Description / Transcription
Faith is the Rubicon of the Christian life because by it we pass from death to life and we rest in Christ and receive all His benefits.
Our text this morning is perhaps the most famous, at least in our day, most familiar verse in the whole Bible. You can turn there, though you may not need to, but you’ll want to have your Bibles open because we’re going to look at several passages in John over the course of the sermon. Our text this morning is John 3:16.
I’ve preached on this text before when I did that long series through the book of John. This is a completely different sermon on a different theme. There’s all sort of ways to preach on John 3:16. You could focus on the love of God. You could focus on Jesus Christ as the only Son, or the only begotten Son of the Father.
What I want to do, as a part of this 7-week series on Jesus Christ from these famous 3:16 passages, is focus on Jesus as the object of our faith.
John 3:16 – For God so love the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “crossing the Rubicon.” The Rubicon is a river in northern Italy and in the ancient world north of the Rubicon were the provinces of the Roman Republic, and each of those provinces were ruled by a governor. By right, as a governor of one of the provinces, he had the power to command an army.
But once you crossed the northern border and move south across the Rubicon, you were now in northern Italy and in the territory of Rome proper. So you no longer had a right to command, or to call an army, and to command and army in Rome made you and your army subject to the death penalty. It was tantamount to civil war.
Which is exactly what Julius Caesar did. His governorship in Gaul in Illyricum to the north had ended and he was ordered to disband his army, but he didn’t. Instead he marched into northern Italy with his army intact and he effectively was declaring war on Rome and he was putting himself forward as the one who would rule over the entire republic soon to become empire.
It is said that as he was about to cross the Rubicon, he uttered the famous phrase, “alea iacta est,” that’s Latin for “the die is cast.” Since then the phrase “crossing the Rubicon” has been an expression referring to any sort of decisive action, a life-altering decision, or a point of no return, because when Julius Caesar cross the Rubicon, the Roman world would never be the same.
Why is faith the Rubicon for the Christian life? Why is faith that movement which transports us from death to life?
Almost all of us, if we’ve been around the Church, we know faith is really important, believing is important. But have we stopped to consider why is faith the crossing of the Rubicon?
If you know John’s Gospel, you know that believing is clearly the central idea in John’s Gospel. Belief. The verb, pisteuo, translated “to believe” or some variation, is used 98 times in John’s Gospel. The noun from, pistis, is used, if this were a class I’d have you take a guess, if the verb is used 98 times, how many times is the noun used? Well, zero, interestingly enough. The emphasis is upon the action and the activity of the Christian to put his or her trust and belief is Jesus.
John wants his audience to make that step. Perhaps some of them hearing this book or reading this book would have been making the step for the first time, or others to confirm them in this lifelong faith.
You may remember that John very helpfully gives us his purpose statement. Now if he were writing a term paper, the professor might have said, “You could have put this at the very beginning of your paper so I could underline your thesis statement,” but at least he comes to it at the very end. John 20, verse 30: Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples which are not written in this book, but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.
John very helpfully tells us this is why I’m writing this book, because I want you to believe in the name of Jesus and by so doing to have life in that name. Believing in Jesus is undoubtedly the big idea in this Gospel.
It’s no exaggeration to say that eternity hangs in the balance. You come back to John chapter 3, verse 17 – For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned but whoever does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
Now you can say, “Well, I don’t like that” or “That sounds harsh” or “How is that fair?” There are answers to all of those questions, but I just want you to notice that this is Jesus. This is in the Bible. This is not something invented in the last century or by the Church. This is Jesus Himself saying, “If you do not believe in the Son, you stand condemned.”
So it’s no exaggeration to say that there is nothing more important in your life this morning than whether or not you believe in Jesus. What could be more important than forever?
Now if you’re a Christian, or you’ve been around the Church, this may sound very familiar. Of course, believing, and that’s what Christianity is about. But think for a moment. It’s not that way in every religion. Again, why is faith crossing the Rubicon? Why isn’t this movement from death to life marked by some good deed? By some zen-like meditation or tranquility of mind? Or some courageous act of heroism? Or by some ritual? Or perhaps by some ecstatic experience?
It’s not the case that every religion is the same and every religion basically gives the same kind of way to salvation. No, in many other religions it’s about some activity you do, it’s some ritual. It’s about some state of mind or it’s about some life that you’ve lived that proves yourself to be worthy of this reward.
