Sunday, February 23, 2020

Arguments for the Existence of God - Argument 2, The Moral Argument


Most of us have had that wonderful experience when a child asks the question “why?” And I use that as sarcastically as I can. 
I can’t count the times when one of my children smacked the other, and asked why to me telling them it was wrong. It’s one of the most frustrating things that children do in my opinion. They do something wrong, I then tell them that it’s wrong, and now I have to explain the moral complexity of a subject to someone who won’t understand it, and has already lost interest and moved on. Now here I am, frustrated even more so and they’re fine with the world. It can be really frustrating to explain why something is right or wrong to a child, because it gets to the very depth of who we are as people, and if we haven’t understood why something is right or wrong, how then can we communicate it to a child in a way that makes sense to them?
I think that’s why Jesus spoke these words, “Love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31a).”

Because the simplicity  of that statement can be understood by both child and adult.
But it’s this question of why should I do good and not evil, that brings us to where we’re at today, where we’ll be talking about our second argument for the existence of God called the Moral Argument. 
Last week we started a new series where we were talking about some arguments for the existence of God. The first argument we covered was called the Fine Tuning Argument. This argument looks at the universe around us, and notices the complexity and the “just right” physics that leads to habitable. This astounding reality, that we live in a universe that can support life, lead’s us to the conclusion that a supreme intellect or god, is the one behind it all. But as the MIT professor, Alex Bryne questioned, who then is this god? It’s at that question that  we showed that the God of the Bible claims this creative role.

Today, we are going to turn ourselves to another argument, that instead of looking to the universe for proving God, we are going to look to ourselves. In fact, many people say, look to yourselves for answers, well, we’re going to do just that.
This argument, called the Moral argument, asks the simple question how do we have morality? Now, as soon as we bring this up, I have had atheists say to me, “I am just as moral as you are.” And you know what, they’re probably right. In fact, they’re probably, humanly speaking, better people than I am. But when we’re talking about the Moral argument, we’re not talking don’t start with the actions of morality, but rather, where does morality come from.
See when we tend to talk about morality, we instantly jump to discussing what is moral. Is murder right or wrong? Is abortion right or wrong? Is lying when you need food right or wrong?
But that’s not where the moral argument begins. We can have a moral frame work that we point to that tells us right from wrong. This is what is called moral ontology. But that’s not where we’re starting; instead we start by asking how do we come by that frame work. Where did our basis for right and wrong come from? What seeds were planted in our lives that grew into what we now judge good and evil by? This is what’s called moral epistemology.
On his website called commonssenseatheism.com, atheist Luke Muehlhauser recounts a Q&A session where a young Christian woman asked him, “Without God, how can you have any morality?” He goes on to say, “The mostly skeptical audience laughed, as if it was a stupid question. Geez, not that again. Well, it’s not a stupid question. Is a very good, important, difficult question (http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=8859).”
Muelhauser recognizes, as do many other atheists, that this question of what is the grounding of morality is an important and difficult question to deal with. 
Why is that? For us as Christians we have a very simple explanation, morality is grounded in the person of God. God is good. We understand this through passages such as, Psalm 25:8, “Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.”

Or in Jesus’ response to the rich young ruler in Mark 10:18, “‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good—except God alone.’”

Or in James 1:17, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

For the Christian, morality is based in Who the eternal person of God is, not based on who we are, or the state of the world. 

But without God as a basis for morality where then is the basis? Let me share with you what several atheists who tell us what becomes the moral foundation without God. 

David Silverman in his debate with a Christian name Frank Turek said, “There is no objective moral standard. We are responsible for our own actions….The hard answer is it [moral decisions] is a matter of opinion…” (Debate with Frank Turek: Which offers a better explanation for reality-Theism or Atheism?

In his book called Secularisms Ongoing Debt to Christianity, atheist John Steinrucken wrote, “Those who doubt the effect of religion on morality should seriously ask the question: Just what are the immutable moral laws of secularism? Be prepared to answer, if you are honest, that such laws simply do not exist!” (Steinrucken, J. 2010. Secularisms Ongoing Debt to Christianity.)

