Andy Stanley - Momma Says

Today we're starting a brand new series entitled Bystander, John and the Rabbi from Nazareth. And for the next few weeks we are gonna journey with John as he journey with Jesus but before we jump into the narrative, before we jump into the narrative in terms of Jesus interacting with people and Jesus' preaching and teaching, we have to begin by addressing attention that the gospel writer John addresses throughout his gospel. Perhaps the two most misunderstood and perhaps the two most misused words in all of religion, but specifically Christianity, are these two words. The words faith and the word believe.

Now for just a second, setting religion and theology aside, setting all religion and theology aside for just a moment, we all know what those two words mean. We know what those words mean at home. We know what those words mean in the marketplace. We know what those words mean in every other area of culture but for some reason they get hijacked when they get dropped into theological context. In the real world where we all work and where we play and where we have friends, we believe based on evidence.

In other words, you make decisions about what you believe or don't believe based on evidence. What you see. What you read. And we also decide what we believe based on our confidence in the person delivering the information. When you were a kid, you were taught that eight times eight equals 64 but I bet none of you went home and lined up eight rows of eight things and went one, two, three, four, five. Why? Because you had confidence in your teacher. So there's a couple of ways that we come to believe things. Evidence. What we see, what we read, what we hear. And based on our confidence in the person that's, you know, telling us whatever the information is.

Now from time to time there's conflicting information, right? You get two different pieces of information and you're not sure what to believe. For example, and this may be the most important question that I ask all day. Is coffee still good for us? Is coffee still good for us? Yes or no? Is it still good for us? Yes, okay. Because I grew up thinking if you have six cups of coffee a day you live six years longer. Then I learned that it was not six, you live six years longer, not six cups. Anyway, then there was all this research that said oh, no, no, no, coffee's bad for you. So I have a cognitive bias. It's where I just decided I'm just not gonna listen to that. I'm only gonna listen to the information, it's called confirmation bias, that you only listen to the information that confirms what you already believe.

So when it comes to coffee, I only pay attention to the research that confirms what I already wanna believe and that coffee's good for us, right? And we all struggle with confirmation bias. But the point is this, all of you, in your real world experience and in the real world, we all know what it means to believe something. We all know what it means to have faith in something. And what we're gonna discover in this series together, Bystander, is that when it comes to those words, they do not, this is so important. In fact, you won't even believe this, some of you. They do not take on special meaning when they are dropped within the context of Christianity. Religious faith, this is what's so strange. Religious faith and belief are often divorced from reason and confused with hope.

We all know what hope is as well. But for some reason, and I don't really know why, when it comes to Christianity or religion in general, when it comes to these words, they kind of take on a life of their own and they get divorced from reason and they become more like hope. Well I hope he shows up. Well did he show up last time, no. Did he show up the time before that? No. But I hope he shows up. And that's hope and it's good to have hope. But hope and belief or hope and confidence are two different things. So unfortunately, when it comes to Christianity, some of you, some of us grew up hearing things like this. Well, you just have to believe. You just have to believe. And if you're from the south, it went like this. You just have to believe, brother. You just gotta believe, brother. You just gotta take it by faith, sister.

Come on. You need to have, and somebody's even told you this, you need to have more faith. Which is kind of a silly thing, in fact, that phrase doesn't even make sense in the real world. Because you either believe something or you don't. I mean, there's a time when you're trying to figure stuff out, but when it comes to Christianity, you know, you just have to take it by faith, sister. John, the gospel writer John, you know what his response to this would be? It would be really? Says who? If you were to ask Peter who followed Jesus, really? Says who? If you were to ask Jesus, is this true? He would say really, where did you get that? You don't find that in the teaching of Jesus. You don't find that in the New Testament. Again, I don't know exactly where it came from. Maybe that doesn't matter. But as we journey with Jesus through the gospel of John, we are gonna discover an entirely different paradigm.

