About a year ago, I read an article on WorldNetDaily.com, about a Unitarian church somewhere in this country that had a guest speaker. This guest speaker used the Bible as the source for whatever it was he spoke about. And the heads of this church asked the guest speaker not to preach out of the Bible any more! They said, "We need something that's relevant to next Wednesday, not to 2000 years ago."
You hear this all the time. "Times have changed. People have changed. We live in a post-modern age where there's no such thing as absolute truth. The Bible is old-fashioned and outdated. It's no longer relevant to today's society." Have you ever heard solemn pronouncements like those? How do you deal with them?
Well, throughout history, the Bible's best defense has always been... the Bible. So let's look into this Biblically. Specifically, I want to look at a few people in the Bible, and compare them to the people today who are allegedly so different from the people of 2000 years ago, and you can decide for yourselves how much people have changed. And, just so I won't be accused of picking and choosing my sources, I'll take all my examples from one very small slice of time, one day in Biblical history. That was the day Jesus died. When we're done, you will have some solid Biblical ammunition to deal with the next person who tells you the Bible is no longer relevant.
Flip open to Mark, chapter 14, verse 60, and we'll see our first example of how much people have or haven't changed. That was Caiaphas, the high priest.
Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, "Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you? 61 But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer.Caiaphas' attitude wasn't new then, and it's still with us now, only under a new name. Caiaphas was Mr. Politically Correct.
Again, the high priest asked him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?"
62 "I am," said Jesus. "And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven."
63 The high priest tore his clothes. "Why do we need any more witnesses?" he asked. 64 "You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?" They all condemned him as worthy of death.
Think about it. What's one of the key principles of political correctness? "You can't say something that might offend someone; whether it's true or not doesn't matter." Political correctness puts a muzzle on the truth, for fear that someone might not want to hear it. Lies, misstatements, and half-truths become okay, because they don't hurt anyone's feelings. Thus, "indecent exposure" becomes a "wardrobe malfunction." "Killing babies" becomes "freedom of choice." An "abomination" becomes an "alternate lifestyle." Call it anything you want, as long as it doesn't make someone feel bad!
Now, what was Jesus' usual theme when He was talking to the rulers of the Jews? "Woe to you, Pharisees, hypocrites!" He pointed out their self-righteousness and their failure to obey their own Law. He called them names, in public, yet! A wicked and adulterous generation! Blind guides! Hypocrites! Sons of hell and sons of the devil! He tried to make them feel bad! And, worse yet, the Pharisees were afraid that if someone didn't muzzle this Nazarene, the Romans would step in, and they'd lose their Temple, their nation, and their cushy positions.
Are we supposed to emulate Jesus, and call unbelievers all kinds of names? I've seen and heard of preachers who seem to think so. They don't make many converts. But there is a time for bluntness. When you see a bicyclist heading for the edge of a cliff, you don't say to him, "Excuse me, but could I give you some good news that might change the course of your life?" No. You yell, "STOP!!!" as loud as you can, to get his attention before it's too late. And that is why Jesus was so blunt and forceful with the Pharisees. He knew that His time on earth was short, He didn't have time to get a "Pharisees for Jesus" ministry going to gently correct them, and that the Pharisees' hearts were so hard that only a very forceful approach had any chance of breaking through.
But to the Pharisees, this was beyond intolerable. They ordered Him to speak the truth at His trial, and when He did, they condemned Him for it. You can't speak the truth around politically correct people unless you're prepared to suffer for it. It's the same thing today, except they don't yell, "Crucify!" They would if they could, I'm sure of it. But instead, they yell, "Unloving! Intolerant! Judgmental!" They don't want the truth, because the truth makes them feel bad. It damages their self-esteem. It convicts them of their sin, is what it does. But they've convinced themselves that they have the right to not hear anything they don't like. And if, in the love of Christ, you try to help someone realize that he's a sinner who needs a Savior, they say you're the one who's in the wrong.
Jesus said He was the Son of God, perhaps the most important words any man ever spoke, and Caiaphas called it blasphemy. Jesus could have tried to weasel out with something PC like, "Well, I am a son of God, just like we all are," and the Pharisees wouldn't have killed him for that. But that was not Jesus' way.
Political correctness? Nope, that hasn't changed in 2000 years.
Now turn ahead to Luke 23:8, and we'll look at King Herod.
When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform some miracle. 9 He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, violently accusing him. 11 Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate.Herod, too, has his counterpart in today's society. Herod was one of those people who rush to join the laughing revival and flock to see Benny Hinn. "He hoped to see him perform some miracle." Herod was one of our sign-seekers.