Finally, Julian Bagginin said in his book, Atheism: A Very Short Introduction wrote, “If there is no single moral authority [i.e. if there is no God, then] we have to in some sense ‘create’ values for ourselves… that means that moral claims are not true or false in the same way as factual claims are… moral claims are judgments [that] it is always possible for someone to disagree with… without saying something that is factually false… you may disagree with me but you cannot say I have made a factual error…” (Baggini, J. 2003. Atheism: A Very Short Introduction. p. 41-51.)

In other words, you and I, humanity itself, becomes the foundation of morality in the world. We have to decide what is good and what is not. If there’s no transcendent, no objective, no universal law of morality that is founded on a God who created us, then humanity must make it’s way on it’s own. We have to create and build the foundation through our own know how.

This is the beginning of the argument for morality. It has, at it’s base, only two options: either morality comes from a transcendent being who created us, or it comes from ourselves. Now I have heard people, when we come to this point in the argument, go in one of two directions. The first is a kind of giving up of our own ability to create morals, giving it over to evolution instead. This usually has the idea of, “Well over the millennia, our morality has evolved to where it is today.”
Buy to that, hear what another atheist’ssays. Richard Dawkins, known as one of the four horseman of the new atheists, said in his book The Selfish Gene, “Much as we might wish to believe otherwise, universal love, and the welfare of the species as a whole are concepts which simply do not make evolutionary sense (ch. 1).” In fact the premise of the book is that evolution creates in us a self-centeredness of survival, giving only an appearance to morality. When in reality, we are merely looking out for ourselves which can’t be construed as being moral.
It is at this conclusion that the other direction of creating morality comes up. People might say, “Well isn’t it obvious that certain things are right, and certain things are wrong?” or, “Morals are based on what helps society.” But this falls flat.
In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis says this, “If we ask, 'Why ought I be unselfish?’ And you reply, ‘Because it is good for society.’ We may then ask, ‘Why should I care what is good for society except when it happens to pay me personally?’ And then you’ll have to say, ‘Because you ought to be unselfish!’ Which simply brings us back to where we started. You are saying what is true, but you are not getting any further (ch. 3).”

See the problem that we have, is that the conversation always come back to the things we know we should do or do not. Back to is something good or evil. We know that we shouldn’t be selfish, but we are. We know that gossip hurts, yet we do it. We know that lying causes problems, but we continue in it. We know a lot of things we ought to do, by why should be do them?
This past week, I had a short conversation with one of our teens. He asked me about communism, the rejection of God within it, and how that affects a society. I told him that from a purely practical application of atheistic communism that we’ve seen in the 20th century, without the moral guidance of a transcendent God, the ones who have the power always do whatever they want over those who do not have power.
Now listen to what I am not saying. I am not saying that atheists can’t live moral lives. That they can’t have a moral frame work by which to live by. But what I am saying is that without God, morals fall back on us. We need to now create a reason for our moral frame work that others will also live by. But the reality is, we cannot hope to create a reason for others to follow the morals we have chosen.
It seems like this is understood across the world. In an August 2017 study, published in the journal on Natural Human Behavior, across the board people viewed those who held to an atheistic worldview as being more likely to be morality ambiguous at best. Even other atheists look at their own as being less moral than those in the religious communities (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-017-0151.epdf?referrer_access_token=SWI9fjHQkPTtOzDAPBvoW9RgN0jAjWel9jnR3ZoTv0MvTeF8lVJoWgIcOyeV6d3DbGiEl38dQASp7rKWPymhsAq-rKYTAcyjLWuDrJtvLgWsPs2KhMfbX9Lcy4OVzBo5YzlNW7dnfCdmfZ6DHZvbS7b0LodhIj98O37lvCBjOv6d-Cp5PP-pQczQZ5A2QcXN&tracking_referrer=www.bbc.com). Now is that true? Maybe, maybe not. But when the transcendent foundation of mortality, which is God, is taken out of the equation, and we only rely on ourselves as moral arbiters, then others tend to look upon that as not having steadfast morality. Because morality of one person, is self focused on what is good for them at the expense of another.
But if we base our morality on a transcendent being, that calls himself good, and then proceeds to tell us what good and evil are, we have a foundation of morality that is beyond ourselves. That’s beyond our own self-centeredness, and that is actually looking out for the whole of humanity. 
This brings Jesus’ simile of the wise man and the foolish man into view. In Matthew 7 verses 24-27 Jesus says, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

