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Jesus Loves Atheists
John 18:28-38
Skip Heitzig

John 18 (NKJV™)
28 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.
29 Pilate then went out to them and said, "What accusation do you bring against this Man?"
30 They answered and said to him, "If He were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him up to you."
31 Then Pilate said to them, "You take Him and judge Him according to your law." Therefore the Jews said to him, "It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death,"
32 that the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled which He spoke, signifying by what death He would die.
33 Then Pilate entered the Praetorium again, called Jesus, and said to Him, "Are You the King of the Jews?"
34 Jesus answered him, "Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?"
35 Pilate answered, "Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me. What have You done?"
36 Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here."
37 Pilate therefore said to Him, "Are You a king then?" Jesus answered, "You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice."
38 Pilate said to Him, "What is truth?" And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, "I find no fault in Him at all.

New King James Version®, Copyright © 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Jesus Loves People

Yes, Jesus loves people who don't believe in Him or who aren't sure what they think about Him. Pontius Pilate was the cynical Roman governor of the district of Judea. He was unsympathetic to religious Jews and religion itself. He had no room for the superstitious claims of prophets, priests, or would-be messiahs. He was a secular pragmatist concerned about Roman order and personal advancement. Pilate also represents how Jesus loved and handled atheists—and how we should.

Jesus loves people—all people:prostitutes, drug addicts, abusers—and you. This profound truth is at the very heart of the gospel. Jesus loves the unlovable and touches the untouchable, and during His time on earth, He was compassionate and merciful toward people from all walks of life. What would it be like if you personally encountered Him? Join Pastor Skip Heitzig in this series to learn more about God's radical love for you and fall more in love with the living Savior.

Visit jesuslovespeople.com for more information on this series.

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Outline

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  1. Be Confident (vv. 28-32)

  2. Be Engaging (vv. 33-35)

  3. Be Respectful (v. 36)

  4. Be Clear (v. 37)

  5. Be Ready (vv. 37b-38)

    1. For a Positive Response

    2. For a Negative Response

Study Guide

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No one is born an atheist; people choose to become atheists just as some choose to become Christians. Atheism is not a new concept; David wrote of the person who says in his heart that "there is no God" (Psalm 14:1). As long as there has been faith, there has been unbelief. Even though so-called New Atheism has a lot of spokespeople, only 2 percent of the general population claims to be atheists. The numbers are growing, though, so it's worth looking at how Jesus dealt with someone who was operating outside of God's truth: Pontius Pilate.
Although Pontius Pilate was not an atheist per se, he was a secular man in a religious world functioning as if God did not exist. We see him interact with Jesus as a cynical secularist who opined, "What is truth?" Pilate was confused and self-contradictory—traits he shares with modern atheists—and we learn from Jesus five qualities to exhibit when encountering someone like Pilate, whether they're atheistic or agnostic.

First, be confident (see John 18:28-32). To stand before Roman justice was intimidating. Furthermore, the historians Tacitus, Josephus, and Philo tell us that Pilate was oppressive, greedy, stubborn, and cruel. It would seem that Pilate was in total control of Jesus' prosecution, yet Jesus was the one in complete control, for He had predicted all that was unfolding (see John 18:31-32). That's why Jesus was not intimidated, but rather calm and confident. We need to have the same confidence if we are going to share Jesus with atheists, and we can have that confidence by trusting that God is in control; He allowed you to have that encounter. You should recognize your inadequacy, God's sovereignty, and their necessity—they need this. And remember: God is perfect. Belief in Him adds nothing to His qualities, and lack of belief takes nothing away. You do not need to know everything, but it is helpful to know the answers to the top questions atheists have so that you can be ready with a reasoned response. Ask your local Christian bookseller for a reliable recommendation, and inform yourself.

