Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
August 13, 2017
Text: Romans 10:6-7, Old Testament: Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b, New Testament: Romans 10:5-17
Believing in Jesus isn’t meant to be complicated. There is a simplicity to having faith in Jesus as God’s Son that doesn’t need explanation. Just have faith.
This is what the Apostle Paul says continually in his epistles. “We are saved by grace through faith alone and this is not your own doing: it is the gift of God.” That’s Paul speaking from Ephesians 2:8. Reasoning is doing it on your own – especially when you try to reason your way to faith in Jesus.
It’s works to reason with people why you believe Jesus is God’s Son when they’re skeptical. Doubt creates all sorts of mental obstacles to having unconditional faith in Jesus. Faith overcomes doubt, by simply believing without being bogged down by questions raised by rational skepticism.
The most joyful Christians I know have a simple faith. They trust God regardless of the circumstances they face, regardless of the obstacles to faith they have faced.
Jim Easter is a retired nuclear engineer for Westinghouse. He was working for Westinghouse at the beginning when they built the first nuclear power plant at Shippensport. He saw the industry get off the ground. He saw the industry shocked by the near melt down at Three Mile Island. He was assigned the task of responding to Three Mile Island by studying the human dynamics that led to the accident. He was charged with designing a nuclear power plant control room that could anticipate and override human error in judgment.
Imagine the complicated series of questions, situations, and considerations Jim undertook in his work. It took several years of reasoning and analysis. His goal was to make nuclear power safe, regardless of doubters and skeptics.
Jim was doing what many of us think it takes to convince a person to believe in Jesus Christ in today’s culture. For Jim, engineering was a wonderful puzzle to solve for a man who enjoys complex problem solving. For us it would have been an intimidating responsibility with the fear of failure preventing us from coming to a conclusion.
That’s how it is for too many Christians who are frightened of talking to people about Jesus. Reasoning with people about Jesus being God’s Son can feel intimidating. Its fraught with the fear of failure. I’ve had more than one potential Sunday school teacher say she or he didn’t want to teach high schoolers because they didn’t think they could answer the questions they would be asked. They were afraid of not knowing the answers to more complex questions about God.
Don’t overthink the wonderful opportunity God has given you to be the instrument of His salvation!
The Apostle Paul addresses this topic in Romans 10:6-7. He discusses two opposing positions about Jesus. Where are we to find Jesus now that we can’t see Him? Verse six talks about Jesus as if He is only a human being, who has died. If you want to find Jesus should you descend to where He lies in peace as a human being who has lost his life.
Verse 7 talks about Jesus as if He is only a spiritual being who is millions of miles from us in heaven. If you want to find Jesus do you have to go where He is – in heaven?
Paul is referring to the mystery of Jesus. Was He only a man? Or, is He a Spirit? These are questions that divided the Church, lost Christian lives, and brought about charges and countercharges of heresy. All in the name of Jesus!
If you look at Christian history, Jesus’ identity tormented Church leaders for 450 years. That’s longer than the United States of America has existed!
Outside the Church, the Apostle Paul faced the skepticism of Greek reason in Corinth, Ephesus, Thessalonica, and Rome. Every Christian of the early Church had to endure skeptics about their faith in Jesus Christ. The Roman Empire was not a barren wasteland of knowledge. It had the intellectual legacy of Aristotle and Plato to direct it. Romans and Greeks had their own beliefs in Rome’s supremacy to support their doubts about Jesus just like Americans have our own beliefs about America’s invincibility to support their disbelief in Jesus.
Look at the Acropolis in Athens, Greece, or the Roman Forum, in Rome they’re the ancient equivalents of the Supreme Court building and the Halls of Congress in Washington, D.C. The Appian Way in Rome and the Areopagus in Athens were the equivalent of Broadway and Wall Street in New York City.
Christians faced withering doubt and skepticism from people who demanded reasonable explanations for believing Jesus was raised from the dead and is God’s Son. Do you think the average Christian then had to read Plato and Aristotle or Cicero to know how to answer the skepticism of the doubting public?
They simply had faith in Jesus Christ as God’s Son. The resurrection had lifted Jesus beyond human mortality to the right-hand side of God the Father.
They simply believed Jesus Christ would save them. Jesus promised His followers He would give them eternal life in John 10:27-28. “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”
Again, in John 17:1-2, Jesus promised salvation to His followers. “Father the hour has come. Glorify Your Son so the Son may glorify You, since You have given Him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom You have given Him.” They simply needed faith in Jesus to receive salvation.
They didn’t have to answer to anyone but Jesus. They didn’t have to explain themselves or Jesus to skeptics and doubters who threatened their lives. They simply needed to have faith in Jesus and share their faith with others.
This was the Apostle Paul’s message to the cosmopolitan Greeks in Corinth. Don’t overthink faith. You don’t need extended explanations to complicated questions that are borne of reason and doubt.
Paul wrote in I Corinthians 2. “I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom . . . I came to you in weakness and in fear with much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom but on the power of God.”
So what did Paul mean by “demonstration of the Spirit and of power?” Oh, the questions we pose when we try to use reason to teach faith. You don’t need reason as much as you need spiritual power.