When we build morality on God who creates us in a universe that can be inhabited, we then have a solid foundation on which to build all of society. But when that foundation is based on ever shifting humans on the other hand, that foundation will crumble. We’ve seen this in practice in the atheistic focused governments of the 20th century.
It is on this very idea that just the fact that we have morality in the first place, is an argument for the existence of God. Richard Dawkins had a discussion with fellow scientist named Francis Collins, and moderated by Time International in November of 2006 said this. “The moral law is a reason to think of God as plausible - not just a God who sets the universe in motion but a God who cares about humans beings, because we seem uniquely amongst creatures on the planet to have this far-developed sense of morality.”

The fact that we have morality makes the existence of God plausible, because there is no other reason for it.
And this God of the Bible, who calls himself good, calls us into that goodness. The Psalmist wrote of experiencing God’s goodness in Psalm 34, starting in verse 8, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. 9 Fear the Lord, you his holy people, for those who fear him lack nothing. 10 The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. 11 Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. 12 Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, 13 keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies. 14 Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. 15 The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry; 16 but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to blot out their name from the earth.”

When speaking on morality, God is the best answer to the question, “where does it come from?” He is beyond our universe, and places within us the a compass that forces us to wrestle with what is good and what is evil. If we move beyond him, we become gods unto ourselves, creating morality as we go. And in fact, if we look in the opening pages of the Bible, We see in the third chapter of Genesis, that this is exactly what the serpent says to Eve, “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil (v.5).”

But in reality, we do not know good and evil, we merely stumble trying to redefine what had already been given to us.

This week I want to challenge you to continue to study the moral argument, there’s a lot on the subject, because all we’ve done today is talk about it’s foundation. But as you do, seek God asking him to experience his goodness. To have sin dealt with in your life, and understand the exuberance that comes from living in relationship with a good God, who cares for us. Let us be the people called by God into a good relationship with our Creator. Amen.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Arguments for the Existence of God - Argument 1, The Fine Tuning Argument


One of the accusations that I hear lobbed at Christians a lot, is that there are no arguments for the existence of God. This is usually followed by the accusation that Christians just believe on blind faith. 
And there are times, when we Christians take these accusations and internalize them. We start saying things like, you just have to take it by faith. 
But the Bible never calls us to a blind faith. The Greek word for faith is pistis (pis’-tis), and instead of meaning blindly accepting something someone gives you, it actually has the understanding of trust, based on experience. In fact, the first time the word is used in the Gospel of Matthew, it is in connection with experiencing God’s provision and then lacking in faith or trust, towards his future provision (Matthew 6:30). In fact when Jesus is asked by John the Baptist’s disciples if he is truly the Messiah, Jesus points to the proof of people being healed, demons being exorcised, and the gospel being preached.

Because if God is true, then there should be logical reasons for his existence. Instead of stepping back from the accusations of blind faith, we should be able to stand firm in our trust of God, and present sound arguments for God’s existence. 
So, in the next several weeks we are going to look at arguments that we can use, to not only strengthen our own faith, but also present the logical reasons for God’s existence. And we’re going to approach this, as best we can, by using Scripture, and atheist to show just how logical God is.

And it all starts with what we find in passages like Psalm 19, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. 3 They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them.Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world (1-4).”

The Apostle Paul says it like this in Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

So, for our first argument, let’s look at creation. This argument is called the Fine Tuning Argument. In short, the Fine Tuning Argument goes like this, “…the fact that the universe is able to support life depends delicately on various of its fundamental characteristics, notably on the form of the laws of nature, on the values of some constants of nature, and on aspects of the universe’s conditions in its very early stages (https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/fine-tuning/).”  In other words, our universe is too perfect for life, to be an accident.

The Bible puts it this way in Isaiah 45, verses 12 and 18, “12 It is I (the Lord) who made the earth and created mankind on it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts…18 For this is what the Lord says—he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited…”

In his 1988 book, A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking wrote, “It would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way, except as act of a God who intended to create beings like us….In fact, if one considers the possible constants and laws that could have emerged, the odds against a universe that has produced life like ours are immense (http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/Nave-html/Faithpathh/hawking.html).”

