Summary: Four ways to make sense out of spiritual betrayal when spiritual companions turn away from Jesus.
There’s a scene from the 1988 movie Shoot To Kill that still makes my blood run cold. Maybe you remember the movie, it starred Sidney Poitier and Tom Berringer, and it was about their search for a jewel thief who murdered his victims. During one scene in the movie there’s a group of backpackers hiking in the wilderness on a flyfishing trip. You and I as viewers know that one of the fishermen is the killer, but we don’t know which one, so we wait in suspense. The particular scene I’m talking about is where the group is hiking along a narrow trail on the edge of a steep ravine that’s a 100 yard fall into the river below. As the backpackers carefully choose their steps along the narrow trail—-the viewer wondering which of the hikers is the bad guy—-suddenly one of the hikers starts pushing the others over the cliff. The look of betrayal in the eyes of one of the backbackers as he stares in disbelief at the bad guy makes my blood run cold every time I see the move.
There’s something about betrayal that enrages us. After all you never hear of a new baby being named Judas Iscariot or Benedict Arnold. Unfortunately betrayal isn’t just something we see in the movies. There’s a kind of betrayal that we experience in the spiritual journey.
Let me tell you about a guy who used to be a member of this church back in the late 1970s named "Joe". He was a gifted musician and speaker, and he was highly involved in ministry here during our early years. "Joe" wrote music, he led our church in worship, and he and his family were part of our church family. His musical gifts didn’t go unnoticed, and eventually a Christian music producer contracted him to compose a children’s musical. But "Joe" never finished that musical, because while he sat where you sat, led us in worship, traveled to other churches speaking and preaching, inward doubts were building. Finally "Joe" concluded that God was not real at all, in his own words, "I discovered that there is no basis for believing that a God exists." By 1983 "Joe" had to admit to himself and to his friends that he was an atheist. He joined the atheist movement, he wrote a letter to the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin explaining why he was no longer a Christian, he went onto the Phil Donahue show to encourage others to leave the Christian faith, and eventually he wrote a book.
Now think about "Joe’s" story. He sat where you sit, he sang what you sing, he read what you read in the Bible, he heard what you hear. He looked and acted, sang and spoke like a devoted followers of Jesus Christ, yet one day he threw it all away, rejected every last part…Betrayed.
In preparation for today’s sermon I wrote "Joe" a letter, just to introduce myself as the pastor of the church he was once a member of and to mention the irony of me being a former atheist who became a Christian, and him being raised in a Christian home only to give his life to atheism. Here’s what he wrote me:
"Dear Tim, Nice to hear from you. I remember the church with fondness, mainly for many of the members…The bottom line for me now is this: Christianity is not true. The virgin birth and the resurrection did not happen…We don’t need Jesus in order to live a happy, fulfilled, meaningful, moral life. In fact, it is much easier without Christianity: if we truly followed the teachings and example of Jesus, the world would be in a worse mess than it is now. However, I realize many people do feel such a need, and if Christianity is the only way they can manage to be moral, then I suppose we should be happy that they have found something, even if it is false. I do a lot of speaking, concerts, and debates. If I ever get back in the area, maybe we can meet. Best wishes."