In fact, I love what my friend Frank Turek says, Frank does, he lectures and debates on university campuses all over the place. In fact, he will step into the arena with anyone that'll step into the arena with him. He's debated in several of the new atheists. He's a brilliant guy. And here's what he says. Frank says this. The reason so many people are easily talked out of Christianity is because they were never talked into it in the first place. That the reason students, the reason college graduates, the reason singles, the reason senior adults, it doesn't matter, the reason people are often times and so easily talked out of Christianity, is because they were never talked into it to begin with. They were just told well you just have to believe.

And perhaps, that's what you were told. And you believed. Because you were young enough to just believe the Sunday school teacher or the parent or the grandparent or the pastor who said you just have to believe. And then you grew up. And someone talked you out of it. Because no one had ever talked you into it. You read a book and the author talked you out of it because no one had ever talked you into it. You heard a lecture, you saw a debate, and someone talked you out of it because no one ever took the time to talk you into it.

And John, who wrote the gospel of John, in fact, John has a last name. Did you know John had a last name? Yeah, here's his last name. His name is John Zebedeeson, okay? John Zebedeeson because in the New Testament, I thought that was funny, okay? Thank you. And in the, I'm glad you, anyway, in the New Testament he is introduced to us as John, the son of anybody? Zebedee, yeah. John the son of Zebedee. So in our world we would call him John Zebedeeson. And John Zebedeeson, or John, you finally got it. So exciting. I work so hard on these things. Anyway. Here's what John, son of Zebedee, would tell you. He would tell you I did not follow Jesus because of faith. I did not follow Jesus because of faith. I didn't just take it by faith, brother. I didn't you just have to believe sister.

John did not choose to follow Jesus because of faith and he would caution you against that as well. And if the only reason you're following Jesus is because somebody said you just gotta believe, hey, I've got some good news. There's more to it than that. And I've got some great news, you need to pay attention to what's more to it than that, otherwise somebody may come along and talk you out of something that no one ever took the time to talk you into. As we're about to discover, there is an enormous difference. There is a big, big difference between by faith and because of faith. The Apostle John, as he'd be later known in history, the Apostle John left his father's fishing business to follow Jesus because of what he saw, not because of faith. In fact, he outlived most of his friends.

By the time John dictates, we doubt he wrote this because of the kind of Greek it's in. He dictated this document that would later be called the Gospel of John. By the time he'd done this, the Apostle Paul was dead, the Apostle Peter was dead. Probably all of his friends were dead. He was the last, the lone survivor as it relates to the apostles, the people who followed Jesus, the closest followers of Jesus. And apparently somebody finally got to John and said John, you gotta document this stuff. You're the last guy standing. And we still don't know your story. I mean we have Peter's story, 'cause Martin gave it to us. We have Matthew's story, you know, Luke thoroughly investigated all these things. But John, we've heard you teach. You've gotta document this. You were an eyewitness. You were an ear witness. You need to document this. And so he did.

And again, it came down to us through the tradition called Gospel of John or the good news according to John. But here's the cool thing about the Gospel of John. John was not content, this is so important. John was not content to simply tell us what happened. John tells us why it happened and why he wants us to know it happened. And at the very end of his gospel account, he gives us a purpose statement or a thesis. Remember in college or maybe even high school, you had to write a paper, you had to have a thesis statement or here's the big idea. And on our term papers you had to put it up front. Here's the big idea, here's the thesis. Well John saved his thesis statement or his purpose statement to the very end of the gospel.

So I'm gonna read this to you, this is at the end, then we're gonna go back to the beginning and look and then journey with John with Jesus. But here's the purpose statement. He says hey, if you miss at all of if you're wondering why I wrote this or if you're wondering what the point of this is, here it is. He said this, Jesus, he wrote this. Jesus performed many other signs. And we're gonna come back to that word, so hang onto it. Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples. In other words, this wasn't somewhere where no one saw. Which are not recorded in this book. And this book does not refer to the Bible. This book refers to the document that John was writing.

