Monday, March 24, 2014

Authentic Saving Faith

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables.  Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle.  He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.  He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”  His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”  
The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?”  But he was speaking of the temple of his body.  After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.   
When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing.  But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.    John 2:13 - 25 (NRSV)
side issue related to the text this morning begs our attention:
·        How can an angry Jesus, whipping the money-changers, be the loving Lord we know?
            At least one author has stated it this way:  Spineless love is hardly love.[1]  God himself explains why He acted this way in the Jerusalem temple...
Discipline your children while there is hope;  Proverbs 19:18a (NRSV)
The reason Jesus chased the people and animals from the temple was to teach the people what is right.  In the same way a child must be taught what is right, God knows how to teach His children.  And, we must never forget that Jesus was God in flesh!
This is a valuable word to parents.  If chastening His children is good enough for the heavenly Father, chastening your own children appropriately is an important part of disciplining!  (Now that I’ve become an enemy of every child in the church, we can continue!)
John records this story depicting the great cosmic struggle between faith and unbelief.  He began with the wedding at Cana, the miracle of water changed to wine.  With the change there arose in his disciple’s hearts, a flood of belief.  John then immediately thrusts us into the pungent cesspool of Jerusalem’s decomposing religious structure.  We are forced to look upon the face of unbelief in its most hideous manifestation, religious insincerity – hypocrisy.
What is so alarming about these pictures is that John is not just reporting the news of the first century A.D.  He is like an artist, painting timeless portraits of humanity apart from God.  He paints our souls in 13 verses.  In just a few paragraphs he teaches us the kind of faith that invites the judgment of God.
I wish to point out for us this morning FAITH which INVITES THE JUDGMENT OF GOD. 
The first kind of faith that invites the judgment of God is...

Financial Faith

Everyone understands the bottom line of finances.  A wealthy old man was very enthusiastic about his lovely young bride but sometimes wondered whether she might have just married him for his money.  So he asked her:  If I lost all my money, would you still love me?   She immediately answered; Of course I would still love you. Don't be silly. I do love you dearly; I would miss you, but I still love you![2]
After the wedding at Cana, Jesus and his disciples traveled to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple.  What they saw was the ancient equivalent of carpetbaggers, trying to turn a quick profit at the expense of the poor who had come to worship. 
How did they do it?  The Temple tax was important.  Roman coins had Caesar’s image on it, and a coin with an image of the Emperor’s face was forbidden in the Temple.  So Roman coins had to be exchanged for Jewish script.  The money exchange was big business – and therefore subject to abuse. 
Let me illustrate.  Suppose our Finance Committee decided we would no longer accept anything but crisp, new $50 bills in the offering plate, and posted the ushers at the front door to inspect the $50 bills you bring to make sure the bills you bring are appropriately unwrinkled or spotted.  Of course they never would be good enough, but – not-to-worry; the committee chair would have a supply of nice, new crisp $50’s.  The price is $100 each!  (We could probably skip passing the plate)! 
At the temple in Jerusalem, THAT was precisely what was happening!  The money changers were making a “killing” so-to-speak.  They were raking-in huge profits in the name of religion, and driving the poor into the ground.  Jesus performed an exorcism, driving out those who were defiling the temple with their greed and dishonest practices.
Now, the whole problem with what was going on was not really the moneychangers – that was an important function.  They just shouldn’t have been charging exorbitant exchange rates. 
It is no wonder the disciples remembered David’s words when they saw their usually serene Master whipping the moneychangers, and overturning tables.
It is zeal for your house that has consumed me; the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.  Psalms 69:9 (NRSV)
God hates faith rooted in finances.  And someday the preachers of prosperity and financial religion will answer to God at the great judgment throne.  You cannot buy God!  Financial faith invites the judgment of God, and so does...

