Monday, August 18, 2014

Peering Outside Our Walls: Walking Away from the Light

Throughout this summer, we've been “peering outside our walls” to see how people outside of the church see Jesus. Let’s be honest, it’s difficult for some of us to imagine seeing Jesus with anything but our insider-Christian glasses. We've spent so many years in this building, or one like it. Some of us, me included, have been in a building like this my entire life. I've always seen Jesus through the lens of the church. My parents are Christians, my grandparents are Christians, if there was an event at the church building, my parents made sure I was there. I've never spent time outside these walls and some of you share that same perspective.

But not everyone shares our perspective. Not everyone grew up, like I did, playing hide-and-seek in the church building. Some of you here this morning have only recently found your way inside a church building. Fewer and fewer people outside these walls are interested in what takes place inside these walls. More and more people each year walk outside and never return. David Kinnaman wrote a book in 2007 entitled UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity…and Why It Matters. He reported that each new generation in America is becoming less and less Christian. The most recent studies suggest that over 40% of people aged 16–29 are not Christians. That means that nearly half of people in this demographic do not even claim Christianity as their religion. We're not talking about who attends church on Sunday—that number is much smaller! We are simply talking about who affiliates themselves with Christianity. That number has always been high in American history, but is it is beginning to drop…sharply.

Most of you have heard these studies before, but there is one alarming conclusion reached by Kinnaman in his book.
The vast majority of outsiders in this country, particularly among young generations, are actually de-churched individuals. —David Kinnaman, UnChristian
Do you understand what that means? Most people outside these walls have been inside these walls before! It is not the case that fewer and fewer people are accepting Jesus in the first place in our nation. It is the case that more and more people are leaving the church than ever before. You know whom I'm talking about. They are your children. They are your siblings. They are people who were sitting beside you here at Glenwood not too long ago. Can you think of a greater tragedy? To leave the Light and move out into the Darkness, the fact that more and more people are following that path each year should grieve us, just like it grieved Jesus.

Did you know that one of Jesus’ closest companions and friends one day decided to leave the Light and move out into the Darkness? Of all the people in the world He could have chosen, Jesus chose only 12 to be part of His ministry team. They preached together, they ate together, they traveled together, and they did life together for three years, and one day, one member of their team just walked away. Do you remember the story?
Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But it is to fulfill the scripture, ‘The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ I tell you this now, before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am he. Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.”
After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. (John 13:16–30 NRSV)
History has cast Judas Iscariot in a pretty negative light! In fact, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says:
The Son of Man goes as it is written of Him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.” (Matthew 26:24)
It doesn’t get much worse than that! Judas has always been known as “the betrayer”—plain and simple. But don’t you realize that before he walked away, he spent a lot of time inside these walls? There was a time in Judas’ life when Jesus chose him to be one of His closest friends. You may say, “Well, Jesus knew what was going to happen. Jesus chose Judas because He knew Judas would betray Him. It was all part of God’s plan.” I’ll agree up to a point. Yes, Jesus probably knew when He chose Judas what Judas was capable of. But Judas was always given a choice, and I have to imagine that up to the last moment, Jesus longed for his friend to make the right choice. In fact, there are two clues in the text we read just a moment ago that help us to see Jesus’ true feelings about Judas. The first is John 13:18.
I am not speaking to all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But it is to fulfill the scripture, “The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.” (John 13:18)
This is a quotation from Psalm 41. The full text there is:
Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me. (Psalm 41:9)
The reason Jesus quoted this psalm is to signify just how painful Judas’ betrayal to Him really was. It wasn’t just that Jesus was being betrayed. It was that a close friend (“One who ate my bread, one who eats at my table”) was betraying him, not just on that night, but regularly. The second clue we have comes with Jesus’ final words to Judas.
After Judas received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” (John 13:27)
Notice that Jesus did not say, “Do quickly what you MUST do…” Judas always had a choice. Satan did not take control of his body, forcing him to betray Jesus. You can almost sense in these final words of Jesus…Pleading with Judas to make a different choice. Calling his betrayal out into the open…Hoping that Jesus’ awareness and acknowledgment of Judas’ plan would compel Judas to think again. Jesus had given Judas the place of honor at the table. Seated right next to the rabbi. He had given him a piece of bread by His own hand—a sign of respect and honor. You see, there was a time when Judas was a trusted friend of Jesus. Before he walked outside these walls, he was an insider. But in spite of Jesus’ plea, John tells us that Judas walked out of the Light. And he is careful to tell us “And it was night.” Hoping his readers would remember those words of Jesus earlier in this gospel.
I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life. (John 8:12)
What does it take for someone to walk away from Light into Darkness? Judas may have been motivated by money. Earlier in John 12, Judas is put in his place by Jesus for thinking so much about money. Judas was the treasurer. When Mary came to anoint Jesus with an expensive jar of perfume, Judas objected. He said, “We should give money to the poor instead.” But John tells us that even then, Judas was a lover of money. He used to steal funds from the “ministry budget.”