So John says look, you're about, you've come to my end of my account of the life of Jesus and I've told you a lot of things He said, but He said a lot more. I've explained a lot of things He did, but He did a lot more. But I have chosen these specific things that I refer to as signs and here's why I chose these particular events. You ready for this? Here it is. But these, these signs, these are written and it's a little Greek term, it's called henna, it's a connector. A henna clause means purpose or result. He said the purpose for me writing what I've written is not so simply that you'll know what Jesus did and know what Jesus said, but these are written that you may believe. I want you to believe, but I'm not content saying well just believe, brother. You gotta take it by faith, sister.

He says no, no, no. I want you to journey with me and my experience with Jesus and my hope is that you will experience through my experience, Jesus in such a way that you will be convinced that He is who He claims to be. He's not simply telling us what to believe. He's building a case as to why we should believe it. Because John did not embrace this crazy idea of faith or belief that just kind of hangs out there by itself. But believe what? He's very specific. He said here's what I want you to believe. I want you to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. But he goes beyond that because there's a result to placing your faith in Jesus as your savior. There's a result in understanding that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. And that by believing, by placing your faith in Him, you might have life in His name.

In other words, the sequence that brought John to the point where he believed Jesus was who Jesus claimed to be, the sequence that brought him to faith is the very same sequence he's gonna lay out in his gospel that we know as the gospel of John. And it goes basically like this. He's gonna tell us there were events. And as it turned out, they weren't just random events. They were signs that pointed to something. And those signs pointed to something in such a way that they served as evidence and because of the evidence, because of what I saw, because of what I heard, I decided I believe that Jesus is who He claimed to be. And when I began to believe Jesus was who He claimed to be based on the evidence, the signs and the events, then I place my trust in Him.

And here's why this is so important. John doesn't begin with I place my trust in Jesus and I hoped it would all work out. In fact, throughout his gospel account and Matthew and Mark's and Luke's, what we find with these disciples or the apostles is that they believed, then they disbelieved. And they believed, and then they weren't so sure. Because they weren't easy to convince. They didn't believe in superstition. They were trying to sort this out and in the end, it wasn't faith that moved them. It wasn't faith that convinced them. It was what they saw and it was what they heard. And here's his thinking. If this is good enough for me. I'm hoping it's good enough for you. If this was the sequence that convinced me, I hope it's a sequence that will convince you as well. So what he does in the gospel of John, he's not just giving us random events and random conversations with Jesus. He organizes his entire account around what he calls signs. Seven signs. He organizes the whole thing around these seven signs.

Now, we're gonna look in this series at all seven, but here's something interesting before we jump into the first one. It's interesting that John chooses the term sign rather than the term miracle. And this is so important and this was so easily confused even by modern Christians. The supernatural acts of Jesus, the supernatural events of Jesus, the healings, the walking on water, all those things, the supernatural acts of Jesus were not random acts of kindness and He wasn't just showing off. They weren't just random acts of kindness and He wasn't just showing off. These were signs, and John realized that. These were signs that pointed to something and specifically what they pointed to was Jesus' identity.

Now it's easy to get enamored with the signs and it's easy to get enamored with miracles, especially when you need one, right? But John knew that was a mistake. And throughout his gospel, he makes it clear. Hey, these miracles aren't daily occurrences for the sake of daily occurrences. These miracles have a specific purpose. And their purpose is to point people to the identity of Jesus. So he does his best in this gospel to help us not become enamored with the miraculous, but to become enamored with the person that the miraculous pointed to. Any questions so far? Good, okay. So let's jump in. Sign number one, every single person listening, every single person watching, already knows this one, probably. And the interesting thing is this, this very first sign was so well known, as we're about to discover, that when John tells us the story, he doesn't even tell us the miracle because he assumes everybody reading his gospel already knows about it.

Now why would he assume that? Here's why, this is so important. Because by the time he documented it, it was such a part of the Christian teaching and Christian preaching. It had been such a part of it for so long, he almost doesn't even have to give us the punchline. Christians, by this time, are like oh yeah, you remember the one about? Oh yeah, I remember the one about, right? The first sign is turning water to wine. And this is the only one that rhymes. The first sign is water to wine, it's the only one that rhymes. Okay, so here we go. John chapter two, we're jumping right in. On the third day, a wedding took place in Cana in Galilee way, way, way north of Jerusalem. And Jesus' mother was there. All this detail because these aren't once upon a time fairy tales. These are things that actually occurred.

