Sunday, February 5, 2012

Truth Your Heart Knows

This morning we're going to take a look at John the Baptist. He is going to illustrate an aspect of living faithfully. I'm not going to spend a lot of time on what he does. I just want to make a couple of quick points. But then, what I want to do is show you how you can do the kind of thing that he did. That's the goal. Please listen as I read our text, John3.22-36.

Let's start with the problem. Some of John's disciples notice that Jesus is getting awfully popular. And that bothers them. They come to their teacher with their complaint, expecting him to set things right. Now, I find it helpful to use labels from the Bible to identify things. So, which label should we apply to what these disciples of John are feeling? How about jealousy or envy? Or maybe coveting - demanding for yourself what you see in someone else even though you have no right to it. The disciples are jealous for their teacher. They covet for him - and themselves - the popularity that another teacher is enjoying. So, they come to their teacher with their complaint. They expect him to respond to that threat in no uncertain terms. How, they're not sure, but he'll deal with it. He always knows what to do. This rival will be put in his place. Of that they are sure.

Now, understand what this means for John. These beloved disciples of his have actually become tools of Satan. John could fall into the same sin that his disciples have been tripped up by. He could also become jealous and covet what is not his. And how natural that would have been. How many become jealous as they fade from view while someone else enjoys the spotlight in their place. But, John doesn't fall for it. And he doesn't because he knows some things. And that becomes his protection. He knows some things.

Be careful, here. When I say that John 'knows some things' my point isn't about what fills his head, as important as that is. Rather, it's about what his heart has grasped. That's important because we respond to life not from the mind, but from the heart. The mind gathers information. Ideally, it gathers truth. But the heart needs to embrace that truth. When your life is bumped with something either good or bad, it's not what your head knows that is key. It's what is in the heart that will show. Or to say it differently, it's not the truth you know but the truth that you believe that makes the difference in how you live. So, there is truth that John knows in the heart. And that's why he is able to respond so well.

Let's take a look at two things that John knows.

The first thing that he knows shows up as something close to an aphorism, a short saying. This is what he told his disciples. 'A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.' Let's translate what John is saying to his disciples. 'Oh, I know that Jesus' ministry is going great guns. I've noticed that just as you have. But you need to understand why that is. He is being blessed by heaven. People are rushing to him because of what God is doing. Should I be annoyed at God's decision to bless him? Of course not. This is because of God's plan, and it is good.' This was a truth his heart believed. And that's why it was his protection. Where did he get that idea from? He got it from his Bible. It's not a quote of some verse, but it is a faithful summary of an important theme. John knew that his God was in charge. It is God who decides to lift up one and not another. John knows that and finds peace in it. No jealousy.

Here's the second thing. In this John responds to an unspoken desire in his disciples. It has to do with this thing about the groom. 'I know that you guys think very highly of me, and I really do appreciate that. You think that I should be the star of the show. You think that I should be the one that everyone continues to flock to. But you don't understand. I'm not the groom. I'm the best man, a friend of the groom. He gets the bride, not me. But I have to tell you, I am so happy that he does. And I am happy because I know that I'm not the star of the show. He is.' What's this? This is all about calling. John understands what God has called him to be and to do. For a while, to all appearances, he was the star of the show. Huge crowds came to hear him preach and to be baptized by him. They sought his advice and hung on his words. It was a heady time. But that time has passed. The crowds are now going to Jesus. But John is okay with that. And this is the reason why. Even when all the crowds were coming to him he understood his calling. He was to point out the Messiah. He was to direct people to the star of the show. And he has done that. 'Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.' As a result, John knows that his ministry now must fade. He must decrease because Jesus must increase. John has fulfilled his calling.
John believed two truths. The first truth had to do with a principle derived from Scripture. The second truth has to do with John's experience of God, his experience of God's calling. Believing these truths protected him.

Now, this is what I want you to see from John. He was able to deal with life - in this case the possibility of falling into a temptation that might have ruined everything - because he understood some things about his God and some things about himself. And he understood them not just with his mind but also with his heart. You can do the same. As you understand better some things about your God and some things about yourself, you will be able to handle life better, whether that has to do with temptations or the good things that come your way. I'm going to pick one of the verses of our text to show you what I mean.

I would like you all to take a look at the announcement sheet. At the bottom you will find John 3.36. That's the verse that we are going to look at. It explains some helpful truths about your God and about you.

You can see that the verse is split into two parts. The first part is about those who believe in the Son. That's you. What does this say about you? It’s about you and eternal life. Now, a little grammar. I want you to notice the verb. What is the tense of the verb? It's present tense, 'has'. So, whatever is included in this 'eternal life', it's yours right now. A quick glance at the other part of the verse shows you that those who do not believe – something that shows by their refusal to obey Jesus – don't have eternal life. In fact, they can't even see it. So, you have something, right now, that your unbelieving neighbor doesn't have. You have eternal life.

But what does that mean? I mentioned to you a couple of weeks ago that I'm working on understanding this. But here are a couple of thoughts about what's included in this eternal life. For one thing, there are aspects of reality that you can see that the others can't. If you remember, I recently preached about your ability to see reality, the whole picture. Let me mention one thing that you can see: the power of God. There are miracles to be enjoyed. When someone knows that his God has power to do the impossible and expects that to happen, life looks different. For one thing, that person has hope when others don't. Optimism even in the midst of the darkest of evils! That person also prays differently. After all, the Father has power to do the impossible. And he even invites us to ask for that. And as a result of his prayers, things happen. So, life isn't just one day after another of the same old, same old. After all, who knows what God might do next? It could be anything. The sky’s the limit. Part of having this eternal life is being able to see things like the power of God active in your world, active in your life. And that changes things.

