Five Kinds of People Who Don’t Believe

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The 7-day Feast of Tabernacles was one of the most popular Jewish festivals in Jesus’ day, and for good reason. The Feast was full of meaningful rituals and traditions. The people ate and slept in temporary shelters. Every morning they celebrated the water ceremony. Every evening they gathered near the temple for a time of music and dancing. Men with religious influence carried burning torches in their hands and danced with enthusiasm while the temple orchestra filled the night with music.

That’s what was going on in John 8 when Jesus announced: “I am the Light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the Light of life” (v. 12). Based on John’s thesis statement in John 20:30-31, we might expect to read how many people in the crowd believed in Jesus. Instead, we find the opposite; we see how many in the crowd rejected Jesus. As the chapter unfolds, we learn about five kinds of people who don’t believe in Jesus.

1. People who reject Jesus’ testimony about Himself (8:13).

The Pharisees dismissed Jesus’ announcement because they thought He was speaking on his own authority. Jesus reminded them that the Law only required two people to establish a testimony as true. Jesus spoke in concert with the Heavenly Father. The Pharisee didn’t recognize Jesus as God’s messenger because they didn’t know God (v. 19).

From 1985 to 1991, about two hundred mainline NT scholars gathered throughout the U.S. twice a year as the Jesus Seminar.[1] The goal of this group was to reconstruct the “real historical Jesus” apart from the “mythical Jesus” presented in the Bible. This group concluded, erroneously, that Jesus never said 82 percent of words attributed to Him in the Gospels. People still commit the same kind of error today when they pick and choose which parts of the Bible they want to believe and obey.

2. People who are confused about Jesus’ death (8:22)

The crowd was confused when Jesus told them He would be going away. Jesus explained that they would know who He was when He was “lifted up.” This was a clear allusion to His death on a cross. When Jesus was lifted up on a cross, he became a sacrifice for the sin of the world. Those who refused this gift would die in their unbelief (v. 24).

Confusion over Jesus’ death still exists today. Those who think that Jesus was just a religious leader, or a moral example can’t help but see His death as a waste. Jesus was cut down in the prime of his life and his full potential was never filled. Those who believe that Jesus was both the Son of God and the Son of Man have a different perspective. They know that His death was a great gift as God bridged the gap between heaven and earth.

3. People who make a profession of faith without follow through (8:31)

Verse 30 says, “Many people came to believe in Him.” At first glance, this seems like a positive statement, it may not be so positive in this context. Jesus explained that genuine faith goes deeper than an outward statement. It takes obedience and consistency to show that you are really a follower of Jesus.

Genuine faith results in genuine freedom in the way a flashlight allows you to move through unfamiliar terrain without hurting yourself. Our community is full of people with a superficial understanding of faith. There are about 30k people who live within a 3-mile radius of our church.

4. People who are blind to their own sin (8:33).

The Jews claimed they had “never been enslaved to anyone.” This claim was historically inaccurate. At one time or another, the Jews have been enslaved or controlled by Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Media-Persia, Macedonia, Syria, and Rome. The Feast of Tabernacles was a reminder of their liberation from Egypt.[2] The Jews were as blind about their political situation they were about their spiritual situation.

Blindness can be dangerous when you are in denial. A 67-year-old woman went in for cataract surgery and received quite a shock. The woman had worn disposable contacts for 35 years. From time to time, she couldn’t find her lens in her right eye to remove it, so she figured she’d dropped it somewhere. When she went in for cataract surgery, the doctor found a “blue mass” made up of 27 contact lenses that had been left in her eye.

5. People who worship their religious traditions (8:53).

The Jews were offended at the idea that Jesus was greater than Abraham. They were proud of their ethnic and religious heritage. They were so fiercely protective of the rituals and traditions associated they couldn’t imagine anything different.

Jesus claimed to be the God who blessed Abraham. In Genesis. 12:1-3, God promised to bless the whole world through Abraham. Jesus claimed that promise had finally come true through Him.

Resistance to change is one indication of misplaced worship. Some people put their fain in faith and the outward observances of that faith. They worship Christianity instead of the Christ that makes Christianity possible.

John 8 serves as a warning. The people in this passage aren’t heathens, pagans, or atheists, they’re religious people gathered for a 7-day religious feast! They have faith, but it’s not saving faith because it’s not focused on the only One who can save.