So why is it in Christianity that faith is the thing? After all, doesn’t faith sound pretty easy? Maybe, in fact, too easy? Are we really to understand that our entire eternal destiny, and the eternal destiny of every one we know, depends on whether they just say the right thing? Or just get the right mental idea in their head?
Well, as we’ll see in a moment, that’s really not what John means by faith, or at least, he means more than that, more than mere mental assent, more than just a formulaic statement.
So why is faith that crossing of the Rubicon of the Christian? And to get at that question, I want to ask two other questions, and these will be our two headings for this morning.
First, I want us to look at what is the nature of Christian faith? Then second, why is faith the instrument by which someone becomes a Christian? What is the nature of Christian faith and then why is faith the instrument by which someone becomes a Christian?
So here’s the first of those questions, of these big points. What is the nature of Christian faith?
Now let me just make a parentheses here that you don’t misunderstand what sort of question I’m asking, because there are very technical theological questions about the act of justifying faith. I’m not trying to ask those technical theological questions. Yes, this is a theological question, but I mean it to be a more general question. I’m not asking what faith does so much as I’m wondering what is faith like? Not just at that moment whereby we believe and are justified, but throughout the Christian life, what does it look like for Christians to have faith?
Let me try to just explain the distinction here. This is what Westminster Confession 14.2 says – By this faith a Christian believes to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word for the authority of God Himself speaking therein and acts differently upon that which each particular passage thereof contains.
So put that into language we can understand, the Confession is saying, “Faith is a Christian believing that everything God says in His Word is true, and when we believe everything in God’s Word, we respond to different passages of Scripture in different ways.”
So the Confession continues: Yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life and that which is to come.
So it’s saying those are all general ways in which, what Christian faith looks like. It looks like yielding obedience and trembling at threatenings and embracing promises.
The Confession has one more line, however: But the principle acts (that is a-c-t-s) of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life by virtue of the covenant of grace.
See, the Confession there is trying to make a very important point when it says “but the acts of justifying faith.” So before it’s sort of speaking generally about what is Christian faith like, what does it do in the Christian’s life? Well, when you believe, you believe God’s Word and then you obey it and you tremble at threatenings and you embrace the promises and you live accordingly. That’s what faith is like and that’s how it responds.
But then the Confession says if we want to narrow, we want to be more technical, the acts of justifying faith are accepting, receiving, and resting.
See, what the Confession was trying to do was to make sure that we didn’t smuggle into justification by faith some other kind of work, so that in order to be justified you had to feel a certain thing, or do a certain thing. That’s why it says the principle acts of justifying faith are accepting, receiving, resting.
All that to say that you not misunderstand the question. I’m not speaking narrowly, technically about justification, but rather more broadly, what is the nature of Christian faith? What is it like when we believe?
Faith in this general way is my question, not this specific way. Not trying to have a technical discussion about justification, but simply ask, “What does Christian faith look like?”
All right. Here’s the first thing we need to say in answering that question, is we need to make clear that not all faith, and let me put that in quotation marks, not all “faith” is actually saving faith. That is to say, and we’ll see this in just a moment, that there are some kinds of “faith” which are actually counterfeit.
We see this in a couple of places very clearly in John’s Gospel. So I hope you have your Bible open. Go back to chapter 2. So one kind of counterfeit faith we might call superficial faith. Look at chapter 2:23 – Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover feast, many believed [that’s the word pisteou] many believed in His name when they saw the signs that He was doing, but Jesus on His part did not entrust Himself to them because He knew all people and He needed no one to bear witness about man for He Himself knew what was in man.
So you have some in Jerusalem there, it says “many believed.” Now you might think that yeah, hurray, they’ve become Christians. But notice but what it says – But Jesus on His part did not entrust Himself to them.
Actually, that word translated “entrust” is again from the Greek word “pisteou.” It’s the same word translated earlier as “believed.” You could very literally translate this “they believed in Jesus but Jesus did not believe in them.” Because He understood. He knew what was in them and He could see that this faith of theirs was actually a superficial faith. These were people, and we see the crowds like this at many occasions in the Gospels, they’re fired up about Jesus but He knows their faith is superficial. They were fans, not genuine followers.
So that’s one type of counterfeit faith. It’s superficial. It’s just, “Rah rah, caught up in the moment, yes, sign us up for Team Jesus,” but you don’t really mean it.
