"World Turned Upside Down"#86-35
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on April 28, 2019
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: John 20:19-31
She found this recipe for no-fuss shepherd's pie on BBC.com, but it calls for 85 grams of butter
and so she's got to figure out how many tablespoons that is.
There's 14 seconds left on the game clock. The home team just scored a touchdown, but they're still down by one point. The coach makes the call to go for two.
They're returning from a two-week trip to Japan, and they've got four 10,000 Yen bills, and they're trying to figure out whether to exchange them or to take them home as souvenirs for the grandkids. "Excuse me," he asked the attendant, "How much is this in dollars?"
What do those three situations have in common? They all require a conversion. Conversion of grams to tablespoons, a two-point conversion, a conversion of currency. The word conversion is used in a variety of contexts to include spiritual or religious context, particularly with the experience of a follower of Jesus. The word "vert" means to turn in Latin. So an extrovert is someone who turns outward to be revived, and an introvert is someone who turns inward to revived, and a convert is someone who is turned to Jesus for life.
Conversion turns your world upside down. Conversion is not to be confused with a diversion. A diversion is a slight change of course. It's like a detour around a construction zone, and a conversion is not to be confused with a diversion because a conversion turns your world upside down.
That's why one of these earliest followers to Jesus said, "I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live. The world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." That's why another more recent convert wrote, "My conversion was the train wreck that I experienced in coming face to face with the living God." A conversion will turn your world upside down.
So we shouldn't be too hard on this man that has come to be called "doubting Thomas." He was one of the followers of Jesus of Nazareth. Listen to this, how he got his name in the last half of the 20th chapter of this biography of Jesus we call the Gospel of John.
"On the evening of that first day of the week when the disciples were together with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus comes and stood among them.
He says to them, 'Peace. Peace be with you.' He showed them His hands and His side, the marks of crucifixion on His hands and His side. The disciples were overjoyed to see the Lord. Again, He says to them, 'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, so I am sending you.' With that, He breathed on them and says, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone's sins they are forgiven. If you withhold forgiveness, it is withheld.'
"Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the 12, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples began telling Thomas, 'We have seen the Lord. We've seen the Lord.' Thomas said, 'Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger in the place where the nails were, and unless I put my hand into His side, I will never believe.'
"Eight days later when again the disciples were together and Thomas was with them, Jesus comes, although the doors were locked, and stood among them and says to them, 'Peace. Peace be with you.' To Thomas, He says, 'Put your finger here. See My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Stop doubting and trust.' Thomas said, 'My Lord and my God.' Jesus said to him, 'Because you have seen Me, you believe, you trust. Blessed are those who have not seen yet still they trust.'
"Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book. These things are written so that you may trust that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, and that trusting, you would have life in His Name."
This is the Gospel of the Lord.
Trusting that you would have life in His Name. That is conversion. The conversion is not to be confused with a diversion. Let me give you an example of a diversion: in 1954 the Chicago Tribune ran a story about a prediction of the end of the world. The prediction came from a woman named Dorothy Martin. She was a 50-year-old woman from the Chicago suburbs, a self-proclaimed prophet. Dorothy said that she had received messages from outer space. The messages told her that God was going to wipe out life on earth as we know it, and whoever believes, whoever trusts, can come to her house on the night of December 20, 1954, and God was going to send a spaceship to collect them and save them.
A sociology professor named Leon Festinger read the story about Dorothy and the prediction. He and some of his colleagues devised a social experiment. They called the leaders of the "Flying Saucer Cult," which it came to be called, and told them that they were seekers of the truth and they wanted to join the group. In the months leading up to December 20, 1954, these incognito researchers infiltrated the ranks of the group and they studied the social dynamics.
December 20th arrived, and many people came to Dorothy's house. They sang songs, and they waited in anticipation. As midnight approached and midnight passed, and they waited all night. The flying saucer never came. Very early in the morning while it was still dark, Dorothy received another message from outer space. There had been a slight change of plans. God had seen the faith of these believers gathered there, and He had compassion. He decided not to send the flood after all.
That afternoon, they called the newspapers and sought out interviews. They wanted to spread the news about how the world had been saved through their faith. Two years later, Leon Festinger and his colleagues, the ones who had infiltrated the group, they wrote a book titled When Prophecy Fails. In that book they detailed a theory of cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is the stress that someone feels when they believe something so strongly and then they are confronted with a contradiction to that belief, and they struggle. Very often they can create diversions to heal themselves from the contradictory experience or information.
The Flying Saucer Cult is the case in point, that believers can overcome every failed prophecy with a diversion-a slight change of course but basically continue on in the same direction. The followers of the crucified Jesus have long been accused of doing the same thing. They created a diversion. They were so overcome with grief that they concocted this story about Jesus rising from the dead. Then to protect themselves from the reality, they went out to convert the whole world to believe this with them because they couldn't deal with the fact that their Rabbi was dead.
Is that what happened?