[1]Wellum, Stephen J. (2016). God the Son Incarnate (p. 42) Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

[2]Borchert, G. L. (1996). John 1–11(Vol. 25A, p. 303). Nashville: B & H Publishers.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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Judgment​ and Mercy

shutterstock_613750124The story of Karla Faye Tucker is heartbreaking. Karla Faye dropped out of school at an early age and followed her mom into a life of prostitution and drugs. When she was in her 20’s she started dating an older man named Daniel Garrett. While searching for items to steal and sell for drug money, Karla Faye and Daniel broke into a nearby apartment and killed two victims with a hammer and pickax. Karla Faye and Daniel were eventually arrested and sentenced to death. Daniel died from liver disease on death row, but Karla Faye became a Christian. She “stole” a free Bible from a visiting ministry group and gave her life to Jesus after reading it in her cell. She became a model prisoner and showed great remorse for her actions. When a date finally set for her execution, a crowd of supporters urged the state to commute her. Their efforts fell short, and Karla Faye was executed by lethal injection in 1998 with a few close friends and family members by her side.

The story of Karla Faye Tucker’s life and death serves as a heartbreaking backdrop for an equally tragic story found in John 8:1-11. In this passage, a group of scribes and Pharisee urge Jesus to pronounce a death sentence on a woman caught in adultery. In the end, the religious leaders learn something that the woman caught in adultery already knew – Jesus is the Righteous Judge. 

As the Righteous Judge, Jesus declares judgment on the self-righteous (8:1-9).

Even though these religious leaders seemed interested in justice, they were really trying to trap Jesus. Stoning wasn’t very popular in Jesus’ day for obvious reasons, but it was called for in the Mosaic Law. If Jesus rejected the punishment outright, He would lose credibility as a teacher of the Law. If Jesus enforced the punishment, He would lose popularity with the people and might even get in trouble with the Roman authorities.

Instead of answering them, Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dirt with his finger. We don’t know what He wrote, but we know what He said, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (v. 7). This was a direct reference to Deuteronomy 13:9 and 17:7. Jesus was not saying they had to be perfect or free from sin to condemn the woman, but they did have to be sinless in this particular case.

The scribes and Pharisee were secure in their own self- righteousness. They were so secure they were willing to sacrifice this woman’s whole life to cover up their own sin and condemn Jesus. They held this woman to a higher standard of righteousness than they held themselves too.

As Jesus bent back to down to write in the dirt again, the religious leaders filed out one by one until they were all gone. Those who came to embarrass Jesus were themselves embarrassed. They snuck out of the temple one by one until they were all gone.

As the Righteous Judge, Jesus demonstrates mercy on the unrighteous (8:10-12).

Straightening up, Jesus asked the woman where her accusers had gone. She replied that they were all gone. Jesus did not imply that the woman was innocent, simply that she was not condemned. She experienced God’s mercy because she knew something the religious leaders did not know – we are all guilty and unrighteous before God.

A genuine encounter with Christ always results in a transformed life. Her past had been forgiven and her future was now wide open. Jesus sent the woman out to live a transformed life.

As the Righteous Judge, Jesus looks past outer appearances and judges the heart.

The problem is that too often, we storm the courtroom of life and take the responsibility of judging ourselves and judging others on ourselves. But as humans, we are not in a position to judge. Like it says in James 2:4, we judge with a double standard and become “judges with evil motives.”

You can respond to this story in two ways. One way is to show compassion on another “sinner” so that you can distance yourself from self-righteousness. Sin is still sin, but we should not rush to condemn someone who God has forgiven. We often judge other people harsher than we judge ourselves and “blowing out some else’s candle so our burns brighter.” The degree to which you can show compassion on someone who has wronged you is the degree to which you have cast off your own self-righteousness.

Another way to respond to this story is to give up one of your besetting sins as you glory in God’s great mercy towards you. We all struggle with a number of sins (1 John 1:8). Sexual sins are no worse than any other sin, but they can be harder to overcome because they are self-destructive (1 Corinthians 6:18). You cannot change the past, but with God’s help, you can change the future.

God wants to help you escape from the prison of your own self-righteousness. You can fool your family & friends, but you can’t fool God, because He is the Righteous Judge.

Sent to Save

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 “A single conversation across the table with a wise man is better than ten years of studying books.” – Henry Longfellow

A wise man approached Jesus at night for a conversation. The man was Nicodemus, a well-respected and influential religious leader in Jerusalem. The longer that Nicodemus and Jesus talked, the more obvious it was that he didn’t understand who Jesus was or what he was saying to him. Jesus proved to be the real wise man in the conversation.

During the course of their conversation, Jesus shared God’s plan to save the world. He told Nicodemus that God sent His Son into the world to save the world. Jesus led Nicodemus through the course of the discussion Jesus explained who needs to be saved, how to get saved, why getting saved is so important. We read about their interaction in John 3:1-21

1. EVERYONE WHO WALKS IN DARKNESS NEEDS TO BE SAVED (John 3:1-3)

Nicodemus came to Jesus at night which is an indication of his spiritual state, not just the time of day. Darkness is the domain of misunderstanding and unbelief. The only other person that did something at night in John’s Gospel was Judas, who betrayed Jesus at night (John 13:30). Even though Nicodemus was respectful and smart, he was in the dark about God’s plan to save the world.