Now what we find out later in this account is that Mary was a part of the hosting committee for this wedding or perhaps she was part of the group that did the catering. We don't know exactly. But she had a very specific responsibility as we discover as the story goes on. And Jesus, and Jesus and His disciples had also been invited to the wedding. Which means John, who gives this account, was actually there. Now, as you may have heard, wedding celebrations in those days went on for days and days and days. They were very expensive events. And so that's what sets up what happens next and that's why what happened next was such a catastrophe even though it would be a similar catastrophe if something like this happened at your daughter or your son or perhaps at your wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus' mother said to Him, they have no more wine.

So they run out of wine. This would be like running out of dessert or you know, they go back for wedding cake, there's no more wedding cake. Or there's no more punch or there's no more wine. You know, whatever there is going on at your wedding that everybody expected and suddenly there's no more of it. And you're the host. Or you're in charge of catering. Or perhaps you're the mother or the father of the bride or the groom and suddenly it's just, this is a very embarrassing moment. And so this is the part where we all have questions and we don't have answers. She turns to Jesus. She knew that in a crisis, she could call upon or lean into her very resourceful son.

It's like she knew He could do something about that. Which it just makes you so curious. Like what was it like to grow up with Jesus? You know, you didn't run to the grocery store. You just turned to your son and said son, could you, however you do that, get me some of that. I'm just gonna turn around, I won't even look. I don't know, I don't know. But somehow she knew it was okay to turn to Jesus in a crisis and anyway, and so Jesus responds like this, it's a little offensive. He says woman. Do not try that at home. And do not say well, I'm just quoting Jesus. No. Now this is actually the right translation of the word, but we miss what's behind it. It would be more like if He said to his mom, my lady. It's like He's in a formal context and He didn't wanna say mom, you know, or, I can't do that thing women do. Mom, He's not gonna do that.

That was a terrible illustration. Anyway, so He doesn't say mom. So it's like He kind of keeps it formal. Maybe He meant to be funny, my lady. And then He asks this question, this is so cool. He says my lady, or woman, why do you involve me? Jesus replied, my hour has not yet come. Mom, I've come to save the world, not weddings. Okay? This was not how I planned to go public, okay? This wasn't gonna be how I came out to the world, okay, this is not very Messianic, right? This reminded me, when I was studying this week, this reminded me of a situation not too long ago when my mother in law, who's actually here with us today, so you know I'm not making this up, my mother in law called and she asked me to speak at the Christian Women's Club in Dublin, Georgia. We need a speaker, we need you to come speak at the Christian Women's Club in Dublin, Georgia. And my first thought was, well that's not what I do. But I did. Because of who asked, right?

So Mary, I think she just smiles and says whatever. She turns to the servants and she says you just do whatever He tells you and then she just walks off. Because after all, she's the mom, right? She can do this. Now, what's so cool, and this is why John saw this. Because when you read the story you think what kind of sign is that? It's kind of the most random, He didn't heal anybody, didn't really help anybody. Why would John start here and what is the significance of this? And I don't know when it dawned on John. Maybe Jesus, you know, spelled it out later. Maybe John just put two and two together or maybe as an old man, when they said John, you gotta document your time in the life of Jesus and he thought back and he remembered this and maybe as an old man, it dawned on him, oh my goodness, this was the perfect way, this was the perfect way for Jesus to step into His role as Messiah and Savior.

This was the perfect introduction. And even though the wedding guests never knew what happened because they never understood that there was a miracle right there in their midst. But John seemed to know that for us future readers, this was the perfect introduction to the message in the ministry of Jesus. The story goes on and here's when that begins to make sense. Nearby stood six stone water jars. The kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from 20 to 30 gallons. So this was a family who was somewhat wealthy that was hosting this and they were good Jewish men and women and the Jewish law and the first century application of Jewish law demanded that Jews do certain kinds of washings before they do certain things to stay ceremonially clean. You had to wash your hands and sometimes you had to wash to your elbows. There's all kinds of different traditions that told people how to wash.

