Branded By My Stupidity
Dr. Jim Denison
What’s the last really dumb thing you did? Mine was just a week ago. I was playing tennis, straining for a backhand, and jammed the end of my racket into my knee. Here’s the funny part. I use a Wilson racket, with a “W” on the end. I hit my knee so hard, part of the “W” was imprinted on the bruise. Branded by my own stupidity.
Later it occurred to me—most of my pain is similarly self-inflicted. Occasionally I suffer through no fault of my own. But usually I can take at least partial credit for my problems.
Here’s the good news: God won’t brand us for our stupidity. He’ll forgive every sin we confess, wipe the slate clean, and grant us his gracious mercy.
But here’s the bad news: I believe in his grace so much that it is easy for me to take it for granted. It is easy for me to continue to sin, knowing I can confess whatever I do wrong and be forgiven. It is easy for me to lapse into a life which misses the joy of Jesus, the power of the Spirit, the purpose for which I am made, a life in which I presume on the grace and mercy of God. I don’t want to live that way. Neither do you.
There’s a remedy for our problem. It’s called the “doctrine of the atonement.” We’ll discover the three non-negotiable steps to eternal life. We’ll see what it cost God for us to be forgiven and saved. We’ll learn why this doctrine is the most important in all of Christianity for those of us who are branded by our own stupidity.
Accept the uniqueness of Jesus‘ life
Our text begins: “No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man” (v. 13).
“No one.” No exceptions or contradictions. “Ever,” without conditions or loopholes. Except the “Son of Man,” Jesus’ favorite title for himself. Only he has gone into heaven, and then come from heaven to earth. Jesus and Jesus alone.
On the eve of his crucifixion he said it again: “I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father” (John 16:28).
He was not just a prophet or priest, not just a religious pioneer or spiritual teacher. He was and is God come to earth: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning” (John 1:1-2). He is God.
No other religious prophet or leader ever made this claim, because none came from heaven to earth. Not Moses, or David, or Isaiah; not Buddha or Mohammad or Confucius; not Socrates or Plato or Aristotle. No other religion even claims that their founder came from heaven to earth.
The first step to eternal life is to accept this fact, to accept the divinity, the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. Believe that he is Lord, for only then will you make him your Lord. Only then will you trust the salvation he came to give. In a pluralistic world which believes that all roads lead up the same mountain, accept the uniqueness of Jesus.
One of my friends here at Park Cities is especially acquainted with my directional handicap, the fact that I seldom know north from south or the right direction from the wrong. In compassionate encouragement he gave me a cartoon the other day. It pictures one boy saying to another, “We went just about everywhere on our vacation. Then my dad finally asked for directions.” I’m grateful for such empathetic support.
Jesus didn’t need directions. He knows where he is taking us. He is the only person in human history who has been where we all want to go, and can take us there now.
On a trip, the only truly reliable guide is the person who has been where you are going. It’s even better if he will then take you there himself. And Jesus will.
Perhaps the most famous words C. S. Lewis ever wrote are these: “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to” (Mere Christianity 55-6).
Admit the necessity of his death
Jesus continues: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up” (v. 14).
“Lifted up” refers to his crucifixion to come: “‘I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.’ He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die” (John 12:32-33).
Note that he said, “the Son of Man must be lifted up.” This was not an option, the tragic end to an otherwise remarkable life, just one way the story could have turned out. This is why he came, and what he must do.
On the Sunday before his death he said, “What shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour'” (John 12:27). He chose to die: “I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:17-18).