The Story — It's All About Believing
by Pastor Mike Fortune
May 24, 2008
Introduction: YouTube: “A Thousand Words”
It's All About Believing...
- We've been dedicated [John 10:31-36; Ephesians 2:8-9]
- To do God's works [John 10:37-39; Psalm 82; Ephesians 2:10]
- Drawing many to God [John 10:40-42; John 12:32; Galations 6:9]
Do you believe the story being told? That guy in that video clip did. It was entitled “A Thousand Words” and was one of the best short films shared during Pangea Day. When that girl on the subway left her camera and he scrolled through her pictures finding a few she secretly took of him, he knew she was interested in him. So he took action. Figuring out where she lived from some of the pictures in camera’s archives. Then he took a picture of himself with her camera holding a sign with his phone number and shipped it back to her old address hoping, believing, that it be forwarded to her. And that when she opened it and looked at her pictures, that she would remember him and reach out to him. That entire 3 ½ minute story was told with no words. Can you believe it? A picture really is worth a thousand words.
Next week we’re concluding our sermon series entitled The Story. When Vicki shares hers. But I’ve entitled today’s episode “It’s All About Believing.” Let’s turn in our Bibles to John 10:31-42. “31Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, 32but Jesus said to them, "I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?" 33"We are not stoning you for any of these," replied the Jews, "but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God." 34Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your Law, 'I have said you are gods'? 35If he called them 'gods,' to whom the word of God came—and the Scripture cannot be broken— 36what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, 'I am God's Son'? 37Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. 38But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father." 39Again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp. 40Then Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing in the early days. Here he stayed 41and many people came to him. They said, "Though John never performed a miraculous sign, all that John said about this man was true." 42And in that place many believed in Jesus.”
Just a couple months ago, at the Feast of Tabernacles according to John 8:59, they tried to stone Jesus. Not because He was dedicated to do good things, as verse 36 implies, but as verse 33 says “because you a mere man claim to be God.” And blasphemy was a serious charge. We know this is true because the charge of blasphemy was also lodged before Pilate in John 19:7. It was why they wanted to kill Him now. And it would be why they got permission to kill Him later.
And if this reaction from the teachers of the law weren’t so serious, maybe we could see the humor in it. Because the first few verses of our passage today is classic comedy central. Seriously. There’s been books written about this. When Jesus says in verse 32, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?,” can you see Jesus smiling? Did you catch his comedy? His subtle sarcasm? Jesus is trying to get them to relax and think about what He’s saying. He’s been dedicated and set apart. Sanctified really. Which is the word another version uses in verse 36 which says, “What about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world?”
So sanctified means being set apart. Set aside for a special purpose. Just like the 7 th day. Genesis 2:3 says God blessed the seventh day and made it holy. He set it apart. Resting from all the work of creating He had done. The 7 th day was meant to be a reminder of the finished work of Creation. But it was also supposed to be a reminder of the finished work of Recreation after Jesus died on the cross. That’s why Jesus cried out “It is finished.”
The Jews knew that blasphemy was doctrinally unacceptable to God. But knowing that correct doctrine was not what made them special. And us knowing that the 7 th day is the Sabbath and even gathering to worship on it isn’t what makes us special either. Now or in the end of time. We are special because He is special. Now and for all time.
We gather on the 7 th day to rehearse the mighty acts of God, to give praise to the King of the Universe who knows us by name, and to worship the Lord of the Sabbath. Not the Sabbath itself. So let’s not miss point number one in verse 36. We’ve been dedicated. Because He’s been dedicated. We are special. Because He is special. We gather in His name. Verse 36 says, “What about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world?” And that’s a good question. What about Him? Let’s not forget about Him.
He’s been dedicated. And set apart. And sent into the world. And so have we. And from the next verses Jesus quote, it becomes obvious why. Because the world’s fatherless, oppressed, and needy really need us! Backing up to verse 34, the Bible says, “34Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your Law, 'I have said you are gods'?” Which is a quote from Psalm 82 where the evil judges of the world are called “gods” with a lowercase “g.” So let’s go to Psalm 82 and see that. We’ll read all the verses of Psalm 82. It’s not too long.
