BaptistWay: Questions about Jesus’ identity

• The BaptistWay lesson for Feb. 16 focuses on Luke 22:66-23:25.

Knowing vs. believing

It doesn’t take long for someone to learn all the right answers in church. One teenager placed his faith in Christ during junior high school and began attending church without his family. He went to church camp, mission trips, helped out with Vacation Bible School and became a common presence at worship from week to week.

After graduation, he approached a deacon with a tough question. Would it be OK if he moved in with his girlfriend while he worked and went to trade school? He knew the answer to the question. He was asking for permission not advice. He knew what the acceptable choice was according to Scripture, but he didn’t quite believe this choice was worth the sacrifice.

I see the chief priests and teachers of the law asking for information from Jesus in a similar manner. The truth was, they knew who he claimed to be and the implications it could have had on their life. “If you are the Christ,” they said, “tell us” (v. 67). In other words, tell us what we want to hear so we can get along with what we want to do. Whether or not they believed this claim was not the point, and Jesus masterfully points out, “If I tell you, you will not believe me” (v. 67). However, in their failure to believe what Jesus claimed, God reveals to us an important aspect about Jesus’ mission and identity: He was destined to be exalted through the hands of people who failed to recognize his importance. They would know his claims but fail to believe them.

The saddest part lies not in Jesus’ death at the hands of the people, but in the people’s failure to have faith in Jesus. Jesus’ words in verse 70 demonstrate God’s heart towards all sinners—for them to know and believe in Jesus as Savior. This is not a truth for head knowledge but believed through conviction.

A good friend that I went to college and seminary with recently posted on Facebook that he has decided to be an atheist. My heart broke as I read these words: “In simplest terms, I am an atheist because I do not believe there is a god. Can a person force himself to believe something? I certainly tried. I read the Bible, prayed, went to church and obeyed my *** off. But no amount of faithful behavior modification could quell the overwhelming head and heart belief that god just wasn’t there.”

Immediately his post blew up as people began posting sermonettes correcting, rebuking and teaching him the truth he so eloquently denied. I know there is nothing anyone will post my friend likely has not thought about or been taught already. All I could do was tell him I appreciated his wit and intellect, and I valued his friendship in spite of our differing faiths. He’s right—he can’t be forced to believe.

Believing and acting

Action is not influenced by what we know, but by what we believe. The assembly that heard Jesus’ claims believed more in the power of the nation Jesus’ words threatened than they did in his messiahship. The word “Christ” (v. 2) was used deliberately in their testimony to Pilate to imply Jesus was a political activist. We get a glimpse into what Pilate might have believed about Jesus in Luke’s Gospel when he proclaims Jesus’ innocence in verse 4. Even if Pilate believed him innocent, it would not have been in keeping with Pilate’s character to do nothing to someone who claimed, as Jesus did, to be “king of the Jews” (v. 3). Perhaps part of him wanted to believe Jesus was who he claimed to be, but not enough to risk his job or reputation with the people. Instead, Luke says he passed the buck to Herod.

By being the only Gospel to cite Pilate’s pronunciation of Jesus’ innocence and his abdication of responsibility to Herod, Luke highlights the political atmosphere surrounding Jesus’ trial and death. After questioning and prodding Jesus, hoping to see or hear something miraculous, Herod vents his anger by echoing the hostility of the priests and teachers (vv. 9-11). Jesus had failed to live up to his expectations, so Herod instead finds a companion in Pilate (v. 12).

Just as faith can unite believers in action, knowing without believing can unite others in strange and interesting ways. A phenomenon called “Sunday Assembly” started by two British comedians is sweeping across our country in the expression of church-like services for atheists. They usually consist of upbeat pop-music with no religious message and speaking that ranges from creative poetry and stories to educational lectures.

In an National Public Radio story, a participant was quoted as describing the gathering as “appeal(ing) to more optimistic atheists — those hoping to re-create what they felt was good about religion.” The fact that people have this desire is telling. We can’t help but express what we believe—or don’t believe—in our actions, even when our actions seem contradictory and perplexing.

Many have puzzled over the decision of the people to yell for Jesus’ crucifixion (vv. 20, 23). We likely never will know all the factors that played a role in this decision, but we can know for certain what belief lay behind them.

What lies behind your reasons for being a Christian?

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