Sunday Morning | May 28, 2023 | John C. Majors | Louisville, KY
The sermon on May 28, 2023, titled "Empty Religion," was based on John 10:22-42. The speaker discussed the significance of the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah) and its historical context, highlighting the desire for a deliverer-leader among the Jews. Jesus, walking in the temple, was asked directly if he was the Christ. He responded wisely, knowing that their intent was to trap him. This sermon emphasized the importance of truly understanding who the Messiah is and having ears to hear God's voice. The doctrine of Eternal Security was mentioned, emphasizing that salvation is based on God's work rather than our actions. The sermon concluded with a warning against becoming hardened in religious rituals and traditions, encouraging a hunger for a genuine relationship with Jesus.
At Valley View Church we are currently studying through the entire gospel of John, verse by verse. You can join us on Sunday mornings at 11 AM for worship. We are located at 8911 3rd Street Road, Louisville KY 40272.
Someday I'm going to jump around on the stage like Isaac. I promise. I'm going to threaten right now. Not yet. We'll get there. I do have something exciting to celebrate, though, that is worth jumping around about. Wednesday night we had our Awana celebration, our awards night, our family fun night. In fact, we got a picture to throw up on the screen. I got to tell you, there's something like 70 kids who have been working hard all year memorizing scripture up here on Wednesday nights. And it is so amazing to come together, celebrate that, to have them come up on stage. That's just a snippet of one group, have them come up on stage and say, Hey, let's celebrate the fact that these kids are given their time to memorize scripture. It's super inspiring. So it was an awesome night. Maybe gets me pumped up watching them work so hard and it gets me pumped up thinking about vibes coming up here in just a couple of weeks. It is a really rich time of just reaching out to our community and investing in our community. So be praying for that. We're going to continue in our study of the book. And Jon, today we're in Jon chapter ten and as I was preparing for today, a story came to mind and you may have read, in fact, two of my history lovers in the room. Let me see your hands. Okay, good. I was getting a little worried there for a second. I see enough hands. In fact, the story in particular that came to mind, I love one of my favorite things to do is to read history. The story that came to mind was the story of the building of the Panama Canal. In fact, there's this great book written by David McCullough. If you want a lot more detail, because I'm going to go to a real high level here. But the building of the Panama Canal was really interesting because actually the U.S. built it, oversaw it for many years, but we weren't the first to try to build it. France actually was the first country to say we need we're going to build a canal across Panama because they had built the Suez Canal and they had actually become quite wealthy from it. It was a big payout for them to build this canal. They come to Panama, though, and the problem was they came with the same mindset as in Suez, which is we're going to build this canal at sea level. That worked for us. They're certain to work for us here. We're going to come with a big payout from this as well. The problem is Panama is a very different country, very mountainous in between the two seas. And so what happened was they mixed up the reality of we've got a goal with the method. The goal is simply to get one boat from one ocean over to the other. That's the goal. But the method in their mind had to be a sea level canal. So as they started to try to dig out the sea level canal, there was just too much dirt. They didn't know where to put it. And the thing that should have been a part of the project all along became their biggest hindrance. So they gave up. In fact many of the people who were involved with it went bankrupt. As a result, the U.S. comes in and taken back with a fresh set of eyes. They go, There's no way we can build a sea level canal. There's too much dirt to move. So instead of the dirt being our biggest problem, let's make it part of the solution. And so they piled up that dirt and built a lake and used locks to get up to the lake and go across the country, across the lake, down another set of logs. The thing that should have been that was your big problem became the solution. Now, here's how all this applies to John. Chapter ten France when they came into this, were so tied to their methods that they lost sight of the goal. The goal wasn't a sea level canal. The goal was getting ships from one side or the other. And look, we're all susceptible to that, become too married to our method, our goal and our method. Maybe our traditions or maybe our religion. And we lose sight of the goal. We lose sight of the much bigger thing at play. And we're going to see that in today's passage in John Chapter ten. We're covered in the second half of John Chapter two, and we're going to finish up John Chapter ten. And if you look at versus 22 through 42, that's where we're going to be today. In fact, let's just read these first couple of verses in John chapter ten, verse 22, to kind of get