Jesus and the Pharisees (cf. 8:13).  In these conversations, Jesus claimed a number of things about himself.  

 

  • I am from above; I am not of this world (v.23)

  • You will know that I am (i.e., the one) (v.28)

  • I proceed forth and have come from God; He sent me (v.42)

  • I honour my Father (v.49)

  • I know God and keep His word (v.55)

  • Before Abraham existed, I am (v.58)

 

The first thing to notice is that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, the Saviour.  He mentions that he was sent by God and twice notes that he is “the one” (vv.24,28 - implied).[2]

 

The one” is a common way to refer to the Saviour, the Messiah, of the nation.  Jesus was pointing out that he would be the one who would be instrumental in the process of reconnecting God’s people with God and thus saving the nation of Israel. 

 

Have any of you watched the movie, The Matrix?  Hard to believe it came out 19 years ago.  In any case, the movie is filled with biblical imagery and terms. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that you watch this movie!) Throughout the movie, there is a quest to find “the one,” that is, the one of whom it had been foretold that he would free the human race from being enslaved to sentient robots. 

 

As it turns out in the movie, a man named Neo ended up being “the one.”  This was proven when he was killed by a machine called “Mr. Smith”, but then came back to life when the female protagonist, Trinity, kisses him.  Subsequently, Neo easily defeats Mr. Smith by simply being able to control the matrix, for example, by stopping bullets.     

 

So Jesus claimed to be “the one”.  The second thing to notice is that Jesus claimed to be divine.  He said that his origin is “from above”, that is, from God.   He notes that he existed even prior to Abraham.  And he notes that he is “the light”.[3]

 

But the real clincher is found in the last statement, “Before Abraham existed, I am”. In order to understand this claim, you have to keep in mind that one of the personal names of God in the OT, is “I am” (ehyeh). 

 

God actually gave himself three names in those verses, all interrelated and based on the verb “to be”:

 

HYH   SR   HYH (Read: ehyeh aser ehyeh)

I am  who  I am

 

HYH (Read: ehyeh)

I am

 

YHWH (Read: yahveh)

He is   (i.e., he is the one who exists)

 

Should the Israelites ask, Moses is to tell them that “I am” (ehveh) had sent him (Ex 3:14).  So Jesus uses one of the personal names of God to refer to himself.  And this was immediately understood by the Pharisees, because they picked up stones to kill Jesus for blasphemy.

 

In John 8, Jesus not only spoke of his identity, but he also made a number of promises.  One of them is found in v.12. 

 

I am the light; the one who follows me will have the light of [eternal] life.                                             John 8:12

 

Jesus promised that he would provide eternal life for the person who believed and trusted him enough to following him.  In other words, those who would be in relationship with him, would also be in relationship with God himself. 

 

The Pharisees who rejected Jesus’ claims about himself, also didn’t think much of Jesus’ promises.  They did not view themselves as being separated from God.  Maybe the nation of Israel was separated from God, but that was the fault of others.  

 

The metaphor of light in Jewish thinking is connected to God, to moral purity, to goodness, to spiritual truth and insight.  So a person who leaves the darkness and comes into the light, comes to God, to doing what is right and good, and to receiving insight into what is true.

 

Jesus noted at another point in the gospel of John, that his followers would not be able to continue on in the darkness. 

 

I came into the world as a light, so that those who put their trust in me will not remain in the darkness.

                                                                   John 12:46

 

The author of 1 John, who was familiar with the gospel of John, noted that this transfer from darkness to light is not something inconsequential or unnecessary.  No, it is vital because determines whether or not a person will be forgiven from their wrongs and be in relationship with God, who is light, and with other Christians, who should be the children of light.

 

This is the message we received and passed on to you:  God is light.  In Him there is no darkness of any kind.  If we claim to be in communion with him but we live in the darkness, then we are lying and are not living out the truth.  But if we live in the light as He is in the light, then we are in communion with one another and the blood of Jesus, His son, purifies us from all of our sins.

