The older I get, the simpler some parts of the Bible are. It's always a temptation to see them, then teach them as complicated. I heard about the country preacher who wanted to show off his "larnin'". Preaching from the good, old King Jimmy Version, he would stop every time he came to the word "ye." "That's a little Greek word," he would say. "It means 'you.'"
Anyway, the older I get, the teachings of Jesus seem more and more simple. Peel away the veneer of religion and He said some pretty amazing things. Maybe that's why the religious people of His day didn't like Him all that much and the regular folks followed Him in droves.
I told you yesterday about conducting the memorial service for a man who LOVED his family. What I didn't tell you was that he -- his name was Jerry -- wasn't religious at all. His wife explained that, after a few times of trying in their early married life (almost 45 years ago), he wanted nothing to do with church.
Some months ago, Jerry was diagnosed with a brain tumor. It affected his optic nerve and he lost his sight. Ultimately it took his life at the relatively young age of 65. In the waning months, he faithfully went to all his grandkids' sporting events and cheered them on, even though he couldn't see them play.
This non-religious man ended up teaching me some pretty profound spiritual truth and helped me see some simple things I might have missed.
Even as an enemy had started growing in Jerry's body, something beautiful was born in his soul. A tiny sprout of what Jesus called eternal life began to stretch and move around inside him. His family started noticing subtle, but powerful changes in the way he interacted with people and with life in general. He was less gruff and more gentle. He started opening up and talking more. He even wanted to go to church.
An outsider might think that this was a dying man grasping for some hope after this life. If you had known Jerry, you wouldn't think that. This was a man who told you exactly what he thought was right and didn't care much how you felt about it. He was "real." He was really changing. I'm not sure that even he understood it, but he spoke openly about the faith that was awakened in him.
John, who called himself "the disciple whom Jesus loved," wrote many years after the resurrection: "He who has the Son has the life." (1 John 5:12) As someone who spent most of my ministry years trying to make sure that people followed a certain religious formula to become a Christian, I am increasingly convinced that eternal life isn't about formulas or tradition or even a set of pet doctrines. It's about life.
I don't know how it started, but I'm convinced Jerry had it.