Institutional Faith

The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?”    John 2:18 (NRSVA)
The religious rulers were a hard-working lot.  The problem was they’d given themselves to the institution of the Temple, and not the Lord of the Temple.  They missed the family of God in favor of the building of God. 
We can also make this mistake.  We invite the judgment of God when we place more importance on what He has given us (buildings, money, things), than on who He has given us, and what He wants us to do!
One writer put it thus:  Christianity is institutional in a good sense when its institutions are prophetically alive and instantly alert to God’s presence.  Christianity is institutional in the bad sense when it simply absorbs its culture, becomes an entrenched establishment, and perpetuates itself.[3]
The religious leaders believed in the stability of their system and its main symbol – the Temple. It was a massive, impressive structure.  The Temple had been under construction for 46 years.  It wasn’t yet done – and wouldn’t be for another 40 years.
The Jews were the established religious group.  They had the power.  They had the Temple.  They had influence in Rome and Jerusalem.  This was the controlling party.  The problem with that kind of thinking is – having a majority means nothing if you’re wrong!
In Denominational life there are plenty of “religious professionals” who set the directions and standards for what churches must do.  There are groups and committees for everything. 
The problem of institutional faith is lack of clear focus.  When you trust in institutions, everything you think, say and do will be slanted in the direction of maintaining and expanding the institution.  You miss the mark here because, in any endeavor the institution is supposed to serve the mission, not exist at the expense of the mission.
Institutions aren’t bad – as long as they serve the mission.  When the institutions become the mission, we then have institutional faith – and it invites the judgment of God!
Sometimes we church people place more importance on the institutions of the church, (buildings, programs, & other sacred cows), than people.  When this happens, the institutions become central, and the mission suffers. 
This, beloved, is the stuff of which church fights are made.  Institutional faith sprouts in dark places – and it always smells like smoke, right out of the pit of Hell.  Those with institutional faith usually have little or nothing to do with winning people to Jesus Christ.  They revel in the things that divide people; their favorite phrase is, we’ve never done it that way before!
Institutional faith, along with financial faith, invites the judgment of God!  And so does…

Sensational Faith

When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing.  But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.
   John 2:23-25 (NRSVA)       
We note that many people saw the authoritative teaching of Jesus, and His miracles, and they believed in Him.  The word means that they were willing to commit to what they had seen.  To believe means to exercise faith towards.  They believed in Him because they had seen wondrous, sensational things. 
But, we also must see that Jesus didn't respond in like manner to them.  The text says He would not entrust himself to them.  Strangely, the word believe in verse 23 and entrust in verse 24 are the same word in Greek.  In short, Jesus was saying, you may believe in me, but I've got my doubts about you! 
The question is WHY?  Why would Jesus fail to believe in them?  We have always heard that Jesus accepts anyone who comes to Him.  That is true, but here we learn that there are CONDITIONS under which we must come.  You cannot come with a faulty faith. 
Jesus looked at the crowds who were following and understood the multiplicity of self-serving motives with which they followed.  It says that He knew ALL people.  Another translation says He knew people to their core (human nature).  In short, Jesus understands our weaknesses. 
Now, for you and me that's good news!  Jesus had said follow me to people like Peter and James and John – men He knew to be weak.  And if He loved them in all their weakness and sinfulness, it means He'll love you and me too!
But, some of those following in the crowd were not just weak in their ability to follow Jesus; they were selfish in their motive for following:
·        Some of them were just plain greedy.  They were hoping these miracles would continue, and they'd have a kind of golden goose at their disposal to make them rich. 
·        Others were zealots, extreme Zionist patriots who were looking for a national Messiah who would lead them to clobber Rome and bring in a golden age of Jewish ease. 
·        Others were just fascinated or curious, wanting to cover all the bases in case they'd missed something.  They were willing to follow, as long as the good times kept a-rollin'
But Jesus knew that when the shadow of the cross came into focus, they would all find an exit.  Fickle faith will fizzle when they want to nail your hands to crossbeams! 
The reason many people today are members of churches and movements with no more than faulty faith, is because they never entrusted themselves to the saving power of the Lord Jesus Christ.  They got their name on a church roll, but they will miss heaven by 18 inches, the distance between your head and heart!
Financial faith, Institutional faith, Sensational faith; all of these miss the mark of Authentic Saving FaithFaith in Christ is more than mere intellectual assent.  It believes with the heart, with the will – with adoration and with action. 
At the national mint a party of visitors was told by a workman in the smelting works that if you first dipped your hand in water, a ladle of molten metal might be poured over the palm of the hand without burning it.
A husband and wife were part of this party of visitors.  The workman said to the husband, Perhaps you would like to try it.  The husband gave him a look that firmly said, No thanks, I'll take your word for it.  The workman turned to the wife, Perhaps you would like to try it.  She replied, Certainly.  She plunged her hand into the water and calmly held it out while the metal was poured over it.  She was unharmed, because the man working with the metal knew what he was talking about.
We might ask, which of the two really believed the workman? 
The husband believed at one level – but he wasn't willing to put his belief to the acid test.  The wife, on the other hand, was willing to take the kind of risk that faith in Christ demands.  Her belief became behavior.
It doesn't take much to have a faulty faith.  You only need hold back a little.  Give yourself 1%, or 99% to Christ - it's all the will be LOST, because HE won’t accept less than 100% of you. 
Totally entrust yourself to the seat of his grace, and you'll never wind up on the floor of fall-away apostasy. 

[1]Gerald L. Borchert, The New American Commentary, Vol 25A,               (Nashville, Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 164
[3]Joel C. Gregory, Gregory’s Sermon Synopses, (Nashville, Broadman        Press, 1992), 171

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