Next, be engaging (see John 18:33-35). Atheists don't have the plague; there is no need to avoid them! Pilate was a cynical man who did not believe in the Jewish God, and yet he came face to face with Him. And when he asked questions, Jesus engaged him. Some atheists are very intelligent. Other atheists just want to be seen as intelligent. Others have chosen atheism as a moral convenience, thinking that if they dismiss God, they can do as they want. Always try to find out why someone is an atheist by talking with them, not at them. Beyond listening, the Bible tells us to "always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3:15). The world is a dynamic courtroom where people are always deciding on the evidence for belief in God. They have good questions about faith; let's make sure we have good answers. We need to appeal to their intellect while praying for their souls. You may not have the perfect answers, but you can plant a seed. Instead of getting bogged down with minutia, challenge an atheist to read a chapter of the gospel of John for ten minutes a day for three weeks and ask the following questions: Who is Jesus Christ? Who does Jesus say He is? Who does John say He is?

Third, be respectful (see John 18:36). Some Christians go into full combat assault mode with atheists. Don't attack them. We can do better; as J.I. Packer said, we can out-think them. Jesus respectfully interacted with Pilate, succinctly describing His mission and purpose to the point where Pilate's conclusion was to release Him, declaring, "I find no fault in Him at all" (John 18:38). Remember that we can win an argument but lose a soul. Peter's advice to be prepared ends with him telling us to give an answer "with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15, ESV). The apostle Paul told us that we are to "[speak] the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15). We must be winsome—kind, fair, and respectful—if we want to win some to Jesus. Discuss what challenges and obstacles you have experienced in sharing your faith with atheists.

Fourth, be clear (see John 18:37). Jesus clearly and unambiguously told Pilate, "You're absolutely right—I am a King." Jesus also clearly described His nature—both His humanity ("I was born") and His divinity ("I have come into the world"). Although Pilate shrugged it off, Jesus was clear. We must be clear about what we believe and clear about what God requires of all people. Being able to succinctly describe what you believe is helpful for both your walk and your witness.

Lastly, be ready (see John 18:37b-38). The outcome of an encounter with an atheist could be positive or negative. Jesus gave an implied invitation to Pilate to hear and know the truth. This shows Jesus' love: He left the door of salvation open even to this hardened, secular Roman politician. Pilate's response up to this point had been negative and dismissive. Yet Jesus left room for the truth to work in his mind and heart—and we should too. What people do with the gospel message will determine their destiny, so give God room to work. This week, pray for an atheist you know, asking God to open a door for you to reach them and then give God room to work through you.

Adapted from Pastor Skip’s teaching

The BIG Idea
Pilate died hopeless, even though he stared hope in the face. Be faithful to give atheists every reason to know Jesus as their Savior and Lord through your words and actions, entrusting their response to God.

