With one word everything changes, I love you. . . but, I would. . . but, You’re healthy. . . but.

It’s only a small word, it only has three letters however that one word is the hinge that swings a statement in another direction.

For example,  Jeffrey Fry wrote “Integrity is not everything, but it is the only thing that matters.”

This is week four of our “After the but, comes the truth” series, and we’ve been looking at various times in the bible where the truth is revealed after the but.

Last week we looked at two different buts, one for Friday and one for Sunday. 

This week’s ‘but’ is found following a scripture that most of us are familiar with.  Jesus is talking to a religious leader by the name of Nicodemus.  And you may think that Nicodemus is a strange name, but I would suspect that 2000 years ago your name would probably have left people shaking their heads and saying, “What were their parents thinking?”

We pick up the story in John 3:1-2  There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee.  After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”

Now if you are familiar with the structure of sentences, this was a statement, not a question. Nicodemus wasn’t asking Jesus anything, he wasn’t seeking for Jesus to clarify anything, he was simply making a statement. 

“we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”

And Jesus responds by saying, John 3:3  Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”

And this results in a long discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus, ending in the passage that was read for us earlier. 

Most of us are familiar with John 3:16  “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”   And John 3:16 is a really popular bible verse, if you’ve ever seen someone holding a sign up at a sporting event that simply says “3:16” this is what it is referring to.

And what’s not to like about John 3:16?  And if we keep going, verse 17 is a verse that people can get a lot of traction out of as well,  John 3:17  God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

And people love the concept that Jesus did not come to judge the world. 

“Don’t judge me” is a phrase that too many people use to justify their behaviour.  And if they know their bible, they might even point back to this scripture to justify their desire to not be judged. 

“Jesus didn’t judge people, so what gives you the right?”

We aren’t going down that road this morning, other than to say that Jesus judged people all the time, one of the things that got him in hot water was the religious leaders was that he judged their behaviour and their motives.  When he called them hypocrites and snakes, he was judging them. When he compared them to whitewashed tombs, he was judging them.  

When he drove the money changers out of the temple, he was judging them.  But that is a sermon for another day.

And it really goes back to context, you can’t just pluck a verse out of the bible and claim it as truth without including the verses before and after it. 

Kind of like the guy who was looking for direction for the day, so he opened his bible stuck his finger on a verse and read in Matthew 27:5, Judas went and hanged himself.  Well he thought that can’t be right, so he did the same thing again and this time the verse he landed on was Luke 10:37 “Yes, now go and do the same.”  And he thought, I’ll try one more time, so he closed his bible flipped it back open and stuck his finger on John 13:27  “Hurry and do what you’re going to do.”

We laugh, but many of us do the same thing, to one degree or another.

And I said all that to say that we can’t read verses like John 3:17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.  In isolation, because if we keep reading, we find this week’s ‘but’.

John 3:18  “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. And we like that, let’s keep reading But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.

Did you catch the but?  Let’s read it again, “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. After the ‘but’ comes the truth. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.”

The “Him” of course is the Son, and the Son is Jesus.  But what does it mean to “believe in Jesus”?  I hear people all the time telling me that they believe in God and they believe in Jesus.  Intellectually they affirm that Jesus existed, but it has never made a difference in their lives. 

Some refer to this as “easy believism”.

It’s not enough to simply state that you believe, because ultimately it has to make a difference in people’s lives.  Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17  This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

So, if The old life is not gone and a new life has not begun, there’s a pretty good chance that you’re not a new person and you don’t believe in Jesus.

And easy believism is nothing new. 

2000 years ago James addressed that very issue in his letter to the early church, James 2:19  You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.

But what does it mean to believe?

For two thousand years Christians have argued over that very question, and we have a plethora of denominations to prove that.

But there are some things we have in common. 

Seventeen Hundred years ago a group of church leaders got together at we now call The Council of Nicaea and formulated what we now think of as the Nicene Creed.  And for the most part this is what we have in common with believers around the world, regardless of what they call themselves.

This we believe:

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

So, in saying that, the question remains, what do we need to believe?

We Need to Believe Who Jesus Was

Jesus was not just a good man, he was not just a great teacher, he was not just a spiritual genius, he was the Son of God. 

And if you’ve read the Jesus story you see that truth reiterated over and over again. 

In Luke 1:35 the Angel Gabriel tells Mary her child will be the Son of God, in Matthew 16:17 Peter calls Jesus the Son of God.  In Matthew 8:29 the demons call Jesus the Son of God.

And time and time again Jesus referred to himself as the Son of God John 10:36  Jesus said, “Why do you call it blasphemy when I say, ‘I am the Son of God’? After all, the Father set me apart and sent me into the world.” 

And on the day he was baptized we read this account, Mark 1:9-11  One day Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River.  As Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens splitting apart and the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove.  And a voice from heaven said, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.”

