Readings: Ex. 20:1–17, 1 Cor. 1:18–25 & Jhn 2:13-25.
I don’t think any of us would deny that Australia is becoming a ‘less religious’ nation. I’ve presented census data in previous sermons, which shows that the percentage of the population who identify themselves as being of ‘no religion’, has almost doubled in fifteen years, from 15.5% in 2001, to 29.6% in 2016.
What surprised me recently though, was the result of a 2006 study by Monash University, the Australian Catholic University and the Christian Research Association, which found that 52% of Australians born between 1976 and 1990, that is 52% of Australians who at the time were aged between 16 and 30, had no belief in a god. Even more surprising, was the finding of a 2008 global Gallup poll, that nearly 70% of Australians stated that religion has no importance in their life. This would suggest that Australia is a ‘far less’ religious nation than we perhaps thought?
I wonder how much of this is due to the fact that we live in a post-enlightenment world, where human reason alone, is believed to be capable of solving our major social problems and giving us true moral knowledge. A world where we look to science, to provide us with evidence that supports human reason. A world that requires signs, signs that prove a theory or reasoning.
Take the issue of global warming, or climate change. A number of scientists have pointed to various signs as proof of the phenomena, but many sceptics remain, who point to other forms of evidence which disprove the theory, or theories.
We can perhaps compare these people to the
“Jews” whom Paul mentions in 1 Cor. 1:22:–“For Jews demand signs . . .”
Paul was of course referring to the death of Jesus on the cross, and the fact that most Jewish people could not accept the idea of their Messiah being crucified. As William Barclay wrote:
“To a Jew, the fact of the crucifixion, so far from proving that Jesus was the Son of God, disproved it finally.”1
The Jews looked for signs, startling events that proved, or at least pointed to, the coming of the Messiah. In 45 CE, a man named Theudas persuaded thousands of people to abandon their homes and follow him out to the Jordan River where he promised that the waters of the river would separate at his command, as they did for Moses during the Exodus, and the people would be able to walk across without getting their feet wet.2
In the year 54 CE a man arrived in Jerusalem from Egypt, claiming to be the Messiah, persuading 30,000 people to follow him to the Mount of Olives, promising that at his command the walls of Jerusalem would collapse. 3 These were the types of signs the Jews were looking for. Signs that their ancestors saw, such as that mentioned in our reading from the Book of Exodus this morning, when God appeared to the Israelites on top of Mount Sinai in a cloud of fire and smoke, and gave them the Ten Commandments.
Jesus was asked by the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem for a sign which would signify by whose authority he was cleansing the Temple. His response was:
“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up”,
which of course was a reference to his own body. Whereas the practice for Jews at that time was to visit Jerusalem and worship God in the Temple, John was clearly telling his readers that Jesus was to be the ‘new Temple’. People were to worship God through Jesus.
In this passage from John’s Gospel, John interestingly introduces his account of the story at the beginning of his gospel, unlike the Synoptic Gospels where it is featured in the latter chapters. In John’s version, we hear Jesus predict his own violent death and subsequent resurrection. Because the story appears so early in John’s Gospel, it is possible that John’s readers were already familiar with the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection.4 John’s emphasis then, is not so much on the question:
“What end will Jesus meet?”,
but rather on the spiritual dynamics, that will lead to the end, that has already been revealed in this early stage of John’s Gospel.5
This brings us back to the passage from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. Paul tells the Corinthians that for those “who are perishing”, meaning those who don’t believe in Jesus as the Messiah, and therefore Saviour, the message of Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection is foolish. But for the Corinthians, who are Christians and who do believe that Jesus is the Messiah, they know that it is the power of God. Only by the power of God could Jesus have suffered death on the cross and then been resurrected three days later.
The Jews, even though they were God’s chosen people, had failed to understand this. In spite of a history full of the accounts of God’s power, the Jewish people had constantly put God to the test by demanding signs of Him, as though the only way they would ever be prepared to follow Him, was if they had proof that He was worthy to receive their following; if they had proof of His power.
In the same way today, people still need signs of God’s existence. They need physical proof before they can believe; especially before they can believe in a story as unbelievable as the Resurrection.
But of course for us, for Christians, who believe in the Resurrection, who are saved; who are reconciled to God, because Jesus died on the cross and was raised three days later; we know it as the power of God.
The Lord be with you.
1 William Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 2002), p. 21,
2 Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians, p. 22,
3 Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians, p. 22,
4 Andreas J. Köstenberger, A Theology of John’s Letters and Gospel (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2009), p. 197,
5 Köstenberger, A Theology of John’s Letters and Gospel, p. 197.