Nicodemus came to Jesus from an elevated place in society, that was not enough to escape his spiritual darkness. Nicodemus had a privileged birth as a Jewish man in Jerusalem. Nicodemus also had great influence. He was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish supreme court.

In comparison to Christ, the Light of the world, everyone walks in darkness and needs to be saved.  John 8:12 says, “Jesus is the Light of the world and those who follow Him will not walk in darkness.” Like Nicodemus, we are unable to save ourselves through our own good works and self-made righteousness.

2. YOU MUST BE BORN AGAIN TO BE SAVED (John 3:4-8)

Jesus informed Nicodemus that he could not participate in God’s kingdom without being “born again.” Nicodemus misunderstood Jesus, who was talking about spiritual birth, not physical birth. Being “born again” means to be born from above by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus explained that the process of spiritual birth may seem mysterious, like the blowing of the wind, but the outcome and effects of spiritual birth are obvious.

3. YOU ARE UNDER GOD’S JUDGMENT, SO YOU NEED TO BE SAVED (John 3:9-21)

Jesus described the Heavenly Father like as a loving Judge, a subject that Nicodemus was familiar with as a judge in Israel. God balanced his hatred toward sin with his love for humanity by make a way for everyone to be saved at great cost to himself. Jesus is God’s one and only son. God sent him into the world to save the world.

Jesus balanced this good news with a warning that God’s judgment is looming for who refuse to believe. He told Nicodemus that who don’t believe in him are already judged by God. Those who continue in their unbelief will experience death and separation from God, instead of the eternal life that God offers. Hebrews 9:27 punctuates this truth with these words: “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.”

Nicodemus and Jesus’ conversation reveals God’s plan to save the world. Each and every person who reads this account must decide what to do with Jesus. The decision is to put your faith in Jesus as God’s Savior and experience eternal life, or reject Jesus and experience the consequences. Those who come to Jesus as the Light of the world must take the light they’ve been given and share it with those around them who are still walking in darkness.

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Everything Changes

chuttersnap-139486-unsplashSome people believe that Jesus was mild-mannered, politically correct, and tame, like a supernatural Mr. Rogers. Jesus is God and God is love so they envision Jesus as eternally passive. This misconception keeps people from getting to know the real Jesus.

The Apostle John includes a story that emphasizes the passionate side of Christ’s nature – the story of Jesus clearing out the temple in John 2:13-25. This incident highlights the depth of the struggle between Jesus and the religious establishment. Jesus didn’t come into the world so he could politely fit in with was going on at the time. In these verses, we learn that Jesus came to change the religious establishment and our religious experiences because Jesus came to change everything. In this passage, he challenges us in three ways

1. JESUS CHALLENGES OUR SELF-SERVING FORMS OF WORSHIP (2:13-17)

Passover was about to happen, and Jews from all over the Roman empire were flocking to the temple in Jerusalem to offer sacrifices. At that time, the temple was more like a marketplace than a place of worship. There were people selling oxen, sheep, & doves to be sacrificed. There were people changing money so that Jews could pay their annual temple tax with Jewish coins that didn’t have pagan symbols on them.

When Jesus arrived at the temple he made a whip from the food or bedding offered to the animals and drove the merchants & the moneychangers from the temple along with their animals. He dumped out their coins and overturned their tables. He told them to stop taking advantage of “His Father’s house.”

If we’re not careful, our expressions of worship and even religious institutions can become all about us: our stability, our benefits, and our preferences. When we do, we minimize Christ and miss the point of the Gospel.

2. JESUS CHALLENGES OUR ASSUMPTIONS OF WHAT IS POSSIBLE (2:18-22)

The Jewish leaders asked Jesus for a sign of his authority to have done something so outrageous. Instead of showing them a new sign (he had already performed many), he told them about the destruction and rebuilding of the temple. The Jews thought he was talking about the temple they were standing in, but he was talking about the temple of his body. He was predicting His death, burial, and resurrection.

Christ’s resurrection from the dead redefines what is possible. Miracles like turning water into wine, healing people, multiplying food, walking on water, or raising someone else from the dead are amazing, but bringing yourself back from the dead is barrier-shattering.

You may be facing an “impossible” situation. Maybe it’s an overwhelming loss or an unforgivable sin? Maye it’s a marriage that seems beyond repair or a sickness that seems incurable? There’s hope in the most difficult situations in life because situations can change, people can change because Jesus changes everything.