Detailed Notes

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  1. Introduction
    1. No one is born an atheist
    2. When an atheist feels grateful, who do they thank?
    3. Atheism is not a new concept
      1. Psalm 14:1
      2. As long as there has been belief, there has been unbelief
      3. As long as there has been theism, there has been atheism
    4. Atheism doesn't appear in English language until the sixteenth century
      1. 1568:Miles Coverdale
      2. Enlightenment: atheism became intellectual force
      3. Cultural shift in nineteenth century: Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud
    5. Only 2 percent of our population claims to be atheist
      1. But it's growing
      2. New Atheism: Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris
    6. Pontius Pilate was more of an agnostic
      1. Roman belief system deified the caesars of Rome
      2. Pilate was a cynical secularist
    7. "I was at that time living like many atheists: in a whirl of contradictions. I maintained that God did not exist. I was also very angry with God for not existing" —C.S. Lewis
    8. Five qualities we should exhibit when we encounter an atheist or agnostic
  2. Be Confident (vv. 28-32)
    1. It would be intimidating to stand before Roman justice
    2. Pontius Pilate
      1. Fifth governor of Judea
      2. Appointed in AD 26 by Tiberius Caesar
      3. From Spain
      4. Married granddaughter of Augustus Caesar, Claudia Procula
      5. Historians Tacitus, Josephus, and Philo painted him as oppressive, cruel, stubborn, and greedy
      6. Burned out cynic
      7. He hated the Jewish religion
    3. Seems like Pilate had total control
    4. Jesus predicted what kind of death He would die
      1. Mark 10:33-34
      2. John 3:14
      3. John 12:32-33
      4. To be lifted up on a cross was a distinctly Roman form of execution
    5. Jesus Christ was calling all the shots; He was firmly in control
      1. Luke 22:10-13
      2. Jesus stood before Pilate with poise, confidence, and assurance
    6. You need the same kind of confidence when you are face to face with an atheist or agnostic
    7. When you feel intimidated by an unbeliever, you need to recognize three things
      1. Your inadequacy
      2. God's sovereignty
      3. Their necessity
    8. "Were every man on earth to become atheist, it could 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" —A.W. Tozer
  3. Be Engaging (vv. 33-35)
    1. You don't have to run away or avoid atheists
    2. "Are you the King of the Jews?"
      1. Simple question: "Do You plead guilty or not guilty?"
      2. Isaiah 1:18
    3. To engage an unbeliever means you listen to them and respond
    4. Some atheists are very intelligent
      1. Other atheists want to be seen as intelligent
      2. Some people have chosen atheism as a moral convenience
    5. Talk with them, don't talk at them
    6. 1 Peter 3:15
    7. The world is like a living, dynamic courtroom: people are constantly deciding what to do with Jesus
    8. Atheists have good questions; make sure you have good answers
    9. "Precisely because the Christians usually duck and run, 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" —Dinesh D'Souza
    10. We need to engage their minds while praying for their souls
      1. William Lane Craig: reasonable faith
      2. Even smart people can be deceived
    11. Even if your answer isn't perfect, you may be planting a seed
  4. Be Respectful (v. 36)
    1. Some Christians get into full combat assault mode with unbelievers
      1. Respect them, don't berate them
      2. J.I. Packer: learn to out-think them
    2. Jesus' kingdom right now is a spiritual kingdom
      1. One day He'll set up His kingdom on the earth
      2. He was not there to fight Pilate
    3. You can win the argument and lose the soul; then you've lost it all
    4. Ephesians 4:15
    5. We need to be winsome if we want to win some
  5. Be Clear (v. 37)
    1. Jesus was unambiguous
    2. Jesus was very clear about His own nature
      1. "I was born": His humanity
      2. "I have come into the world": His divinity
    3. We need to be clear about what we believe and what we expect unbelievers to do
    4. A large majority of Christians don't know what they believe
    5. "Christians who cannot present a biblically clear explanation of their faith...will be insecure when strongly challenged by unbelievers.... In some cases, that insecurity can undermine their assurance of salvation. The world's attacks can overwhelm [them]" —John MacArthur
    6. It will help you personally, and it will help your testimony publically
  6. Be Ready (vv. 37b-38)
    1. For a Positive Response
      1. Jesus gave an implied invitation to Pilate; this is the love of Jesus
      2. Give God room to work
    2. For a Negative Response
    3. "What is truth?"
      1. You can have a belief about the truth, but you can't decide what truth is
      2. Pilate was standing before incarnate truth; Jesus left that door open
  7. Closing
    1. Historian Eusebius said Pilate committed suicide
    2. A man so hopeless stared hope in the face

Figures referenced: Miles Coverdale, Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, C.S. Lewis, Tiberius Caesar, Augustus Caesar, Claudia Procula, Tacitus, Josephus, Philo, A.W. Tozer, Dinesh D'Souza, William Lane Craig, J.I. Packer, John MacArthur, Eusebius

Cross references: Psalm 14:1; Isaiah 1:18; Mark 10:33-34; Luke 22:10-13; John 3:14; 12:32-33; 18:28-38; Ephesians 4:15; 1 Peter 3:15


Transcript

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Introduction: Hello and welcome to this message from Pastor Skip Heitzig of Calvary Albuquerque. Skip's messages are shared globally and we're thankful to hear how God is using them to restore lives with his love. If this message inspires you to follow Jesus, we'd like to know. Email us at mystory@calvaryabq.org. And if you'd like to support this ministry financially, you can give online securely at calvaryabq.org/giving. Jesus loves people, and that includes those who don't believe in him or who aren't sure what they think about him. In the message "Jesus Loves Atheists," Skip explains how this cynical Roman governor Pontius Pilate represents how Jesus loved and handled atheists. We invite you to turn your Bibles to John, chapter 18, as Skip begins.