I've also told you that eternal life has to do with the love of the Father for you. I read something this week that helped me see that a bit more clearly. It was some reflection on the Bible's teaching about our being adopted. 'But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.' What is this 'adoption as sons'? You are adopted into God's family. I think that most folk understand that to mean that you become a member of the church, God's family. It is that, but it's also much more. For the longest time, (if I may put it that way) God's family consisted only of three: the Father, the Son and the Spirit. But then, there was a Creation, with its terrible Fall and then Jesus’ coming to rescue it. As a result, the make-up of his family has changed. Now, there are innumerable members of the family, and all of the added members of the family are sons. That is, they have the same status in the family as Jesus does. Now, to be sure, he is a natural-born Son, and we are adopted sons, so there is a difference there. But the Father treats us all in the same way that he treats his first Son. That means that he loves you in the very same way that he loves Jesus. And that makes sense. You are a member of his family. You are another of his sons. That is also an aspect of this eternal life.

So, consider this. Here is the all-powerful God who runs this universe, and that includes everything and everyone. And this God is your Dad, and he loves you to pieces. Think of it: extraordinary love tied to complete and total power. So, what is there for you to fear? Even when evil knocks on our doors, we know that somehow our Father is going to use it for something really good. He promised. And because of his love and his power, he always keeps his promises. So, what is there for you to fear? This is not news for most of you. Your mind knows this. But it is as your heart believes it more and more that you will become fearless and do amazing things for the spread of the fame of Jesus.

Now, let's look at another important word in that verse. How about 'believe'? This eternal life is yours because you believe in Jesus. When you put that into the right biblical context you are led to the notion of grace. This eternal life is yours not because of what you do, but because of what the Father does. He gives you this eternal life. And he gives it to you when you stop trying to be good enough. And you will stop trying to be good enough when you realize that you aren't that good and that you never will be. Only Jesus is good enough. Eternal life is yours when you stop your trying to be good and simply take Jesus at his word that he will make sure you get this eternal life. Eternal life is yours by grace. It's a gift because of Jesus. And a heart that believes this truth finds itself to be at peace. It knows that eternal life was not gained by being good enough, it cannot be kept by being good enough and it will not be lost by failing to be good enough. It is a gift received simply by believing Jesus. That's the Gospel.

Our verse also explains something about other people, the ones that don't have eternal life. Look at the last phrase of verse 36. 'The wrath of God remains on him.' Because of God's sense of justice, he has wrath for those who refuse to submit to him. It is sobering to think about God being really mad at you. It's bad enough when your neighbor is mad at you. It's worse when your spouse is mad at you. But how does any of that compare to God being mad at you? Some have questions about this. Asaph had questions when it didn't seem as if these others were experiencing God's wrath. This is from the Psalms. (You'll notice that I'm using a different translation.) 'No doubt about it! God is good. But I nearly missed it, missed seeing his goodness. I was looking the other way, looking up to the people at the top, envying the wicked who have it made, who have nothing to worry about, not a care in the whole wide world.' Sometimes it doesn't look like God is mad at some he said he would be very mad at. But part of the problem is that we think wrath means lightning bolts and storms and, as a result, people crouching in fear and that sort of thing. It can be that (and in the age to come it will be), but it can also show itself in other ways. This is from Paul. Note the present tense of the verbs. 'For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.' And how might that wrath show? Paul goes on to answer that question. 'Therefore God gave them up…' 'Oh you want that over there? You know that it's evil and wrong and that it will destroy you. You still want it? Okay. I'm not going to stop you.' In his wrath God gives them up to the evil they desire. Your unbelieving neighbors look like life is working for them. But what does the Spirit say about them? 'The wrath of God remains on them.' But they have a nice house and good kids.  'The wrath of God remains on them.' And they always seem so happy. 'The wrath of God remains on them.' So, when you see your neighbors and this little voice whispers in your ear, 'I wish my life were more like theirs', remember this: the wrath of God remains on them. And as your heart learns to believe this, instead of the jealousy that comes from comparing yourself with them, there will be tears. Your heart will know that this wrath of God is real and that it will bear its terrifying fruit, particularly in the age to come - unless they repent and believe.

There is, however, no wrath for you. No, instead, you have eternal life. Because of the grace of God in Jesus, that is yours now. And yet, there are questions about that. There are hesitations to really believe it. So, I should be a little more precise. You have a taste of eternal life now. You still have some old habits, old beliefs, old ways of looking at things that interfere with your enjoyment of all that is included in this eternal life. So, it’s true that the full experience of eternal life is reserved for the age to come. But it is also true that there is more of this eternal life that you can enjoy now. And the more of this you enjoy, the better you will live. As things pop up out of the blue, you will be able to respond well, like John the Baptist did. But that will take some effort. '… solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.' Soldiers train constantly - at least the good ones do. There is always something new for them to learn. And there is the persistent need to practice what they've learned. And that's what you need: constant training; learning and then putting it into practice. This is not something you have to design and then find the discipline to do. Jesus will train you. And we’re back to, ‘Turn left at the corner.’ All you need is to listen to him. As you do that, you become 'mature'. And that's just another label for those who have more of that eternal life in their grasp. Their hearts believe more of the truth that their minds know. And their lives show it.

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