Gospel: John 2:13-22 (Lent 3: Series B)

Reading Time: 5 mins

Belief in Jesus is no longer a given. Today, we need to make a case. Today, we must give an account.

WHY do we believe in Jesus?

It is one of those foundational questions every Christian should be able to answer. In previous generations, we could skip this question. Christendom meant everyone believed, or, at least, that the conditions for belief were highly favorable. The question, “Why?” was not pressing. Christians were more concerned with questions about WHAT we believe or HOW we practice the faith. But as Charles Taylor describes, in his book “A Secular Age,” things have changed. Belief in Jesus is no longer a given. Today, we need to make a case. Today, we must give an account.

This is not the first time Christians have had to explain themselves. “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). Peter was writing to Christians living as a minority in a pluralistic context. When these earliest believers took the Gospel of Jesus Christ into their pagan communities, they needed to be prepared to give a credible and thoughtful (and faithful) account of the reason for their belief.

This need has returned today in force, not only for people outside the Church, but also for us Christians. In our contemporary pluralistic context, many (including some in our own pews) have serious questions. Why should we belong to a congregation? Why should we attend worship? Why should we listen to sermons? Why should we conform our lives to the Scriptures? In short, WHY should we believe in Jesus? Your hearers need to be prepared to give an answer. You, as their preacher, can help.

The Gospel reading for this week provides direction. But before we get to the text, let me say a few words about a potential way to arrange the sermon. You might consider organizing this according to the “Question-Answered” structure. This is a good option for helping hearers engage in sustained reflection around pressing theological questions. It helps Christians learn to think theologically (to understand the movement I will suggest below, you will want to read this description of the structure first).

The Introduction for a Question Answered sermon poses the question which will drive the entire sermon. In this case, the question is simple and direct: “Why do we believe in Jesus?” If your people are not already asking this question, your job in your introduction is to help them see why they should. The three rhetorical units that follow consider inductively three different ways of answering this question. The first two are commonly held by some in our day and, at first glance, may seem plausible. But upon further and deeper reflection (through which you will guide them), you will help them see they both, ultimately, fall short. The last rhetorical unit proclaims the third answer, which is both biblically faithful and Gospel-dominated.

“Why do we believe in Jesus?” If your people are not already asking this question, your job in your introduction is to help them see why they should.

Here is how the three main rhetorical units might unfold:

False Answer #1: We believe in Jesus because the Christian faith is objectively perceived and scientifically reasonable.

Modern approaches to apologetics often take this approach. There are good reasons for it. The Psalm for this Sunday (Psalm 19) reminds us how creation praises the handiwork of God. Any reasonable person, the thinking goes, can recognize in creation the existence of the Creator. This thinking extends to the idea that, on the basis of the biblical record of Jesus’ miracles, it is entirely rational to believe Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of all.

This account of why we believe in Jesus seems stable. It feels secure. But on closer examination, it falls short for two reasons. First, it underestimates the impact of sin. The corruption of our minds prohibits us from perceiving things rightly on our own. Our ability to reason rightly is hopelessly unreliable. Second, the epistle reading for this Sunday reminds us that the message of the cross of Jesus is a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles (1 Corinthians 1:23). As Paul says in the next chapter, the Spirit alone enables us to accept it (see 1 Corinthians 2:12-15). To believe in Jesus because science or reason has proven the Gospel to be true is to abandon the entire notion of believing in the first place.

False Answer #2: We believe in Jesus because of the good things He promises us.

Those who cling to the gracious promises of God are quick to embrace the gracious work of our Lord for us. Forgiveness, life, salvation, this three-word summary of God’s promises is central to our faith. It is the heart of our preaching, teaching, and evangelism.

However, we have to be careful here as well. We cling to these promises and give thanks to God for them, but they are not the reason we believe. To believe in Jesus because He gives us good gifts is to put the cart before the horse. It mistakes Christianity for consumerism and God for a therapist. While we rejoice in His gifts and give thanks for His goodness, His grace does not justify our belief.

We cling to these promises and give thanks to God for them, but they are not the reason we believe.

The Biblically Faithful, Gospel-Dominated Answer: We believe in Jesus because He rose from the dead.

Here is where the text for this week comes into the picture. John 2 records Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Jews were not pleased. They demanded an explanation. Jesus defended His actions with a promise: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). Unsurprisingly, they missed the point. The disciples did, too. In verse 22, John explains, “When, therefore, He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the Word Jesus had spoken.” Notice the order. The disciples did not believe Jesus after His public preaching. They did not believe after His miracles. They did not believe Him after His private instruction. It was not until AFTER He was raised from the dead that they believed both Jesus and the Scriptures.

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul describes the resurrection of Jesus as the only foundation for our faith. Had Jesus merely died, his promises would have been nullified and we would be the most pitiful people on earth (1 Corinthians 15:17, 19). But, in fact, Jesus rose from the dead! In His resurrection we find the vindication of Jesus’ claims and the reason for our faith.

We are still in the middle of Lent. There are four weeks left until Easter. But this is not an inappropriate time to remind your hearers that we only celebrate this season because of how it ends. WHY do we believe in Jesus? The answer is clear and simple: Because He rose from the dead.

But even this is not yet good news for your hearers. This is where the reason for our belief in Jesus must give way to the proclamation of promises which we cling to BY faith. What are those promises? Take your pick, for all of God’s promises are, “Yes!” in Christ. They were all vindicated in His resurrection. But it would make sense to proclaim the promise of resurrection for your hearers, too. His resurrection was only the beginning. God promises to raise us with Jesus when He returns, and that promise sees us through both the season of the Lent and the rest of our journey through this vale of tears.


Additional Resources:

Craft of Preaching-Check out out 1517’s resources on John 2:13-22.

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching John 2:13-22.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach John 2:13-22.

Lectionary Kick-Start-Check out this fantastic podcast from Craft of Preaching authors Peter Nafzger and David Schmitt as they dig into the texts for this Sunday!

Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Walter A. Maier III of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through John 2:13-22.