Listen to Him
A few years ago Allison, Camden, and I were seated at the kitchen table on Sunday afternoon. We had recently returned home from church and we were eating lunch like we did every week. As we ate, we debriefed from our morning at church.
“What did you do in Sunday school and children’s church,” we would ask Camden. “What was the best part of your morning?” “Did anything exciting happen?”
This routine is something we continue to this day, mostly because of what I am about to tell you.
On this particular Sunday, Camden had learned about Noah’s ark in Sunday school. Depending on how you tell the story, Noah’s ark can go one of two ways: animals and rainbows or devastating flooding and death. I know, a great story for our kids, right? Camden told us about the rain and rainbow, and the birds carrying a tree branch. I thought for a three-year-old, this is pretty impressive. I thought to myself, “he obviously gets it from me." After Allison brought me back to reality I asked, “Camden, who was on the boat?”
Camden looked at me for a moment, obviously annoyed that I would ask such a foolish question. So I asked him again “Camden, who was on the boat?” Still, the only response I received was the annoyed expression on his face mixed with a chocolate milk mustache.
“OK buddy,” I said,” I will get you started. Noah?” I said.
“Animals?” I prompted him.
Camden continued to look at me as though I had no idea what I was talking about. After he put his grilled cheese sandwich on his plate he took a sip of his chocolate milk, looked at me, and said, “G-d.” Then he went back to eating his sandwich.
“G-d, what?” I replied.
Looking up from his sandwich, he calmly said, “G-d was on the boat.”
“What about Noah and his family, and the animals, they were all on the boat,” I anxiously insisted.
“Teer,” he said (that’s what he calls me when he is annoyed with me), “G-d was on the boat.”
This week we are finishing up our “Living” sermon series. In the early church, the season of Easter was used to focus on learning Christian doctrine as new converts joined Christian communities. The goal was to discover what it meant to live as a follower of Christ. Here at Mount Olivet, we have been using the Gospel of John to consider what it means to believe and follow Jesus - living our lives with Christ as our example.
Today, we consider what it means to listen to Jesus.
“How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” (John 10:24)
The first part of this two-part question tells us this is not the first time Jesus had been presented with this question. During the Festival of Booths, John, chapter 7, a similar line of questioning had been put before Jesus.
Who is this guy?
Who is he and how does he know so much - or think he knows so much about the law - considering “ he has never been taught?” (John 7:15)
In a typical manner when asked a straightforward question, Jesus answers with anything but a straightforward response.
“If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” (John 10:24)
“Yes or no Jesus, are you the Messiah?”
“Yes” or “no” were the appropriate responses many of us would like or expect to hear when we present Jesus with similar lines of questioning today.
Jesus responded, “I have told you, and you do not believe.” (John 10:25)
Jesus, in his mind, had made it plain and simple but the ones doing the questioning did not see it that way, as their questions had not been satisfied with his response.
To be fair, up to this point in his ministry, Jesus had only been 100% upfront and transparent with one person about his identity - a Samaritan woman sitting next to a well. Not knowing his identity, the Samaritan woman told Jesus she knew “that the Messiah is coming” and to this, his response was crystal clear, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” (John 4:26)
The religious leaders were right, up to this point, Jesus had not plainly told them who he was. And, it is not likely the religious leaders consulted the random Samaritan woman during their inquiry process. But what had Jesus done up to this point that they would have known about?
This group of religious leaders would have, at the very least, known about some of the healings performed by Jesus. The gospel writer tells us the healing of the blind man (John 9), just a chapter earlier, was investigated by the religious leaders. They had some idea of who Jesus was. They knew he called himself “the Good Shepherd.”
There was a specific answer the religious leaders needed to hear. Jesus had two options and until one of those words were said, the inquiring religious leaders would not be satisfied.
Jesus’ audience had obviously not been paying attention. The religious leaders were not listening to what Jesus had been doing as he moved through the region, healing people, forgiving their sins, and inviting them to rejoin the religious life of the community. Instead, the religious leaders were waiting to hear Jesus say “no” so they could dismiss and mock him, or “yes” so they could charge him with blasphemy and have him arrested.
Often we approach Jesus like these first-century religious leaders. We approach Jesus with a question but need him to answer our question in a way that suits our needs. We try to make his answer more about us and less about him.
Who are you?
Where are you in my life?
Why haven’t you fixed _____ yet?
What should I do?
This is the same thing I did to Camden during the kitchen table, Sunday school inquisition. We ask questions with predetermined answers in our minds and when the answer from the responding party does not fit our expectations or needs, we keep asking. We keep asking because we need empirical truths, we think to produce faith.
If I just know enough, if I can just attain enough knowledge, I will believe.
Our quest for knowledge via empirical truths has made the Church a place where questions and doubts are no longer welcomed. We make it seem as though we have all the answers when in reality, we have barely scratched the surface.
The problem, like the religious leaders, we cannot come to faith through knowledge and empirical truths. Every time we approach faith in this manner we come up short because the answer given by Jesus does not fit in our empirical truth box.
Our faith in the messiahship of Christ, what we believe to be true about who Jesus is and what Jesus is doing today, is only possible through G-d’s faithfulness. Jesus told the religious leaders, “the works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me.” (John 10:25) Everything Jesus did connected him intimately to the One who sent him. They, Jesus and G-d his Father, our Creator, are one.
The faithfulness of the One who sent Jesus is just as assured as the faithfulness of the One who overcame the power of death. The faithfulness of Christ reveals the faithfulness of G-d.
Listen to him. We are not separated from G-d because of our sin. We find eternal life not because of our attempts at faithful living or to prove the Messiahship of Christ. We have been saved because Jesus was faithful and continues to be faithful, even when we approach him with questions to which we think we already know the answers.