our bearings to create the setting. John Chapter 1022 At the time, the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter and Jesus was walking in the temple in the colonnade of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, How long will you keep us in suspense if you are the Christ, tell us plainly. So a couple of things to set up here to give us the context. We in the first part of Chapter ten that we covered last week, that really ended a big section, Chapter seven, eight, nine, ten, huge section of this continuous conversation. Jesus was having with many of the Jewish leaders. Now we're kind of turning the corner because it mentions a new feast, the feast of dedication. We had been kind of under the umbrella of the Feast of Births, he said to his brothers, who said, Go up to the feast. And he said, I'm not going. But then he does go up. That kind of governance, that whole previous section. But now he mentions the feast of dedication. Now that's a feast that may not be as familiar to you because it doesn't show up in the Old Testament. It's not one of the ones in the Old Testament that were given for them to follow it came later. In fact, you've probably heard of it, though it's often called more popularly called Hanukkah. And it goes back to the time in between the testament. So you may or may not know there's about a 400 year period between the closing of the Old Testament and the start of the New Testament, where we don't have any written scripture, what we considered to be Scripture. If you grew up Catholic, you might have some books in your Catholic Bible that cover that period. In fact, I'd encourage everyone to take time to read them because some of them are so fascinating. Two books in particular that I'm going to reference today are first and second Maccabees that cover this period in between. All of this is important because this gives the context for where Jesus was teaching in the temple, the Feast of dedication, the Feast of Hanukkah. This was a moment of remembrance of the last big Jewish revolt prior to Jesus coming on the scene. So 167 or so B.C. What happened was the Assyrians had coming in and taking over the area and the leader at the time, his name was Antiochus Epiphanies, which by the way, Epiphany wasn't his given last name. If you think of Epiphany manifest, in fact, the reason he named himself that not his mom, his mom knew better. The manifestation of God was the implication and not just the implication. In fact, throw this picture up on the screen. This is a coin from the time that's him. Antioch Epiphanies. And if you look closer, look at the next screen. You can see I've got it labeled number one, two and three. Number one is Antioch. That's his name. Antiochus. Number three is Epiphanies. But in between is the word famous or three on God. Same way we get the word theology study of God. Various Antioch God manifest printed on the coins. There's no doubt about the claim he's making. And so when he overtakes, you know, he's a descendant of roughly of Alexander and he's all of Alexander's estates were conquests were vivid out he wants all the places he rules over to to worship one God I don't want all of these different religions divided up. We're all going to worship one God and we're going to worship Zus. By the way, that's me. That's what he's saying. God manifest. I'm him. So he comes to every area he's over and says it's time to start worshiping me. Now, of course, the Jews didn't like that and they wouldn't follow. So what Antiochus Epiphanies does is he actually comes into the temple, goes into the holy of holies and builds an altar, designs on top of the altar to God and sacrifices a pig on top of the altar, which could you could not get more offensive to a Jew. And what this did was this stirred up the Jews. In fact, there was a family, in particular, the Maccabees. And so that's where they get the name of those books first and second Maccabees. Ironically, the guy who really started the revolt was Maccabees, and they drove out the Syrians. They drove out Antiochus epiphanies. They drove them out reconquering the land. In fact, here's how Hanukkah came about. As a result, on the very day that and how conspirators had set up the temple, sacrifice the pig three years later, they come in to cleanse the temple and they want to light the lamps to see where they are. They find only enough oil to light the lamps to last about a day because all the other oil had been desecrated. They wanted only concentrated oil. They found a way. They light the lamps to last about a day, but the lamps burn for eight days continuously. That's the reason they still celebrate Hanukkah for eight, eight days. Now it's often called the Festival of Lights. All right. Bringing all of this back into giving us this context, Jesus is standing in the temple at the Feast of Dedication, which is meant to concentrate re concentrate the altar, the place where sacrifices are given, which is meant to celebrate the fact that a deliverer came and drove out the evil rulers, which is the context for a messiah like figure. And here they ask him this question Look back at the past year verse 24 How long will you keep us in suspense if you are the Christ the Messiah, the one who will deliver us because we were under the Syrians rule? Judas Maccabee is driven out about 100 