Conflict is part and parcel of the human condition. We just can’t get around it. We disagree and disagree often with those around us. We have conflicts with family members, co-workers, classmates, and brothers and sisters in Christ. We experience conflict and disagreements with people at every level of intimacy—from the stranger who cuts us off on the highway, to the person at work that we butt heads with, to the person we’ve chosen to spend the rest of our life with, to the children we love more than life. Isn’t it interesting that when Paul wrote to the brothers and sisters in Rome and urged them to live at “peace with everyone,” that he prefaced his comment with these words, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you…” Let me read you the whole verse found in Romans 12:18.
18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:18 NIV)
There are disagreements and then there are disagreements. Let me explain what I mean. We often have disagreements with one another, but those disagreements can spiral down into something far more serious than a debate or discussion about the topic at hand. What began as a simple, cerebral debate can become filled with emotion and suddenly our heart begins to race and we feel flush. Name calling and accusations begin to fly and things can get really nasty in a flash. When disagreements become filled with emotion, spiral out of control, and devolve into name calling and slanderous accusations there’s no limit to the harm that can be inflicted. These kinds of disagreements can result in death if folks aren’t careful.
You may be wondering why I’m sharing all of this with you? The first and most important reason is because this is exactly what happened in Jesus’ relationship with the religious leaders of Israel. We’ll get to that when we read our Scripture for this morning. The second reason I want to highlight the commonality of conflict that is shared by all people is to warn you not to allow your disagreements to consume you. The Bible is full of advice about what to do with conflict and anger. It is also full of warnings and illustrations about the destructive power of conflict. Let me just share one bit of advice from James. In James 1:19-20 we read,
19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. (James 1:19-20 NIV)
As we read our Scripture this morning and try to learn from God’s Word it’s important for us to not only understand the biblical text, but also the biblical application for your life and mine. With that said, let’s read John 8:48-59 and see what we can learn.
48 The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?” 49 “I am not possessed by a demon,” said Jesus, “but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. 50 I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.” 52 At this they exclaimed, “Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys your word will never taste death. 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?” 54 Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. 55 Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and obey his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” 57 “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” 58 “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” 59 At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds. (John 8:48-59 NIV)
The disagreement Jesus had with the Pharisees was about His claim to be the Messiah, the Light of the world, the Living Water, the Bread of Life, and YHWH God Himself! As we read John 8:48 we can quickly see that the disagreement had spiraled downward to the point where they were calling Jesus names and making false accusations. They say, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?” By the time we read the last verse of John 8, the religious leader’s anger and vitriol had reached the point where they literally picked up stones and wanted to stone Jesus.
What’s Buggin’ You?
What was it about Jesus that bugged the Pharisees so badly that they about lost their minds? Well, I’ve already mentioned that Jesus made claims that set them off, that challenged the status quo, and threatened their positions of power in society. The religious leaders had their “truth,” but the truth that Jesus taught was diametrically opposed to everything that was meaningful to them, everything that defined them.
I’ve been thinking about this during this past week. We who are followers of Jesus are witnessing the winds of change in our society. Gone are the days where being a follower of Jesus was a respectable thing. Instead of respect, many in our society look at us with skepticism today. We are hearing lots of talk about how intolerant and bigoted Christians are towards cultural shifts taking place in society. You can find many illustrations that will prove this theorem to be true by the way. The sad thing is that all of us are being lumped into the same category because of the actions and words of some. I want to urge you not to be “that guy.” Is society going mad? Are we living in a live-and-let-live society that approves of almost anything and values nothing more than for each one to be happy? Is our society becoming more and more secularized and amoral, having no moral standards or principles whatsoever? You better believe it, but our calling as followers of Jesus is not to “police” society or to infuse morality into our society. Our calling is to let His light shine in the darkness. Regardless of what society chooses, we must choose Jesus. Choose to walk with Jesus, seek to live as Jesus lived, and make Him know in this dark society.
The people of Jesus’ day labeled Him a “friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 11:19) and we should follow in His steps. Our society, and sadly, many in the Body of Christ, have equated “friendship” with “approval, but that’s not what Jesus did.
Jesus Shows Us Another Way
There is a truth that is shared in two different places in the book of Proverbs that lets us know that there are ways that we choose to live, decisions that we make, that seem right to us, but in the end they lead to death. Proverbs 16:25 says,
25 There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death. (Proverbs 16:25 NIV)
Jesus came to show us another way. We no longer have to make decisions based upon how we feel or what we want. Jesus, the Lord of life, came to us, those who were already dead in their sins, and offered us a new way to live. Jesus was willing to associate with sinners in His day in order to show them a different way of doing life, in order to call them to turn around and begin to walk with God instead of walking in their own desires. Jesus is still walking with sinners today with the same purpose. In Luke’s Gospel we read where Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32 NIV)
Have you ever stopped to think about what a blessing it is that someone like Jesus would be willing to associate with someone like me? I think of that often and that is why I want to associate with people that Jesus would be hanging out with in our day. If all of our friends are people like us, folks who believe just like we do, go to Bible study with us, and love Jesus like we do—then we’ve got a problem. It’s not a complicated problem. As a matter of fact, the solution is quite simple. Get out of your comfort zone; make some new friends in places other than Bible study or church. There’s plenty of folks who are not like you and don’t believe like you to choose from, trust me.
