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The Butterfly Effect

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

November 21, 2021

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John 18:33–38 (ESV)

33 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over 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 have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him.

The past few weeks we have focused on the priesthood of Jesus. This week we move back from the letters written to encourage those early believers that followed Christ, and again look at that period of time during Jesus’ ministry.

I often stop and consider the timeframes surrounding Jesus’ life. As we approach the season we traditionally call Christmas, we are reminded of the story of Jesus’ birth. In America we somewhat get all this backwards. We sing Christmas songs basically from thanksgiving until December 25th and then we abruptly stop. According to the church calendar Christmas begins on December 25th and it continues for twelve days. The season prior, what retailers call the Christmas season is Advent. There is a difference.

Next Sunday we will enter the Advent season. I guess I just want to start it early, mainly because I am the type of person that loves the major holidays. I could sing Christmas Carols year-round, and I remember a few times when coworkers of mine had walked into the office in the middle of summer while I was jamming to the carol of the bells. It is ok I am at one with my own weirdness. I can also sit gazing at the Christmas tree shining with lights, while singing “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” in my mind.

For me the entire story is important. Without the birth there would not be an Easter, and without Easter there would be no need for the birth. We need the life of Jesus from birth through his ministry, his suffering, burial, and resurrection. Now here is the kicker, without the entire story of human history from creation to the end of ages there would be no need for the story of Jesus. We are part of that story. Everything that we do today, every decision we make, every conversation we have, every smile we give and argument we participate in is part of this story. You are that important, we are that important. One person’s life can change the course of history, even if we never know their name.

In the scientific and mathematical spheres of life there is something called the chaos theory. Contrary to what the name might imply this theory speaks about how interconnected things are in our world. Within this theory there is an idea called the butterfly effect. This is something that E.N. Lorenz, a mathematician and meteorologist, formulated while he studied weather patterns. He ran his various models trying to gain a greater understanding of weather, particularly tornados, because tornados are one of the most unpredictable forces within weather. Within this model he entered various measurements they had recorded from previous storms into his computer and they began to run a simulation. As the testing went on, they were getting the expected results. Then there was a day where he decided to take a short cut. He instead of typing in the full measurement he left off a few of the decimal places, ran the test, went to get a cup of coffee, and came back. In that amount of time the computer simulated the weather of two months, and the results were staggering. He said this in his book.  

“Instead of a sudden break, I found that the new values at first repeated the old ones, but soon afterward differed by one and then several units in the last decimal place, and then began to differ in the next to the last place and then in the place before that. In fact, the differences more or less steadily doubled in size every four days or so, until all resemblance with the original output disappeared somewhere in the second month. This was enough to tell me what had happened: the numbers that I had typed in were not the exact original numbers, but were the rounded-off values that had appeared in the original printout. The initial round-off errors were the culprits; they were steadily amplifying until they dominated the solution.” (E. N. Lorenz, The Essence of Chaos, U. Washington Press, Seattle (1993), page 134)[7]

We might not think much of this. If we have taken basic arithmetic, we all know that if we change numbers the resulting solution of the math will change. But Lorenz was studying weather, that little change represented a seemingly insignificant change in atmospheric conditions, but that seemingly insignificant change effected the weather of the future. Later Lorenz spoke about a conversation he had with other meteorologists saying, “if the theory is correct the flapping of one seagull’s wings would be enough to alter the course of the weather forever.”

Now that my total knowledge of chaos theory and the butterfly effect has been exhausted, I want us to consider this. Every aspect of our lives is interconnected with the lives of those around us. When we make a decision, even a small insignificant decision, it can become either a blessing or a hardship for someone else. We may never even see the effect we have, because the end result might be felt by someone on the other side of the world and may not even fully be sensed until two or three generations later. But what we do know from the math is that changing one integer changes the result.

This brings us to today’s passage, in some weird way. Maybe I need to stop listening to audio books while I work, but when I think of the conversation Jesus has with Pilate this is what comes to my mind.

One of the things that I began to see more clearly as we read through Hebrews is the interconnectedness of our history and where and why Jesus had to do what he did. Our first parents were in Eden, which was the place where the realm of God and the realm of Earth met. Adam and Eve walked with God, they had full access to God, and God provided them with a job. If we were to read the account there is something that we often miss. We assume that the garden was the entirety of earth, but that is not what it says. There were boarders to the garden which implies that there was something beyond those boarders. The job God gave to our first parents was making the world beyond the boarders like what they experienced within. They were to go into the world and be little agents of God’s goodness throughout the world. God spoke plants into existence and Adam and Eve were to take those plants and spread them. God created animals and our first parents were to run around the world playing hid and seek with those animals while giving them names.

They had a job to do, but there was a resistance. A serpent slithered around in the garden, and this serpent began spreading deceptive words. This outside intelligence, which could be called a shining one or a divine throne guardian, began to sow seeds of doubt within our first parents. Slowly confusion entered, and once confusion began chaos erupted. One seemingly insignificant action changed the course of human history. And God was determined to restore what was lost, one of his own spiritual beings began the problem and only God could correct it.

