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"He Himself Knew"

February 6, 2022 Speaker: Pastor Bob Davis

Passage: John 2:23-25, Exodus 14:26-31

He Himself Knew

John 2:23-25

February 6, 2022

Read John 2:23-25

This is the Word of the LORD.

This morning we are going to look at these few short verses.  The reason to slow down at this point is to recognize something that the Apostle John wanted readers to understand: specifically, signs and wonders are a blessing as a start to faith; obedience and discipline are essential for maturity.

Let me say it again: signs and wonders are a blessing as a start to faith; obedience and discipline are essential for maturity.

               Signs and Wonders

Let me begin with signs and wonders.  People were believing in Jesus’ name because of the signs.

The announcement of Tom Brady’s retirement has triggered an outpouring of tributes to his long career and success in the NFL.  The story has a mythic or folklore kind of feel to it.  Picked by the New England Patriots in the sixth round, Brady was preparing a resume for a different career because he was uncertain about making the team.  He went on to lead teams to seven Super Bowl wins, including orchestrating the greatest comeback in NFL history when the Patriots trailed Atlanta 28-3 mid-way through the third quarter.  It was like a miracle (to everyone except fans of the Atlanta Falcons).  In his final game with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a few weeks ago, Brady’s team was down 27-3 to the L.A. Rams with three minutes left in the third quarter.  Brady led them on scoring drives sufficient to tie the game with a few minutes left – time enough for the Rams to kick a field goal as the clock expired.

People believe Brady could bring any dead team back to life just by the power of his will.  Signs and wonders.

You know who else was like that?  Michael Jordan.

Michael Jordan is widely considered the greatest basketball player ever.  His Chicago Bulls teams were 6-0 in championship series.  Watching him play was like watching a ballet with defense.  He did things that just simply astounded people.  The words “unbelievable,” “miraculous,” and “superhuman” were commonly attributed to his highlight reels.  Getting tickets to those games to see him play live was difficult and expensive.  People were attracted to the spectacle.  They went to the games or watched on television hoping and (perhaps) praying that they would see something extraordinary.

Now, I know that not everyone is a sports fan.  The reason I share those two as illustrative is because people were fascinated by their talent, their success, and the things they were able to do that normal people simply cannot.  We are attracted to the spectacular, the unique, the special, or the unexplainable.

I could have picked music and talked about the Beatles or Elvis Presley.  I could have picked politics and talked about Bill Clinton or the Donald Trump phenomena.  I could have picked tech and talked about Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates or – perhaps the most obvious signs and wonders guy: Steve Jobs.

The point is that we know their names.  We know their accomplishments (at least to a point).  We know that they have power.  We are attracted to that power because we – either consciously or subconsciously – believe that affiliating ourselves with them or believing in them or following them will cause some of that power to rub off on us.

And so it was with the signs and wonders that Jesus was performing in his ministry.  He was doing some headline-worthy deeds.  Two weeks ago we talked about his overturning the tables in the Temple courts and driving out the money changers.  That, for certain, would have people talking.  There was no need for the internet or network news for word to spread about that kind of an event.  Last week, Rob Scanland talked about Jesus turning the water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana.  It is a different kind of thing because Jesus did not say, “Watch this.”  The hosts and the wine steward were not aware of what happened, but the working people behind the scenes all knew. And, as these things go, word would spread quietly but quickly.

When Jesus was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because of the signs he was doing.

Perhaps at this point you are expecting me to talk about how shallow are people who respond to signs and wonders.  No.  Jesus did these signs for the purpose of manifesting the kingdom of God in the midst of the people so they could see and believe.  The things he did were amazing.  They were remarkable.  They were noteworthy and attention-grabbing.

Signs and wonders were important as indicators that Jesus was who he says he was. He was revealing his identity as the Messiah.  The first half of the gospel of Mark is filled with signs and wonders.  There, as here, the point is the same: the signs and wonders raise the question, “Who is this?”

The signs and wonders brought attention.  The signs and wonders got people talking. Frankly, this is why the Great Commission’s, “Go make disciples of all nations,” is so heavily dependent upon the resurrected Jesus’ instruction to the disciples, “You will be my witnesses.”  Witnesses tell what they have seen, what they heard, and what they experienced.