“1God presides in the great assembly; he gives judgment among the "gods": 2How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked? Selah. 3Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. 4Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. 5They know nothing, they understand nothing. They walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. 6I said, 'You are "gods"; you are all sons of the Most High.' 7But you will die like mere men; you will fall like every other ruler." 8Rise up, O God, judge the earth, for all the nations are your inheritance.”
According to their well known Rabbinical tradition, the term “gods” with a lowercase “g”was applied to the those who received and taught the law. They were considered little gods or mini me’s by the people judging the people on earth. And they were supposed to do so fairly as God in heaven would. But apparently, they weren’t doing a very good job. Because Psalm 82 says they were not defending the weak and the fatherless, the poor and the oppressed. Undoubtedly, they all knew about the law. Which in this case [as in 12:34 and 15:25] was describing the entire Old Testament Scriptures. And though they were familiar with them, they really weren’t obeying them. And the way everyone could tell is because the little gods of the Most High God didn’t act like Him. Because they weren’t taking care of the Fatherless and the needy. The poor and the oppressed.
In other words, their deeds didn’t match their dedication. Their presentation of doctrine didn’t reflect the giver of it. Their fruit didn’t match their root. Which happens more often than it should. Yes 2 Timothy 3:16 [NKJV] says, “16All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine.” But it’s also true that one’s presentation of it, especially when it’s not reflected in the ordinary lives of those who profess it, can be extremely divisive and hurtful. Which is something the founders of our church clearly understood. But actually learned the hard way after they were wrong about the Shut Door theory [that only some would be saved], the date of the 2 nd coming [that no man knows the day or the hour], and the Trinity for example [that Jesus wasn’t a created being as Arius and the Adventist pioneers believed].
So on your way out today, be sure to pick up a handout I got at a recent pastors meeting with Dr. Fritz Guy, professor or religion at LaSierra University. It’s got all the references to the following quotes you won’t have time to write down as I fly through them so don’t even try. Just grab the handout on the way out today. And have a good discussion this Sabbath afternoon with your family. It will bend your mind. Here’s a little taste test: “Whenever the people of God are growing in grace, they will be constantly obtaining a clearer understanding of His Word. They will discern new light and beauty in its sacred truths.” [5T706-709].
“We do not claim that in the doctrines sought out by those who have studied the word of truth, there may not be some error, for no man that lives is infallible” [Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, March 25, 1890]. “Let no one come to the conclusion that there is no more truth to be revealed” [CWE, 35]. “We have many lessons to learn, and many, many to unlearn” [CWE, 36-37]. “There is no excuse for anyone in taking the position that there is no more truth to be revealed, and that all our expositions of Scripture are without an error” [CWE, 35]. “Age will not make error into truth, and truth can afford to be fair. No true doctrine will lose anything by close investigation” [CWE, 35]. Even the preamble to the statement of fundamental beliefs our church leaders crafted in 1980 nearly 120 after our church organized includes this sentence: “Revision of these statements may be expected when the church is led to a fuller understanding of Bible truth or finds better language in which to express the teachings of God’s holy word.”
Like the little gods and mini me’s of Jesus’ day, our passage today reminds us of our great need for theological modesty. Yes, all Scripture is good for doctrine. But all doctrine, or at least all presentations of it, are not. We know this is true because after Jesus quoted Psalm 82, the people listening were forced to recognize that while blasphemy isn’t good, Jesus was God, so it wasn’t blasphemy.
You’ll see on the handout there are least 5 reasons for all of us today to have theological modesty. Our best explanations are on level 1. God is on level 5. So check that out later. And in the meantime, let’s not forget what our founders learned the hard way We have many lessons to learn. And many, many to unlearn.