In an article for the publication the New Scientist, Marcus Chown wrote, “IT HAS been called the Goldilocks paradox. If the strong nuclear force which glues atomic nuclei together were only a few per cent stronger than it is, stars like the sun would exhaust their hydrogen fuel in less than a second. Our sun would have exploded long ago and there would be no life on Earth. If the weak nuclear force were a few per cent weaker, the heavy elements that make up most of our world wouldn’t be here, and neither would you.
If gravity were a little weaker than it is, it would never have been able to crush the core of the sun sufficiently to ignite the nuclear reactions that create sunlight; a little stronger and, again, the sun would have burned all of its fuel billions of years ago. Once again, we could never have arisen.
Such instances of the fine-tuning of the laws of physics seem to abound. Many of the essential parameters of nature – the strengths of fundamental forces and the masses of fundamental particles – seem fixed at values that are “just right” for life to emerge. A whisker either way and we would not be here. It is as if the universe was made for us

In a youtube video, a naturalist by the name of Fraser Cain said, “I’ve got to say, you are one of the luckiest people I’ve ever met. For starters, you are the descendant of an incomprehensible number of lifeforms who were successful, and survived long enough to find a partner, procreate, and have an offspring. Billions of years, and you are the result of an unbroken chain of success, surviving through global catastrophe after catastrophe. Nice going.
Not only that, but your lineage happened to be born on a planet, which was in just the right location around just the right kind of star. Not too hot, not too cold, just the right temperature where liquid water, and whatever else was necessary for life to get going. Again, I like your lucky streak.
Yup, you are pretty lucky to call this place home.
In fact, you happened to be born into a Universe that has the right physical constants, like the force of gravity or the binding force of atoms, so that stars, planets and even the chemistry of life could happen at all. But there’s another lottery you won, and you probably didn’t even know about it. You happened to be born on an unassuming, mostly harmless planet orbiting a G-type main sequence star in the habitable zone of the Milky Way. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hcTDFUDWCp8)

These are atheist and naturalist people, speaking to the incomprehensible reality, that our universe appears to be perfect for life. Meaning, without the laws of physics work the way they do, or something else just a hair off, none of this would be possible.

Now, the question becomes what does it mean that the universe is fine tuned?

Well, from the an article by Robert Roy Britt for the website Live Science, we’re going to look at five, of what he calls “lucky facts” of earth (https://www.livescience.com/21546-earth-facts.html).

Fact 1: The earth is in the habitable zone of the solar system. If we were Venus, we would be to close to the Sun and therefore be to hot. Things like water, the basis for all life, would boil. If we were Mars, we would be too cold, and our water would be ice. But being right where we are, we have liquid water, a requirement for life. But not only are we in a habitable area of our solar system, our solar system itself is in a habitable region of our galaxy. We’re far away from the middle of the galaxy where there’s a lot of radiation, o no life. We’re away form the chaos of the arms of the galaxy, where things are like an L.A. freeway. And we’re away from the outer edges of the galaxy, where the gravity is less stable, and we could fly off into the unknown.

Fact 2: We have a natural orbiting satellite called the Moon. Firstly, it helps create tides on Earth. The Tidal Zone, contains sea life, that are eatable for us. Tides also are a way that the oceans cleans itself, making it possible for life to continue in them without becoming stale. Not only does it create tides, but the Moon also protects us from incoming asteroids that could cause devastation to the earth. 

Fact 3: Our earth is pretty stable as planets go. With the Sun coming up and going down at regular intervals. If it wasn’t, the earth would be scorched by the Sun’s heat on one side and frozen on the other. We also have temperate zones on the earth. Though life can survive in extremes, with microbes being found even in volcanic areas, most life thrives in moderate areas. Areas that are above freeing temperatures, and below sweltering ones. Many people in Quartzsite in the winter are a realization of this very fact. That being out the cold is better for you. This in turn gives rise to plants, who clean the carbon dioxide from the planet and replace it with oxygen. This also allows us to have a variety of crops and seasons.