If you want to draw a crowd (and persuade them to empty their pockets into your treasury), one of the most popular ways to do it is to promise a supernatural show. "If you heal them, they will come." Give 'em miracles (even if they are reenactments)! Promise them that they'll see crippled people throwing aside their crutches, and deaf people ripping out their hearing aids. Offer them the sight of people falling senseless all over the place; call it "slain in the Spirit." If that gets old, offer them laughing in the Spirit, and then barking in the Spirit, and roaring in the Spirit, and being glued to the floor in the Spirit, and being drunk in the Spirit, and regurgitating in the Spirit, and... actually, that's all old stuff. I don't know what they're doing in the name of the Holy Spirit of God these days, and I probably don't want to know.
But it all comes down to this: Don't offer them the Spirit! Don't offer them conviction of sin and righteousness and judgment. Don't offer to guide them into all truth (John 16:8-13). There's nothing exciting about that, not to unbelievers anyway. People won't flock to see that. They want the showy stuff. They want a sign! A sign of what? Jesus healed the sick and fed the multitudes to prove that He was who He said He was, and to make people look to God. Benny Hinn knocks people down and makes men's toupees fly off to prove how amazing he is, and to make people look to Benny Hinn. If Benny Hinn had lived two thousand years ago, King Herod would have asked for a command performance. And if Herod were alive today, he'd be in the front row every time Benny came to town.
Now, Herod never went to see Jesus. He waited until circumstances brought Jesus to him. So he wasn't that curious. And he didn't do his homework, because if he had, he'd have known that anyone who demanded a sign from Jesus went away disappointed. In fact, after many of Jesus' most amazing miracles, he ordered people to "tell no one." Jesus wasn't out to put on a show. But that's all Herod wanted, a show. He came face to face with the Savior of all mankind, and all he wanted was for Jesus to pull a rabbit out of His hat. Slay somebody in the Spirit. Turn that water into wine. Do something! Impress me! I'm a king, you know! Jesus did nothing, He said nothing. He didn't come to impress anybody, He wasn't here to put on a show; He came for the real deal. Salvation, forgiveness of sin, eternal life. Sorry, said Herod, I'm not impressed.
Sign seekers? Nope, that hasn't changed in 2000 years.
Now, we'll go back to Luke 23 and look at a man whose spiritual offspring fill this earth. Pontius Pilate.
In verse 4, verses 13-15, and verse 22, Pilate says three times that he finds no basis for a charge against Jesus. He tries to reason with the crowd; he wants to let Jesus go. He even tries to make a deal with them -- in verse 16, even though he's already said Jesus isn't guilty of anything, he's willing to have Him whipped before releasing Him. He knows this crowd is like a school of sharks; they smell blood, and they won't be satisfied until they've had their fill. As we all know, he finally caves in and hands Jesus over to be crucified.
Pilate knew Jesus was innocent of any crime. He wanted to do the right thing. But one thing he never did was to seriously consider Jesus' claim to be the King of the Jews and what that meant. We've got lots of Pontius Pilates roaming around today.
"I believe Jesus was a good man." "I believe He was a great teacher." "I believe Jesus came to set a good example for us." Sound familiar? Tell me, was Jesus a good man? Was He a great teacher? Did He set a good example for us? Yes, yes, and yes. Are any of these things the reason He came? No.
The center of Jesus' life and ministry was not, "Do unto others." It was, "No man comes to the Father, except through me." If you ignore that claim, then it doesn't matter what else you think about Jesus -- you've missed the point. Jesus didn't leave that option open. If you ignore His claim to deity, then nothing else He said has any meaning.
If you're walking down the street, and someone walks up to you and says, "Hi, I'm the Son of God, and I'm here to teach you right from wrong," would you listen? I hope not. Because you know he's not the Son of God, so you know he's either a liar or deluded, and either way, you can't put any confidence in anything else he says. The Jews of Jesus' day had the same problem, except Jesus did all those miracles to prove that He really was the Son of God.
There's the decision we all have to make. If Jesus was who He said He was, then He had the right to clarify the Law of Moses, and to interpret what was lawful on the Sabbath, and to call the Pharisees hypocrites. But if He really was the Son of God, like He said, then that claim overshadows everything else He said. But if He wasn't the Son of God, then that casts doubt on everything else He said. One thing you cannot do is to ignore that claim to deity. Yet that's what Pilate did. Why? Because it's easier that way. If He's the Son of God, then that implies a response on my part, and I don't want to deal with that. If we bring Him down to the level of good man and great teacher, He's a lot easier to deal with. That's the easy way out of dealing with Jesus. It's also intellectually dishonest. It misses the point of everything He said and did. And, as you probably know, it's very common today. Lots of little Pontius Pilates running around.
People who don't want to deal with Jesus? Nope, that hasn't changed in 2000 years.