A second type of counterfeit faith we might call a confused faith. Here I want you to turn to John chapter 8. John chapter 8, picking up at verse 30. John 8, verse 30: “As He was saying these things, many believed in Him.” So there’s the word again, “many believed in Him,” but what we’re going to see is again this is not a true faith in Jesus, because look at how this conversation ensues with those who have quote/unquote “believed in Him.”
Verse 31: So Jesus said to the Jews, who had believed in Him, if you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. They answered Him, “We are the offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is that You say you will become free?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. A slave does not remain in the house forever. The Son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free, indeed. I know that you are offspring of Abraham, yet you seek to kill Me because My Word finds no place in You. I speak of what I have seen with My Father and you do what you have heard from your father.” Meaning the devil.
Okay, so that’s not really the sort of faith that’s a saving faith. These are people, verse 30 and 31, who quote/unquote “believe” in Jesus. They have some sort of “Yes, okay, sure, we’ll sign up with you, Jesus.” But when Jesus gets into a conversation with them, He exposes their pride and their hypocrisy and they don’t think that they need to be set free from sin, and actually they’re trying to kill Jesus. So whether it was an honest mistake in their confusion or really they’re out to get him, it was certainly a confused faith, not a genuine faith.
Look at verse 44: “You are of your father the devil.” So this is not genuine, saving faith. They didn’t really know who Jesus was. They didn’t understand what believing in Him would really entail.
This happens in our own day. They thought they wanted Jesus. Maybe because there were miracles, maybe because He was a very impressive teacher, maybe because lots of people were following Him, it seemed like there was some sort of magnetism about this man, so, okay, we’ll believe in Him.
But they wanted the Jesus they imagined Him to be. That’s true in our day. People will sign up for Team Jesus but they want the Jesus they’ve imagined Him to be. They have in their mind what sort of Jesus this is, and they’re confused. Maybe you’re confused this morning. Maybe you think you know who this Jesus is. Maybe you’ve heard different bits and pieces and you have really an inaccurate understanding and you think that He’s just a good teacher or He was just one of many prophets, or he was just a preacher of peace, love, and harmony and that’s all that He was. You don’t understand who this Jesus really is.
It is possible to think we are believing in Jesus but actually we are believing in a Jesus of our own creation. That’s what we see here. So it is possible to have a counterfeit faith, either because it’s superficial or because it’s confused.
The implicit contrast we are meant to see is between a faith that is transitory and fleeting and a faith that is authentic and lasting. In fact, throughout John’s Gospel, and you heard it here in this passage, one of the essential characteristics of Christian faith is that it continues. It if doesn’t continue, it really wasn’t Christian faith. It was fandom, it was enthusiasm, it was confusion, it wasn’t saving faith.
We see this in several different ways in John’s Gospel, most notably in chapters 14, 15, and 16. The image of the vine and the branches. We read in chapter 14, 15, when we believe in Jesus we obey His commands. John 14: 23, when we believe in Jesus, we keep His Word. John 15:4 and 5, when we believe in Jesus we abide in Him. John 16:1, when we believe in Jesus, we will not fall away.
So one of the chief characteristics distinguishing between counterfeit faith and genuine faith, is that real faith lasts, it abides, it’s vine and branches, it continues.
The other way, now let’s just continue to think about John’s Gospel, if those are some distinctions to be made, some ways that faith can be counterfeit, how else should we understand the nature of this Christian faith? Because if we just have the word “believe” some of us might think of that strictly in cognitive terms. Now it is cognitive, we’ll see in a moment, but it involves the whole person.
So turn to chapter 5. Let’s just look at a couple of overlapping terms that are used synonymously with faith in John’s Gospel. Let’s just look at two of them.
John chapter 5, verse 43. John 5:43: “I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?”
So look at the overlapping terms in verse 43 and 44. 44 speaks of believing, and verse 43 speaks of receiving. Receiving Him and believing in Him. So believing is receiving, receiving is believing. Part of the nature of true Christian faith, not just a mental awareness of Jesus and things about Him, but a receiving. That was the language even the Confession used in accepting, a receiving, a resting, an open arms.
Let’s look at one other term. Turn to chapter 6. Chapter 6, verse 40: “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
So there Jesus is speaking about believing in Him.
Go down to verse 44: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.”
And look at verse 45: “‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.
And then verse 47: “Truly, truly, I say, whoever believes has eternal life.”