Skip Heitzig: It's a joy for me to stand week by week and open God's Word with you and find out what he's telling us and build our faith together. It really is a joy. I was looking at the recap from Easter, just, like, thinking it doesn't get any better than this. And then the next week rolls around and it's better. So I just---I really just love what the Lord enables me to do and I just wanted to let that be known. Would you turn in your Bibles, please, to John, chapter 18; John, chapter 18. 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 atheists had and has, and it's simple really. When an atheist feels grateful, who do they thank? 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 says 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 sixteenth 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 seventeenth and eighteenth century that atheism really became an intellectual force. And then by the nineteenth century there was a massive cultural shift in the West.

During that century came four unique gentlemen. We can call them the four horseman 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 twentieth century, so that by 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 it might blow your mind to know that only 2 percent 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 this agnostic camp.

But 2 percent say they are atheist. 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 best-seller list. And 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 is 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 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's 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 pines 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 atheist; in a whirl of contradictions. I maintained God did not exist. But also I was very angry with God for not existing." [laughter] It's sort of like the man who when he was asked what he believed in, he said, "I'm an atheist, thank God." [laughter] 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 eighteenth 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 intimating to stand before Roman justice, before a man who has the power of life or death with the 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 ten 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 twenty-one 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 standing before Jesus Christ. As we read the 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 verses 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 confident; 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 was 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-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 about 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 a 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 atheist.

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, so they'll say, "Well, I'm an atheist." And then there's another category. There's 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. [laughter] 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, First Peter chapter 3 verse 15, Peter talks about how to engage unbelievers. He said, "Always be people 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: atheist 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 this 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, "Ahh, I don't really like to engage these people who have these arguments. And 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 in 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. So, be confident. Be engaging. Here's a third: Be respectful. Now, I've been guilty of taking potshots at atheists before, as you have. We need to be respectful. Some Christians get into full combat assault mode when it comes to dealing with unbelievers. Don't attack them. You're not God's guard dog.

You're not a card-carrying member of the God squad. Respect them. Don't berate them. Now, do what J. I. Packer tells us to do: learn "to out-think them," but don't put them down. Look at verse 36. Jesus answered Pilate. He said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight so that I should not be delivered to the Jews, but now my kingdom is not from here." "Pilate, I'm not a threat to you. I'm not here to fight you. I don't have a bunch of soldiers with me to overthrow your kingdom. I'm not a threat. I have a different kind of a kingdom." Now to Pilate's secular ears, he's thinking, "Yeah, wha-whatever." He didn't quite pick up on this. It sounded ridiculous. Now, we know what Jesus meant by this.

We understand that his kingdom right now is a spiritual kingdom. He's not here to take over land and subjugate people. One day he will set up his kingdom on the earth. I believe that. We I believe that. But right now his kingdom is internal. It's an inside job. It's a spiritual kingdom as he calls men and women to himself. But he was there to announce to Pilate he's not there to fight him, he's not to threaten him, he's not a threat to them. No wonder Pilate at the end of this encounter will step out and announce to the people, "I find no fault in him at all," and sought to release Jesus. You see, you can win the argument and lose the soul, and then you've lost it all. I know some Christians who sort of take pride in the fact, "Oh, I shut him down. He just walked away."

Really, you're proud of that? He walked away?" "Yeah, but I won that argument." "Yeah, but he walked away." Be respectful. I just quoted to you First Peter, chapter 3. I didn't quote it all to you and I must now at this point: "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do it with gentleness and respect." That's the qualifier. "Do it with gentleness and respect." Paul in Ephesians 4 said, "speaking the truth in love." I've had many a conversation over the years with atheists, some very long and very detailed. I've reasoned with them, and I've always tried to be kind and fair and respectful. I remember one particular guy. He was a Brit, and he had very colorful language in our conversation.

