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Jesus Loves Atheists - Part A

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The Truth Network Radio
February 19, 2021 2:00 am

Jesus Loves Atheists - Part A

Connect with Skip Heitzig / Skip Heitzig

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February 19, 2021 2:00 am

Pontius Pilate was a secular pragmatist concerned about Roman order and personal advancement. In the message "Jesus Loves Atheists," Skip shares how Jesus loved and handled atheists like Pilate—and how you should, too.

This teaching is from the series Jesus Loves People .

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You see, the world is like a living dynamic courtroom. People are always on a daily basis deciding to receive Christ, to inquire about Christ, to move a little closer to that position or to reject Him. People in our culture have heard about Jesus. They know about Christianity. They know about those who claim to be Christians, and they're, they're always deciding. So this is what I've discovered. Atheists have good questions.

Make sure that you have good answers. A. W. Tozer said, Most are the most rejected. Here's Skip Heitzig, The Jesus Loves People four booklet collection by Skip Heitzig. All four Jesus Loves People titles, including Jesus Loves the Broken, are our thanks for your gift of $25 or more today to help connect more people to God's love through His word.

Visit connectwithskip.com slash offer to give online securely or call 800-922-1888. Okay, we'll be in John chapter 18 for today's study. So let's join Skip Heitzig. No one is born an atheist. That's a choice that a person makes. It is a belief system. It requires a certain amount of faith to be an atheist. Just like no one is born a Christian. We cooperate with God's calling on our lives and we do that by faith. It's a choice that we make. It's a belief system. But there is a dilemma that the atheist had and has.

And it's simple really. When an atheist feels grateful, who do they think? And I don't say that flippantly. I say it sincerely because gratitude is a basic human trait. And I found it interesting that Richard Dawkins, who is one of the most recent and very vocal atheists, he said when he looks at the Milky Way galaxy or at the Grand Canyon or even under a microscope that he is overcome by profound feelings of gratitude. And he said, and I quote, it's a feeling of sort of an abstract gratitude that I'm alive to appreciate these wonders.

Close quote. So to whom does Richard Dawkins give thanks? Atheism is not a new concept.

It's been around a long time. The Bible speaks about the one who says in his heart there is no God. You know the text. The writer says the fool has said in his heart there is no God. As long as there has been belief, there has been unbelief. As long as there has been theism, there has been atheism. But you'll be interested to know that atheism does not appear in the English language until the 16th century. The first documented use of the term atheism was in the year 1568 and it was a term borrowed from another language by Miles Coverdale.

And when it appeared and when it was first in use, it was considered to be a new phenomenon, a rare thing. It wasn't until the enlightenment of the 17th and 18th century that atheism really became an intellectual force. And then by the 19th century, there was a massive cultural shift in the West. During that century came four unique gentlemen. We could call them the four horsemen of the atheistic apocalypse. They are Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, and Sigmund Freud. They brought this massive cultural intellectual shift in Western thought. And it became more or less a part of the cultural landscape of our country and many others in the 20th century so that by the 1960s, even Time Magazine ran as a cover article saying, is God dead?

That was on the front of the cover with a big question mark. Is God dead? Even though a small minority really might blow your mind to know that only 2% of our population claim to be atheist. Now many more may be, but they're not stepping up to the plate and saying so. Maybe they're in the agnostic camp, but 2% say they're atheists.

However, the number is growing. And one of the reasons it's growing is because of the wave of new atheism, authors such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and others who have made it to the New York Times bestseller list. Many of these are very, very vocal against our faith and for their faith.

They basically say that belief in God is nothing more than organized ignorance and that atheism is freedom from such ignorance. Moreover, they will say, among other things, that belief in God is one of the chief problems with the earth today. It's the cause of violence. It's the cause of bloodshed.

It's the cause of war. They'll look back to the Crusades where people were slaughtered in the name of religion. They'll look to the Middle East where so many atrocities are done by people who claim to believe in God. I've asked you to turn to John chapter 18 to look at a man named Pontius Pilate, who is not an atheist per se. He would probably fall more into the agnostic camp. There was a Roman belief system. They had certain gods.