So verse 40 and 47 speak of believing in Jesus, and in the middle, verses 44 and 45, speak of coming to Jesus, and the terms are used interchangeably.
So chapter 5 we see another synonym in John’s Gospel for believing is receiving Jesus. Another synonym here in chapter 6 is coming to Jesus.
So one is the passive reception, here’s Jesus and you receive Him, and think as it were as He’s at your house, He wants to come in, He wants to come over, have a meal, you say, “Yes, I gladly receive You.” And then chapter 6 is the active coming toward Him, seeing Him as one that you need and you must have. Receiving Jesus, coming to Jesus.
So faith is more than just mental truth.
However, it’s not less than that. You see, some people make a mistake in the opposite direction and they think, “Well, why do we really need to be so particular about our theology? And Jesus? Faith in Jesus is really just kind of a feeling or it’s kind of a trust and it doesn’t have to be weighed down with this doctrinal sort of content.”
Sometimes people talk and they wax very eloquent – “Man, we don’t need all this doctrine stuff. Just need just you and Jesus. Just gotta love Jesus.”
All right. And who is that Jesus? “Man, don’t get me bogged down with doctrine.”
Well, you have a slogan, you don’t have a real person. If I tell you that I want you to meet my wife because she’s amazing and lovely and incredible, and you say, “Good, I’d like to meet her. Where can I find her?” (Besides in the very back in the top row.) “Where can I find her? What does she look like?” And I say, “Man, why do you gotta get bogged down with truth? Proposition? I don’t know, we don’t have to know what she looks like.”
“Well, why do you love her?” “Man, it’s about the relationship.” “Well, why does the relationship matter to you?” “Man, you Presbyterians are all the same.”
No, you don’t have a relationship if you don’t know something about the person. You can’t receive Jesus if you don’t know the One you’re receiving. You can’t come to Him if you don’t know something about Him.
When we believe in Jesus, we believe certain truths about Jesus.
I see at least seven times in John’s Gospel where we are told specific truths we must believe about Jesus. Now if this were a nice Bible study, I’d take time and I’d assign somebody and we’d go to all these passages, but I’m just going to give you the seven.
Number one – Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world. We believe that. John 11:27.
Number two – Jesus comes from God the Father and is sent from the Father. John 16:27, John 11:42, and so on.
Number three – When we believe in Jesus, we believe that Jesus is He, that is He is the I Am. John 8:24, John 13:19.
Number four – When we believe in Jesus, we believe Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in Jesus. John 14:10 and 14:11.
Number five – When we believe in Jesus, we believe in Jesus’ words. John 2:22, 4:50, 5:47.
When we believe in Jesus, number six, we believe in Jesus’ works. 10:38.
And number seven – When we believe in Jesus, we believe that life comes through Jesus’ death and resurrection. John 11:25 and 26.
So when we believe in Jesus, we are believing not in a vague spiritual platitude, but we are resting in a number of doctrinal truths about this person we call Jesus.
So let’s sum up here.
What is the nature of Christian faith? Well, we see it includes believing true things about Jesus. It is not a content-less faith. It is not a mantra. It is not something we just chant. It’s not just a vague spiritual platitude. There are things we know and believe about this man Jesus of Nazareth.
But it’s not only assenting to those things. It is more than just an intellectual assent to certain truths.
So how should we think of it? Well, think of some different images. One way to think about faith is just a statement of faith checklist somewhere in the attic of your brain. All right, Jesus is the Son of God, Jesus came from the Father, Jesus died on the cross, yeah, I got that kind of Christian statement of faith somewhere in my brain. It doesn’t really do a lot for me, but okay. I’ll check those boxes. I just have to somewhere in my brain that doesn’t really do anything with how I live my life. You’re just telling me if I check a box with some statements about Jesus I go to heaven then I go to hell? Well, why wouldn’t I want to do that? All right. I check a box.
Well, John’s conception of faith and Jesus’ understanding of faith would not allow us to say faith is just something in the mental background of your brain where you check a box.
Nor is it just a formula to recite. If I can just get you to say the right words, and maybe when your kids are sleeping and they don’t know it, you’ll move their mouth and you’ll make them say, “Jesus, come into my heart.” Yes. They did it. They’re in. They’re saved. No, it’s not a formula to recite.