Fact 4: There’s this thing called constant gravity. And in reality, science doesn’t completely understand how it works. We know the effects of gravity, and how more mass means more of it, but why? In fact, I remember hearing one atheistic scientist come up with the idea that we’re seeping gravity from another reality. But one things for certain, anymore of it and there would be nothing here, because the whole of the universe would collapse into itself Any less, and our planet couldn’t stay in it’s habitable zone.

Finally, Fact 5: Like in Star Trek, the Earth has a shield. The Earth has a protective magnetic field, that keeps out cosmic rays from scorching us, and solar storms from devastating us.

Those are just five “lucky facts” about the fine tuning of the universe. There’s more, but I think we’ve presented a good basis. Without any one of these things, life cannot occur. And the natural question that follows this apparent fine tuning of the universe is why then is it like this?

In a Q&A session, MIT Professor, Alex Byrne, says that the best explanation to the fine tuning argument is a god (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yQHmaim6EWg). But at that explanation Byrne becomes uncomfortable, because now he has to ask the next logical question, who is this god? 
And it’s easier to take the course of people like ASU Professor Paul Davies who wrote in an article entitled, “Yes the universe looks like a fix. But that doesn’t mean that a god fixed it.” Where he starts off the article with, “Scientists are slowly waking up to an inconvenient truth - the universe looks suspiciously like a fix. The issue concerns the very laws of nature themselves. For 40 years, physicists and cosmologists have been quietly collecting examples of all too convenient "coincidences" and special features in the underlying laws of the universe that seem to be necessary in order for life, and hence conscious beings, to exist. Change any one of them and the consequences would be lethal. Fred Hoyle, the distinguished cosmologist, once said it was as if ‘a super- intellect has monkeyed with physics’.” 
But when Davies ends his article, instead of concluding that there really is a super-intellect monkeying with physics, instead he concludes, “Thus, three centuries after Newton, symmetry is restored: the laws explain the universe even as the universe explains the laws. If there is an ultimate meaning to existence, as I believe is the case, the answer is to be found within nature, not beyond it. The universe might indeed be a fix, but if so, it has fixed itself (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2007/jun/26/spaceexploration.comment).”

But as C.S. Lewis once wrote in a work called The Laws of Nature, “The trigger, the side wind and the earth are not laws, but facts or events. They are not laws, but things that obey laws…here comes the snag. The law won’t set it in motion https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_20yiBQAIlk).”
By saying this, C.S Lewis helps us realize that the universe itself can’t fix itself, because to fix itself right, would mean that it had intent. But it doesn’t have intent, it has laws to which it must abide by. It cannot fix a law, because it has no concept of a way to fix it. Therefore it needs an outside source, the thing in which set the universe in motion.
But this outside source must be greater. It cannot be captured by the same laws as the universe, but rather beyond the laws in order to put them in motion. 

In a 20/20 interview in 1989 Stephen Hawking said this, “It is difficult to discuss the beginning of the universe without mentioning the concept of God. My work on the origin of the universe is on the borderline between science and religion, but I try to stay on the scientific side of the border. It is quite possible that God acts in ways that cannot be described by scientific laws.”

And again we are brought back to the concept of god, a being beyond the constraints of a universe that appears in all manners of the idea, fine tuned for life. Specially, life on a planet we call earth.

But who is this god, as MIT professor Alex Byrne asks? Well it is the one that, from Isaiah 45, verses 12 and 18 says, “12 It is I who made the earth and created mankind on it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts…18 For this is what the Lord says—he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited…”
It is the one whom Paul spoke about when he said, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”
And the Psalmist spoke about when he said, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. 3 They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world (1-4).”
And he is the God whom the Apostle John said was Jesus when he wrote, “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made (John 1:3).”

The reality is, the question isn’t, is the universe fined tuned by God? The question is, are we willing to accept it? By rejecting the logical conclusion that a being beyond the universe created it, is a rejection, not based on the evidence, but rather on our desire to either accept God or not. 