They really deified the Caesars, the emperors of Rome. But it would seem that Pilate only tipped his hat to any worship system, that he was jaded in his response. He's a cynical secularist, I'll call him. A cynical secularist who opines before Jesus by saying, what is truth?

Toward the end of the text we will read. I think Pilate was confused really. I think he was a walking conundrum. I found it interesting that C.S. Lewis, who was one time an avowed atheist before he came to faith in Christ.

C.S. Lewis wrote, I was living like so many atheists in a whirl of contradictions. I maintained God did not exist, but also I was very angry with God for not existing. Sort of like the man who, when he was asked what he believed in, he said, I'm an atheist, thank God. But in this text, Pontius Pilate encounters Jesus Christ. They are face to face. They are eye to eye.

There are words and looks that are exchanged. And in looking at this text with you in the 18th chapter of John, beginning in verse 28, I want to give you five qualities that we should exhibit whenever we encounter an atheist or an agnostic. First of all, be confident.

Be confident. In verse 28, let's begin. Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas to the Praetorium.

And it was early morning. But they themselves did not go into the Praetorium, lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat the Passover. Pilate then went out to them and said, What accusation do you bring against this man? They answered and said to him, If he were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered him up to you. Then Pilate said to them, You take and judge him according to your law. Therefore, the Jews said to him, It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death, that the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled which he spoke, signifying by what death he would die.

Now wouldn't you agree that it would be awfully intimidating to stand before Roman justice, before a man who has the power of life or death with a flick of a wrist? Pontius Pilate, let me give you a thumbnail sketch. He was the fifth governor of Judea. He was appointed to the post in AD 26 by Tiberius Caesar. He maintained that post for 10 years. Pontius Pilate was not a Roman.

Did you know that? He didn't come from Rome. He was Spanish.

He was from Seville, Spain. He became part of the Roman army. He was enamored with it and eventually he lucked out. He married the right gal.

He married the granddaughter of Augustus Caesar named Claudia Procula and basically she got him the job of governor over a province and this was the province of Judea. Now he appears in the Bible about 21 times but secular historians, other historians like Tacitus the Roman historian, Josephus the Jewish historian, Philo from Alexandria all paint a picture of Pontius Pilate as being oppressive and cruel, stubborn, greedy. And I think the text that we have before us gives us a hint as to why. In verse 38 when Jesus talks about the truth, it is Pilate who says in disgust seemingly, what is truth? What is truth?

We are dealing with a burned out cynic. For Pilate life has no answers. For Pilate there are no absolute truths. History tells us he hated being in Judea. He hated the Jewish religion and this is the one who is standing before Jesus Christ. As we read this story, it would seem like Pilate has total control.

He's in charge. He's calling the shots until, until we get to verse 31 and verse 32. These are the verse that we just sort of read over and don't really analyze like we should but I want you to notice what it says. Pilate said, you take him and judge him according to your law. He's saying that to the Jewish leaders. Therefore the Jews said to him, it's not lawful for us to put anyone to death. That the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled which he spoke signifying by what death he would die. Do you remember that Jesus Christ, not only did he predict that he would die, but he predicted precisely what kind of death he would die. In Mark chapter 10 he said to his followers, we are going up to Jerusalem and the son of man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, other translations say the Romans, who will mock him and spit on him and flog him and kill him.

I'm going to die when the Jewish leaders deliver me over to the Romans. Ah, but he was more specific. He said, as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, the son of man must be lifted up. John chapter 12, he's even more specific. He said, if I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself.

John gives us a footnote. This he spoke signifying by what death he would die. You see, if he was delivered over to the Jews for them to kill him, he wouldn't be lifted up. He would be thrown down. He would be stoned to death. To be lifted up on a cross was a distinctly Roman form of execution. So here's my point.