So these, you can imagine, these are really large stone jars and they're sitting there and they're sitting there empty. But, and here's the significance of this, these are icons. These stone, these stone or clay jars are icons of the covenant and the traditions that Jesus had come to replace. That Jesus decided, this is so brilliant. Jesus decides to go public. I don't know if He decided in the moment or this was all prearranged, but Jesus decides to go public by using something that would soon be replaced to point to what would soon be put in place. That God's temporary, we've talked about this. That God's temporary covenant with the nation of Israel, that God's temporary arrangement with Israel, established at Mount Sinai, was disappearing. It was coming to an end. When it was given, it was perfect. When it was given, it was way, way, way ahead of its time. But it had a timer on it. And that covenant was slowly coming to an end and these jars represented the entire sacrificial system.

And Jesus decides to use this moment to illustrate something that nobody there would understand. It was so under the radar, but it was so significant. God's temporary arrangement was disappearing and something new had come, because someone new was on the scene. The story continues. Jesus, the text says Jesus said to the servants, fill the jars with water because they were empty. So they filled them to the brim. I love what FF Bruce says. FF Bruce died a few years ago. He was a British theologian that wrote commentaries and in his commentary he says this about this particular incident. He said this. He said the water that they poured into these empty vessels, the water provided for purification as laid down by the Jewish law and custom, stands for the whole ancient order of Jewish ceremony, which Christ was to replace with something better.

So there's all this foreshadowing. It was the perfect introduction to his ministry. He says fill up the empty jars. Fill them up with water as they were normally used. And then something's going to happen and they are going to do something they have never done before. The old is passing away. Behold, something new, someone new, has come. Then, the text goes on, then he told them, now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet. Now the master of the banquet was the head waiter, basically, who was responsible for what was served and when it was served and who got served first. The text says that they did so and when the master of the banquet tasted the water, now if you didn't know this story, you didn't know how it ended, you would think oh no, they're taking him what he expects to be wine and he's gonna drink it and it's just gonna be water. But again, John never even tells us a miracle took place because John assumes everybody who's heard this, like do I really need to put this in? I guess I should because it's so significant in terms of the beginning. But everybody knows how this one ends.

So here's how he writes it. They did so and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine, he just assumes everybody knows. Like oh, yeah, we know it turned into wine. He doesn't even state the miracle. But he did not realize, he did not realize where it had come from. The head waiter didn't. Though the servants who had drawn the water, they knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and he said this. He said this is amazing. You've done something very unusual. I've never seen this done before. Everyone usually brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have too much to drink. By the time they're a little drunk, they don't care what it tastes like. So everybody starts with the, you know, the fine wine. Oh, this is so great. By the end of the night, by the end of the week, they don't care, they don't know. He said but you, this is so powerful. But you, but you have saved the best till now. And God had as well. Because the sacrificial system set the stage for the new that was coming just as the original wine set the table for the better wine that was to come later in the wedding feast. In the same way, God, through the nation of Israel, His people, established a covenant that would set up the world to expect one to come after, to fulfill that covenant.

So that when John the Baptist on the banks of the Jordan River says to the people gathered there from all of Judea and all of Jerusalem, thousands of people potentially, behold, the Lamb of God who comes to take away the sin of the world. There was a context that made sense. Every Jewish person there knew exactly what that pointed to. This was the original wine that set up the coming of the new and the better wine. And so Jesus uses this kind of metaphor. He creates an illustration right there at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee to say to the world, even though the world at that time wouldn't understand, something new has come. Something better has come. There was nothing wrong with what came before, but what came before was there to establish what is happening now.