My challenge for you this week, is to spend time searching for more information on the fine tuning of the universe. We covered five facts today, but there are many more. Because, if God is true, then his creation reflects it’s Creator, and we can praise him that he has give us evidence to trust him deeper. Amen.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Life in Jesus, or Sacrificing to Death?


I’ve grown up listening to all sorts of genres of music from the 30s to the 90s, thanks to my Dad. But out of all the genres and eras of music that I’ve listened to over the years, I personally love 90’s and early 2000’s country. I can’t put my finger on why, maybe it’s the nod to classic country, while having modern arrangements, or maybe it’s the nostalgia of my childhood.
But as I’ve grown, my understanding of those songs have changed. Now this might not be the place to talk about this, but here we go. In the song “Friends in Low Places” sung by Garth Brookes, there’s a line in there that I remember picturing as a kid of what it meant. Do you know this line, “and the beer chases my blues away?” Well as a kid, I thought it said, “and the bear chases my blues away.” And I would just imagine a bear chasing someone’s sorrows away from them. Then one day I heard it, and I thought, wow, I really didn’t understand that song. 
But there’s another song that in the last five years has come to have new meaning in my life. The song is sung by Tim McGraw and is titled, “My Next 30 Years”. The song was recorded in 1999, and released in 2000. I remember hearing it and just liking it. But when I turned 30, the song became something new for me. The opening lines read like this, 

“I think I'll take a moment celebrate my age
End of an era and the turning of a page
Now it's time to focus in on where I go from here
Lord have mercy on my next thirty years”

The moving of one era of life into another. Of fully leaving behind adolescence, to full adulthood. Looking back on what has been accomplished and what lies before. This song spoke to me in a way, that my younger self couldn’t understand, because they hadn’t had the time to encounter the world around them. But it’s the final verse that hits home for me.

“My next thirty years will be the best years of my life
Raise a little family and hang out with my wife
Spend precious moments with the ones that I hold dear
Make up for lost time here in my next thirty years…”

Those words speak to a recognization of what life really has in store. The time that has been given to us is precious, and needs a more intentional approach than the haphazard one the we tend to do in our youth. 

And it’s this idea of life, that brings us to our passage today. Where we’ll be looking at the book of John chapter 11. So if you have your Bibles, we’ll be in John chapter 11 starting in verse 1.

And as we open up to John 11:1, one of the four parts of the vision that God has given us here in the Alliance Church is this idea of life. We say it this way, “Pointing people back to the life that God has for them.” Not the life that I think someone should lead, but back to the life that God created them to live.
In the New Testament, the word life appears 223 times. If we break it down even further by book, the word appears 41 times in the book of John. That’s the most of any one book, almost doubling the closest book, which is Romans, at 26.
In John’s Gospel account of Jesus’ life, an intentional focus on Jesus’ message of life is on full display. In fact, in the first several verses of the book, it says this, “1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind (John 1:1-4).”

John opens with an eternal description of who Jesus is, he is the Word of God, which is eternal and one with God. And then John adds that life is found in Jesus, he is the Creator God, and that the life found in Jesus, is the light in which mankind needs to walk in. This sets the rest of the book on a path of revealing that life.  In fact, in chapter 20 verses 30 and 31, John reveals why he is even writing his book. He writes, “30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

John bookends his writing with this understanding that life is only found in Jesus. So today, let’s dive into the middle of John’s Gospel, chapter 11 starting in verse 1. And as we make our way through this passage, we’ll see three groups and their approach to both life and death.

1 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
4 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”

So our setting is simple, Jesus’ friend Lazarus whom he has a brotherly love (phileĆ³) for, is sick and his sisters send word to the One they know can heal him. But Jesus’ response is peculiar. He says, “This sickness will not end in death.”
Now, in verse 5, we’re told that they spend two more days where they’re at, and then Jesus decides to head out for Lazarus. The disciples then say this is verse 8, “8 ‘But Rabbi,’ they said, ‘a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?’” This is important because it shows the realization that possible death awaits the group if they return to the town of Bethany. 
But Jesus follows this idea of speaking about light. 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. 10 It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.” Jesus speaking about walking in the light, connects us back to John 1:4, where light and life are interconnected. So to walk in the light is the same as saying be focused on Jesus the Giver of life.
Following that bit of information, the conversation goes like this in verse 11,

11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Did you see what just happened? The disciples and Jesus are on two completely different pages on what’s going on in this situation.

