Tim Keller at Oxford (5) The First Christian Encounters Jesus

Keller: What we’re doing every night this week is we’re looking at questions that every person has to have a set of working answers for in order to live: Who are we, as human beings? What’s wrong with us, with the world? What, if anything can improve or put us right. So each night we’re looking in the New Testament Gospel of John, and there we’re looking at a series of encounters that Jesus Christ had with individuals.

I have an 18 month old granddaughter and right now she can perceive a lot more than she can express right now, and it’s a grief to her. And, all Christians feel that way. If you can see or feel something of absolute beauty and then you come down off the mountaintop or come away from the sea or wherever you were and you try to convey it verbally to somebody else, it’s very very frustrating. All Christians feel like that. I’m no different. So, in a way, in trying to convey what christianity’s answers to questions has been something of a grief to me. So, let’s conclude this way: You can’t look at christianity’s answers to the big questions unless you deal with the issue of faith. And we all know, that the answers that christianity gives about Christ and about the cross and about everything else are only operable in your life if you have faith. But, what in the world is that? There’s a lot of confusion- what does christian faith mean? Let’s take a look at the last of the encounters of Jesus Christ with individuals, that we’ve been looking at all week in the Gospel of John. I am going to read this encounter with Mary Magdalene.

In this night we’re going to take a look at this question: What is faith?

John 20 – 1-10 (Part 1) 11-18 (Part 2) The first part tells us that christian faith is impossible and rational (verses 1-10). The second part tells us that christian faith is graceful, existential and individual. I think this will be the most practical of all the talks.

Christian faith is impossible

Part 1 – Now, when I say faith is impossible, it’s a bit of an overstatement. I am not saying it’s impossible to have christian faith. What I am saying is that it’s impossible for you or me to produce it without outside intervention and help. Mary goes to the tomb, sees the stone rolled away, runs back to Peter and John and says, „They’ve taken the body”. Now, Jesus Christ has been saying to his disciples over and over again, „I’m gonna die and rise again on the third day.” He has said it so often (throughout the Gospels), that the enemies of christianity had put a guard to the tomb (Matthew).  So, why in the world, when Mary actually saw the stone rolled away why didn’t she just actually say, „Could it be? Maybe?” She didn’t even think about it. It didn’t even occur to her. She runs back, „They stole it (the body)”.

For a minute I’m going to put aside why first century Jews would have been that absolutely convinced that at the resurrection of Jesus He could not rise from the dead.

Nobody – NATURALLY- can believe… there is an allergy to belief in God or an inability in us. Some of you know there’s different theological traditions  inside christianity that has somewhat different views on to what degree we have an ability to respond to God. But, all of them agree that we just can’t produce faith without help from outside.

Do you really think you’re objective in looking at a book like the Bible, or looking at a message like the Gospel? Because if it’s true, you would lose control of how you would live your life. When people say, „I’m completely objective, I’m looking at the evidence and I just don’t see the evidence”, surely you know that you have a deep layer of prejudice and if you’re not going to acknowledge it, you’re never going to get close to objectivity, never.

When you come to christianity to say, „Is it right or wrong?”, you have a vested interest in it being „wrong”. But, you can’t recuse yourself (as a judge would when ruling on a case) so here’s what I suggest- three things. Mary only believes because of help form the outside. John and Peter only believe because they have help form the outside. They do not have the ability to believe. So here’s what I would suggest:

  1. First of all, please doubt your doubts. Please look at your doubt and realize that you do have a sort of emotional, psychological force underneath them. You’re afraid of it being true. You’ll never be fair minded  if yo don’t see that.
  2. Some of you may be overconfident that you are objective and somehow the evidence just isn’t enough for you.  Why don’t you consider praying? Why don’t you consider praying, „Lord God, I don’t know if you’re there, but, if you are please help me think this through”. Break the ice. If you’re not willing to do that, you’re not willing to see your prejudice.
  3. But, a lot of you are actually too anxious. The Bible says that you can’t believe without help from the outside. Without God helping you, without Jesus coming to yo hand saying to you, like He speaks to Mary. In all her consternation- she’s running around and she doesn’t see Jesus. Just please keep this in mind: If you want to believe, if you find yourself desiring to believe, if you find yourself very interested in christianity but you’re afraid somehow that you’re not gonna be able to come into faith. About 5 of you came to me this week and said you were interested but you weren’t sure you would get it right or that your motives were right in pursuing chrsitianity. A sense of Christ’s absence may be a sign of His presence. Because I don’t think you’re capable of wanting to believe without Him giving you some help. So if you wanna believe, instead of being afraid that He’s not around, look at that as maybe a sign that He might be right there at your elbow, just like with Mary. Mary’s in tears, she doesn’t even realize that He’s talking to her. You might be in that situation. You might feel like everything’s falling apart and you kind of want something, but I don’t know, He may already be working in your life. So faith by yourself is impossible. But, obviously not impossible to have, just to produce on your own.

Christian faith is rational

What I mean by rational: There’s evidence. Let’s take a look at why Mary and John and Peter aren’t there. If you don’t know anything about first century culture, first century history, it doesn’t make much sense that Jesus said, „I’m gonna rise the third day”. And when you get to the third day, the disciples are not there waiting to see. And, even when Mary Magdalene sees, she runs away assured that there’s been no resurrection.

The reason… it’s kind of incredible to us when you read it not knowing anything about the text. But, when you read a book, like I did by N T Wright giving the exhaustive account of the historic evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (Keller says it’s the best book on the resurrection written in the last 100 years). In it he shows that Jews and Greeks and Romans would never believe that an individual could be resurrected from the dead. Greeks believed the body was bad. So the idea of the resurrection of the body, who wants that? The whole idea of salvation is liberation from the body.

Some of the Jews, like the SAdducees didn’t believe in any resurrection and Pharisees believed in a general resurrection at the end of time. Nobody believed that he could rise from the dead here. And certainly the Jews were the last people who could believe that a human being could be the Son of God. They’ve been taught their whole lives that God cannot be human. They have this transcendent view of God. You put all that together, you’ll see why first century Jews were every bit as closed to the idea of resurrection of Jesus Christ, for a different reason.

The average person, here at Oxford, thinks the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is crazy. Why? Because your post enlightenment naturalism. The idea that there aren’t any such things as miracles. That everything has a scientific explanation, so on. So we’re closed to it. But, they were closed to it. Everybody’s closed to it for different reasons. If that’s true, imagine what evidence you would have to get if you were to absolutely believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ.

What kind of evidence would you have to have to break through your absolute ironclad doubts? You have this world view that insists it couldn’t have happened. WHat kind of evidence would have to happen to you so it would have to shatter and you would believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God and was resurrected from the dead?  Whatever that evidence is that you are imagining right now, they must have had something like it. You see? They must have gotten the same kind of evidence. Because they were as closed to it as you were. And, if that’s the case, that evidence might be enough to you.

What’s the evidence? One piece is right here. WHo is this eyewitness? The Gospel writer tells us that an eyewitness to the resurrection was Mary Magdalene, a woman. And, what all historians will tell you is this- In those patriarchal times, women were not trusted, and therefore, women could not give testimony, either in Jewish or Roman courts. Therefore, if you were making up an account of the resurrection, you would never in a million years make a woman the first witness. And actually, in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the first witnesses of the resurrection are all women. And, the only historically plausible answer to why women are in the account, the only reason why men who wrote the accounts would put women in is because it must have happened. She must have been there. She must have claimed to see Jesus Christ. So, there’s a lot of action for the resurrection. Actually you can even see it with Peter as he is looking in the tomb and wondering if the grave clothes were still there, then…

Faith is not only rational. You NEVER GET ALL THE WAY INTO FAITH THROUGH REASON. Faith is an act of a whole person and you’ve got to have a convinced mind. You obviously cannot get all the way to faith because reason is not the same as faith. Obviously, faith goes beyond reason, but it’s not quite the same as reason.