It’s possible that Judas did all of this for 30 pieces of silver. But that is not the only possible explanation. Judas may have betrayed Jesus because, at the end of the day, Jesus is not who Judas thought He was. Most Jewish people at this time expecting the Messiah were looking for a strong, military commander to lead them in victory against the Romans. Even those closest to Jesus really didn’t seem to get it until after His resurrection. When the guards come to arrest Jesus, Peter draws his sword, thinking, “This is it!” James and John, even at the end, are arguing about who will sit at Jesus’ right hand when He becomes King. It’s possible that Judas began to understand who Jesus really was before the rest. Or, at least, that Jesus was not going to be the military commander they thought he was. Strangely, it could have been Judas’ love for country that led to his decision to betray Jesus. He was looking for someone to restore the political and militaristic pride of Israel! When he figured out that was not Jesus’ agenda, he might have started to look for other options.

There are many reasons Judas might have walked away from the Light and into Darkness. Whatever motivated his decision, the story of Judas is a tragic one. From insider to outsider, from Light to Darkness, from friend of God to someone who “it would have been better if they had never been born…” As biblical scholar Lamar Williamson has said about Judas:
“It is no light matter when a chosen disciple of Jesus leaves the table of his or her Lord.” (Lamar Williamson)
You know, it is still no light matter when a chosen disciple of Jesus leaves the table of his or her Lord…

There are many reasons people may leave the Lord’s Table today. In his book, David Kinnaman offers some perspective. He discusses in detail some of the main reasons given by people who leave the church. Folks say the church is hypocritical. Some say the church is too focused on getting converts. Others believe the church is antihomosexual. Some described the church as being too old fashioned, boring, or out of touch with reality. Some thought the church was too political. People might walk away for many reasons, but I am confident about one thing. Whatever the reason, Satan is pulling the strings. If Satan can use our hypocrisy or judgmentalism to keep someone from God, that is a win for Satan! If Satan can use a strained relationship to keep someone away, he will. If Satan can use busyness or out of whack priorities or anything else, he will. No matter the reason, when someone walks away, when someone makes the conscious decision to walk away from Light and into Darkness, that is always a tragedy.

I had a friend in college who did not grow up a Christian. When she was a high school student, she met a guy who began taking her to church. They became very close friends. Finally, my friend accepted Jesus as her Lord and was baptized. I met her years later when we were in college. She was a powerhouse for God. She learned while she was in college that her friend, the one who had introduced her to Jesus, had walked away. He walked out of Light and into Darkness. That grieved her. She was part of a traveling singing group for LCU at the time—she had a powerful voice. One of their concerts was to be near her hometown. She called her friend and begged him to come. He was already out of the “church scene,” but he agreed to come to see her.

It just so happened that one of the songs they sang that year, a song in which she had the solo, was a song entitled, “I Miss the Way” by Michael W. Smith. She sang this song and she never took her eyes off of her friend. If you could look into the eyes of anyone and sing these words, who would it be?

I want to ask you to do something. Write a note to the person you would sing this song to. Who in your world has walked away from Light into Darkness? Who desperately needs to find their way back? I want you to do it now. If you wait, you will let this moment pass. Write your note and send it this week. “It is no light matter when a chosen disciple of Jesus leaves the table of his or her Lord.” So, brothers and sisters, don’t let them leave.

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