Today is Monday, March 30. My name is Gina, and I welcome you back in our fifth week of Lent, as we give a few moments each day in reading God’s word, listening to Him, and praying together.
Theme: Following Jesus requires risk
Scripture: John 8:12-20 (The Message)
Choosing to follow Jesus is risky. Deciding where to put our faith is about calculating risk and making a choice, then living with that choice.
In Jerusalem more than 2,000 years ago, the Hebrew nation lived under the oppression of the Roman Empire, waiting for their Messiah to come and set them free.
There had been others before Jesus who claimed to be the Messiah. They gathered followers, created a spectacle, and then they and their followers were killed for stirring up too much attention from Rome.
This presented a problem for the Jews because their God had promised them a Messiah, a savior. The Jews had come to expect that this Messiah would deliver them from the authority of Rome and restore their independence as a nation.
The Jewish people were then between a rock and a hard place, as we say in English. What if they believed a man who claimed to be the Messiah and they took the calculated risk to follow him in revolt against Rome, but then it turned out they were wrong? That he was just a man? They risked the full fire and fury of Rome coming down on them for following a false Messiah, who would not have the power to protect them from the resulting anger and punishment of Rome.
This reveals that they feared human governments more than God, although it’s hard to blame them. The Roman Empire was everywhere and in everything around them. They could physically touch it, hear it, smell it, feel it, and it regulated almost everything in their lives.
In their vulnerability, they needed to be absolutely sure about the Messiah. They needed to reduce their risk as much as possible. So, when Jesus made statements that strongly implied he was the Messiah they had been waiting for, they demanded proof. And proof upon proof.
In today’s passage, they invoked the rules they had set for the courtroom, where several witnesses were required for a judge to make a ruling. “Where are your witnesses?,” they demanded of Jesus. To be fair, they were invoking the very rules God set down for them when He founded their nation (see Deuteronomy). God knew that humans will try to deceive one another for our own gain, so He said a single witness against someone was not enough. Two was the absolute minimum. Three was even better. (Even so, we see in several biblical stories that humans corrupted this safety net; people were paid off or coerced to give false testimony against someone. This happened in Jesus’ trial before He was crucified.)
Jesus must have seen the hilarious absurdity of people thinking they could judge God according to their own standards and rules. In human courtrooms, witnesses are required because humans lie. God is Truth embodied and cannot lie. Why would He need witnesses? Their demand insulted the God of Truth Himself.
If anyone is equipped to make judgments, it is God, not humans. We arrogantly believe we can attribute motives to people’s actions. It is even more ridiculous when we attribute motives to strangers we have never met. Because, in truth, only God can see into the human heart.
In today’s passage, Jesus said, “You decide according to what you can see and touch. I don’t make judgments like that. But even if I did, my judgment would be true because I wouldn’t make it out of the narrowness of my experience but in the largeness of the One who sent me, the Father.”
Then, He goes on to challenge His listeners, both then and now: “You’re looking right at me and you don’t see me. How do you expect to see the Father? If you knew me, you would at the same time know the Father.”
Jesus asked them – and is asking us – to take a risk; to believe in Him even though there aren’t mountains of scientific data and piles of cold, hard facts to put our trust in.
The reality is, putting our trust in scientific data and so-called facts is itself a risk. How many times have humans made new discoveries that cancelled out the absolute and unquestionable “facts” everyone had believed for a very long time? After thousands of years of believing the earth was flat, we found out, in fact, it is round. After hundreds of years of believing the earth was at the center of the universe, we discovered, in fact, the sun is the center of our solar system. In the 1980s, we taught our school children that the next ice age was coming. Decades later, we say the earth is warming. We believed that petroleum was formed deep in the earth from the remains of dead dinosaurs. Now it is said fossil fuels aren’t made from fossils at all, but from microscopic bacteria.
The number of mysteries that remain in our natural, physical world, and even of the human body and brain, outnumber the mysteries we have solved. Is it really riskier to transfer our trust from our severely limited collections of data and proofs to Jesus?
We already put our unquestioning faith in things most of us don’t understand, such as the mechanics of our cars or the way airplanes work. We flip a light switch and expect electricity without having ever seen the wiring hidden behind our walls, let alone understanding how it works. We just know it does. We have seen time and time again that when we turn the key on our cars, the engine roars to life. It is only a surprise to us when it doesn’t.
Is trusting Jesus a calculated risk? Yes, of course. There is risk in many, many things we do every day, including stepping outside our front door, or taking advice from our doctor. It’s just that, for some reason, some of us want iron-clad proof about Jesus when we don’t demand that concerning other decisions in our life that require a risk.
Faith is defined as believing in something without proof; to put one’s confidence or trust in a person or thing. Faith is not blind or anti-intellectual, however. There is plenty of evidence in favor of and against the existence and revealed character of God. Evidence is not the same as proof, but gives faith something to stand on—either way. Faith, then, is believing in and trusting God in spite of any and all evidence to the contrary.
Whether we like it or not, faith is a risk. And we’re not just talking about the step of faith one must take in accepting Jesus Christ as God. We’re talking about all the little risky acts of faith Jesus asks us to take every day.
Such as, the faith and risk it takes to obey Him. There is inherent risk in trusting Him with everything: with our children or parents; with our spouse or friends; trusting Him when we sense He’s asking us to have integrity at work, even though it might cost us our job; taking the risk to move our families and leave behind our stability and security because God is leading us to another location.
We take a risk when God asks us to visit a sick friend, and we’re worried we might get sick, too. We risk our reputation when we defend the innocent or the vulnerable against our own society by rebuking forces that oppress or exploit them. We risk losing precious relationships when we sense the Spirit asking us to challenge a friend or family member who is doing something wrong or unwise.
Do we really believe Jesus? Do we believe Him anymore than the Pharisees and Sadducees, who demanded proof to ensure they wouldn’t bring all of Rome down on their heads by agreeing to follow Jesus?
We prove that we do believe Jesus each time we obey Him, even though He hasn’t assured us of the outcome, or there’s the possibility it might cost us something precious.
Obedience to God is a calculated risk every time. Are we willing to accept the risks?
- Have I taken the risk to put my faith in Jesus as God, and Lord of my life? If not, pray that God will give you the courage to step into that risk.
- Do I claim to believe in Jesus, but my fear sometimes outweighs my courage to obey Him when He asks me to do something risky? Pray that God will give you the courage to take the risk to follow Jesus and obey Him every day.
- Is there an area of obedience God is calling me to, that I’ve been hesitating to obey? Repent right now, and ask God for the opportunity to take that risk of obedience.
Thank You for giving us the opportunity, over and over again, to put our faith in You. Thank You that You never send us into risky situations without going before us, beside us and behind us, all the way. Although it’s true that sometimes our obedience to You will cost us in small or great ways, You do not ask us to sacrifice more than You did when You followed Your risky calling all the way to death on a cross. Yet, You demonstrate through Your resurrection, Your conquest of death itself, that all our risks will be rewarded by our daily resurrection in You here and now, and our eternal resurrection, when we will spend everlasting life in Your loving presence.
It’s hard, Jesus, to step out in faith when we aren’t assured of the outcomes of our obedience. We love our families, the things we own, our reputations, and our health. It’s scary, sometimes, to obey You. We fear losing what we love. Please, fill us with the courage to step into the risks You call us to take in your name. Although we may be frightened or nervous, help us to overcome our fears to obey You and receive the rewards You promise us.
Thank You for Your patient understanding of our human limitations and our fears. But thank You also for raising us above our limitations in Your power and love. We need You and we love You.
In the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.