Jesus speaks of Lazarus being asleep, the disciples think then that he’ll get better, because Jesus said his sickness wouldn’t lead to death. But then Jesus has to clarify, no Lazarus is actually dead. Now, the disciples should connect the dots here: Jesus said Lazarus’ sickness wouldn’t end in death, but he is actually dead right now, but Jesus speaks as if he is merely sleeping, therefore Jesus is going to wake him up or resurrect him. But the disciples don’t connect the dots. And so Thomas believes that by going back to the place where Jesus was almost killed, that they too will be killed. 
The disciples have this mindset of finality when it comes to going back to Bethany. Jesus was almost killed there, and they are now resigning themselves to death. But the reality is, they’re not ready to die. If we fast forward to when Jesus is arrested and killed, they all take off and run from death. The disciple represent our first group, the group that thinks death is a noble end, but is still fearful of it.
The disciples represent how we can glamorize death. We can just look at our society to see this. When I was younger I used to like watching films like Saving Private Ryan and the like. But now I find if very difficult to watch shows that glamorize death. Because the reality is, we glamorize death to cover up a deep fear of it.

Let’s drop down to verse 21, with Jesus’ arrival in Bethany and his meeting Lazarus’ sisters. 

21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

With Martha, we see a little different situation than with the disciples. Martha understands that Jesus could have healed Lazarus if he was there, but she also leaves the door open for something else. Jesus then tells her that Lazarus will rise again, and Martha’s thought goes to a future resurrection. But that’s not what Jesus is talking about, we already know his intention is to raise Lazarus from the dead. And so Jesus tells her that he personally is the resurrection and life, and those who believe in him will never die. Now, Martha seems to believe that Jesus can raise someone from the dead, but in the practical application, we can see that she has trouble fully believing it.
After this conversation, Jesus meets with Mary, the other sister of Lazarus. In verse 32, she echoes her sister from verse 21, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Here, the sisters represent our second group, a group that believes that there is eternal life, but the real pain of death can overwhelm our trust in God.
I have seen this in people’s life when a love one dies. It’s easy to say I trust in God when there are good times, but when a love one is suddenly gone, the pain of the moment, makes it hard to trust. 
Both these sisters believe Jesus is the Messiah. We’re told that specifically by Martha in the passage, and through John’s side note that Mary anointed Jesus with perfume. But the real pain of the death of their brother is blinding them to fully trust Jesus in the here and now.
It’s at this point that we get the famous shortest verse in the Bible in verse 35, “Jesus wept.”

My question is, why does Jesus weep? It’s not because Lazarus is beyond his power, because, spoiler, in a few verses Lazarus is resurrected. Instead, I think it’s because of the sorrow that surrounds him at that moment. Not because he is sympathizing or empathizing with the people in their sorrow, but because death as a finality in their and our minds that keeps us from experiencing Jesus’ life. Death has a hold on our society that puts us into bondage. We’ve seen it in the minds of the disciples, and we’ve just seen it in the minds of the sisters.
And take this situation for an example: in Jewish tradition, when a family member died, the effected family had to hire at least two flute players and a professional wailing woman. A whole subset of industry is created to deal with death. In our society, we have mortuaries, with caskets, and flowers, and cremation. That’s not say those things are bad, but rather death is so final and comes to us all, that we have to create these things to get us through it. And it’s in this context, that Jesus weeps. 
Its not for Lazarus’ passing, or Mary, Martha’s or the people’s crying, it’s because death has a hold on us. We’re in bondage to it, and so Jesus weeps at our plight, he weeps, because death can blind us to real life, which is his life.

In verse 43, we get the climax of the whole passage, 

43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

Lazarus is resurrected, and the people go on to rejoice because of it. In fact, in verse 45, it says, “45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.”