This is what I don't want you to miss. Pilate wasn't in control. Jesus Christ was calling all the shots.

He was firmly in control. Remember, just hours before he had told his disciples, before the Passover, he said, you're going to go into the city. You're going to meet a man carrying a pitcher of water. He's going to lead you to a house. You're going to talk to the owner of the house. The owner of the house is going to show you a large furnished upper room.

That's a lot of details. Make ready there, the Passover. They went, they had the Passover. Afterwards, Jesus said, arise, let us be going, and led them to the Kidron Valley where he was arrested. And now this, and signifying by what death he would die, the Romans get involved. No wonder Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate, not like a shaking leaf, not like the cowardly lion before the Wizard of Oz, but with poise, with confidence, with assurance.

He was in absolute and total control of the situation. Now you need the same kind of confidence whenever you are face to face with an atheist or an agnostic because such conversations can seem to you very intimidating. I know some of you have told me. You need to be confident, confident that God has allowed you this opportunity, this conversation, this interaction, and confident that God is in control. When you feel intimidated by an unbeliever, you need to recognize three things. Recognize your inadequacy, recognize God's sovereignty, and recognize their necessity. They need this.

They need this. A.W. Tozer wrote, were every man on earth to become an atheist, it would not affect God in any way. He is what he is in himself without regard to any other. To believe in him adds nothing to his perfections. To doubt him takes nothing away. So, first quality to exhibit, be competent.

Second, be engaging. Atheists don't have the plague. You don't have to run away or avoid them. Here is a cynical man, a cynical secularist who doesn't believe in the Jewish God, who is standing before the Son of God. And Jesus engages him a bit.

Notice verse 33. Pilate entered the Praetorium again and called Jesus and said to him, Are you the king of the Jews? Jesus answered him, Are you speaking for yourself about this?

Or did others tell you this concerning me? Now think of the question that Pilate asked Jesus. Are you the king of the Jews? In other words, do you plead guilty or non-guilty to this charge of insurrection?

It's a perfectly standard question. Pilate is simply trying to determine the threat level of the prisoner. Are you a threat to Roman rule? Are you claiming to be a king that would be in contradistinction to Caesar who is the king of the empire?

It's a simple straightforward question. But then Jesus engages him and he asks a question. Are you asking this because you think I'm a political threat?

Or are you asking this because you're just parroting what you have heard others say about me? It actually reminds me of what it says in Isaiah chapter 1 verse 18. Come now, let us reason together says the Lord. Let's sit down. Let's talk this over. Let's reason this out. Let's think it through.

Though your sins are as scarlet, I'll make them as white as snow. To engage an unbeliever means you listen to them. When they ask you a question, you listen, you respond, you talk back in a nice way, you listen again, you engage them. Now, some atheists are very intelligent and they have thought through their position and they have come to their conclusion. And honestly, I admire anybody who thinks through their position and has thought critically and has come to a settled position based upon critical thought. However, other atheists want to be seen as intelligent. And for them in their minds to be seen as intelligent for that to happen, they think that they must tell people they're atheists. Because people will look at them and go, ah, you're so enlightened. You have shed the skin of superstitious religions of the past. You're a free thinker. So they sort of take pride and they want to be thought as intellectual and so they say, well, I'm an atheist. And then there's another category. There are some people who have chosen atheism as a moral convenience.

It's simple really. If you can dismiss God, you can do anything you want. There's no ultimate accountability. There's no moral judge.

There's no absolute. So you can live any way you want. There is no morality. So just get rid of God.

So people will conveniently for moral reasons proclaim to be atheist. But here's the hitch. You don't know which is which. That's why you engage them. That's why you ask them. And when you have a conversation with them, talk with them.

Don't talk at them. The other night I was downtown with my wife. We were walking down the street and there was a huge line of people waiting to get into a concert. Across the street were a few people who had set up a megaphone and I think they thought they were witnessing to them. And they were broadcasting from one side of the street really loudly on the other side of the street things like, you're going to hell, you need God. And one even said, you need to hug the Bible.