years later. The Romans come in. Now we're oppressed again. Are you the Christ? Are you the Messiah? Are you the one who can do what the very thing we're celebrating today did 100 years ago? Are you the one who can do that now? And you may think, actually, this would have been more like 200 years ago for them. You may think, gosh, that's a long time ago. They're really still dwelling on this. Well, does the Civil War still affect the way we view the world today here in the U.S.? That sounds like, you know, I'm 175 years ago, distant, distant history, and yet it still shapes the way so much of our culture is shaped today. Same here. They're still hoping for a messiah to come. Another deliverer to come. How long will you keep us in suspense? In fact, the Greek here is the literal translation of it is something like how long will you torture our souls? Now it's idiomatic. So all the major translations agree. It's along the lines of how it's translated here. How long will you keep us in suspense? How long will you torture us with not giving us an answer? How long will you hold this over us? Will you speak clearly? You're killing us here. But there's a reason why he doesn't say clearly to them. I am the Messiah. I am the Christ. He doesn't do that openly and publicly. He only does that privately. Like with the woman at the. Well, I'm him. I'm the Christ. There's a reason why he doesn't do it publicly. And there's a great quote I ran across by Don Carson. Not going to read to you. It's going to be up on the screen. Go ahead and flash that up. This sums up why he doesn't just openly say to them the term Messiah or Christ had too many political and military connotations. Had he Jesus spoken plainly, they would have misunderstood him for the notions of Messiah. You could not embrace a suffering servant or a kingdom that was not immediately political and military. Now this happens all the time with us. You use a word and you have a meaning of what it means, but someone else sees it and thinks of it differently. I remember hearing a friend of mine told the story of Cal Thomas, who's a well-known reporter Christian, but has worked mostly in secular news, and he was covering the Jimmy Carter presidency as he was running for president. And Jimmy Carter was very clear about being a born again Christian. And that was a weird thing to hear in the news. What does that mean, born again Christian, you're Christian or you're not. What's this new concept, this new subset of Christianity that you're born again? And so lots of people are asking questions about this. And someone knew he was a Christian. They came up to him, a fellow reporter, and said, Are you one of those born again Christians? So Cal Thomas goes, What do you mean by that? What do you mean by born again? Well, you know, born again, you know, born again. I know what born Again means. What do you mean by born again? Well, well, you know, born again. I don't know. Fundamental grammatical. Born again. You know, he's like, No, no, no. Let me tell you what I believe. Born again means. And we encounter this all the time. And look, we're guilty of it, too. By the way, let me use a label applied to someone well, and that way I don't have to take the time to listen to them. I don't have to take the time to really get to know them. I don't have to take the time to understand them. And so here what we have is this If I call myself Messiah, you don't even know what Messiah really is meant to be. You've already decided what Messiah is. And I four chapter after chapter after chapter, I'm Jesus. For months now I have been trying to tell you what the Messiah, who He really is, what he's really like. It's not what you think, but they don't want to hear it. Their ears are close to it. They don't really want to think of a messiah any other way than how how they have already preconceived him. So here's how their interaction continues in the midst of this. Look at verse 25. Here's how he responds to them. I told you, and you do not believe the works that I do in my father's name bear witness about me. But you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. I didn't have ears to hear. And I think this is a warning for all of us. Really? Do I really, truly have ears to hear? Lord, what is it you want me to hear about you? Not my preconceived notions of who you are, not what I've decided you can or cannot do in the world or in my life. But am I truly listening carefully, hoping to hear from you like your sheep who just willingly, lovingly follow you wherever he goes on to describe some of the situation. Look at verse 28. I give them eternal life. Speaking of his sheep, I give them eternal life and they will never perish and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My father, who has given them to me, is greater than all and no one is able. Here it is again to snatch them out of the father's hand. This is a powerful section. The statements he makes here speaking about his sheep. You know, there's a doctrine behind this with this phrase No one will snatch them out of my hand. It's one that you may have heard referenced like eternal security. It's a powerful doctrine. And I think it's one that's essential to the Christian war. When you are his, nothing can separate you from neither death nor life. Persecution, nor peril, nor anything else in all of