                                                          1 John 1:5-7

 

What this meant for his listeners and what it means to me, is that I have to admit to God and myself that I have thoughts, attitudes and actions, that are wrong, that are part of the darkness. 

 

I may not have killed anyone, but maybe I’ve wished someone dead. 

I may not have physically cheated on my spouse, but maybe I did so in my mind. 

I may not have paid a witchdoctor to sacrifice a child in order for my business to succeed, a practice still common in some parts of the world (i.e. Uganda),[4]  but my spouse and I may have decided on an abortion based purely on financial grounds. 

I may not have stolen money from someone else, but I may have knowingly cheated on my tax return (like claiming expenses that were never incurred), or down-loaded copyrighted material, or paid someone to write my dissertation, or omitted important details about what is wrong with a product I am selling.

 

The reality is, that human beings, by their very nature, have a bent toward doing or saying or thinking things that deep down they know to be wrong. 

 

In 1 John (1:8) we read that if we claim to be without sin we have deceived ourselves and the truth is not in us. 

 

People who have a tough time admitting fault or who think that they have absolutely no issues, often will not see the need to be rescued from themselves.  In their own eyes they would consider themselves to be already good enough for God.  They do not need to change and can make it on their own steam.  The Pharisees saw themselves in this light.

 

The second step in following the light, is admitting to God and myself that I might have beliefs and convictions, even spiritual values that may be wrong ... that are part of the darkness, even if I’m not aware of it.

 

Those who think that they are the only ones who have a corner on the truth and who are always right, will not be open to insights that might challenge their beliefs.  Again, the Pharisees were a good example of this.

 

Jesus said, “... I came into this world to bring sight to those who think they are blind and to bring blindness to those who think that they can see.”  Some of the Pharisees near Jesus heard him saying what he did, and asked him, “We are not blind as well, are we?”   Jesus said to them, “If you admitted to being blind, you would not be guilty; but since you claim to be able to see, your guilt remains.                                      John 9:39-41

 

The Pharisees thought of themselves as being spiritually astute, of being able to tell others how to live their lives, based on their knowledge and interpretation of the Law of Moses. 

 

Jesus quite often would tell them that they are out to lunch.  They don’t really understand what’s by far most important to God, they don’t get his character, and they misapply the various laws. 

 

Ultimately, the truth of Christianity has to be based on whether or not Jesus was who he claimed to be.  If he wasn’t the divine Messiah, then Christianity is false and those who call themselves followers of Jesus are deluded. 

 

When Jesus claimed to be divine, he lost a lot of his followers because it just didn’t line up with what they thought the Messiah should be. 

 

Maybe you have left or you’re thinking about leaving your faith, because what you were told as a child about God, just doesn’t line up any longer with your life experiences.   s

Maybe, as you grew up, you realized that even your parents didn’t live out that version of the faith they taught you.  If they were hypocrites, why should you believe them? 

 

Maybe, as you went to school, whether high school, or university, or college, or med school, or law school, the things you were taught simply did not line up with your childhood faith ... they put into question a lot of things that you had been told as a child.

 

Your comparative religion prof tells you that the God of the OT is an ogre.  Or you’re told that the NT documents were written decades after the fact and likely include myth and legend.  And on and on it goes. 

 

What you’re being taught might also give you the freedom to dismiss the moral teachings of Jesus. 

 

Or maybe you’ve been told that a person of faith has to jettison sound reasoning and critical thinking.

 

I have always said that God has given us a brain to use, and that is no different when it comes to spiritual truths.  Of course we can and should question what we are being told by spiritual leaders, otherwise how will we know if we’re not being led down the garden path?  Beware of anyone who tells you that you cannot ask questions.

 

Or perhaps your religious experience in a church was not the greatest.   And it jaded you.  How can people of faith act in such a mean fashion toward each other?  Why are there power struggles and splits?  People disappoint, so why not walk away from them and therefore from God.