I don't know what that's all about. But I was looking at the side of the street where the concert crowd was and just seeing their response. Not one of them was on their knees in repentance.

Most of them paid no attention to it at all. Engage them. Talk with them. Talk to them.

Don't speak at them. Actually, 1 Peter 3 verse 15, Peter talks about how to engage unbelievers. He said, always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

Be ready to engage. You see the world is like a living dynamic courtroom. People are always on a daily basis deciding to receive Christ, to inquire about Christ, to move a little closer to that position or to reject Him. People in our culture have heard about Jesus. They know about Christianity. They know about those who claim to be Christians. And they're always deciding.

So this is what I've discovered. Atheists have good questions. Make sure that you have good answers for them. Dinesh D'Souza who wrote a book called What's So Great About Christianity said, it's precisely because the Christian will usually duck and run that the atheists have had it too easy. Their arguments have gone largely unanswered. They have been flogging the carcass of fundamentalism without having to encounter the horse kick of a vigorous traditional Christianity. Listen, we need to engage their minds while praying for their souls.

We need to employ what William Lane Craig calls reasonable faith. Come let us reason together. We're dealing with smart people who have deceived souls.

Yes, even very smart people can be deceived. Now, I know some of you are thinking, I don't really like to engage these people who have these arguments. And the last time I tried that it went south really quick. And you're afraid that you won't have the perfectly articulated answer.

Please know that that's okay. Even if your answer isn't perfect, you might be planting a seed. And you might think you did a poor job, but you don't know what that seed will produce in time to come.

Here's an example. I was reading a book of a one-time atheist. And he was talking about his journey. He was a very famous, still is, a very famous research scientist.

He was a doctor, a research scientist in the DNA. And he said he was an agnostic and then he became an avowed atheist. As a doctor, he was treating patients down in the south, southern part of the United States, and he said, a lot of my patients were pretty uneducated people, but I noticed that they had a faith in Christ, a peace, a calm, and an assurance, even when I delivered to them the worst possible news.

Like you're going to die or you have this lingering disease and here's the course of it. And just the kind of peace and calmness and how they would turn it and they would share with me the gospel. And he said, honestly, I left those encounters very uneasy about what I believed in.

I had gone in so sure about my position, but I left very unsure. That planted a seed in him that eventually sprouted. That's Skip Heiting with a message from the series Jesus Loves People. Now, here's Skip to share how you can help keep this broadcast going strong, connecting more people like you to the gospel of Jesus. Jesus Christ is truth incarnate. He said, I am the way, the truth, and the life.

And through him, we find the meaning of life, individual purpose, as well as eternal hope. That's why we share these teachings everywhere we can to connect you with the real solid truth of Jesus. And if you'd like to keep these messages coming to you and help others encounter the truth of Christ, I want to invite you to give a gift today. Here's how you can do that right now. Go to connectwithskip.com slash donate. That's connectwithskip.com slash donate. Your support is vital to help connect more people like you to Christ.

So thank you for giving generously. Did you know there's a great biblical resource available right at your fingertips through your mobile device? Skip has several Bible reading plans available in the YouVersion Bible app.

You can dive deeper into several books of the Bible to gain new insights. Just search Skip Heitzig in the YouVersion Bible app. Now, before we go, tune in to watch Connect with Skip Heitzig on the Hillsong Channel on Saturdays at 4 30 p.m. Mountain or catch it on TBN on Sundays at 5 30 a.m. Eastern. Check your local listings and be sure to come back again next week as Skip Heitzig shares how you can be ready for both the positive and negative responses of sharing the gospel with others. Make a connection, make a connection at the foot of the cross and cast all burdens on His word. Make a connection, connection. Connect with Skip Heitzig is a presentation of Connection Communications, connecting you to God's never-changing truth in ever-changing times.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-12-23 18:10:47 / 2023-12-23 18:19:40 / 9

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