Sunday, February 28, 2010

Coming to Terms with Jesus

Second Sunday in Lent
February 28, 2010
Luke 13:31-35

It seems that every time there’s a new study or survey that shows where people are at regarding their religious beliefs it’s presented as if it’s some big revelation. As if we wouldn’t have known what people really believe had the study or survey not been done. A recent one shows that young people are staying away from church and organized religion but are still religious. They still believe in God. They still believe in an afterlife.

I get a kick out of these because I can’t help but come to the same conclusion each time I see one. Something God in His Word said a long time ago. About, oh, three thousand years ago:

There is nothing new under the sun.

We certainly shouldn’t make light of the views and beliefs people express. They are entitled to them and we can respect the people who hold them and even engage them in their views and beliefs.

But do we really need surveys and studies to tell us what people think and believe when the Bible long ago has told us what they believe? Without a formal study done about what people believe would we really not know that they believe they don’t need organized religion or church or formal worship? Before there were ever surveys, the Bible has told us all along that people have felt this way ever since, oh, Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree. The people of today are not the first to think they’re so enlightened in holding to these views and beliefs.

It’s natural that these surveys and studies are done. People tend to look for trends. They look for the way things change, or stay the same, or go back to the way they were, or anything to try to get a handle on where people are at. That’s our inclination. We want to get a handle on these things. But it would be a mistake for us ‘in here’ to talk about how those people ‘out there’ believe when we don’t need any surveys or studies or experts to tell us where our own hearts are at. The Bible slices right through all the stats and trends and cuts right to the heart. We are no better than Adam and Eve. We are like every other human being in history, with the exception of Christ, of course. He doesn’t fit into any survey or study. No expert can find any trend with Him. He alone embodies true worship of God and belief in God. We don’t need any expert sources telling us that in contrast to Jesus we have fallen far short of His glory and His righteousness.

We care, of course, for those people ‘out there.’ As the Church, we listen to people and take them seriously and engage them right where they’re at in life. But we also look at that book that was written over the period of about 1500 years and two thousand years ago and take our cue from that as to where people are at and what they believe. To some this is archaic. The funny thing is, that’s what many people thought way back then as well. We don’t really need any survey to tell us that. To some it’s narrow minded. Wouldn’t you know it, the same charge was made back then as well. We don’t need anyone today to show evidence that this is true so that we can know it.

We already know it.

And that’s why we hear the Scripture read in the worship service. That’s why we hear it preached. That’s why we stand or fall on this book and don’t take our cue from what has just been discovered by a survey or study. We already know. God has shown us. He has given us His Word.

In the Old Testament reading Jeremiah wasn’t struggling with those people ‘out there,’ but the very people of God. In the Gospel reading Jesus was being warned about outside forces that were against Him, but Jesus knew better. He knew that the very people of God were no better than their fathers before them, the same ones that persecuted Jeremiah and the other prophets. That it wasn’t Herod the wicked king who would be the downfall of Jesus but that it would be the very people of God that would bring Jesus to the cross.

This is what no survey or study or expert can tell us. They can show us what’s on the surface. People believe this. Or that. Or some other thing. But they can’t tell you what is in the hearts of people. They can’t tell you that there is nothing good within them. They can’t tell you that while their mouths say they believe in God and have spiritually fulfilled lives their hearts are far from Him. And they can’t tell us that we are no different. Jesus longs to gather us to Himself, we won’t have any of it.

The people of God want to be religious but want their religion and spirituality on their own terms. Sounds a lot like a bunch of people interviewed for a survey. Jesus knows what is in our hearts. Jesus knew why the religious leaders were coming to Jesus. And He knew something they didn’t know. That He would die at their hands but for their very obstinacy against Him. He would suffer at the hands of sinners for those very sinners and for all sinners. Jesus didn’t take any surveys or do any studies. He knew what was in the heart of man and died for man anyway. He knew that His very own people would have nothing to do with Him and died for them for this very reason.

What those in the Gospel reading are trying to do with Jesus is the same thing those ‘out there’ who are surveyed try to do. Have their religion, their spirituality, their salvation apart from Jesus. They just know God loves them and they’re good to go. But what Jesus does with these people is force the issue. We must come to terms with Jesus. Religion, spirituality, salvation, apart from Christ is religion without God. And it doesn’t matter if you believe in an afterlife or not, religion and spirituality without Christ is eternity without God. You cannot have God or eternal life without coming to terms with Jesus.

But here’s the thing. The thing you and I know that those people out there don’t know. We know that coming to terms with Jesus does not mean judgment but forgiveness. We know that coming to terms with Him means that He is the one who transforms us into new people, sons and daughters of the eternal God. Coming to terms with Him is looking at God in view of the cross. At the cross Jesus is the one who is brought to judgment, we are brought to eternal life.

What that also means for us ‘in here’ is that instead of spending our time discerning what all those surveys and studies mean about what people believe, we can simply share with them what they don’t know about God: that He has given them His Son. His Son who has died for all of their sins, who wants to bring them not into an ambiguous afterlife but eternal life and glory with God. Amen.


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