creation can separate us from the love of God that we have in Christ Jesus. Nothing ever can separate us in Him. He cannot snatch you. Nothing out of his hand. It's a powerful doctrine, often misunderstood, and I think many have struggled with Am I really saved or not? If I'm really saved what I have done, that would I have acted like that? And look, by the way, many of us in this room have struggled with that. It's okay. That's okay. But here's what I want you to hear today. Your security. Our security is not based on how strongly I feel about the gospel. It's not how strongly I feel about what I have or haven't done. It's not based on the strength of my feeling. It's based on how strong he is. In fact, I heard Tim Keller talk about this this week. I mentioned in the midweek update that Tim Keller passed last week in 72 years old, died of cancer, hugely influential in my life. His sermons, his writings are incredible. And I was looking back at one of the talks he gave at Google. They invited him in to talk about God. Can you come and give us? In fact, he had written a book, Reason for God. Can you come and talk about your book, State Your Case? Why do you think there is a God or not? In fact, they said it was the biggest turnout they had ever had, even more than the lady who came to talk about sex education. Right. He said that's that strong company right there. Big turnout for that. But he gets up and he says, here's here's where faith matters. And he gave the analogy. Imagine that you were sliding off the edge of a cliff and your one hope was to grab for a branch you see poking out from the side of the cliff. And you think to yourself, I'm not sure if that branch is strong enough to hold me or not, but you grab it and you're saved. It is. And you're saved. Conversely, if you're sliding off the cliff and you think I know that branch is strong enough to hold me, it is incredibly strong. It can hold me through anything. And yet you don't grab for it. You're not saved. And so here's how he summarized that, that illustration. Look at his quote on the screen. Weak faith in a strong object is infinitely better than strong faith in a weak object. You know, the basis, the strength of your internal security is not in how strongly you feel about it. It's in the object of your faith. He's the one that brings the strength. Now, how strong is that? Look at verse 30. Look at what he says in verse 30. I and the father are one. How secure is your salvation? How strong is your salvation? It is as strong as the relationship between the son and the father. And how strong is that? There is no bond stronger in all of the universe, if that can be broken, then your relationship in him can be broken and it can't. There's nothing stronger. There is no stronger bond that we can lean on The father and the son and their unity and their love for one another is as strong as anything that's out there. And let me just mention, by the way, I know, as I said, it's okay. Many have struggled with am I saved or not through a picture? This book I'm holding up, as you can see, is a very small book. It's maybe 50 pages, but it's called How Can I Be Sure I'm Saved? This is a great resource and I don't have any here today, but I've ordered 20 copies. If you want one stop in the connection corner, they'll jot your name down. I'll have them available for you, hopefully next week. It's a short book, but it's just chock full of scripture, all emphasizing this reality that it's not about how strongly I feel about what Christ had done for me, but it's just believing in the strength of who He is as a powerful work. And it's a great thing if you're wrestling there. And even if you're not, I've found it hugely rich, enriching and encouraging. So he makes this statement. I am the father of one. Let's look at how the Jews respond to this. And by Jews, I've said many weeks that's often referring to the religious leaders, the Pharisees in particular in this setting, the Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them. I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of them are you going to stone me? The Jews answered him. It is not for good works that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy. Because you being a man, make yourself God. And if you ever hear someone say Jesus never claimed to be God, take him here. Just like we looked at in 858. They knew what he was saying. He didn't have to spell it out so clearly or as they asked, be plain about it. They knew what he meant. They knew what he was saying. You are claiming to be God. You are making yourself equal with God. You can take him here and say, Now look, this is what's happening. Jesus clearly knew what he was saying and they knew what he was saying. Look at how he responds to their their response to him. Jesus answered in verse 34, Is it not written in your law? I said, You are gods. If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came and Scripture cannot be broken. Do you say of Him whom the Father consecrated sin into the world you are blaspheming? Because I said, I am the Son of God. Okay, this is a difficult section. Let me just acknowledge this on the front end. In fact, one of the more difficult things to unpack in Scripture are how the New Testament quotes the Old Testament. And that's what's happening here. Jesus is quoting Psalm 