Lance Armstrong (born 1971) dominated the world of professional cycling. He won the Tour de France seven consecutive times, from 1999-2005. He was the face of the sport. Can you name another cyclist? I can’t. For years the UCI, the Union of Cyclists International, suspected Armstrong of taking steroids, doping. For years Armstrong denied it. Then it happened. He grew tired of the lies and confessed it was true. The first one he told was Oprah Winfred (born 1954). I did not learn anything from the interview I had not suspected for years. Lance Armstrong was a doper! Lance Armstrong was a cheater! Lance Armstrong was a liar! Since his confession, he has been stripped of all his titles and has faced a mountain of lawsuits from past sponsors. Many consider Lance Armstrong to be the greatest cheater in the history of professional sports. Today’s blog is about lying. However, it is not about lying for personal gain. It is about lying to yourself.
We are in the eighth chapter of the gospel of John, verses twelve through twenty. Jesus is in the temple in Jerusalem. To be exact, he is in the temple courts. That was the place where rabbis taught their students. It is early in the morning, but a crowd has already gathered for another lesson. As Jesus surveyed the crowd, he knew it was going to be a bad day. For in the crowd were his well-organized enemies, the Pharisees. You remember them. They were experts on the law. That was no small task because there were 613 laws found in the Torah. The negative commandments numbered 365, which is the number of days in a solar year. The positive commandments numbered 248, which is the number of bones and organs in the human body. If you add the negative commandments and the positive commandment, there are 613 commandments. The Pharisees believed keeping those 613 laws was the key to spiritual enlightenment. The Pharisees believed keeping the 613 laws would hasten the return of the long-awaited Messiah. They did not just hope that was true. They believed that was true. In the end they were lying to themselves. That is why they were so outraged at Jesus.
They must have been shocked when Jesus uttered verse twelve, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” What does that verse men? It means Jesus is the key to spiritual enlightenment. It means the Pharisees are wrong. Then, a debate broke out between Jesus and the Pharisees over authority. The Master won the debate because he knew where he had come from, and he knew where he was going. The Pharisees knew neither because they were living in the dark. They were sincere, but they were living a lie. Do you know of anyone who is living a lie? You must know someone. There are so many.
In the world today, there are 1.8 billion Muslims. I hate to say it, but they are living a lie. There are many sincere Muslims. Islam teaches death happens when the body and the soul are separated. Muslims believe they will stay in their graves until their Day of Judgement. The spirit returns to their earthly home on the seventh and the fortieth day after their death. Also, the spirit returns to their earthly home on the first anniversary of their death. In Islam, Allah decides when everyone will die. There are some elements of Christianity there, but they are missing a savior. In Christianity, God left the perfection of heaven to be the prefect sacrifice for the sins of the world. A life without Jesus is living a lie.
In the world today, there are one billion Hindus. I hate to say it, but they are living a lie. They believe humans are in a constant cycle between life and death called samara. They call our spirit the atman. At death, the atman simply moves on to another person. The life you are living now has been influenced by your previous life. If you have a hard life today, it is because of the bad life you live in the past. If you have a good life today, it is because of the good life you lived in the past. The goal is to live a perfect life so you can exit the cycle. Can I be honest with you? One life is enough for me. I do not what to again.
In the world today, many do not believe in an afterlife. According to the Pew Research over 7% of all Americans are atheists or agnostics. When they die, they simply believe it all ends for them. Some famous people are, or were, in this category. You know their names:
There are others, but I do not have the time. They are not just living in denial. They are living a lie. Who wants to live when there is no hope of a happy ending? I long to go to heaven.
George Lee is a retired United Methodist minister in the area and a good friend to me and this church. Years ago, he told this illustration and I never forgot. A woman in one of his churches did everything in the church that was humanly possible. She sang in the choir, served on all the committees, and never missed worship. She went to every Trustee workday. She taught Sunday school. She worked in the kitchen. She had a certain assigned job in the kitchen. She peeled the potatoes. She peeled the potatoes for years. She pealed more potatoes, then anyone in the history of that congregation. One day, George was told she had cancer. She fought the disease with a positive attitude. Unfortunately, the disease was winning. One night, George was called because the end was near. He went to the hospital to be with her. When he arrived, he found her in a weakened state. She looked up at him and said, “George, have I pealed enough potatoes to get into heaven?” George said his heart broke. She played a large role in every part of the church, but she missed the main message. There simply are not enough potatoes! There just is not enough anthems. There are not dinners to cook or classes to teach. There are just not enough sermons to preach. We are not saved by our good works. We are saved by grace and by grace alone. Our only hope of salvation is Jesus!
It is called works righteousness. It is a product of the Protestant Work Ethic. What does the Protestant Work Ethic say? It says anything worth having is worth working for. It built our country. The problem is it promotes works at the expense of grace. I hear it at nearly every funeral I preform. The loved ones gathered in front of the casket and report on the live of the deceased. He or she loved everyone, and everyone loved them. They would do anything for everyone. They would give you the shirt off their back. Then, someone will say it, “If anyone deserves to go to heaven it was them.” I have never corrected a single person at that moment, but this is the truth. The loved one does not deserve to go to heaven. The loved one deserved to go to hell and so do you. I hope you are not living a lie. We are not saved by what we have done. We are saved by grace! You know the old Gospel story!
Jesus was born in the ordinary way, but he lived an extra ordinary life. There was something special about Jesus. After all, he was the son God. He loved and respected everyone. He taught about the Kingdom of God in a small geographic area. He healed the sick and the afflicted. He deserved to live a long and happy life, but that was not part of the divine plan. He threatened the leaders of the orthodox faith and made some powerful influential enemies. It was during the Passover one of his own agreed to betray him. Judas Iscariot did it for thirty pieces of silver, but he regretted that decision later. He would hang himself. Jesus was arrested while praying in the garden. Within hours he would face two trials. The first was in front of his own people. It was a monkey trial. He did not have a chance. They had everything they needed but the authority to execute Jesus. The one with that authority was the Roman governor, Pontius Pilot. He saw through the scheme but lack the courage to confront the crowd. In the end he sentences Jesus to be executed, and releases a notorious criminal, Barabbas. The solders followed their orders and made the fast few hours on Jesus’ life miserable. The Romans used their way of executing. Jesus dies on a cross between two thieves. The cheers of Palm Sunday had been replaced by the tears of Good Friday. Everyone thought it was over. Everyone was wrong. There was a surprise ending.
Early on Sunday morning, a handful of women went to the tomb. They must have walked slowly. Their hearts were heavy, and their minds were full of questions. They did not have a clue what had happened. The stone was rolled away, but Jesus’s body was missing. At first, they fear the body had been removed by one of Jesus’s enemies. Then, they are informed that Jesus had returned to life. It is too good to be true. They run to the disciples to tell them, but they refuse to believe them. They run to the tomb, and they found the account to be true. A short time later they encounter the resurrected Jesus, himself. Over the next forty days Jesus appeared to a variety of people. Then, Jesus ascended into heaven. The Holy Spirit filled the believers. There is no other way of saying it. The resurrection of Jesus changed everything! That is not a lie. It is the truth.
The Apostle Paul did not lie. He told us the truth in Romans 10:9, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your hear God raised him from the dead you will be saved.” It is my favorite Bible verse. Jesus did not lie to the Pharisees in the temple courts all those years ago. Jesus is the light of the world! Plato (427 BC – 427 BC) once said, “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” Are you living a lie?