And he just thought it was grand for him to mock me in every one of our conversations; mock how stupid I was in my primitive belief system, and try to shoot holes in it. But then he called me one time and he said, "I've given my life to Christ." I paused. I honestly did not believe it. I said, "Is this Tony?" He said, "Yeah, man, it is Tony." He's Brit; did I mention that? [laughter] And he said, "I want to thank you because you always treated me with respect. In all the conversations that we had, you didn't seek to put me down." We need to be winsome if we want to win some. Right? It's all about winning souls. If we want to win some, let's be winsome in order to do it. So be confident, be engaging, be respectful---fourth quality, be clear. Be clear.

Verse 37, "Pilate therefore said to him, 'Are you a king then?' Jesus answered, 'You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.' " Notice how clear and unambiguous Jesus is: "You're absolutely right, Pilate, I am a king." And then to further the clarity, notice how clear Jesus is about his own nature. Again, these are verses a lot of us just sort of skip over, because "Oh, it's just sort of written in Bible talk." But look at the Bible talk: "For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world." Why didn't he just say the first part and end it? "This is the reason I was born," period.

He says, "For this cause I was born," that's his humanity; "and for this cause I have come into world," that's his divinity. It implies, "I have come from another realm into this world." Now, again, we're dealing with Pontius Pilate, so these secular ears, he probably thought, "Oh, whatever." He marginalized it. He shrugged it off. But here's my point: just as Jesus was clear, we need to be clear about what we believe and what we expect unbelievers to do. This is one of my great concerns. I'm concerned that a large majority of Christians don't actually know what they believe. They're not precise enough about what they believe or why they believe what they believe.

John MacArthur wrote, "Any Christian who cannot present a biblically clear explanation of their faith will be insecure when strongly challenged by unbelievers. In some cases that insecurity can undermine their own assurance of salvation. The world's attacks can overwhelm [them]." Do you know what you believe? It would be very helpful to just spend a little bit of time clarifying. It'll be helpful to you personally and it will be helpful to your testimony publicly. And here's the fifth and final quality to exhibit: Be ready. Be ready for the outcome. It could be negative; it could be positive. Now let's see what happens. Jesus said, " 'Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.' Pilate said to him, 'What is truth?' And when he had said this, he went out."

And he just said it. It's a question. Left it hanging. It's really a statement. "And then he went out again to the Jews, and he said, 'I find no fault in him at all.' " Here's what I don't want you to miss: Jesus said, "I've come into this world, I've been born to bear witness of the truth. And everyone who is of the truth hears my voice." That's an implied invitation to Pilate. "Pilate, you can know truth. You can do truth. You can hear what I have to say." This is the love of Jesus. We say "Jesus Loves Atheists." This is the love of Jesus shown to Pilate that even to this hardened, cynical politician Jesus leaves the door open. "Everyone who hears the truth hears my voice---Everyone who is of the truth will hear my voice." Now, Pilate's response was negative. He said, "What is truth?" and he stormed out.

But his response has been negative all along, right? Verse 35, he says, "Am I a Jew?" In the original it's, "I'm not a Jew, am I?" Remember, he hated Jews. He hated Judaism. He hated his post in Judea. So he's very soured. He's very negative. He's very cynical. He began that way and he ended this conversation the same way. However, it didn't have to turn out this way. And all I'm saying is give God room to work and be ready for a positive response as well as a negative. I was surprised when I got that phone call from Tony who said, "I believe in Jesus." I gotta tell you, I was shocked. I was a bit surprised when after a Wednesday night, a girl who was very skeptical toward Christianity at all, but she did her own research afterwards, she came up to me sometime later and she said, "I am now a firm believer in the Lord Jesus Christ."

There may be a negative response, but there may be a positive response. Now let me just close with what Pilate said, because there's a lot of people who feel exactly the same way: "Ah, what is truth?" In other words, if there is truth, nobody can be absolutely sure what that is, because truth is on a sliding scale determined by a number of contingent factors, including what most people will say today: "Well, how to you feel about the truth?" Because how you feel about it will make it true for you or not true for you. Now, I just gotta tell you, logically that's absolutely ridiculous. I can't decide what truth is any more than I can decide to have a million dollars in my wallet right now, or you can decide to be the world's best golfer.