82 to make his case against them about why they shouldn't be upset about the claim he's making. And we're going to turn to Psalm 82 and just take a minute to look at this. Why is this relevant? One of the first important things to do if you want to understand why how the New Testament quotes the Old Testament is to go back to the Old Testament and read all around it, read the context, try to get an understanding of that verse and its context. So turn to Psalm 82. If you have a church Bible that's on page 461, those church Bibles are out in the connection corner as well. Those are free for you if you don't have a Bible for free to go out and get one. Any time I'm turning into for 61 in my Bible, it's not the same. I thought you'd find that humorous, but it wasn't as funny as I thought it was. Mine's on 546. In case you're wondering, Psalm 82 saw Mary two was written as an encouragement to those who were suffering under unjust rulers that ever happened before. Maybe here are some comments you might feel that way and. Differences in seasons depending on who's over you politically or at work or whatever, suffering under unjust rulers. And it's got two parts and an indictment. Here's what went wrong and then a judgment. So look at verses one through four. God has taken his place in the Divine counsel in the midst of the gods, He holds judgment. So whoever here he's referring to as God's was ever in this setting, how long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked, give justice to the weak and the fatherless, maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy. Deliver them from the hand of the wicked. And so whoever this is, there's debate about who are the gods that he's in the midst of. Some think it may be angelic being, some think it's referencing to Israel as a nation who was given the word of God, who was called to deliver the word of God a great responsibility, a God like right could be just and many. And I think probably where it lands is just human judges who are not caring for their responsibility rightly, like we looked at last week, the shepherds in Israel, 34, who had become the wolves, they weren't the shepherds. God had called them to be human judges who aren't judging rightly. They're taking advantage of their situation. They're not serving the people that are called to serve. You've been given the divine right to judge like a God, and yet you're not. You're not doing it. What's the indictment to those? Look at verse five. They have neither knowledge nor understanding. They walk about in darkness. All the foundations of the earth are shaken. I said, You are God's sons are the most high, all of you. And yet, nevertheless, like men, you shall die and fall Like any prince. I said, You're a God. I said, You should be acting like a God. And yet your men, you have not handled the Word of God well. You have not handled your responsibility well. This is Psalm 82, a judgment upon unjust human judges. Okay, so flip back to John chapter ten, and look now at when Jesus quotes that because two things are going on here, is it not written in your law? I said you are gods. If he called them gods to whom the Word of God came and Scripture cannot be broken, do you say of Him meaning himself, whom the Father consecrated, send into the world you are blaspheming? Because I said I am the Son of God. Two things are going on here. First noticed, he says in verse 24, It is written in your law. So the first thing he does is appeal to them on their own basis. This is your law. This is the thing you claim to follow. I'm not just picking something out of the air. I'm going back to the Old Testament. I'm going back to what you claim to follow. And by the way, side note, that's a really powerful approach to take when you are witnessing to someone, when you're dialoging with them about the gospel, when you're trying to make a case for Christianity, We can argue all day long about what we believe, but it's also really helpful, helpful to go, Tell me what you believe. Let me hear what you follow. Let's talk about that. In fact, Francis Schaeffer, author, teacher, speaker, seventies and eighties, one of the things he said that's always been helpful for me to remember, he says, let the weight of someone's own worldview collapse under itself. I just keep asking them questions about, their own worldview. That's built on a pretty flimsy scaffolding often, and that's not to crush them under the weight, but it's to expose them to the need for Christ. And you want to do it in a winsome, caring, concerned, genuine, interested way. And so he says, here, look, your law says this. I'm referencing your own law to you, okay? Your law says in there God calls someone a God. In fact, what he's doing here is basically saying it's no contradiction here for me to reference myself this way, because your own word has done that. In fact, one commentator, I thought, summed it up in a way that was real helpful, kind of paraphrasing what he thought Jesus meant in this place. Look on the screen, I'll toss this quote in here. If Scripture calls corrupt human judges God's, since they represent God with delegated authority, how can I, meaning Jesus, be guilty of blasphemy when I call myself Son of God? If God can do that, if that can be done in Scripture, how can I be guilty of blasphemy? Now? He doesn't leave it here. And part of the confusing part is, does that mean then that we can call ourselves gods? And no, because he doesn't leave it here. Here's what he does. Look at what he does to follow this up. Look at verse 37 and 39, do 39. If I am not doing the works of my father, then do not believe me. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works that you may know and understand that the father is in me and I am in the father again. They sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands. So it's interesting the way he follows this up. It's not just your law says, but he appeals to the works he's done. It's interesting because there's in other places where he almost chastises the people who are seeking him for being overly focused on his miracles. I know you're just coming because you want to see another parlor trick. I know you're just coming because you want to get something out of me. You want your bellies filled with bread You want Maybe I'll make more watered down or you want to be healed. But Jesus says, Here you've seen the works that I've done. Turn water. Divine healed the blind man healed the man fed the 5000. Which of these do you really have a problem with? And he appeals to the works In this moment. He Who else could do this? But again, they didn't want to hear it. And what happens is Jesus leaves and the way he leaves and where he goes bookends This whole passage in a really powerful way that ties it all together into this reality of us being overly focused on methods, religion, tradition, rather than the goals they represent. So look at these last couple of verses verse 40, he went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there he remained and many came to him and they said John did no sign. But everything that John said about this man was true and many believed in him. There. And so here's what I want you to see. I want you to see the contrast between between the two groups, between the two locations here, because this is where it all ties together. If you look back at verse 24 with how this all started, so the Jews gathered around him. So the first place he was was with Jews gathered around him in the temple, in the colonnade at the Festival of Hanukkah, the most religious, the most holy place with the most holy people all together. And they wanted to kill him. And the contrast here is he goes across the Jordan, he goes to where John the Baptist had been baptizing. And in contrast, many believed in him there. And as I look at this passage and think about what it means for us today, I think it's it's a warning. Who is most likely to take practices, to take traditions, to take methods is to take religion and make it more important than the one it represents. Who is most likely to do that? According to this passage, it's those and the official places of worship. The religious leaders, the people most likely to show up on the holiest days, which is us. In fact, I could get even more specific. Maybe it's me most likely to take for granted to miss the reality of how great Christ is God. Actual God manifest right in front of him and be more focused on the traditions. It's a warning to us. We are the ones most likely to be become atrophied, to become too comfortable, to become more worried about secondaries than the greater ultimate goal of knowing Christ. And so my hope today, as we study this passage, there's some difficult parts to it. Even the warning falls heavy on me as I think about it. And here's the take for me. My prayer is coming out of here is today as I leave and every morning to wake up, God help me not to replace who you are with. My traditions shake up the ground of all my traditions. I love them when we sing that song. I love it and I don't love it. Do I really want that? That sounds uncomfortable. Shake up the ground of all my traditions. Break down the walls of all my religion, and by religion I mean empty religion. Religion isn't inherently bad, but if it replaces truly worshiping Christ, that's a bad place to be. Break up the fallow ground of all my traditions. Wake me up to who you are. That's my prayer. That's my prayer from my own heart. And I would encourage you to just pray that every day this week as you wake up, Lord, help me never to replace relationship with religion, with empty religion. Help me every day to long hear from you in a fresh, new way. That's my prayer for us today. In fact, let's pray now together. Lord, I know that in my own heart it is so easy to think and believe that the effort I put forth is what saves me. I read this much Bible. I prayed this much, I served this many people. I've memorized this much Scripture. Therefore, God will accept me. And that is opposite of the Gospel. And I pray today our one burden would be simply to lean on you more and more, to become more dependent on you every day, to become more aware of how strong you are, of how great you are. And I prayed today that no matter how we may have felt at various times in life about our standing with you, I pray that everyone today would here fully, overwhelmingly confident in the great strength of who you are. Lord, I pray that we would experience your peace as we walk this way. We will experience a depth and richness of walking with you like we have never before. God, thank you that we can gather together today. We love you. A man