3. JESUS CHALLENGES OUR EASY BELIEVEISM (2:23-25)

The Apostle John is writing from a post-resurrection perspective – after Jesus has come back from the dead. He tells us that the disciples were urged to faith by recalling what Jesus had said before he was crucified. There were other Jews that seemed to believe in Jesus, but their faith was based on the signs that Jesus performed, not who He was.

Jesus was not fooled by the shallow circumstantial faith of the Jews. Jesus knows the fickle and sinful nature of the human heart, that’s why he came in the first place.

“Easy believeism” is a term that was coined to describe those who claim faith in Christ, but who never have a change of heart about Jesus. They want Jesus to be their Savior, but not their Lord. They only “believe” when they are need something from God.

Everything changes because Jesus changes everything.

Jesus is not content to stand on the sidelines and watch people misuse His Father’s House or squander their lives. While he would never leave a true believer, He distances Himself from people that worship their own religious experiences or the institution of the church instead of Him. Make Jesus the center of your life and be open to change, because Jesus changes everything.

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

 

Save the Best for Last

daniel-christie-1137189-unsplash.jpgIn the first half of his Gospel, the Apostle John describes a series of signs that Jesus performed in order to show his true identity. These were more than just miracles, they were powerful acts done for a specific purpose: to show that the God of the Old Testament had come in all his glory. John is careful to only include signs that Jesus performed at or near Jewish festivals or institutions like the temple, a well, the Sabbath, and the Passover.

The first sign appears in John 2:1-12, where Jesus attended a Jewish wedding. Jesus showed the unsuspecting wedding guests and his disciples that God had saved the best for last. The first-century Jews believed in God and honored the Scriptures. They took time out for God at least once a week and observed the Sabbath. But God had something better for them.

Jesus attended a wedding on “the third day,” which is a clue that something special was about to happen. At some point in the celebration, the wine ran out. Jesus’ mother, Mary, had some sort of responsibility for the refreshments at the wedding feast so she asked Jesus for help. At first, Jesus seemed hesitant to help, stating that his “hour has not come yet.” Then Mary instructed the servants to do whatever Jesus asked them to do.

There were six stone water pots at the wedding, each with the capacity to hold 20 to 30 gallons of water. Clay pots were more common and affordable, but they could become “unclean,” so the Jews used stone pots for ceremonial washings. The Jews had a complex set of rituals and traditions when it came eating and preparing food (Mark 7:1-4).  They would not eat without washing their hands in a special way. This wasn’t about hygiene, but about proving their standing before God.

Jesus told the servants to fill the pots with water and take it to the head waiter. Somewhere between the water pot and the headwaiters’ lips, the water became wine. The head waiter was so impressed that he spoke to the bridegroom saying, “Most people serve the good wine first when people are most thirsty and can appreciate the high quality. But you’ve surprised us, you’ve saved the best for last.”

Contrary to popular opinion, this story is not about alcohol. The use of the stone washing pots and the words of the head waiter in verse 10 tell us the reason for Jesus’ first sign and the point of this story: Jesus as better than the religious rituals or traditions of the Jews. The coming of the Messiah was more important for God’s people than following a set of restrictive practices.

Like the ancient Jews, we have our own set of religious rituals and traditions that have a limited basis in Scripture and little bearing on our relationship with God. Unfortunately, like the Jews, we sometimes enjoy looking down on others because they do not follow our rituals or traditions. When we do we need to personalize this story – Jesus is better than our religious rituals or traditions. A personal relationship with Jesus Christ is more important than what we wear to church, how many times we go to church, or how many times we “walk the aisle.” That doesn’t mean our rituals or traditions are worthless, it means they are a means to a greater end – faith in Jesus Christ.

Maybe you need to reevaluate your spiritual life in light of Gospel? Maybe you need to trust in Jesus, instead of some experience or practice? Maybe you need to follow Jesus and his leadership in your life. When you do, will know that God saved the best for last.

Photo by Daniel Christie on Unsplash

Is Your Religion Good Enough?

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Weddings were an important part of Jewish life in the first century. In John 2:1-12, we read a story about Jesus attending a wedding with his disciples. Jesus didn’t preach a sermon, but he did show the surprised guests and his disciples that their religious rituals and traditions were not good enough to gain God’s attention.

Have you ever wondered if your religion is good enough?

Have you ever wondered if you are doing enough or doing the right things to gain God’s attention or get into heaven?

If so, how did you find an answer?

Feel free to leave your comments below.

If you are in the Tri-State area, join us at Unity Baptist in Ashland this Sunday as we consider this question and others every Sunday morning.