Because of Lazarus’ resurrection people believed, and they should. Up to this point in Jewish history, there has only been one resurrection recorded, and that was by Elijah in 1st Kings 17. And so, rejoicing should erupt because another person has been resurrected. Everyone should now fall down and believe that Jesus is truly sent by God.
But that’s not the case, because in the very next verse we read this,

46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.
“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”
49 Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”
51 He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, 52 and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. 53 So from that day on they plotted to take his life.
I think this is where the Scriptures meets our world. Jesus is the life Creator. He is the life Sustainer. Jesus is the life Restorer. And he is the death Overcomer. But to those whom death has it’s grip on, death is king. Death is an unscalable mountain. An all consuming beast, that we must placate for our own survival. 
The Jewish leaders didn’t see in Jesus the resurrection and the life. They didn't see in Jesus the escape from death’s clutches, all they saw was their momentary escape from death’s hand, and all it would cost was the life of another. 
But what we we tend to miss, is that death doesn’t stop there. One life isn’t enough. In the book of Acts, this same council of men, sacrificed Stephen to death. Because with death, one life isn’t enough. But this is the tendency of humanity under sin. We try to sacrifice others so that we may escape death’s call for just a little while longer. We believe death’s lie, that sacrificing an innocent would enhance or prolong our own life. This is our third group, a group that views death as something to escape by sacrificing other things to it.

Now, I’m going to speak on something right now, that I know some would say is political, but I believe it strikes at the heart of John’s presentation of Jesus’ purpose on this earth. Last week there were marches against abortion across the nation. 
When I was young listening to the music I grew up with, I, at the least, was indifferent to the idea of abortion. I never saw a problem with a pro-abortion stance. It wasn’t until I read through the Scriptures that my mind was changed.

As I see Jesus weeping over death’s hold over humanity, I have come to realize that if the Savior weeps over it, then his people need to weep over it’s hold as well. It’s hold over mothers who have lost their children to this sacrificial system. A system that lays down one life, so that another can have a momentary reprieve. In Jesus’ interaction with children, and his response to death’s control over us, I see the Scriptures calling us to a place of mourning over the lost of life that is all around us.
But we shouldn’t just mourn over abortion as if that is the only thing that leads to death. Rather, we should mourn over the sin that brought death in the first place. Romans 6:23 reads, “23 For the wages of sin is death…”

Every act of sin, is a sacrifice to death. It’s allowing death to keep us in bondage, and rule over our lives.

But the Scriptures point us to hope. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. When speaking of Jesus’ own resurrection Paul quotes from the prophet Hosea in 1st Corinthians 15:55, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

Through Jesus, the power of death is broken. Through Jesus forgiveness of sin has come. Through Jesus, new life is given. Our past life of sin is laid in the grave, and our new life starts now and last for eternity. 
To those who have sacrificed at deaths’ alter, whether through abortion, through murder, through hatred, through lies, through deceit, through jealously, through theft, through all types of sin, there is new life available.
This is not the end of the story. This is merely the sleep before the awakening, the night before the dawn. 

In Jesus, death has no power, and so we can move beyond it. We do not have to fear death, glamorizing it to cover up that fear as the disciples did. We do not have to let it blind us to our trust in Jesus as it did to the sisters. Nor do we need to sacrifice to it as the Jewish leaders did. Jesus made himself to be the sacrifice, and now death has nothing to hold over us. Because there is no condemnation in Christ.

Today, my challenge is simple. Do you glamorize death, does the real pain of death keep you from trusting God, or are there things in your life that you are sacrificing to death? It could be an addiction, of drugs or alcohol. It could be a decision of proceeding with an abortion. It could be the guilt of a pass abortion that death is holding over you. It could be a rebellious attitude. It could be a series of lies, of gossip, of breaking relationships for personal gain. All of it is being done at the alter of death, because all of it is sin. And as Paul writes in Romans 6:23, “23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
If you are struggling in one of these three areas, let us go to God this week to repent of sin. To turn away from the glamour, two turn to deeper trust, and to walk away from the alter of death, by going to God and opening up to the reality of sin in our lives.

Let us go to God this week and ask him to strip away anything that we would be doing, that sacrifices to death. Any sin that death uses to hold sway in our lives, that blinds us to Jesus or calls us to sacrifice to it. So that our lives, would reflect the life that is only found in Jesus. A life with no condemnation, but only forgiveness. Amen.