Where is your confidence

Where is your confidence John 12_1-8

Put your hand up if you love going to the dentist!  Tell me why no one or very few people like to go to the dentist?  Well if you don’t like going why do you go?

Of course we go to the dentist because we need to look after our teeth, and we know that sometimes the best treatment may mean we will suffer pain; the pain of pulling a tooth, or scrapping of our gums, the agony of orthodontic work.  Just the sound of the dentist’s drill puts shivers up our spine.  We endure suffering and pain because we place our trust in the dentist and the outcome he is promising.  We may be a quivering mess, we may look like and feel like a wimp, we may even feel like crying, but the expertise of the dentist gives us the courage to trust in him; to trust that the procedure will heal us.  Fear yet hope.  Worry yet faith; weakness yet strength to endure; yet not faith in my strength, but faith in the professionalism of the dentist.

We say that we have faith in God.  We say that faith justifies, faith makes us right with God, Luther reformed the church proclaiming ‘it is by faith alone that we are saved.’  St Paul in Ephesians 2:8 says ‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith.’  Yet have you ever questioned yourself about what this ‘faith’ is; what it looks like, and how do I know I have the ‘faith’ that saves and endures suffering and temptation?  And is it after all ‘my faith’ that saves?

St John records a woman of great faith who is acting in a way that looks as if she has no faith.  Mary, the sister of Lazarus, who pleaded with Jesus to help her dying brother, who witnessed Jesus raise her brother from the dead, pours expensive perfume on Jesus feet and then wipes them with her hair. Luke records that she was a quivering mess, crying aloud in front of religious guests; with her tears she soaked Jesus’ garments.  Certainly not what we would expect of a woman of faith and neither did Judas.

He, on the other hand, looks, speaks and acts like a man of great faith.  He is offended by this flirty show of emotion, unbecoming of a strong woman of faith, and instantly points out her wrongdoing in poring out expensive oil on Jesus; such a waste of money!  Not good discipleship!  This same scenario could be played out in any church today.  One member may be shaking and balling, unable to compose themselves and they seem to always make ‘unchristian decisions’ in their life.  While another member is quite calm, always in the right, always doing what appears good, the idealistic disciple of Jesus.  As observers in the pews, we would tend to judge by outward actions that the calm member has the ‘faith’, while the other distraught person is a lost cause…but is that so?

Perhaps we judge ourselves or another person to have strong saving faith because, like Judas, we look for actions;  that we or they have a life of committed discipleship; can point out another person’s failures and weaknesses; can easily give advice on a how a person of faith should live and use money and are a wealth of on knowledge on religion.  Is this the ‘faith alone’ Luther speaks of, or the ‘saving faith’ Paul talks about in Ephesians? Or the discipleship Jesus was seeking?  Judas thought so and it showed by his very words and actions, ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.’  Sadly however, placing our faith in our good works is not saving faith.  The object of Judas’ faith was in himself and his plans and not in Jesus.

Faith always has an object it believes in; someone it trusts in for good and wellbeing.  Our visit to the dentist is an example of faith.  It is not ‘trust and faith’ in our calm composure or personal strength that brings about healing to our teeth, its our faith in the dentist, knowing that the pain and suffering he inflicts upon us will actually heal us.  This is why I can look a quivering mess, doing crazing things out of fear, yet still have strong faith…in fact my faith can even be greater than someone who appears to have it all together, because my faith is in the dentist and not in my personal courage.

Judas looked the ideal disciple, appeared to love God’s word, he followed Jesus and seemed to have his life together, but the object of his faith was money and glory, as John hints: ‘He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.’   When the hour of severe trial and suffering came, when he was confronted with the full wrath of God for what he had done; when the word of God accused his conscience for betraying Jesus, his confidence vanished, his works vanished, and so did his faith in himself; he could not stand alone before God and could not find comfort because the object of his faith was not in Jesus but in money and himself and so he tragically committed suicide.

When the object of our faith is in our self, even though we speak about Jesus and act confident and seem sure of our salvation, it is not saving faith, it is idolatry.  God’s word of law, that convicts us of this, is far stronger and will destroy us.   Only faith that has its object as Jesus can endure such suffering and work of God’s word. We should not be surprised when we suffer doubt and the pain that we are not a good enough Christian, as we fail in attempting to be our own saviour, it is God operating on us.  Like when a dentist pulls a decaying tooth to stop an infection that will kill us, God’s word of law works like a dentist’s instrument, pulling out any faith that is not in Christ; killing off any obsession we may have with self-reliance.

Mary, who looked weak and doomed, who was crying and seemingly wasting money had in fact, saving faith.  While everyone else in the room came to see Lazarus, who had been raised from the dead, Mary came to see Jesus, the object of her faith.  Once, she was proud, demanding Jesus act the way she thought, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’  But after seeing Jesus raise her brother from the grave, she was humble.  The suffering and anguish Jesus allowed her to go through, broke her pride and at the raising of Lazarus, she was able to see that salvation only comes through faith in Jesus.  God’s word of law killed, but his greater and final word, the gospel brought life and produced saving faith in Mary.

In a way, the perfume she poured over Jesus feet was a visible resemblance of her faith; a faith that was once bottled up in self-reliance; bottled as ‘precious’ by the world,  but was now broken free and poured out upon Jesus as a sign that Jesus was now her object of faith.  Even using her hair to wipe the perfume, which was a sign of humiliation, resembled the fact that she had nothing of worth to offer Jesus; she was willing to suffer humiliation and be nothing in the eyes of the world because her faith was now in Jesus.

Saving faith has as its object Jesus.  It trusts outside of itself.  It is a faith that justifies because it places its trust in Jesus who went to the cross for us and died on our behalf, ‘who was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.’  Your faith is saving faith when it takes hold and believes these words of Jesus ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.’  Saved by faith alone means nothing else than hearing this gospel and receiving the sacraments, trusting that Jesus alone saves through these means.

The law says ‘Do this to be saved,’ and it is never done.  ‘Grace says, ‘believe this,’ and everything is already done’!  Fear yet hope.  Worry yet faith; weakness yet strength to endure; yet not faith in my strength, but faith in Christ alone.  Amen

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