Fifth Sunday Of Easter
April 29, 2018
“Reasons Not To Believe”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Liitleton, Colorado
Recently I made a life-changing decision. I dropped cable. It got too expensive. What started out as reasonable had become unreasonable and so I pulled the plug. But boy, do I regret it!!
We tried a free seven day trial to something that was going to be a substitute for what we were getting. But they don’t have any real sports. No Rockies. No Broncos. No draft coverage. A million games of soccer. Lots of ‘cricket’ -whatever that is – but nothing that I wanted. So TV is not quite as exciting for me these days.
But there is some good in all of this, (I’ve got to stay positive, right?) I’m reading books again. This is the one that has been my substitute for the Rockies, “Martin Luther” – The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World – by Eric Metaxas. Luther is quite a character. He had some brilliant moments and some that were not. I’m learning quite a bit about this man for which our church is named. In the book Metaxas speaks about the relic collection of Frederick the Wise, the ruler who kept Luther safe from a certain death. Frederick for many years had collected sacred relics. People would come from all over to see such things as these: thirteen fragments from the crib of the infant Jesus (made by His father, Joseph himself), a strand of hair from the beard of Jesus, four hairs from the head of His dear mother, Mary. Some of the breast milk of the Virgin Mary was there, (I’m not sure how it didn’t dry up in those 1500 years – I guess that is a miracle in itself!!) as well as 35 splinters from the true cross of Christ. The very rock upon which the Savior wept over Jerusalem was present. And those that came got to see the very feather of an angel.
By 1520 Frederick the Wise had 19,013 relics in his collection. And if you visited the place, and viewed the relics, and made the necessary contributions, then 1,902,202 years and 270 days were shortened from the time you had to stay in purgatory. Purgatory, a place between earth and heaven was a place of misery and suffering for most people who had died. It only made sense to do such things to shorten the time until you got into heaven. Right?
Do you know that are reasons not to believe? I know we have spoken about various reasons why someone should believe. And there are reasons to believe. But there are also reasons not to believe. No one should have believed in the viewing of relics as a way to get into heaven. It had a wrong hope. It was bad belief. It was poor theology. It robed Christ of being the giver of pure grace. There are also other things not to believe.
“Dear friends, believe not every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (I John 4:1) Not everyone who uses the name Jesus is talking about the real Jesus. Not everyone who uses the name God is talking about the real God. There are a few fakes in the world today. Run from them.
John writes about some fakes, about reasons not to believe what they were saying. Chapter 2, “Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist – he denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.” (I John 2:22-23)
Is Jesus God? Or is He just a man? The resurrection of Jesus from the dead shows that He is fully divine. True God of True God. “In Christ all the fullness of the deity lives in bodily form.” (Colossians 2:9) During this New Testament era there was a man named Cerinthus who held that the Christ descended upon Jesus at his baptism but departed again before he suffered and died. In the view of these heretics the heavenly Christ did not suffer and die, only the human Jesus, nor did he shed his blood to be the Savior.
In our reading it wasn’t the divinity that was being questioned but the humanity of Christ. “This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.” (I John 4:2-3) In John’s gospel he connects the divine to the human when he says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
If some religious person, even some pastor, is speaking about Jesus, not acknowledging the divinity and the humanity of Jesus, you have reason not to believe what they are saying. In the account of Shepherd and sheep in John 10, Jesus says, “They will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” (John 10:5) What one says and believes about Jesus is important. Your soul, your eternal soul, is at stake.
Don’t believe in false teachings – it messes with your soul. And don’t let faith be trapped in the heart – it must be expressed in life. John speaks about a true faith and then about a true love. “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love…Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” (I John 4:7-8, 11-12)
Faith and love go together. We must have the true confession about Jesus and we must have a true life that is reflecting the very heart of God in the world where we live. Do you remember these words, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (I Corinthians 13:1-3) Faith is not empty. It is not powerless. It is not a bunch of words but it is the very Spirit of God showing itself in our lives. It is as Jesus says, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (John 15:8)
Don’t believe anyone who tells you that it doesn’t matter what you do. Don’t follow anyone who says that you can live in hate and bitterness and anger. It seems to me that we live in a pretty hostile society now-a-days. I was talking to a guy who is a political news junkie. He watches one channel to get some political news and to get another view he goes to the other side. He mentioned that everything he hears gets to him some days. I can imagine!! It would be tough to live when one channel tells you about how bad one side is and the other channel tells you how bad the other side is.
There are plenty of things not to believe in this world. Teachings that lead you away from the great redemption of Jesus, the one who is true man and true God, are not to be believed. You’ll be like the man in the parable who built his house on sand and found that it all washed away when the storm came. Don’t believe that it makes no difference how you treat others and how you express a true heart of care and compassion to them. “Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)
But don’t stop at what we don’t believe. We don’t believe in what reduces Jesus to neither God nor man. We don’t believe in a life that has no lasting fruit and no substance of true love. But we do believe in our Savior who knew no limits to call us His own. “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (I John 4:9-10) We do believe that living in love is our divine calling everyday to everyone. This is also what John wrote,”And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.” (I John 3:23)
Trust in Jesus. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:2a-3)
Live in Jesus. Jesus said, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” (John 15:4)
Trust in Him. Live in Him. Our soul is at peace in Him and our life will be a blessing to many. Amen!!