We hear lots of talk about how intolerant Christians are in our day. We live in a society that is becoming increasingly tolerant of everything except the followers of Jesus. Christian professors at many universities are afraid to come out of the closest with their faith for fear of how their colleagues will view them. Employees are shy about sharing their faith on the job for fear of repercussions from their supervisors. A Christian who deals with the media has to watch what they say for fear that it will become national headlines if they don’t say the “right” thing. Whatever happened to freedom of speech? How does a society that values “tolerance” more than anything become so intolerant? I’m not sure what the answer is, but I see it happening.
The Pharisees were not willing to tolerate Jesus any longer. They called Him names, “You Samaritan!” “You’re demon possessed!” How did Jesus fight back? Well, He didn’t. He simply said, “I am not possessed by a demon, but I honor my Father and you dishonor me.” Winning a fight with the Pharisees was not on Jesus’ list of priorities…honoring His Father was at the top of that list! In the very next verse, John 8:50, Jesus said something really interesting. Listen to this.
50 I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. (John 8:50 NIV)
Jesus was not seeking His own glory. Instead He sought to glorify God by living in total obedience to His Father’s will. This is such an important lesson for you and me. So many people today are living for the glory of their own name. We’re trying to make a name for ourselves. We want people to like us, know who we are, and be impressed with us, but let me assure you that if that is your aim, your goal, or something that is important to you then you will lose your mind trying to please people. Jesus would have never said the things He said or done the things He did if He were trying to make a name for Himself or trying to please the masses. His one aim was to bring glory to the Father. After Jesus had been given a hero’s welcome on His arrival into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, He said,
27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” (John 12:27-28 NIV)
How did Jesus glorify the Father? That’s a great question, but I think I can narrow it down to two categories:
Jesus Glorifies the Father
First, He lived in absolute obedience to the Father. Absolute obedience. Jesus did not do or say one thing that was out of His Father’s perfect will for His life. Now, that’s quite a statement isn’t it? Is that something any of us can say about ourselves? I don’t think so. Second, Jesus glorified the Father by giving His life on the cross. God glorified His Son Jesus through the same event—through His horrific, yet glorious death on the cross. Isn’t that ironic? Think of all of the wonderful things Jesus did during His ministry. He healed many. He taught like no one had ever taught before. He performed all kinds of miracles. Yet, it was not in any of these that God glorified Jesus. It was in the cross and resurrection that God glorified His Son.
The longest prayer of Jesus that we have recorded in the Bible is the prayer He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane just before He went to the cross. In the Garden He prayed,
1 After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. (John 17:1 NIV)
The Pharisees, like many in our society, would buy none of this. They didn’t believe that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah. They wanted Him to die so they could be rid of Him, not saved by His perfect sacrifice, and they refused to believe in His resurrection. They said they knew God, they believed they served God, but Jesus said they didn’t know God at all.
There are many people running around today who claim to know God. They will confess that they believe in God, they may or may not go to church, some would say they’re not Christians, but they are spiritual. How do you evaluate these claims? How do we evaluate our own faith? That’s one of the most important questions you can ever seek to answer. The answer will be found when you answer the question, “What do you believe about Jesus?” Is He God incarnate? Is He the second member of the Trinity who emptied Himself of His deity and took on humanity so that He might submit Himself to death, even death on a cross for your sake and mine? Is He the one and only means by which sinful people can be reconciled to God? If you say, “Yes! Absolutely!” then you can know that your faith is built on nothing less and nothing more than Jesus’ completed work for you. If you say that Jesus was a good man, if you say that Jesus is one of the ways to God, but there are also other ways to know God, or if you begin to talk about how good you try to be or how religious you’ve become then I have let you know that you probably don’t know God any more than the Pharisees did.
There were so many things that Jesus said and did that angered the Pharisees, but there was one claim that incensed them so much that they wanted to kill Him. Turn to John 8:56-58 and let’s read together.
56 Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” 57 “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” 58 “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:56-58 NIV)
There have been so many theories about what Jesus meant when He said, “Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” Did Abraham “see” the day of Jesus when God made His initial promise to Abraham back in Genesis 12:3? Was it the near sacrifice of Isaac on Mount Moriah in Genesis 22? God provided a substitute for Isaac. Was Abraham made aware that one day God would sacrifice His own Son on that same mountain? I’m not sure which story Jesus had in mind, but He knew what He was referring to when He spoke to the Pharisees.