You can have a belief about the truth, but you can't decide what truth is. You can't choose it. Here's what's ironic: this cynic who says, "What is truth?" is standing right before incarnate truth, the very one who said, "I am the way, the truth, the life." Jesus left that door open. "Whoever is of the truth hears my voice." Pilate, "What is truth?" Would you like to know how Pilate died? The truth is we don't exactly know. But do you want to know what became of him? Because he walks off the pages of Scripture. We don't hear anything about him. Secular history tells us that Pilate was deposed, recalled back to Rome. He had one infraction too many, so they recalled him. He felt very shameful, very angry because of that.

And though we're not exactly sure how he died, there is a fourth century historian by the name of Eusebius who said this: ". . . finally he fell into such [calamity] . . . that he was forced to become his own murderer." And so many scholars believe he actually committed suicide. What a tragic waste. A man so hopeless staring hope in the face, looking at incarnate truth. Could have been different. It can be different, so we always want to be open to what God will do and be ready.

Father in heaven, we consider this man Pontius Pilate just briefly, a cynic, a secularist, one who didn't believe in the Jewish God, didn't believe in the Jewish Scripture, didn't believe in the Jewish Messiah, didn't believe in absolute truth, who was standing in the presence of the one who claimed to be the Truth to set people free because of the truth. And I think of all of the people I have known who had one time claimed to be atheist, or whom I have read who made that assertion and then became strong followers in Christ because of the evidence they were presented with.

Lord, help us to be confident as children of God, confident in the truth we bear, to engage with those who disbelief what we believe, to be kind, respectful, to be very clear about who we are and what we believe and what is expected of them. And then to be ready, because, Lord, just like I have been surprised on a number of occasions throughout my life, would you surprise more of us by bringing those that we know, who either don't know about God or who say they absolutely know there is not one. Would you use our lives, Lord, to make a different outcome. You can do that. You can do anything. Nothing shall be impossible with God. So, Lord, we pray you would use our lives to love the atheist and the agnostic, in Jesus' name, amen.

Closing: We're told in Scripture to be ready to give a defense for our faith. And one way we do that is by sharing how God has worked in our lives. We'd love to hear your story about when God became real to you. Email mystory@calvaryabq.org. And just a reminder, you can give financially to this work at calvaryabq.org/giving. Thank you for joining us for this teaching from Skip Heitzig of Calvary Albuquerque.

