Jesus Among Other Gods - 9/21/16
Transcript based on a presentation given at a Faith Forum event.
Thanks to everyone who decided to join us tonight; it’s great to have each and every one of you here. As Eli mentioned a few moments ago, Faith Forum was launched near the beginning of this summer here at Redeemer City Church. We’ve had a few since then, and thoroughly enjoy putting them on. We are striving to foster something unique with Faith Forum, and so we thought, “Let’s try to take this outside the church building.”, and here we are tonight [at UL Lafayette]! So, thank you all for your willingness to join us for this experiment of sorts! As Eli mentioned, my name is Aaron, and I’m a pastor at Redeemer City Church, which organizes and puts on Faith Forum. If I haven’t met you yet, I’d like to do so after the meeting and get to know you a little bit.
Our topic for tonight is “Jesus Among Other Gods”. Our focus within this topic is comparing and contrasting Jesus with other major religious founders of other world religions. Now, based on the title of this talk and the fact that I am a pastor of a local Baptist church, I’m sure you’ve probably already correctly guessed my view on this topic. I understand that and don’t mind it. I don’t know all of you here, but I’m confident that we represent several differing views on the topic and that’s precisely what Faith Forum is about. A gathering where people can openly talk about their views, as well as ask questions and discuss them with friendliness and respect. So, after you’ve heard my candid thoughts tonight, I look forward to hearing yours as well. The central question of this topic is this: With all the religions in existence and all the different philosophies, why should I follow Jesus?
Why choose Jesus? / Why does it matter?
I’ll give you my answer right now, and it’s very simple. You should follow Jesus because Jesus is all-satisfying. This is what sets Jesus apart from all the religious leaders and philosophies in the world is this one fact. I’ll unpack the meaning of that in a moment, but first, let’s talk about why this topic is important. Maybe you’re only marginally interested at this point, and if so, my goal right now is to give you a few reasons that may help you to see why this is a significant question for you and I. Let’s start with the following question: what is the product of Jesus’ life and work? Every great religious leader or founder of a world religion left us some sort of product, or a legacy, behind, right? Whether that’s a new religion or a great new teaching, or whatever else it may be. With that in mind, let’s turn back to Jesus and take a look at two things His life did not produce.
What Jesus Did Not Do
Jesus did not produce a new teaching about God. Now, Jesus did a lot of teaching about God, to be sure. If you know even a little bit about His life, you know that He talked a lot, but he didn’t come to bring us a new teaching about God or a new way of relating to God. Many religious leaders have come with a new philosophy or new way of looking at life, like Socrates in Greek philosophy, or like Laozi brought with Taoism. They offered a new way to look at the world or understand reality. What’s important to notice about these teachings is that it doesn’t really matter if you believe in them or not; it comes down to your subjective experience. It’s all about your own viewpoint in the world and of nature around you. If you don’t share the philosophy and you keep on living, everything’s fine -- Jesus, however, did not come merely to produce a new teaching about God or reality.
Secondly, Jesus did not produce for us an ethical system to live by. Religious leaders such as Muhammad and Siddhartha Gautama (The Buddha, founder of Buddhism) primarily left behind a legacy in the form of lists of rules, ethical systems, systems of enlightenment -- essentially things you can do to make yourself right. In following their ethical systems, their rulebooks, you can better align yourself with ultimate reality, or with God, and escape the cycle of suffering. There are many different ways of talking about it, but at the core of these teachings is an ethical system. Jesus did not come to produce for us an ethical system to live by. What did He do? He invited us to have a relationship with Him. That is the main product of His life and work. This difference is crucial -- it’s not just a new way of looking at the world, and it’s not a conceptual system for you to live your life by, but a person for you to know relationally.
What Jesus Came to Do
The main product of Jesus’ life is the declaration that something has happened in our real world of time and space. That God Himself has come and done something here that has changed human history forever. If it is true that God came here and worked and changed things, then it is something that we must face. We must investigate what the implications are for all of us. If Jesus is God, if He is Who He said He is, then His work in human history cannot be ignored. We must look at Him. I stated earlier that you should follow Jesus because He is all-satisfying. That is to say, He is intellectually, emotionally, and existentially satisfying, or that he satisfies the mind, heart, and soul. Let’s begin with the intellectual satisfaction Jesus offers.
To Satisfy the Mind
Christianity has a very rich intellectual history that was begun by Jesus Himself. In Matthew 22:37, Jesus taught that a right relationship with God is all about love, and that you must love God with your whole person -- with your heart and all your strength. Not only these, but we are also to love God with all of our minds. If we look at the record of Jesus’ life in the four gospels, we’ll find Him regularly receiving questions, doubts, and challenges. These questions came from the religious elite class, the everyday layperson on the street, from beggars and cripples, and various others he encountered, and He always received them.