The Pharisees were indignant. They said, “You are not yet fifty years old and you have seen Abraham!” Jesus wasn’t even close to fifty years old. Luke tells us that “Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his ministry.” (Luke 3:23) His public ministry lasted about three years so He was about thirty-three when He was crucified. Their point was that Abraham had been dead and gone for a long time before Jesus was even born. Jesus said, “before Abraham was born, I am!” With those words Jesus stepped over the line! They picked up rocks and wanted to stone Him to death. What was it about those His words that caused them to lose their minds and want to kill Him on the spot? I’m so glad you asked. The uproar was caused because Jesus was letting them know that He was YHWH God, the Preexistent One, who existed before Abraham was ever born. The little English phrase, “I am,” is a translation of the Greek phrase, “??? ???? (ego eimi). What is really interesting about this Greek phrase is that it is found in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, called the Septuagint, in Exodus 3:14 where God revealed Himself to Moses and told Him what He was to say to the Israelites. Let’s read that verse together.
14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” (Exodus 3:14 NIV)
This wasn’t a one-and-done claim by Jesus. There are seven “I AM” statements made by Jesus in the Gospel of John. John Stott once wrote,
So close was His connection with God that he equated a man’s attitude to himself with his attitude to God. Thus, to know Him was to know God (John 8:19; 14:17); to see Him was to see God (John 12:45; 14:9); to believe in Him was to believe in God (John 12:44; 14:1); to receive Him was to receive God (Mark 9:37); to hate Him was to hate God (John 15:23); and to honor Him was to honor God (John 5:23). (Stott, John. Basic Christianity. pg. 26)
To know Jesus is to know God. To reject Jesus is to reject God. It’s as simple as that my friends. What will you choose this morning?
There is one more verse that we must look at before we leave here this morning. I want us to take a look at John 8:51 because Jesus makes a statement that has often been misinterpreted or misconstrued. Jesus said, 51 Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.” (John 8:51 NIV) Now, He couldn’t have meant that those who trust in Him will never physically die because He had already witnessed the beheading of John the Baptist. Jesus spoke about living and dying as He stood at the tomb of His friend Lazarus. Listen to what He says to Lazarus’ sister, Martha, in John 11:25-26.
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26 NIV)
Death has no hold on the follower of Jesus. Jesus let Martha know that those who believe in Him will live even though they experience physical death. If you receive Jesus as Lord and Savior of your life you have eternal life, it has already begun and it will never end.
The thought of dying is paralyzing to the vast majority of people. People don’t like to go to funerals, visit hospitals or nursing homes for the reason that those places remind them of their own mortality. In 1973, Ernest Becker wrote a Pulitzer Prize winning book called The Denial of Death. He wrote,
The main thesis of this book is that the fear of death haunts the human animal like nothing else; it is a mainspring of human activity—activity designed largely to avoid the fatality of death, to overcome it by denying in some way that it is the final destiny for man. (New York: Free Press, 1973, page xvii)
Ernest Becker was right in 1973 and he’s still right today…except for those whose life is hidden in Jesus. Jesus took the sting of death upon Himself on the cross so that we no longer have to fear death. In 1 John 4:18, we learn that “Perfect love casts out all fear.” Perfect love has come to us in Jesus. That is why Paul could write in 1 Corinthians 15:55-57.
55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:55-57 NIV)
For the past few weeks Tommy Roberts and his family knew that his time on this earth was drawing to an end. I was blessed to have several conversations with Tommy over the past few weeks and I want you to know that Tommy wasn’t haunted by his soon coming death. On Wednesday afternoon his family, along with Brian Geister, Tommy’s Oncologist and friend, gathered at his bedside. We read Scripture, shared memories, and all held hands and prayed together. There wasn’t any fear on Tommy’s face or on the faces of those who loved him so. The lack of fear in the room wasn’t because they’re a tough bunch of folks. Fear was absent because we affirmed our faith in our Sovereign God who knows all of our days before one is ever experienced. I told the family that the vast majority of people in the world wouldn’t trade places with them for all of the money in the world, but that they will treasure being with Tommy to the end for the rest of their life.
My friend everything we’ve talked about this morning: dealing with conflict, being faithful to Jesus in a culture that is growing increasingly antagonistic, not getting sucked into pleasing people, and finding confidence even as we contemplate the certainty of our own death—the answer to all of these problems which plague us is to trust Jesus. If you will trust Him as your Lord and Savior He will begin His work of changing your heart and mind through the ministry of His Spirit and the truth of His Word. Won’t you invite Him in?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
April 12, 2015