 

Most importantly, you screwed up personally.  You have violated your own rules of right and wrong, never mind God’s.  You have done things you are ashamed of.  You have done some things that you hope and pray no one will EVER find out. And you know that your own selfishness and impatience, and anger have deeply hurt others. 

 

And so you have regrets.  You feel guilty.  You are ashamed.  But at the same time, you want to stop feeling guilty for any and all of it.  So it’s so much easier to tell yourself that good and bad are subjective and walk away from your faith.

 

And then life happens.  Your parents split up, even though they both profess to be Christian.  A spiritual leader abuses you or someone you know.  Your Christian spouse decides to leave you, or you get married to an abusive spouse who claims to be a Christian.  You get fired from a job you loved.  Your health or the health of your child is severely compromised.  You deal with depression or anxiety attacks.  There are some physical traits that make you feel terrible every time you look in the mirror and feeds a deep insecurity that keeps you from being all that you could be.

 

And then, when it comes right down to it, there is this big temptation to only focus on pleasing yourself.  You don’t want to get up early and hassle with the kids to get them ready for church.  It is so much easier to get up late, or to go fishing, or to the golf-course or to watch TV than feel compelled by your faith to go to church or to a bible study.  So much easier to just let it all ride.

 

It reminds me of a story about John being woken up by his wife.  “John, it’s time to get up so we can go to church.”  John said, “I don’t want to go to church.  I want to stay in bed.”  Crossing her arms the wife said, “Give me three good reasons why you should stay in bed and not go to church.”  “OK,” he answered.  “First, I don’t get anything out the service.  Second, no one there likes me.  And third, I want to watch the game on TV instead.  Now give me three good reasons why I SHOULD go to church.”  His wife responded, “First, you can PVR the game and watch it later.  Second, there are people there who really do like you.  And third, you’re the pastor.  So get out of bed already!

 

Now we all want to think that we are bigger than our past.  That we have grown past our experiences, that it does not impact the way that we view our money, our lives, our children, ourselves, or God. 

 

The problem is that our past has wounded, jaded and hardened us.  The things that we chose to do and the things that happened to us, through no fault of our own, have in fact impacted the lens through which we see and interpret our reality and what we believe.

 

And while we may have a hard time seeing just how much we are a product of our past, we can see it in others.

 

When I heard all about what happened to my father when he was growing up during and after WWII, physically, emotionally, and in every other way, I finally could understand why he was the way he was. 

 

When I finally got all the information about my parents’ divorce, then I understood why they split up.  It then made sense why it happened. 

 

Yet when it comes to myself, I often have massive blinders on.  I can’t see that my convictions, thinking, actions, reactions, beliefs, are to a large part a reflection of what has happened in my life. 

 

Jesus may not answer all of our questions, but he himself said that he came in order to answer one big question, “What is God really like? And what is his will, his plan, for your life?” 

 

You know the Father and have seen him.”  Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”  Jesus answered, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you for such a long time?  Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” 

John 14:7-9

 

Jesus said, “Look at me and you will know what God is like and what is most important to God”!  But the disciples just didn’t get it. 

 

By the way, one of the criterion of historicity or authenticity of any ancient documents, is the criterion of embarrassment. There are other criteria, such as the criterion of multiple attestations, the criterion of consistency, the criterion of historical plausibility, and so on.

 

In any case, the criterion of embarrassment states that it is highly unlikely that an author would include anything embarrassing about himself or his hero in a historical account. 

 

And yet, Jesus is sometimes shown in unflattering ways, for example, when it took him a couple of tries to heal a blind man (Mark 8:22-25). 

 

And the disciples, one of whom authored the gospel of John, were depicted as being pretty thick when it came to actually understanding what Jesus was telling them.

 

Particularly Peter is shown in an unflattering light, he who would become the first leader of the church and whose supposed grave is covered by one of the most famous and larges basilicas in the world. 