Spiritual power is the power you show when you simply trust God with all of your heart, all of your soul, all of your mind. Spiritual power is the power you show when you offer love in the face of evil. Spiritual power is the power you display when you sacrifice yourself for the lives of others in the name of Jesus. Spiritual power is the joy you radiate from your experience with Jesus Christ.
Each of these examples are seen when you have the simplicity of faith in Jesus. When you have faith in Jesus you try to be like Jesus. You try to live like Jesus lives. You try to serve like Jesus serves. You love like Jesus loves. You forgive like Jesus forgives. Most of all, you see each day as an opportunity to show God’s glory in your life in the name of Jesus.
Notice I didn’t put Jesus in the past tense. Jesus is still alive for those who have faith in Jesus. Jesus isn’t trapped in a book called the Bible. Jesus isn’t trapped in the Middle East where He once lived. Jesus isn’t an idea in your mind, or a feeling in your heart.
Jesus is where two or three of us are gathered in His name and invoke His presence in the power of prayer to live, serve, love, and forgive like Him. Your faith in Jesus gives you the power to see Jesus with you right now, in your life.
When you aren’t overthinking your faith, you aren’t overwhelmed by arguments against Christian faith. You are passionate about Jesus. You focus on His wisdom, His example for your life, and for the salvation of the world.
You don’t need to be a great debater or exceptional orator. You simply need to study Jesus, your inspiration, your teacher, your friend. Then you need faith in Him – unconditional, unreserved, complete faith in Him.
The Apostle Paul faced Christian fears about reaching the unchurched in Corinth, in Ephesus, in Galatia, Thessalonica, and Rome. He warned Jesus’ followers in I Corinthians 3:18-19, “Don’t deceive yourselves. If you think you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.”
The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.
So back to my nuclear engineering friend, Jim Easter. Jim once warned me against overthink. He said engineers have the problem of paralysis by analysis. He said engineers are great in finding problems and compounding them by envisioning more problems, and even more problems. As soon as they think they found an answer, someone dismisses it by how it won’t work. They can analyze a thing to death and not find a conclusion.
They can become too content with not coming to a conclusion.
That’s what is happening in Church after Church after Church today. They’re sure they have good reasons not to be dynamic and joyful as a congregation and as Christians. They’re good at having reasons for why sharing Jesus Christ’s Good News will fail. They are too content with their reasoning. They are paralyzed from being a living, vital, Body of Christ bringing the message of salvation in Jesus’ name.
They spend minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years giving reasons for why people won’t come to Church instead of having faith that Jesus Christ’s Good News will bring people to Church. They stop praying for Jesus to save their unchurched friends and neighbors. They stop telling the story of Jesus Christ’s work in their lives to the people they know. They stop inviting their friends to hear the Good News of the Gospel.
Why? Why – the word we ask when we want good reasons to act instead of deep faith in Jesus to act. The reason – quite simply – is they stop having faith in Jesus to save the world. They’re paralyzed from reaching out with Jesus’ Good News. They spend more time analyzing disbelievers than being uplifted by Christ’s spiritual power to give new life to a doubtful and fearful world.
Paul teaches us not to complicate faith. “Do not deceive yourselves. If you think you are wise in this age, you should become fools so you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.”
Faith doesn’t’ need a reason. Faith needs trust. Faith needs submission. Faith needs humility. Faith needs love. These are not reasonable, especially in times where miracles are wanted.
As for Jim Easter, the nuclear scientist. Where did he come down on this? He who is of a profession that intentionally reasons and thinks and analyses. He who was smart enough to know about the paralysis of analysis and thought there was a way to move forward despite all the foreseen problems of engineering.
Jim was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor the size of a grapefruit around his kidney. He had been born with it, doctors said. Jim didn’t hesitate with his assessment. With a gentle smile he said, “I have faith God is with me. I’ll get through this okay, where ever this goes.”
He had plenty of reasons to ponder what this all meant. A life time with a cancerous tumor. Yet he had no idea it was in him. He only discovered its presence when it was making him difficult to ski. It was throwing his body off balance. He could have been tormented by why. He could have wrestled with why. Instead, Jim had faith in God and underwent surgery.
Lo, and behold, the cancer was self-contained. No radiation. No chemo. It was out and gone. It was beyond what anyone had any reason to anticipate. Certainly the doctors had no reason to expect this outcome before the surgery.
For those of us who were concerned for him, it was a miracle.
His miracle was unique. Other miracles occur over an extended test of a person’s faith, and those who love them.
Miracles don’t come from times of plenty and happiness. Miracles come from problems that need faith in God and His Son to overcome. Faith in Jesus overcomes problems that defy reason.
When you see each other on Sundays, consider the miracle of Jesus you represent. Each of us has gone through experiences in life that have tested our faith. We have gone through trials that would lead a reasonable person to give up on God.
But we are here. We are here because we have not overthought God. We are here simply because of our faith in Jesus. Jesus is the one who has gotten us through the obstacles that prevent other people from having faith. Rejoice and be glad in our faith that has brought us here this Sunday and will bring us here in future Sundays.
Don’t overthink your faith in Jesus. Continue to submit, trust, and give yourself unconditionally to Him!