Before we try to answer this question, we need to pause and appreciate how important it is. If you, or I, or anyone is to be converted into the Christian faith, we ought to see it for what it is. The Christian faith is different than other systems of belief because it depends on factual, historical truth. Other systems of belief, other ideas don't necessarily depend on a historic person or an actual event.
For example, if you could convince a Buddhist that the Buddha didn't really exist, she could go on being a Buddhist and she could tell you that she doesn't follow the Buddha, she follows the teachings of, the practices of, the ideas of the Buddha. This cannot be said of the followers of Jesus of Nazareth. If Jesus is dead, then so is their faith in Him.
In the same historical period as Jesus of Nazareth, about a century before Jesus and a century after Jesus, hundreds of Jewish men claimed to be the messiah, or were hailed as the messiah. Hundreds. All of them have one thing in common, they all died. Many of them died violently.
Many of them died at the hands of the Romans. Many of them were crucified. Most of them were mourned by their followers. Most of them were celebrated as martyrs and their friends and relatives found comfort in knowing that they lived on in some spiritual way with God in heaven.
In all that time, we have no record of any Jewish followers claiming that their leader had been physically, literally raised from the dead by the God of Israel. No one except One, Jesus of Nazareth. What would bring about this claim from these particular followers of a Jewish Man who was thought to be the Messiah? They experienced, at least you could say psychologically, not a diversion but a conversion. They had their world turned upside down.
This is why this latter follower of Jesus named Paul said, "I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live. The world has been crucified with me, and I to the world" (see Galatians 2:20, 6:14). The case in point for this is this man we call doubting Thomas. Thomas is struggling with a disappointment that many Jews had felt before him and many would feel after him. The guy he followed for three years, that he thought was the Messiah, is dead. He's processing the grief, and then his friends come and say that He is risen from the dead?
The Messiah is not supposed to get crucified by the pagans. He's supposed to conquer the Pagans. A crucified Messiah risen from the dead? That would turn the world upside down. These first followers of Jesus, they did not devise a diversion. They suffered a conversion, not like grams to tablespoons or dollars to Yen, but like wood converted to fire. Like a grain of wheat buried in the ground converted to a harvest. What's the most straightforward to account for this conversion?
They met Jesus face to face, risen from the dead. The living God has brought you to hear this message of His Son today. What do you do with Jesus? Is He a diversion for you? Something you'd watch on the History Channel every once in a while, or take in on an occasional Sunday morning worship service? Is that all Jesus is, a diversion-a short break from more pressing matters like making money and amusing ourselves to death?
Whatever Jesus is to you or to me, we need to understand that He was not a diversion to these first followers. They sacrificed their lives to bring this message to you and to me. They had undergone a conversion. Now, it probably felt like a diversion, at least for a little bit, at least when they thought He was dead. Thomas is there, and He's thinking to himself: "I am never going to get those three years of my life back again."
And then Jesus shows up and he says, "Point your fingers here. See My hands. Stop doubting and trust." Jesus shows up and He converts him; He converts them. That's what Jesus does. We cannot fabricate a conversion with mental effort or heartfelt emotion. Jesus is the converter. That's what he does. He converted hatred and shame, and loss to forgiveness and mercy, and victory. He converted His death into life. He can convert your doubts into faith.
In her book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, Rosaria Butterfield wrote the following, "When I was 28 years old, I was at the finish of a Ph.D. in English. I was being recruited by universities to advance radical leftist ideologies. At the age of 36, I was one of the few tenured women at a large research university. By all standards, I had made it. That same year Christ claimed me for Himself. The life that I had known and loved came to a humiliating end. I didn't choose Christ," she writes, "Nobody chooses Christ. Christ chooses you, or you're dead."
The story of Rosaria's resurrection began with a diversion. Some Christians in her neighborhood, Ken and his wife Floy invited her over for dinner. Rosaria had studied Christianity as an academic diversion, but she had never seen how Christ followers live. Rosaria said that the most memorable part of that visit was Ken's prayer before the meal. "I had never heard anyone pray to God as if God cared, as if God listened, as if God answered. I believed that God was dead. But Ken's God seemed alive, three dimensional, and wise."
Rosaria didn't ask to be a Christian convert, but when Jesus calls you from the grave, you come to life. When Jesus turns the world upside down and you fall out, He catches you. If you're not sure that you're a convert to Christ, I want you to read or listen to the whole Gospel of John, or any of the biographies of Jesus in the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.
I want you to do one other thing for me. The next time a follower of Jesus invites you over for dinner, say yes. Take it as a slight diversion. Go and see how they live. If you are a convert to life in Christ, here's what you do: break out that no-hassle shepherd's pie recipe, convert 85 grams of butter to however many tablespoons that is, and invite someone over for dinner, and pray with me:
Dear Father, send Your Holy Spirit that Jesus, Your Word, may be present in our lives. Wherever His followers live and wherever they converse with those who do not yet know You, make them witnesses to His life, to His sacrificial death, His victorious resurrection, and His promised return to make all things new so that what starts as diversion may end in conversion- and what begins in conversion may continue to eternal life with You through Him who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever. Amen.