 

He was so insecure about Jesus’ identity, that he cussed and denied that he even knew Jesus - three times. 

 

For many Jews, the fact that Jesus was crucified, immediately disqualified him from being God’s Messiah.  How can he overthrow the Romans and usher in a new era if he was executed as a criminal?  That simply did not fit the profile. 

 

Even Jesus’ closest friends and followers were horrified when Jesus died on the cross.  Some of them had really thought that he might in fact be the Messiah.  But a Messiah wasn’t supposed to die, and on top of that in what at that time was considered to be the most shameful way possible. 

 

When that happened, they were convinced that they had spent the last 3 years following around someone who was completely self-deluded.  And they ended up in hiding, petrified that they too would be arrested.  Others left and returned to their jobs in Galilee.

 

However, these very same disciples, led by Peter, just a few weeks later went into the very streets the condemned Jesus had made his way to his execution, and proclaimed him to be the divine Messiah.  What in the world had happened? 

 

The answer is that they saw the risen Jesus.  It changed their whole perspective.  They weren’t the same people they had been.  Their faith was reborn.  They were no longer afraid.  They looked at everything through a different lens.  They looked at their reality differently. 

 

And so, Christians from the very beginning of the church believed that God sent someone from the spiritual realm into the physical, human realm, to give us a new frame of reference to answer some of our questions about himself, what he is like, about his will, and how humans should live in light of his existence.   

 

If you’re thinking about leaving or if you have left your childhood faith, have you ever asked yourself what the faith is you are contemplating on leaving?  Or why that faith has become questionable or unpalatable to you?  

 

Is it because you believe that you can no longer reconcile what you’ve been taught about God with science? 

Or is it because people of faith have disappointed you? 

Or is it because you no longer want to feel guilty? 

Or is it because you’ve been told that God is not interested in having all people be with him in eternity? 

Or is it because you’ve been told that a good God would never allow for the suffering of the innocent?   

 

I would challenge you, not to get hung up in the past, in the hurt and doubt and scepticism caused by people, by your experiences.  Instead, try looking only at Jesus. 

 

Jesus told the Pharisees, before Abraham was, I AM.  He told his disciples, if you see me then you have seen the Father. And looking to Jesus is very different from taking a class in comparative religion or philosophy at a university, or coming into a church building on a Sunday morning.   

 

So I would challenge you.  Read the gospel of Luke.  It only takes 2 ½ hours to read through it. Compared to how much TV we watch or how many games we play or how many hours we are online, it’s really not a lot of time.

 

So my challenge is for you to tune out all of the background.  And decide you won’t get hung up on your past and your experience, and hurt and doubt and scepticism and instead fix your eyes on Jesus. 

 

HAVE I SEEN GOD AND GOD’S WILL IN JESUS … IN HIS PERSON, HIS ACTIONS, HIS TEACHING, AND HIS DEATH AND RESURRECTION?

 

WILL I READ THROUGH THE GOSPEL OF LUKE TRYING TO DISCOVER WHO GOD IS AS I LOOK TO JESUS?

 

DO I NEED A SAVIOUR TO SAVE ME FROM MYSELF AND BRING ME TO GOD?

 

IF SO, WHAT WILL I DO?

 

I believe that there are those of us here this morning who need to get right with God.  We need to acknowledge that there is something within us we need saving from. 

 

 

[1] John 3:16 -  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

[2] Compare John 4:26, “I am he”; Matt 11:3/Luke 7:19, “Are you the one who is to come?”

[3] Compare 1 John 1:5, “God is light”; The OT speaks more of God’s radiance (cf.  Ezekiel 1:27-28) and the light of God’s presence (Ps 44:3) or glory (Ezekiel 43:2).

[4] Reemerged in Uganda around 2008.  See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-15255357; http://www.businessinsider.com/afp-child-sacrifice-for-wealth-and-power-in-uganda-2015-6