Our experience shows us how true this is: People coming back from a Super Bowl want to talk about what they saw, what they heard, and what they experienced.  Not only do they want to tell us, we want to hear.  People who have gone to a great restaurant want to tell you about what they saw, what they heard, and what they experienced. Not only do they want to tell us, we want to hear.  People who have had an encounter with Jesus want to tell you what they saw, what they heard, and what they experienced.  Not only do they want to tell us, we want to hear.  We are hungry to hear.  

It is the difference between pushing information and sharing of yourself.  I want to be careful here: doctrine matters.  It absolutely does.  However, we have conflated the notion of sharing our faith to doctrinal purity.  As a result, we often find that we are paralyzed and say nothing.  I cannot tell you how many people have said to me, “I would share, but I am afraid to say the wrong thing.”

The signs and wonders Jesus performed opened (and opens) the door for many people to begin investigating God’s grace, adoption, and promises of life in the kingdom of heaven.  The signs and wonders are manifestations of God’s power.

A few weeks ago I saw on Facebook that a friend of ours was undergoing a second liver transplant.  Her first was almost twenty years ago and was profound moment in my walk of faith.  Yes, I was serving in ordained ministry at that point; even so, sharing the experience of going through that whole process with the family – and helping the congregation engage with the whole process, including its ups and downs – deepened the foundation of my faith as I watched God move.

Briefly, as I may have told this story before, Juli was the young mother of three daughters.  She had contracted Hepatitis C through a blood transfusion during a surgery as a teenager.  She was on the list for a transplant, but her condition was not severe enough for her to move up to the front of the line.  Her medical team told her that she could by-pass the list if she found her own donor – the remarkable thing being that a live donor could give up 2/3 of their own liver, and it would grow back.  They simply – “simply” in quotes – simply had to find a match.

Juli’s husband was a charismatic guy who had wide-ranging connections.  Word went out through all the networks he had cultivated.  They could not find a match.  Juli’s condition began deteriorating at a more rapid rate and the urgency to find a match grew.  We were part of a Bible study who committed ourselves to pray for her and for a match.  As silly as it sounds, it took a while before someone said, “Should we see if one of us is a match?”  A number of the people in the study were tested and – lo and behold – a match was found.

Michael was a match.  He was all in.  He and Juli went through all the requisite tests. Everything was good.  The whole Bible study traveled the hundred miles from Escondido to Cedar Sinai in Los Angeles to be there when the surgery was taking place. We prayed together.  There was great rejoicing when the news came from the operating theaters: all went well and everything looked good. From the hospital, phone calls went back to Escondido and word was passed by the phone chain throughout the community: God is great!

Signs and wonders.  God’s creation is awesome.  How crazy is it that you can give someone else 2/3 of your liver and it will grow back!  Think how much time, energy, research, and experimentation must have gone into making this discovery – and what kind of weird vision it must have been in the first place to try it!  Consider the deep, deep mystery of creation that is revealed; how marvelous is God’s handiwork!  This is a story I love to tell where I got to see and experience God do something amazing. The gift of knowledge, science, and medical technology – on top of the proximity of Juli and Michael as a match – is almost too marvelous to comprehend.  How awesome is God!

That is one of my stories.  What are your stories?  What are the things you have seen, that you have heard, or that you have experienced?  How are you telling others?  It is such an encouragement to hear those stories.  If you do not tell, no one else will know. We need to know.  Our Great Cloud Of Witnesses project is one way we are trying to help all of you get over the hurdle of sharing your stories.  (It is not the only way…) Telling a story – your story – of where and how you have experienced God’s leading, intervention, and/or presence is a blessing that strengthens the body.

Let me take you back to where we began: Signs and wonders are a blessing as a start to faith; obedience and discipline are essential for maturity.

This gets us to the second part of our text today.

Signs and wonders are amazing and reveal the power of God.  They show us that Kingdom of God has come near and we see glimpses of it in the midst of brokenness. We do not see its fullness -yet.

The first part of our text says that many believed because of the signs.  People responded to what they saw and they believed in Jesus.  The second part of our text today says, “But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because … he himself knew what was in everyone.”  Jesus did not entrust himself to them because he knew what was in their hearts.

It seems like kind of a double-standard, right?  God demands – and commands – that we love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; but He withholds from us?  It would be a double standard if God were like us, or, more accurately, we were like God. We are not.  In short, God is trustworthy in any and all circumstances.  We are not.

People then were like we are today.  We have better technology, but human nature has not changed.  We are – in fact – sinners.  Jesus did not come to leave us just as we are.  He meets us where we are and then redeems, cleanses, and starts us on the way to growing as his disciples.