This is especially helpful for me to remember when I read things in the Bible that make it sound like ours works are eternally significant. Or get us through the judgment. I concede that there are many texts in the Bible that talk about works. And there should be because they are important to God. Not because He needs them to know who to save. Or will be lost. We’re saved by knowing Jesus. We’re lost by not knowing Jesus. Our works are important to God because they say something significant or devastating about God. That’s what Jesus meant in Matthew 5:16 when He encouraged us to let our light shine “that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
Failure to understand this leads to devastating conclusions about the Father. For example, if our Heavenly Father will only save us if we do good works, but the best of our good works are like filthy rags, then none of us can be saved! And He’s just a mean old man playing cruel games! But if our Heavenly Father is loving and good and sent His Son to die on the cross to save us from the wages of our sins even though we aren’t good, then our works testify to His goodness and love.
Ephesians 2:8-10 says it this way. “8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
But here’s the thing I like about the most about our works: All our works are really God’s works! We know this is true because Jesus said in John 15:5 that “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.” But Paul said in Philippians 4:13 “That we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength.” So if with Christ we can do anything but without Christ we can do nothing, who is the common denominator doing the works? Christ or us? If you abide in Christ, whose works are all those texts really talking about? Christ’s! We’ve been dedicated. Point number one. To do God’s works! Point number two. Why? Because they’re all His works! Without Him, we could do nothing!
In the beginning of our passage today, Jesus tried humor to get that point across. Which didn’t work. So then he tried doctrine. Which didn’t work either. Because their understanding of it and Psalm 82 was bad. And we fall into the same trap of theological immodesty when we even begin to think that our works are good—or for that matter—that they’re even ours! That’s why Jesus concluded in one of his parables in Luke 17:10, “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants.’”
The good news is we are God’s workmanship according to Ephesians 2:10. And all our works were prepared by Him and actually accomplished in us by Him for Him. Yes, we were created to bear fruit. And if we abide in Christ, Jesus says in John 15:5, we will bear ‘much fruit.’
So that’s the story being told. But when it is, will we have the theological modesty to admit that they are really God’s works and not ours? The right answer to that question, according to Matthew 5:16 and John 10:40-42 gives glory to God , calms our fears, and draws many to believe in Jesus. Which is point number three.
Let’s close with John 10:40-42. “40Then Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing in the early days. Here he stayed 41and many people came to him. They said, "Though John never performed a miraculous sign, all that John said about this man was true." 42And in that place many believed in Jesus.”
Wouldn’t it be cool if this too became a place where many believed in Jesus? Jesus said in John 12:32 that if He is lifted up, He will draw all men to Himself. That’s what was happening in the desert places east of the Jordan River. Where Jesus fed the 5000. And where his cousin John the Baptist was baptizing.
When I read that this week, it felt like John was sending the reader back to the beginning of the story. Where the Baptist began in John 1:29 by saying, “Behold! The Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world! He must increase. And I must decrease.” Which is exactly what happens in the Gospel of John with each successive reference to John the Baptist. From chapter 1 to 3 to 5 to 10 [1:19-36; 3:23-36; 5:33-36], literally fewer and fewer words describe him. This one in verse 40 of our passage today is the 4 th and final reference to John the Baptist in the Gospel of John. Yes, John the Baptist was crazy and radical and clear. But he was also so theologically modest that he didn’t feel worthy to untie Jesus’ sandal. Right? I think that’s the kind of clarity and humility needed in churches today. Because we have many lessons to learn. And many, many to unlearn.
But if Jesus was with John in that desert place, He will be with us in ours as well. Never will He leave us or forsake us. And the Holy Spirit is a wonderful teacher. Much better and way more convincing than you or me. So let’s not give up—lifting Christ up. Galations 6:9 says it this way , “9Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
- We’ve been dedicated. Point number one.
- To do God’s works. Point number two.
- So that many would come to believe in Jesus. Point number three.
My prayer for you, my church family this Memorial Day weekend, is that this will be the story we remember to tell.