So, even God the Father refers to Jesus as his son. 

I’ve quoted C.S. Lewis before on this, Lewis said, “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher … You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool … or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.”

To deny Jesus’ sonship is not a false teaching, it is a heresy. 

If you don’t believe that Jesus was God’s son, then you don’t believe.

We Need to Believe How Jesus was Born

I continue to be amazed at those who identify themselves as Christians or identify themselves as a Christian church and deny the virgin birth. 

They will say that it’s hard to believe or that a virgin birth is impossible.  And those are both true, but that doesn’t make it any less so. 

Others will ask, “What does it matter?” or “Does it really make a difference?”  Of course it matters and of course it makes a difference.  If Jesus truly was the Son of God that needs to be evidenced in his birth.  If his conception was just like mine, then how does that make him different than me?

And while some may doubt that Jesus’ mother Mary was a virgin, Mary didn’t.  Let me read a very familiar passage from what we think of as the Christmas story.  Luke 1:26-34  In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee,  to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David.  Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favoured woman! The Lord is with you!”  Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean.  “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favour with God!  You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.  And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”  Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”

Mary was very firm on this, she didn’t say “How can this happen, we were really careful?”  She said, “How can this happen, I am a virgin?”   

And the angel didn’t question it, he simply affirmed what the plan was, if we keep reading we discover his response, Luke 1:35-37 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.  What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she’s now in her sixth month.  For nothing is impossible with God.”

And maybe you are wondering why?  Why is the Virgin birth so important? Well, it was the fulfilment of prophecies made hundreds of years before, and if Jesus was God’s son than God needed to be his father.  He wasn’t just a good man; he wasn’t just a great teacher. He was God’s son and God was his Father.

Billy Graham wrote, “And that points to one reason why Jesus was born of a virgin: to show that He was sent into the world by God. His was no ordinary birth – because He was no ordinary human being. He wasn’t just another man – not even a great one. He was God in human flesh, sent from heaven to save us from our sins.”

And if you don’t believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, then you don’t really believe. 

We Need to Believe What Jesus Taught

There is another instance in the gospels where Jesus is acknowledged by his Father.  And these are the words that were heard from heaven, Luke 9:35  Then a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him.”

If we say we believe, then we need to listen to his words and obey his teaching.  Jesus told those who followed him in John 5:24  “I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life.”

And ultimately Jesus’ teachings are for us, they make us better people, who should make a better world.  And they aren’t a smorgasbord where we get to pick and choose what we’d like.

You can’t say, “I like what Jesus said about love and not judging, but not too keen on the parts about sexual immorality and what happens if we don’t forgive.”

We can’t just take the Jesus who holds little children and leave the Jesus who gets angry with those who defiled the temple.

And it’s not enough to simply smile and nod at his words, Jesus said,  John 15:10  “When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.”

Our belief in Jesus isn’t just a passive belief, it is supposed to be a life changing revolutionary belief.  A belief based on hearing the teaching of Jesus and putting those words into practice. 

And we are to pass those teachings and beliefs on.

In one of the last conversations that Jesus had with his followers, he told them,  Matthew 28:19-20  Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

And just in case his followers missed how important it is, Jesus reiterates it in  John 3:36  “And anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment.”

And finally, We Need to Believe That Jesus Rose From the Dead 

This is the crux of the entire Jesus story.  The fact that he rose from the dead changed everything. In defeating death Jesus proved his teaching, proved his ability to forgive sins and revealed that he was indeed God.

We spent time on this last Sunday, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:17-20  And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins.  In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost!  And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.  But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.

If we can’t believe in the resurrection then the rest of the story is moot, that means having little or no relevance. 

Because without the resurrection Jesus lost and evil won.  Without the resurrection, everything that Jesus said was a lie.

And maybe you like the man Jesus, and you like his teaching about love your neighbour and forgive your enemies.  But you are wondering if you can still believe in Jesus but not believe he is the Son of God; not believe he was born of a virgin and not believe he rose from the dead.?

That’s like ordering a big mac and saying, “but don’t give me the two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce or onions and skip the sesame seed bun, but double up on the pickles.”  Regardless of what you might thing you have, you don’t have a big mac you have pickles. 

And a Jesus who isn’t the son of God, who wasn’t born of a virgin and wasn’t raised from the dead isn’t Jesus, he’s just a man you’ve chosen to worship.  And that might make you feel good but don’t delude yourself into believing it will make a difference in your eternal destiney.

And two thousand years ago not everyone was willing to believe, John tells us in his gospel, in John 12:37  But despite all the miraculous signs Jesus had done, most of the people still did not believe in him.

And today there are those who still do not believe in him, and perhaps right in this room there are those who don’t believe.

And so I will leave you this morning with the words Jesus left his followers with Mark 16:15-16  And then he told them, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone.  Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned.”

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