Reflections for April 28, 2019
Title: World Turned Upside Down
Mark Eischer: Once again, here's Dr. Michael Zeigler.
Mike Zeigler: Thanks Mark. I have with me today in the studio, Dr. Chad Lakies. He is currently professor of religion at Concordia University in Portland and has recently accepted a call to serve here full-time at Lutheran Hour Ministries as the regional director for North America. On a personal note, I need to say I've admired your work for a long time, and I'm thrilled to be working alongside you to help energize God's people to spread the Good News about Jesus.
Chad Lakies: Our post-Christian culture is a really interesting place, and I think Lutheran Hour has a lot to offer in being able to help the church facilitate its mission efforts.
Mike Zeigler: I agree. I understand that you came to faith in Jesus as an adult. Tell me a little bit about what was going on in your life at that time.
Chad Lakies: I grew up in a nominally Christian household. We were Catholic in name, but really in name only. My parents had all of us catechized. I'm the oldest of three. We went through Catholic CCD, is what it's called, weekly through all the years of primary school up through eighth grade when we would get confirmed, For me, that became the point of freedom. My parents allowed me to decide whether I'm going to hang with it or not, and I looked for the first ticket out because I at least thought I had to justify my decision of not going. I encountered my first ticket in freshman biology class in high school where-while I liked the church history stuff that I learned-the science at least at that time seemed to make better sense, pragmatically better sense, of the world around me. So for all of high school I called myself an atheist. But all along the way of growing up, I'd been playing drums. My senior year, a group of us are gathered together, and we put on a Blues Brothers cover band show. We won a couple of contests and played for some high school open houses. It was really great. But the tipping point for getting me back in a church was the fact that we were rehearsing in the garage of one of the guys who was performing as the lead singer, and his mom happened to be the praise team leader at a local Lutheran congregation where they didn't have a drummer. They just had a little keyboard. They asked me to come and play. I took the gig, and I said, "You know, I'm an atheist. Right?" They knew, but they were willing to have me come and play as a professional sort of thing where they'd pay me, and I would come and do what I was contracted to do essentially. I promised not to do anything like raise my objections, or say something embarrassing, or something like that while I was playing there. That's what got me back into church. My conversion came about halfway through freshman year of college.
Mike Zeigler: Some people talk about a light switch moment where everything becomes clear. Other people describe it more like a gradual sunrise. How was that conversion moment for you?
Chad Lakies: I was afraid to be in the church. I was worried that people were going to try to shove Jesus down my throat, or beat me over the head with my Bible, assuming that because I was an atheist I had no morality. But neither of those came to be true. The folks that I started playing music with were just happy that I was there. They knew I had questions. They knew I had doubts. They admitted openly, "We don't know how to answer those questions." What I was looking for was something tangible. I wanted God to make it obvious. Knowing what I know now, God doesn't usually do that. Instead of saying audibly, "Hello Chad. I'm here," or writing on the wall, "Hello Chad. This is God," it was something more like I started to realize that when I played drums in church, my experience was different than any other place or ensemble I ever played with.
Chad Lakies: That kind of became the tipping point for me. It wasn't a light bulb, but my life took on an entirely different direction. A new set of passions was almost immediately enlivened in me. Whereas previously I hated school, and writing, and reading, suddenly I had this unsatisfiable appetite to read as much as I could, some of which was trying to answer my own questions, my own doubts, and objections, and concerns about the Christian faith. But also some of it was just learning about the Christian faith in a very general new believer sort of way.
Mike Zeigler: How does this affect the way you interact with people who have not yet come to see the light?
Chad Lakies: I guess one of the things that I love about the work that I've been doing as professor of religion at Concordia is, I have this really interesting set of students out there on the West Coast. We have got anyone in our classroom from someone who's been brought up through Lutheran schools from very early on, baptized the day they were born perhaps, and Concordia is just the next step in that process, to people in our classrooms who have never ever been even exposed to religion. They've never opened any kind of a sacred text. I try to share my story with them to personalize my role as their professor and show them I'm a human being.
I've been on my own journey, and I've had my own series of experiences in coming to live this new spiritual reality as a follower of Jesus. I want them to see what it's like for a real person that they can get to know whose office they can come visit, whose home they might potentially have dinner in. I want them to know what it's like for a real person to be a follower of Jesus, and I want them to hear from me the story of the Gospel. I don't want them to meet Jesus through the weird Christian they have on Survivor, right, that just everybody talks about because he acts foolish, and the TV show has turned him into a spectacle for all of us to judge. It's like, "Oh, there's that weird Christian again."
I don't want them to have that kind of external image of what it's like to be a Christian. I want them at Concordia Portland to meet real people who are living this life, struggling to follow Jesus well, but wanting to love the people that He brings to us in the best possible ways that we can wherever they are.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"O Sons and Daughters of the King" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)