We live in a time when people say over and over again, „There’s really no objective truth. If you wanna believe in christianity, if you wanna believe in whatever faith you want… if it’s relevant for you, if it’s satisfying to you, don’t worry about whether or not it happened. If it’s relevant for you , you can believe it”. Hitler believed something that was relevant for him. And we all think he was wrong. Why? Because we all do know down deep that there is such a thing as truth and there is such a thing as a standard. Christianity will never say: Believe me only because it’s relevant. Christianity basically says: Don’t believe christianity because it’s exciting, practical and relevant; believe it because it’s true. Because if it’s not true it won’t be practical at all then.  You’re never gonna be able to face the suffering that’s ahead of you, o young people, if you don’t in the end believe Christianity’s relevant and exciting (which it is), BT IT’S TRUE.

Christian faith is ‘gracefull’

Part 2John 20:11-18 Christian faith is gracefull with 2 l’s. Here’s a point that is all through the New Testament, but we’re seeing it in narrative form here. Before I show it to you in narrative form let me tell you what the point is. At the very essence of what it means to not just have faith in general, but life transforming, Jesus encountering saving faith in particular is when you learn the difference between salvation by grace through Jesus Christ is done, rather than by salvation and working very, very hard, and all your moral efforts to earn your place with God.  Those are 2 absolutely different paradigms. They’re actually two different faiths.

To put it like this. Traditional religion says: I obey God, therefore I get accepted and saved and blessed. But the Gospel of Jesus Christ says: I’m accepted by God by what Jesus Christ has done on the cross for me, therefore I obey. If I’m obeying, hoping somehow God will bless me and answer my prayers and take me to heaven, if I’m obeying only to be accepted, I’m always afraid, insecure and operating out of fear. And, of course if I am doing it, I’m living like I should, your identity rests not in God, it rests in yourself, in your own ability. If you get your identity out of being a hard working person, you will have to look down your nose on people. If you get your identity out of being a good, moral person who obeys the moral law, you will have to look down on people who you think are immoral.

But, if you obey because you’re already accepted, you’re doing all the things you’re doing out of joy and gratitude and you’re humbled because you now… even though God loves you freely, it’s nothing you earn. So, you look at people who are not living like they should and you cannot feel superior to them. So, you have 2 people. One trusting in their moral efforts. One trusting in Jesus. And even though on the surface they may look like they’re living the same kind of life, in the end, it produces 2 completely different sets of character. You will have self righteousness and bigotry vs. humility and graciousness. It will affect people around you in such different ways. And the essence of becoming a christian is to transfer the trust you have in your own ability, in your own efforts, onto what Jesus Christ has done.

How does this get across in this narrative? Mary goes to the tomb, she looks around, she finally sees Jesus. She says: Teacher!”Mary”, He says. At that moment, especially when He tells her to go tell the world what’s happening, in some sense, she’s the first christian. Do you know why she’s the first christian? What’s a christian? A christian is someone that knows Jesus is risen from the dead, has had an encounter with the risen Christ. For one moment, in a sense, she’s the first christian who is going to the world to tell them, „Do you know what He’s done?”

Who’s Mary Magdalene? We don’t know much about her, we do know she’s been a demon possessed person and demons were cast out of her. Jesus Christ chose a woman, not a man. He chose a reformed mental patient, not a pillar of the community. He chose a layperson, not one of the apostles. What’s He doing? How much clearer can He be to say, „My salvation is not based on breeding, on pedigree. I’m not really your teacher, I’m your Savior. I’ve come not to call the strong but those who are weak. I’m here to save you, not by your work, but by my work. The minute you understand that, the penny drops and the change happens.

The First Christian Encounters Jesus

Uploaded by  on Feb 13, 2012

Tim Keller speaks on the Saturday evening of „This is Jesus”, OICCU’s 2012 main event.

3 comentarii (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: “Don’t act so surprised at all this.” ~~Jesus « Michael Wilson's Blog
  2. Apple
    sept. 17, 2012 @ 16:19:32

    Thirst missions is an incredible organization.We love and admire the people at Thirst Missions.

  3. Trackback: "Don’t act so surprised at all this." ~~Jesus | Quotes, thoughts and musings
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