Now let's look ahead a bit, to Luke 23:48, just after Jesus has died.
When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away.I've been using the NIV for this message, but I like the NASB's rendition of this verse:
And all the crowds who came together for this spectacle, when they observed what had happened, began to return, beating their breasts.Those of you who are familiar with Bill Hybels and Rick Warren can probably guess where I'm going with this one.
The crowds wanted a spectacle! They all came out to see the crucifixion. Jesus of Nazareth is dying! Bring the wife and kids. That's entertainment! There were probably a few who hoped Jesus would do a miracle and save Himself, and they wanted to be there to see it. There were probably a few who had shouted, "Crucify him!" a few hours ago, and still wanted Him dead, although they weren't sure why. Some of them probably came because it was their last chance to see this famous prophet from Galilee. But they all were there to see something. A sight. A spectacle. All they saw was three men slowly dying. So, when the show was over, they beat their breasts and went away, unchanged. But I guess it was better than staying home. I mean, it was only the day before the Passover, so these people had nothing better to do, right?
The crowds always want a spectacle. That's the driving force behind the modern church-growth movement. They even use the term "the crowd" to describe the people they're trying to attract. And spectacle? That's what they're all about. They take polls to find out what "unchurched Harry" wants in a church service, and then they give him just that. Keep the customer satisfied! And, yes, they use the word "customer" to describe people who come to their churches. Play music that sounds just like what they're downloading off the Internet. Do away with any kind of dress codes or standards of appearance. Make sure the messages are always encouraging and uplifting. And do nothing that might put any kind of pressure on someone. They do everything they can to take the "church" out of church, so people will come to church.
The biggest trouble with this is that there is no possible way to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ without making people uncomfortable. It cannot be done. Conviction of sin is uncomfortable. And so, in their desire to bring more people in to hear the Word, they gradually do away with the Word. Compromise happens slowly, a little here, a little there, but it's like a big, heavy rock -- once you start it rolling, you can't stop it until it hits bottom.
God warned us very clearly about this in James 4:4 --
You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.The church cannot cut a deal with the world's way of doing things. It will never work, it can never work -- it's like mixing oil and water. And so we have these huge churches, filled with lost souls who think they're okay with God because they go to church, and no one there has told them they're sinners who need to repent -- that would make them uncomfortable and they might not come back. They get their weekly fix of music, drama, skillful oratory, and warm fuzzy feelings, and then they go home. They feel good. The pastors count all the visitor cards and tell themselves that everything is working as it should. They feel good. Everybody feels good. Everybody's felt needs are being met. But their real needs aren't even being addressed.
To boil it all down, consider this little rhyme that came to me as I was driving to work on Monday:
The music is always loud and exciting.Crowds who want a religious spectacle? Nope, that hasn't changed in 2000 years.
The atmosphere is warm and inviting.
The words are uplifting -- no doctrinal fighting.
The Gospel of Christ? There've been no recent sightings.
Now let's look at the two men who were closest to Jesus as He died. Two thieves, one on either side of Him. Two men who came from similar backgrounds, but who had very different reactions to Jesus.
As you remember this part of the story, please remember that a man being crucified does not want to talk. You can inhale when hanging on a cross, but because of the pressure on your shoulder and chest muscles, exhaling is nearly impossible. The only way to do it is to put all your weight on the nail in your feet, take your weight off your arms for a few seconds, and gasp out a breath or two before the pain makes you come off your feet again. And to talk, you have to exhale. Talking equals pain. So every word spoken by those men on the crosses must have been extraordinarily important to them.
First, we consider the man who, according to Luke 23:39, hurled insults at Him and shouted, "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!"
We've all met this person many times if we've been the slightest bit active in sharing our faith. This is Mr. I'll-believe-it-when-I-see-it.
You try to tell this kind of person about Jesus, and he comes up with a shopping list. These are the things God will have to do before I'll believe in Him. He has to heal this person, and help this person find a job, and help this person get his marriage back together, and help my own business prosper, and so on and so on. As Christians, we say we'll pray for those things. God often answers those prayers. And what does the person say when God answers those prayers? Every time? "I can't believe it!"
And then what do they do? They come up with another shopping list.
Do you know what they're really doing? They're coming up with excuses to not put their trust in Jesus. Eventually, they won't get what they're asking for, and as soon as that happens, they slam the door on God. "I knew it wasn't real!" They never wanted Jesus, they just wanted whatever blessings they could get without giving themselves in return.