So not a faith checklist. Not a formula to recite. And not one of those giant foam fingers that you have at a football game. It’s not just you’ve got a Jesus foam finger, yeah, I like Jesus, I’m pro Jesus. If I gotta root for a team that’s for Jesus or against Jesus, rah rah, I like Jesus.
There’s lots of people in the gospels who were rah-rah Team Jesus. But being a fan was not the same as being a disciple.
So better to take the language and the images in John’s Gospel. Not a faith checklist, not a formula, not just a foam finger for a fan. Receiving, coming, abiding. You could sum it up like this – the nature of Christian faith is that it embraces Jesus and stays with Jesus. Again, I’m not talking about the act of justifying faith, not the technical theology, but just in general what does Christian faith look like? It looks like embracing Jesus and staying with Jesus.
Which leads to the second question for this morning. If that’s the nature of the Christian faith, just try to clear out what it is and what it isn’t, why is faith the instrument by which someone becomes a Christian? Notice the word in that question, “instrument.” Faith is the instrumental cause of our salvation. Why is that important? Because we want to be careful that we don’t think of faith as the work that saves us, as if you have your life, and it would be nice if you could do more good deeds than bad deeds, but we know we can’t and we’re not perfect and we’ve got all these bad deeds, but God says if you have faith, that counts for a gazillion good deeds and because your faith is so great, that faith tips the scale and it outweighs all of your bad deeds.
No, that would be to make faith the meritorious cause of our salvation. As if God were in heaven saying, “Shall we save them? Well, man, there’s a lot of bad things that she’s done and look at all the things that’s gone on in his heart. But you know what? He’s got faith, and faith counts for everything. Faith is so valuable. Faith is so good, that outweighs all of the bad things.” That’s not how faith saves us.
Faith is the instrumental cause. We should not think that there is something special about the act of believing in itself.
Sometimes you have a sort of vague nomenclature. So-and-so is a person of faith. They’re a person of faith. Okay, I get it. Maybe that’s what you mean for a Christian, but, you know, people searching for the Loch Ness monster are also people faith. According to the movie Elf, Santa’s sleigh depends upon people believing in Santa in order for it to fly. There are all sorts of movies about believing, as if hoping in unexplained phenomenon was an unadulterated good.
Faith is the instrument by which someone becomes a Christian because it joins us to Christ. Let me say that again – Faith is the instrument by which someone becomes a Christian because faith joins us to Christ.
Do you see the difference? It’s not God saying, “You’ve got a lot of bad things but you have faith, that tilts the scales.” That would make faith the cause. Rather, it’s Jesus tips the scales, Jesus lived the life that they didn’t, Jesus died the death that they deserved, but by faith all that Jesus is becomes theirs. That’s what I mean that faith is the instrumental cause.
Or to put it another way, and this gets to the title of this message, we are saved through faith because of the object of that faith. Not the subjective experience of our faith, but the object of our faith. The focus in John’s Gospel is on Christ as the object of saving faith. One time we read of believing in Moses, he’s the object, but that’s just to say if you would have believed in Moses, his words, you would believe in Me. Twice there’s a reference to believing in God, but those are also connected, believe in God, believe also in Me. So once Moses, twice God.
Forty-six times we have the language of believing in Jesus. So clearly, the focus in this Gospel is on Jesus as the object. We are saved by faith because Jesus saves.
Examples, which I’ve probably used before, you’ve probably heard before. If you sit down on a chair, or right now you’re sitting in these pews, the fact that you sat down, you had some faith that the pew would hold you, and so far it’s proved to be well-founded faith.
But what is holding you? What is holding you at the moment? It’s not your act of believing that’s keeping you from sitting on the ground. It’s the firmness of the pew. It’s the object rather of your faith. Or the illustration that I suppose worked better in Michigan than in the Carolinas, but if you go out ice skating on a frozen pond and you’re always trying to wonder if you’re going to fall through or not, so you send one of the friends out there and just bring your stick so we can grab you, and you find the biggest stones you can find and you throw them out there and see how many cracks it does. Eventually you go out there and you hear some creases but you make it, and then the other guys come and you skate around, and you had faith enough to get out on the ice.
But what’s keeping you from falling in the water? It’s not your faith, it’s the object of that faith. It’s the ice. Actually, even if your faith is very weak at times, and you’re very nervous and you’re not sure, if the ice is 6 inches thick, then you’re good to go. If you’re out there and you have all the faith in the world and the ice is as thick as cardboard, then your faith ain’t going to save you. It’s the object of the faith that keeps you up.
