Tuesday, November 23, 2021

The Old Testament Book of Genesis, Part 24

Here, we look at chapter 29 of Genesis.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

People of the Truth?

[This message was shared at Saint Peter Lutheran Church in Walburg, Texas, where my son is pastor, earlier today.]

John 18:33-37
On this Christ the King Sunday, Jesus tells Pilate and us: “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:37)

These words are really a smackdown of Pilate and the religious authorities who wanted the Roman governor to execute Jesus. 

During Jesus’ earthly ministry, others had encountered Jesus and listened to His words and understood or at least had an inkling of Who Jesus was. And is. 

There was John the Baptist who said of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 2:29) 

There was the Samaritan woman Jesus met by the well outside of Sychar, who told others, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (John 4:29) 

There was the man whose lifelong blindness Jesus ended who, on being told by Jesus Who He was, said, “Lord, I believe” and worshiped Jesus. (John 9:38) 

In John, chapter 11, we read of the day when Jesus brought his friend Lazarus back to life four days after his death. Many saw what Jesus did and believed in Him. (John 11:45) 

But Pilate and the religious leaders don’t see or accept that Jesus is the long-promised Christ, the Messiah King. The reason for that, Jesus says, is that they are not “of the truth.”

But what does it mean for you and me to be “of the truth”? Three things, I think.

First of all, it means being willing to accept the facts about Jesus staring us in the face. The blind man, confronting the blindness of these same religious leaders in seeing that Jesus had come from God, couldn’t comprehend their unbelief. “...this is an amazing thing!” he tells them. “You do not know where [Jesus] comes from, and yet he opened my eyes….Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” (John 9:30, 32-33) If a person is unwilling to see the truth, they won't see it.

A friend of mine sank into drug addiction over which she had no control. She finally entered a twelve-step program and she has been in recovery for decades. This woman sometimes runs into other addicts who want her help in pointing them to the recovery she has in her life. But many of these people walk away when my friend tells them, “My willpower has nothing to do with where I am now in my life. When dope had me firmly in its grip, I asked Jesus for His help. And I keep doing it day by day.” 

This woman’s restored life is a strong testimony of Jesus’ kingship, His power to deliver us all from all our addictions the false idolas of this world, gods like power, beauty, popularity, ease, the latest thing, gossip, or (dare I say it on the Sunday before Thanksgiving?), food. But there are some who hear their story and refuse to believe that Jesus Christ can redeem their desperate situations.

To be “of the truth” also means being willing to have a King like Jesus we can’t control. When I was in college and was planning on going to the same parties my friends were going to, I always insisted on being the one to drive to them. That way, I was in control of when I left or stayed at the party and others would have to follow my lead. And while I may have been an extreme control freak, we all like to be in control, don’t we? 

Pilate and the religious leaders wanted to keep Jesus under their control. But this desire is nothing new. 

Back at the beginning of human history, Adam and Eve fell into sin because they wanted to “be like God.” They wanted to be in control. 

Our sinful natures make us all born control freaks. When we’re open to living “of the truth,” we learn to give up control to Jesus our King. 

As we do, He forgives our sins, covers our unrighteousness with His righteousness, and gives us life with God that never ends. In this world, the Holy Spirit begins to teach followers of Jesus the joy of living in God’s power and not in our own.

To be “of the truth” also means understanding that the kings of this world, no matter how powerful, die, and therefore, can’t be the repository of our hope. “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation," Psalm 146:3-4 tells us. "When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.” 

Pilate and the religious authorities had given up all hope for any kind of life beyond the grave. Their hope was in the things of this dying world, in their own accomplishments and power. 

But those who are “of the truth,” people open minded enough to be willing to follow Jesus, agree with the words of musician Bruce Cockburn, “You can take the wisdom of this world / And give it to the ones who think it all ends here.” 

You and I, like Pilate and the religious leaders and every human being born into the world in the usual way, are born in sin, in bondage to sin, death, and separation from God and are incapable of saving ourselves. Thank God though, He has acted and still acts to save us for life with God now and in eternity through Christ our King.

Jesus, you’ll remember, once told a parable of a farmer who scattered seed in his field. There were four different kinds of soil on which the seed fell. It was only the seeds that landed in fertile soil that took root and flourished. Jesus later explained that this good soil was like people who are open to the Word of God about Jesus--the Word that gives us God the Son, perfect and sinless, Who bears our sin within His body on a cross so that when He dies, kills the power of sin and death over all who believe in Him. 

To be “of the truth” is to be receptive to this Word, willing to accept the facts about Jesus’ kingship when they’re staring us in the face, willing to have a King like Jesus we can’t control, and knowing that while all the kings of this world die and cannot offer us life or hope, peace or forgiveness, Christ our King, Jesus, can do all of this and more.

Fine, some may say, “I’m willing to believe, but it seems no matter how hard I try, I can’t believe.” Or, “I can’t believe enough.” 

Here’s my advice: Quit trying! You can’t decide to follow Jesus or believe in Him. None of us can. Our human natures get in the way of that. 

But the Word about Jesus has the power to give us faith in Him day by day.

The apostle Paul says that faith in Christ comes by hearing--by receiving--that Good News Word about Jesus. To be receptive to Christ being our King is as simple as being open to Him when He comes to you in the Bible as you read or hear it, in Holy Baptism when Christ makes you His own, and in Holy Communion when He gives you His body and blood and forgiveness. 

These are what we Lutherans call “the means of grace,” the tools God uses to give all who are open to saving faith in Jesus, the One Who says of Himself, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) 

Folks, I urge you to receive Jesus every time He comes to you, every time He offers Himself to you, every time His Law calls you out for your sin and calls you to confess it, and every time His Gospel tells you that Christ gave His sinless life so that all who believe in Him are, despite their sins and imperfections, acceptable for eternal life with God. 

Being receptive, open, to Jesus and His Word is what Jesus means when speaking of people who are “of the truth.” It’s these “people of the truth” in whom God’s Word grows a harvest of faith.

People of Saint Peter Lutheran Church, people “of the truth,” I pray precisely that kind of harvest of faith in each of you, a harvest of life with God now and in eternity, a life open to Jesus, the Truth, the King on whom you can build your life today and the King, Who by God’s grace through faith in Jesus, God has freed you to be with God forever and ever. Amen