Tell me: if Jesus had gotten that thief down from the cross, do you think he would have bowed before Jesus' cross and asked, "What must I do to be saved?" Do you think he would have hot-footed it out of there and never given Jesus another thought for the rest of his life? He didn't want Jesus to prove that He was the Christ. He just wanted to get out of being crucified. God had nothing to do with it, just like He has nothing to do with the people like him today. You share Jesus with them, and they put you off with a bunch of tests that God has to pass. If He gives them what they want, great -- here are some more things they want. If not, that proves that God isn't real or that Jesus isn't worth trusting. They're kind of like the sign-seekers, except they are totally selfish and couldn't care less about God.
What kind of test does God have to pass to prove Himself worthy to you? God passed every test I could think of when He died on that cross for me. If that's not enough, nothing ever will be.
People who insincerely put God to the test? Nope, that hasn't changed in 2000 years.
Finally, we come to the second thief. The one who rebuked the first one, and then asked Jesus, "Remember me when you come into your kingdom."
When someone says, "Remember me," that usually means remembrance is all he expects. If I say to you, "Remember me when you come to church next Sunday," that wouldn't make any sense unless I wasn't going to be in church next Sunday. This thief somehow knew that Jesus was going to receive a kingdom, and he knew it would be a kingdom of righteousness because Jesus was righteous, and he knew that he himself was not a righteous man. That thief did not expect to be in Jesus' kingdom. All he was asking was, "Jesus, when you receive your kingdom, could you please remember that, in your darkest hour, somebody spoke up for you? Even if it was just a dying two-bit thief?"
That man had just fulfilled a Scripture that hadn't been written yet. Who knows Romans 10:9? "That if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." This dying thief knew that Jesus was a king with authority, which is just another way of saying "Lord." He couldn't believe in his heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, because Jesus wasn't dead yet. But he knew that Jesus was dying on a cross, and he knew that Jesus was going to receive a kingdom, and the only way to put those two together was if Jesus rose from the dead.
This thief came to Jesus with absolutely nothing. All the money and goods he'd stolen as a thief were no longer his. He had no way to serve Jesus -- he couldn't even move his own arms! He couldn't sing Jesus' praises, not when he could barely even breathe. His remaining hours of life could be counted on the fingers of one hand. He had nothing to offer. All he had was faith, expressed in a few words that must have been agony to utter.
But that faith was enough to save him.
And Jesus, who is having the same trouble breathing, who finds just the same pain in trying to speak, answers him. He says, in effect, "Remember you in My kingdom? I'll do a lot more than that. I'll see you there. I know I will, because I'll take you there Myself." And we who have also asked Jesus to save us will someday be able to meet that thief in Heaven and ask him what it was like, dying next to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, knowing that his soul had been snatched from eternal fire at the very end of his days.
People who know they need Jesus to save them? Praise God, that hasn't changed in 2000 years.
Now let me make a very important point here.
The second thief wanted only mercy. And he was the only one who got what he wanted, and what he needed. And if we, as Christians, try to say or do anything that isn't founded on our need for mercy, and Christ's willingness to give us mercy, we will be disappointed like the others. If there's a trace of self-righteousness when we pray or preach, or any self-confidence when we study or serve, then we're on shaky ground; we're not standing on the only firm foundation, which is Christ.
But the main point of this message is this: in spite of all the changes we've seen over the past two millenia, human nature has not changed. "Every inclination of the thoughts of his heart is still only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5). "The heart is still deceitful above all things and desperately wicked" (Jeremiah 17:9). "There is still none righteous, no, not one" (Romans 3:10). And we know that God hasn't changed. And those are the two subjects of the Bible -- God and people.
So now that we've seen how the Bible is as relevant today as it was twenty centuries ago, let me ask you this: has anything changed?
I'll tell you one thing that's changed. Me. Ever since I came to the point of knowing that I was a helpless, hopeless sinner who deserved nothing but Hell, and that Jesus died to pay for my sins so I wouldn't have to go there, I have been changed. Not by human nature, not by my own efforts, but by the power of God. If you see anything good in me as I stand up here before you, I assure you, it's God's doing. I've known most of you for years, and I believe that you, too, have reached that place, and that you, too, are being changed.
But if that's not the case, then tonight is the night for it to happen. I've told you all that you need to know to be saved. It has nothing to do with doing good, or being good, or being better than somebody else. It has nothing to do with baptism, or church membership, or coming from a good Christian family. It's just Jesus. He'll forgive everything you've ever done against Him, if you believe that He can and will, and that nobody else can.
Tonight could be the night when He becomes your Savior and your Lord, and He begins to change you into His image. Or this could be just another night, just another sermon, just one more step on the road that leads away from Heaven. Don't look for excuses not to believe, like the first thief. Don't try to rationalize it away, like Caiaphas or Pilate. Don't hold out for something more exciting, like Herod or the crowd. You need a Savior. You need Jesus.