Making Jesus the object of your faith is more radical than it sounds. Again, for many of us, it’s, yep, believe in Jesus, got it. But it’s more radical than it sounds.
For one reason, believing in Jesus was and is exclusive. Jesus says in John 14:16, “I am the way,” or John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Exclusive. This is the only way.
Adding Jesus is easy. This is one of the things that missionaries around the world always have to be careful of, because you go out and you tell a message about there was this prophet and He was born of a virgin and don’t you want Him in your life? All sorts of people all around the world will say, “Why not? Bring Him on. The more the merrier. I love to have more insurance policies. I’ve got no problem adding Jesus.”
Adding Jesus is easy, and it’s easy, too, for Westerners. Okay, I’ve got lots of other things I’m into in my life. Add Jesus? Fine. Little fire safety, little fire extinguisher, great.
Almost religion is happy to add Jesus. Most Americans are fine with adding Jesus.
But that’s not what Jesus means by faith in Jesus. There’s a reason why sin and idolatry are so often called adultery in the Bible. Because when you get married, you don’t say, “And now I commit myself to you and husband, wife, I add you. I’m happy to add you.” Don’t get married when the man or woman is adding you. You say, “And now to death do us part, excluding all others, there’s no one else now. This marriage, it’s me and you, it’s exclusive.”
So when you believe in Jesus, you’re not just adding Him. You’re subtracting all else. Not that you don’t have other loves in your life, you order those loves. You have other loves, but you have no other god, you have no other savior, you don’t just add Jesus.
Think about it, too, in the ancient world. There were lots of revolutionaries in first century Palestine. Lots of would-be rulers, lots of so-called messiahs. This was not a new thing that gurus would say, “I’m the messiah” and somebody would lead off and they would die in some battle or commit mass suicide. So there were lots of people saying, “I’m somebody, I’m a prophet, I’m something.” It took a lot of guts to say, “No, He’s the real one.”
Remember, Jesus was one of the most common names and He looked just like everybody else. Takes a lot of guts to say, “You know what? Bill, you are the messiah.” Well, suddenly that seems a little strange, but that’s what they’re saying about Jesus when there are all these other options.
It’s like if you can’t decide. You’ve got two sets of parents, which one’s the real parent? You’ve got two CEOs. You’ve got two coaches. You’ve got two rival whatever, then you’ve got to decide which one are you following? It has profound implications when you say “I believe in you” to the exclusion of all others. It was exclusive.
Also think it was more radical than it sounds and is more radical because believing in Jesus, I mean really believing in Jesus, is humbling. To believe in Jesus is an acknowledgement of our inadequacy. If we say, “He is the Christ,” it means you are not, I am not. “He is the Savior, I am the sinner.” We are confident people and we tend to overestimate our abilities.
I saw this survey yesterday, really important survey. They asked some 2000 adults in both the U.S. and Great Britain, “Which of the following animals, if any, do you think you could beat in a fight if you were unarmed?” I can only hope this wasn’t a taxpayer funded survey. Now it’s very helpful that they surveyed Americans and Brits, and you perhaps won’t be surprised to learn that in every single animal, the Americans were more confident that they could fight that animal than the Brits. I won’t give you all of it, but at the top of the list, the most confident, was a rat. About 70%. I’m thinking we can do better than 70%. About 70% each. You go down to housecat, just a little bit, then there’s a real divergence with a goose. 60% of Americans think they could fight a goose; only 45% of Brits. So you can ask our British friends what the geese are like over there.
Medium-size dog. Then things really drop off with eagle. Still 30% of Americans think they would fight an eagle, less than 20%. You go all the way down, amazingly enough, almost 10% of Americans think they could fight and defeat a lion, unarmed; the Brits much more sensibly were right around zero. 10% of Americans think they could fight a crocodile, a gorilla, almost 10% think they could defeat an elephant, and some 7 or 8% at the very bottom think they could fight a grizzly bear. Which animal, if you were unarmed, could you beat in a fight?
We grossly overestimate our abilities. I’m thinking once you get past housecat and maybe goose, I would just try running or hiding.
But it’s not only like that with, “Are you the best student in class? Are you above average? Can you defeat this animal?” It’s like that supremely so with spiritual things. We think we are good people. We think we are capable. Sure, nobody’s perfect, but you think you’re basically better than most people. We don’t like to think we’re helpless, and needy.