The incarnation is powerful because the God that set everything in motion around us, stepped into human history. He stepped into human history in a seemingly insignificant manner. Not as a conquering titan like deity, but a zygote. He entered this world just like each of us. The joining of genetic material inside the body of a woman, that become a complete single celled life form. That single cell begins to divide and evolve into an embryo, and the cells begin to differentiate until it forms a fetus, and that fetus after nine months passes into life and take its first breath. And once that breath is taken the lives of the parents are forever changed, because they no longer remember what sleep is.

Jesus was born, just like us. He grew within a family. He interacted with those around him, he attended school at the synagogue with all the other children, he worked along side his family as they built homes and potentially even worked on the temple. He became a man and became know as the carpenter within his neighborhood. The fact that the gospel says, “isn’t he the carpenter,” makes me believe that Jesus was good at what he did. He had a good life, a good job, a great community. And then one day Jesus went to the river to see his cousin John, and everything changed.

Each of us has something that triggers our deepest self. For some of us we must create art. We can see a sunset and suddenly everything around us seems to stop until we translate what we are feeling in that moment into a painting or a poem. For others that deep seated self is triggered by perceived injustice around us, and when we hear a story of wrongdoing we are driven to action. Others might have compassion for the sick and when they hear a cough, they are compelled to comfort the suffering. We all have that aspect within us that seed of joy that God planted as we were woven together in our mother’s womb. When we allow that seed to grow, we find who we truly are. Jesus had that too. He was happy as a carpenter but there was something more to him and he knew it. That seed, that spark of fulfilled life, took hold when John dipped him into the water. Suddenly human history snapped into focus, and the reason Jesus was born became clear.

“For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

I want these words to fully saturate each of our minds and let them seep deep into your heart. Jesus was standing before Pilate facing execution, and this is what he says. He was standing in that place because the people within the surrounding community loudly proclaimed that Jesus was their king. This act made the political leaders nervous. He stood there because the religious leaders took advantage of that proclamation and turned him over to their overlords. They did this so they could maintain power within the community. They wanted to preserve a power that was progressively eroding the moment Jesus had lifted his head from the water at his cousin’s side.

“For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world.” He says.  Jesus came into the world to stand before the powers constructed my men. He came to stand before the structures to say that their power is a mere shadow.

Pilate asks Jesus if he is a king. And Jesus does not answer the question. He simply says, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” I find this answer funny. I find it funny because by answering Pilate in this way, Jesus turns the question around and basically asks Pilate the same question he asks Peter and the other Disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” At this moment Pilate is looking Jesus in the eye, he is looking God in the eye and he must answer that very question. And Pilate does not know what to say.

You can almost feel the uncertainty in the words as Pilate answers, “am I a Jew? Your own nation and priest have delivered you over to me, what have you done?” This answer is an evasion. Pilate does not want to answer the question, he may not even understand the question. Am I a Jew? He asks. He has no framework to even begin.

Then Jesus answers the question for him. “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

This is his purpose. He did not come to rule the world in the manner we think of rule. His reign is not like that of a king or a presidential term. His influence does not extend like the might we see on the battlefield. If this is what God wanted to do, who could stop him. We are told in scripture that God, to protect our own future, flooded the entire earth and saved one family. We are told to prevent coordinated destruction he confused the languages and scattered the people. We are told that in a moment of holy justice, God can wipe unrepentant cities off the face of the earth, yet Jesus stands before Pilate and says that is not true power, and that is not my kingdom.

True power is sacrifice. True power is standing for others not yourself. True power is seeing that of God in your neighbor, that seed of joy or spark of life, and encouraging it to grow to its fullness. Jesus’s purpose, the entire reason he was born, is to be the butterfly effect. One action performed by one man, in a seemingly insignificant corner of the world by imperial standards, that will change everything.

With that one action, Jesus began to reverse the chaotic effects that were started by our first parents, and those waves move all around us. The waves of grace and the waves of sin. When we believe in Christ our lives begin to align with the waves of grace. The more we turn to that frequency of life the greater the intensity becomes and the waves begin to affect those around us. And grace spreads. We are also bombarded by the waves of deception and sin. What will we reflect? And what will we do?

Jesus said in the Gospel of John, “a new command I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 ESV)

What is your effect? Will you live your life in the power of Christ’s kingdom? Will you stand with Christ before the powers of the world knowing that it will cost you your life? Jesus came, was born, grew in stature and wisdom, became a teacher bearing the words of life. He stood firm even in the face of death, was executed and buried, and rose again. He restores our hope and purpose. And each of us must answer the same question Jesus turned onto Pilate. Will we listen to the words of truth or continue the deception? What is truth, and what effect will you have?


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