Additional Messages in this Series

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1/25/2015
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Jesus Loves People
Mark 10:21;Philippians 1:8-10
Skip Heitzig
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Welcome to our new weekend series, Jesus Loves People! For the next many weeks, we will observe how Jesus' love for people was displayed and conveyed to a cross section of society. We will see Him as He loves the most religiously devout folks to the weak and doubting, from the prostitutes to the priests, from the bewildered to the brokenhearted. We will marvel at His love for thieves, murderers, and atheists. In each message, we will consider how we as God's people can show authentic love to people within each group.
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2/1/2015
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Jesus Loves Doubters
Matthew 11; John 20
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Jesus never turned away the questions of a sincere searcher. I have personally wrestled with issues of faith and doubt on a number of occasions. Oswald Chambers quipped, "Doubt is not always a sign that a man is wrong; it may be a sign that he is thinking." Today we will see how Jesus loved two doubters—both of whom were friends of His.
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2/8/2015
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Jesus Loves the Broken
John 5:1-16
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Just about everyone who has ever lived has experienced a broken heart to some degree or another. But then there are others who have been affected so adversely by events in their lives that they can be described as broken people. We can respond by questioning why God allows bad things to happen or by loving the broken in His name and thus being part of the solution.
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3/8/2015
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Jesus Loves Homosexuals - Part 1
John 8:1-11
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There is not a hotter or more controversial subject being discussed today in our country than homosexuality. Voices are loud and tempers run hot whenever this subject is mentioned. Although the text before us doesn’t deal specifically with homosexuality, it does show us how Jesus approached a woman caught in sexual sin and what He had to say to those who were quick to condemn her.
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3/15/2015
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Jesus Loves Homosexuals - Part 2
1 Corinthians 6:9-11
Skip Heitzig
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Be assured that I didn't select the topics in this series because I am equating homosexuals with murderers; nor am I suggesting that addicts or homeless people are to be seen the same as terrorists. It’s simply that the church has historically been unkind to these groups, and we believe it is time to make the statement that Jesus loves all people. In today’s text, we see it clearly: everyone has some kind of past, and everyone can be freed from sin.
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3/22/2015
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Jesus Loves Haters
Matthew 5:43-46;Luke 9:51-56
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One of the worst things to ever hear or say are the words "I hate you." And since Jesus is the One who God sent to show love to the world, how He handled haters is significant. Today we will explore and hopefully apply two important lessons. Hatred can flow in two directions: hatred towards you and hatred from you. Jesus shows us what to do about both. Get ready by turning to two passages: Matthew 5 and Luke 9.
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3/29/2015
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Jesus Loves Traitors
Matthew 26
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The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a traitor as "one who betrays another's trust or is false to an obligation or duty." On this Palm Sunday, I've chosen to consider in contrast the two traitors seen side by side in the New Testament accounts of the Passion of Christ. Though we may see some similarities in Judas and Peter, they are separated by one giant factor—the cross of Jesus Christ, the one thing that still offends most people.
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4/19/2015
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Jesus Loves Prostitutes
Luke 7:36-50
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It was Blaise Pascal who noted, "There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus." In our text today, we find a woman, the city prostitute who acutely felt the need to have the vacuum of her heart filled. She discovered that Jesus loved her with a wholesome love—the kind of love every woman is searching for.
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4/26/2015
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Jesus Loves Murderers
Luke 23:33-34
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A Jewish proverb reads, "Blood that has been shed does not rest." And yet there is rest that is possible for even the worst murderers of all time—those who killed Jesus Christ—if they would be willing to receive it. In two verses of Scripture, we will examine how Jesus loves murderers, even those who murdered Him.
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5/3/2015
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Jesus Loves Criminals
Luke 23:33-43
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A lengthy seventeen-year study in Washington, D.C. by psychiatrist Samuel Yochelson shows that crime cannot be traced to environment, poverty, or oppression but to people making wrong moral choices. Corresponding to that is another report showing that the lack of proper moral training by parents has a direct correlation to crime, especially to children in their formative years. But when parents and their offspring fail, Jesus can step in to rescue.
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5/17/2015
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Jesus Loves Terrorists
Acts 9:1-16
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One magazine noted that "religious terrorism is the communism of the 21st century, the most serious international threat to human rights." I am aware that the title of this sermon is a strange one, and it's even stranger to think we should be told to love terrorists. Today we consider the stark reality of terror in our world and what a proper biblical response to it is, and we see the conversion of a terrorist who became Christianity's most celebrated cleric.
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6/7/2015
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Jesus Loves Addicts
Luke 4; Matthew 11
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When a person ingests a substance or engages in an activity that provides temporary pleasure and then such acts become compulsive and interfere with ordinary life responsibilities, he or she is said to be an addict. Addictive behavior is widespread and is one of the reasons many addicts turn to Christ for help. Jesus has a special message for them and a special plan to help them. As the body of Christ to our generation, shouldn’t the church be part of that plan?
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6/28/2015
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Jesus Loves People, BUT...
Romans 2:1-11
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In this last message of our series Jesus Loves People, we want to bring equilibrium to the series itself. It’s true that God loves people. It’s equally true that He hates evil and the practice of it. Today we want to show how both the wrath of God and the love of God are integral parts of the nature of God Himself. This is crucial so that we don’t distort Him to the world and mislead people eternally. Let’s consider three requirements for representing the God who loves people.
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There are 13 additional messages in this series.