In other words, this was more than a miracle. This was a sign. It pointed to something and somebody but nobody would fully understand it until later. The story wraps up like this. What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first, chapter two, John, he says we're getting this thing started. It was the first of the signs through which He revealed His glory and His disciples, don't miss this part, and His disciples believed in Him. There's a little, there's a little connector word attached to the Greek word for belief. They place their trust in Him. But here's the question. Why did they believe in Him? Because He got them together and said come on guys, believe, come on. Believe, you can do it. Just have faith, sister. Just have faith, brother. Just gotta believe. No. The reason they believed is because there was a reason to believe.

So from the very outset, John and his gospel establishes this paradigm and we're gonna find it throughout. Because never once has anybody asked to believe without there being evidence or without there being confidence in the person who brings the information. After this, the text says, he went down from Capernaum with his mother and brothers. By the way, Mary had many children after Jesus. Went with mother and brothers and His disciples and there they stayed for a few days and so it begins. This is so cool. Now here's the thing. 'Cause I know if you're tracking along, you've gotta have some questions and we all do. And here's the thing. Unlike John, and unlike Peter, but let's just stick with John, unlike John, our faith in Jesus does not come by seeing.

Now you may disagree. You may say Andy, no, no, no. Let me tell you what. I didn't believe in God, I didn't believe Jesus was anybody and then I saw something and now I believe. Well I'm so glad that happened for you. Or you say Andy, I met this couple and they were so fantastic and I realize they had this extraordinary faith and I wanted faith like them. And they sat down with me and that's when I began to believe and I think that's fantastic. Sometimes people come to faith because of something they see. But for most people, we don't come to faith by seeing like John saw. We come to faith by hearing. But we're not asked to just believe. We're not required to take it by faith. We are invited. This is what makes Christianity so significant and so different. We are invited to believe what happened, we're invited to believe what happened based on the testimony of the people who were actually there.

People like John. In fact, John came away from his experience with Jesus and looking back, even though there was blood shed and heartbreak and perhaps the city of Jerusalem had been destroyed and 10s of 1000s of Jews had been carted off and sold in the Roman slave markets. We don't know exactly when he wrote this. But we know that the Apostle Peter was dead, the Apostle Paul was dead. Again, he was probably the last apostle left. And in spite of all that, because of what he saw, not because of what he believed, because of what he'd heard, not simply because he had faith, he arrives at this conclusion that has echoed throughout the generations because he's the one who brought us these famous words.

He said because of what I've seen and because of what I've heard, I'm convinced that God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son. That whoever, wait John, okay John. You mean whoever you know? Whoever, okay John, there's gonna be some horrible things that happen in the future. That whoever places their faith in Him would not be lost to God. Would not perish, but would receive eternal life. Okay, John, how can you say such a thing? He would say because of what I saw, because of my experience with the rabbi of Nazareth. He was convinced, and whether you're convinced or not, this should settle in. This should make you think. That's why he wrote it. He was convinced that the word, the logas, the God, he was convinced that the word became flesh and He said and he made his dwelling among us. And us isn't we us. Us was him and his friends us.

He says I'm just telling you what I saw, I'm telling you what I concluded based on what I heard and saw. That God, don't ask me to explain it. God made His dwelling with us. And we have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son who came from the Father full of grace and truth. And I, I was just a simple fisherman. I was just a bystander. But I thought what happened was so important I wanted to document my experience for you and for future generations. But not simply so that you would know what happened. No, it's way bigger than that. I wrote these things with a specific purpose in mind. These things I have chosen to document, these conversations I've chosen to document, these events I've chosen to document, these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that once you believe that you, like me, might have life in His name.

Before this series is over, we're gonna go through all the seven signs. It's gonna be so much fun, so much narrative, so much conversation, so much new stuff. My prayer is that before this series is over, as we move from sign to sign, my hope is that you would believe and that you would have life in His name as well. But not because you took it by faith. But because you took it from John, an eyewitness to the life and the ministry of Jesus. You have not been required, you have not even been invited to believe and believe. You've not been called to follow Jesus because of faith. It is way, way, way better than that. And if you were talked out of it, because you were never talked into it, don't miss part two of Bystander.
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