The truth – if we care to admit it – is that we treat Jesus’ signs and wonders just like any three-year-old who sees a magic trick: “do it again!”  We would like to think we are a little more sophisticated; however, we act just like people in the Bible do.  We ask, “What other sign are you going to show?”  In our day and age, we hear it more often as, “I would believe in God – if …”  We want Jesus to perform for us.  We want Jesus to take requests, to do what we want, to make us happy.  That is why Jesus would not trust himself to us.

If I have told Juli’s story before, you might remember our rejoicing was short-lived. Within a day or two, both Juli and Michael began to develop post-operative complications.  The complications were life threatening.  Suddenly, we went from rejoicing to asking, “Why would God allow this to happen?  Why would God show us this miracle if all He was going to do was to disappoint?”  We did not want them to have complications.  We did not want them to be in any danger at all.  We did not want.  I did not want.

And it was in the come-uppance of recognizing how much I was saying and praying, “I do not want…” that I began to realize why signs and wonders are a blessing as a start to faith; obedience and discipline are essential for maturity.

As an individual, as a Bible study, and as a congregation we had to address the question: Is God good if things do not turn out how we want?

I know some of you are wrestling with this right now – whether it is your health, your family or other relationships, your finances, or your concern about how things are  going in the world around us.  Is God good if the United States does not remain in a privileged position as a super power?  Is God good if the material blessings we enjoy are suddenly taken away?  Is God good if we do not have access to the health care we think we should have (how many of you personally -- or know someone personally  -- have had procedures postponed indefinitely because of COVID)?  We look to the future and we want God to make everything ok – for us.  “Do it again!”  “What other sign will you show us?”

But as I – and we – addressed the question about God’s goodness amidst our uncertain and difficult circumstances, we began to grow deeper and mature in our understanding that our circumstances are not determinative of God’s goodness.  God is good – all the time.  All the time – God is good.  Even in the midst of suffering, God is good.  Even in the midst of hurt, and loss, and pain, God is good.  Even in the midst of uncertainty, injustice, oppression, and or mean people, God is good.

It is at that point we begin to understand what it means to trust God.  It is at the point we give up the notion that God is required to serve us that we begin to mature.  It is at the point we stop insisting on having our own way and follow God’s commands, to obey His call, and to conform ourselves to His will that we find maturity in our walk.  When we realize that we are not the center of the story, when we realize that God is God and we are not, when we realize that we are created and designed to orient ourselves towards God (and not the other way around), then, we begin to grow in faith.

It is one thing to understand obedience conceptually.  It is easy to say, “God is good,” when we are happy.  It is another thing to orient ourselves towards obedience when circumstances are not pleasing or pleasant.  Ultimately, both Juli and Michael recovered.  Before we knew that they would, it took intentional reflection to move us away from “why is this happening to people we love?” and “why is this happening to us?” to “how can we serve faithfully even as we do not understand?”

Communion

Jesus did not trust himself to the people because he knew their hearts.  He did trust himself to God – at all points – because he knew God’s heart.  He was obedient to God’s leading.  What is the difference?  Well, it can be summed up in the words of the great Christ-hymn from Philippians 2:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.

Obedience led Jesus to this Table.  Jesus’ obedience included his instituting this meal for us to “do this in remembrance of me.”  What do we remember?  Jesus was fully divine and fully human; and in his full humanity Jesus yearned to avoid the consequences of sin, “to let this cup pass from me.”

It is one thing to understand obedience conceptually.  It is another thing to orient ourselves towards God when circumstances are not pleasing or pleasant.  For Jesus, it took prayer and intentional reflection to move away from “why is this happening to me?” to “not my will, but Thy will be done.”  He abided by God’s will through the suffering and the cross.  He abided by God’s will through the suffering, the cross, and death; and God was faithful to His promise: death could not hold him.  Three days after being crucified, Jesus rose from the grave.  Philippians 2 continues:

Therefore, God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Friends, signs and wonders are a blessing as a start to faith; but as we are conformed to Jesus, we know that obedience and discipline are essential for maturity.  Our hope is in Jesus – and in him alone.

Amen.

Questions:

1. Where and how have you seen, heard, or experienced God in your life? What was happening and how did it play out?

2.  Is God good all the time? How do you know? How would you explain it to a non-believer who is going through a difficult time?

3.  Have you ever moved from “I want…” or “We want…” to “Thy will be done”? How? How has that impacted your walk of faith?