It’s especially true for men. It’s always been the case that there’s been more women than men in the Church. Guys, if you ever watch a war movie and you’ve got one where some soldier is going back into the fray and he risks his neck and his life and he carries out his friend. Isn’t there a scene like that in Forrest Gump or Saving Private Ryan or somewhere where the guy is carrying out his wounded friend on his shoulders? When you watch that movie, which guy are you? I’m always thinking I’m the guy who’s running back in to go rescue the friends. I never watch that and think, “Yeah, I’m probably the guy on the back who’s already been hurt.”
We like to think of ourselves as the ones who are doing the rescuing. When you say, “I believe in Jesus” and you really mean that, it implies that the biggest problem in your life and in the world, sin, you’re admitting you’re powerless to overcome it, and that’s humbling.
To believe in Jesus is completely reorienting. It means a new functional center in your life, because if He’s Lord, then it’s all about Him, what He wants, what He says, what brings Him glory, not what brings you glory, not what brings me glory.
Jesus says in John 9 – You have seen Him and it is He who is speaking to you,” and then the man says, Lord, I believe, and he worshiped Him.
Belief leads to worship. You aren’t really believing in Jesus if you aren’t worshiping Jesus. You’re not worshiping the real Jesus unless you are worshiping Him as the God and your Lord.
Have you ever noticed in John’s Gospel, it’s very deliberate, these bookends. Chapter 21 is a wrap-up, but the end of chapter 20 gives the purpose statement, and the beginning of chapter 1 and the end of chapter 20 are bookends, which tell us who this Jesus is. John 1:1 – In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God, so very beginning, first sentence, this man Jesus is God. Then in John 20:27 and 28, with so-called doubting Thomas, Jesus says – put your finger here, see My hands, put out your hand, place it in My side, do not disbelieve but believe. Thomas answered, My Lord and my God. Deliberately bookended, the very beginning, the very end, is a testimony that this man Jesus is the Word and the Word is God.
Faith is the Rubicon of the Christian life because by it we pass from death to life and we rest in Christ and receive all His benefits.
There’s a longstanding debate about whether the purpose statement at the end of John’s Gospel is about evangelism or discipleship. Is it directed for those who have yet to become Christians or those who already are Christians? That’s probably an artificial distinction. It can be for both.
So let me conclude by just saying a word to both of those groups.
One, if you’re here and you don’t believe in Jesus, you’ve never honestly put your trust in Jesus. Maybe you’ve been around church. Your parents may not even know that you really haven’t put your faith in Jesus. Why not now? Just know that not deciding is a decision. Choosing to ignore Him is making your choice clear. If you have to decide between going out to the store or staying home and you can’t decide and you don’t do anything, you’ve decided to not go. What will it take for you to put your faith in this Christ? Just know that you will be accountable for everything you have heard now and in your life about this Jesus. None of us knows now many hours or days, years, or decades, or even minutes that the Lord has given to us.
For the second group, those of you who call yourself Christians, probably most of you here. It’s still worth asking the very important question – Are you disciples or are you fans? Is your faith just a formula? Just something you do when the stars align and Sunday makes sense? Something to keep the kids out of trouble? Or are you really a worshiper of this Jesus? Or has it been something you’re happy to just check off in the mental attic of your mind? Sure, Jesus, saves sins, Jesus is God, let me get on with the rest of my life. That is not a faith that will save.
Jesus tells us and tells you – Come, walk, abide, receive, depend, believe.
As I’ve said many times using this illustration, if you see a man who’s walking one of those tightropes suspended between skyscrapers or across Niagara Falls, and he goes over and everyone cheers and then he goes over with a sack of potatoes and then he goes juggling bowling pins and you’re amazed. Then he says, “Who thinks I could carry a human being on my shoulders and make it across?” and everyone in the crowd says, “We believe you can do it.” Then he says, “Can I have a volunteer?” Hmm.
Faith is saying, “I’ll get on your back. I believe. I depend upon you.” It’s saying, like Thomas, “My Lord and my God.”
Let’s pray. Father in heaven, we give thanks for Your Word. Lead us to faith, for the first time or again to renew us in this belief. We pray that during this Christmas season You would remind us again and again of who Jesus is and how we might have live in His name. Amen.