Sunday, April 20, 2008

What Believing in God Means

Fifth Sunday of Easter
Sunday, April 20, 2008
John 14:1-14

Why would Jesus need to tell people who already believe in God to believe in God? For the same reason He tells us to confess our sins daily. Why do we who believe in God sin? Because too often our belief in God is lip service and not loving Him with our heart, soul, strength, and mind.

We normally think of the atheists as the ones who don’t believe in God. We think of the agnostics as the ones who need to be told, “Believe in God.” This is brought home in the new movie Expelled—No Intelligence Allowed, by Ben Stein. Several scientists interviewed in the movie can conceive of nothing more untenable than belief in God. But here Jesus is telling His own disciples to believe in God. And in the same breath He is telling you and me.

Dennis Prager, a radio talk show host, recently engaged in a debate with an atheist. The atheist declared himself the winner of the debate because Dennis did not prove the existence of God. Dennis’s response to this was that he did not intend to prove the existence of God because you can’t. That’s why Jesus didn’t give proof to the disciples. He just said, “Believe.” He did point out some evidence, but evidence is not proof. Believing in God is just that, belief.

There are a lot of Thomases in the world. There are a lot of Philips. There are those people who won’t believe because there’s no proof. There are those who have doubts. Jesus had been waxing eloquently and Thomas lamely said, “Lord, we do not know where You are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus’ response was again eloquent but then Philip chimed in: “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Show us the way. Show us God. Prove to us that what You’re saying is true. It was not, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” It was, “Give us something we can hold on to. We need proof.”

But this really isn’t the most difficult question we face. Since you can’t prove the existence of God, at the end of the day you have decide whether or not you believe in Him. But Jesus ups the ante. He didn’t come to foster a debate on the existence of God. He didn’t even come to prove it to us. No, He came primarily to do one thing. And that thing is so much more difficult of a matter to face that theologians have come up with a term to describe it: the scandal of particularity.

It’s found in Jesus’ statement to Thomas: “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Not only can this not be proven, it’s a declaration of war. It’s drawing a line in the sand like no other issue human beings face. It’s truly His way or the highway. But it’s even more than that, it’s His way or hell.

Now tell me that’s not offensive. Tell me that’s not tough to hear. With Jesus, there is no middle ground. He is the way to the Father, and every other way lands you in hell. So with all due respect to those who struggle over the existence of God, we’ve all got a more serious issue on our hands. Jesus didn’t come to prove God exists, but to show us how to get to Him. Believing in God lands you in hell apart from Jesus Christ. He is the way and He alone.

Now you may be wondering how this applies to you and to your life. This is how: if the Almighty God declares war on you, well, you’d better listen. To ignore this is to face the consequences of His declaring war on you, which is being in hell for eternity. It may not seem like it applies all that much to you now, but you will find out soon enough that it applies to you forever.

You also might wonder, why would Jesus declare war on your sinful nature? Because your sinful nature is your enemy. It wants you apart from God for eternity whereas God wants you with Him for eternity. So He is going to defeat the enemy. How He does this, of course, is through Jesus.

But Jesus doesn’t even show us that He is The Way through power and might. Rather, it’s through humility and weakness. He endures scoffing and scourging as if to give the impression that He’s really not all that He’s cracked up to be. He clearly identifies Himself as God, so why does He give the impression that He can’t even stand up to a few men? God is more powerful than that.

But it is only through Him and His suffering that we can believe in God. Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but through Him. And this is the way: through His suffering and death. It is the scandal of particularity because it is in this specific action of God, Jesus’ suffering and taking on the sin of the world, that access to God the Father is made possible. In our relativistic world people want to believe that there are many ways to know God and that Jesus is only one way. Our sinful flesh doesn’t want to submit to being named utterly sinful and having to put away its sin. Jesus is a stumbling block to the world and our sinful flesh.

But He’s not done. He ups the ante yet again. If we think it’s tough to believe in God when we can’t prove He exists; if we think it’s offensive that there is nothing good about ourselves and that our only hope lies in Jesus; what do we make of Jesus’ promise that “whoever believes in Him will also do the works that He does; and greater works than these will he do”?! How would people react to you if you told them that you do greater works than Jesus?

What we need to see is what we so often do not see. And that is the reason that God has made Himself known to us. Think about that. He hasn’t proven to us that He exists, but He has made Himself known to us. The reason? For our benefit. It is because He loves us and wants to take care of us. Jesus’ point in telling the disciples and us to believe in God is so that we will not be troubled. So that we will know comfort that only He can give. What we need to see is that God doesn’t do what He does for Himself, but for us.

Why would He make it so that we will do even greater works than what Christ has done?! Because He is always at work to help us. To give us what we need. To comfort us in our troubles. To forgive our sin. To strengthen us in our weakness. The greater works we will do are works that He accomplishes in us. We have been united with Christ in Baptism. We are Christ to the world. We who have been saved have the wonderful blessing of loving others with the love of Christ. The greater works Jesus accomplishes in us bring about the intended result. His Word does not return to Himself void. It accomplishes the purpose for which it was sent. And you are the one actually bringing it about. God loves to work through earthen vessels.

But how is it that we are the ones bringing it about? Isn’t God the one bringing it about? The answer is, “Yes.” Yes, we are the ones bringing it about, and yes, God is the one bringing it about. The reason we are able to accomplish greater works than Jesus is because of what He says next: “because I am going to the Father.” When Jesus came to earth, He purposely did not make full use of His eternal power. He was limited in what He could do in that He chose not to do everything that was in His power. He chose to become a man.

But who are we? We are very much limited human beings as well. But we also are a new creation in Christ. We are not our own. We are in Christ and the resurrected and ascended Lord accomplishes mighty things through earthen vessels like you and me. We who are in Christ are people who believe in God not because we can prove He exists. We believe in God because of Christ. Who He is and what He has done is what we look to and why we celebrate our Baptism into Him and our receiving of His Body and Blood in His Holy Supper.

It’s really remarkable, isn’t it? All the time we spend wondering about what proof there is for God’s existence when what He does is simply give us His Son. Far from proving to us how great and awesome He is, He simply comes to us to serve us. And that is how we know the Father. That is how we believe in God. That is how we accomplish works greater than even Jesus Himself—because He Himself counts them that way. He has come to serve us, to care for us, to lift us up, and that is by putting Himself in the role of servant. He washes us clean in Baptism and puts food on our spiritual table that is His very own self, His Body and Blood. Believe in God, believe also in Jesus, and let not your heart be troubled. Amen.


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