For example, in Matthew 8:2, Jesus encounters a leper and asks if he would like to be healed. The leper responds, “Lord, if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.” The leper has heard of Jesus’ reputation as a powerful healer, but he doubts Jesus’ compassion. He doubts that Jesus will actually have enough compassion, mercy, and care for him to heal him, which drives him to add, “if You will.”
In Mark 9:22, a father comes to Jesus with his demon-possessed child, telling Jesus of the many problems the demon was causing. Jesus asks if the father wants his son to be healed. “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”, the father replies. He thought Jesus was a nice enough guy, but he wasn’t so sure about Jesus’ power.
For one last example, let’s take a look at another place in the gospels [Matthew 11:3] where we find John the Baptist in prison on death row by King Herod’s command. John sends some of his students to find Jesus and ask, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” In other words, John is about to lose his head for preaching that Jesus is the Messiah -- for proclaiming the Gospel. Now he’s having doubts about whether Jesus really is Who He says He is.
We’ve looked at stories of three different people with three distinct shades of doubt. The first doubting His compassion, mercy, and character, the second doubting His power, and the last person doubting His identity. How did Jesus respond to the leper? A gentle touch. How personal is that? What a sweet answer Jesus gave in stooping down to his level. This act was something that someone of His stature never would have done. Neither the religious elites nor the political class would’ve gotten anywhere near this guy. But we read that Jesus came near to him, touched him, and healed him. He shows him compassion. As for the father, Jesus heals his son. He casts out the demon, demonstrating His power. In response to John the Baptist’s question about His identity, Jesus doesn’t answer the students right away, but goes back to healing and teaching. After John the Baptist’s students had been watching Jesus perform these miracles for a while, He turned to them and said, “Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen -- the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.” Now, Jesus is quoting, nearly word for word, a passage from the Old Testament that talks about what mankind should expect from God’s promised Messiah. This was His way of answering conclusively for them Who He was.
What we never observe in the Gospels is Jesus asking in frustration, “How can you doubt me?”, or “How can you ask questions?”, or “Stop thinking and just believe!” No. When the religious elites want to debate Him, He engages with them, answers questions, and gives satisfying answers. Jesus satisfies the mind. Of course many other leaders have given us great philosophies and possessed very powerful intellects. The problem for someone such as Socrates, for example, who ultimately valued the mind and pursuit of truth, is that he was counting on human reasoning, which only goes so far. Very quickly, it becomes nothing more than speculation. On the other hand, if Jesus is Who He claimed to be, if He was God on Earth, then when He answered someone’s question, we were given something much greater than mere speculation or opinion: revelation. He offered satisfying answers we can count on about the way the world is and Who He is. In contrast to the assumption that religion is for people who don’t want to think, Jesus encourages thinking. He tells us to love God with our minds, and He offers reliable, satisfying answers. Therefore, Jesus is intellectually satisfying.
To Satisfy the Heart
Next, we will look at how Jesus satisfies the heart or emotions. As I mentioned earlier, Christianity is based on relationship, and not on how well you can follow a certain list of rules, or adhere to cultural standards, or in some way “meet the mark”. In Christianity, you get the benefits found only in personal relationship that a list of rules or “do’s and don’ts” could never offer. Emotional gratification, comfort, peace, love, hope, and all the other wonderful things friendship brings are absent in a cold system. Jesus is primarily offering us a relationship filled with love, joy, intimacy, and so on. This explains why at no point in His life or teachings did Jesus condemn our desires. Many other religions, especially ones from the Far East such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and even Taoism to a certain extent, would tell you what you need to do is to suppress and kill your desires. Their view is that the reason we all have so many problems in the world is due to desire. To escape the cycle of suffering and experience salvation, they believe desire must be extinguished. Jesus’ message is that your desires shouldn’t be killed, but brought to life. C.S. Lewis, a great Christian thinker in the early part of the last century, believed that we tend to settle for small joys and small satisfaction in our lives. In his book he Weight of Glory, we find this passage:
“…it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
These lesser joys do bring us a temporary degree of satisfaction, but Jesus is telling us that when Scripture says that our desires should be brought to life, it means that there is far greater joy waiting for us in Him than anything or anyone else can offer. So, if you follow Jesus, your source of joy and peace in life is secure and totally safe. This means that whether you’re currently experiencing suffering of any kind or have in the past, if your joy, peace, and hope are found in Jesus, then they are untouchable. No storm or tragic event life may bring can overtake you. He’s always there, objective and untouchable.
You may have heard from various religious teachings or worldviews that all of those good things are vailable, but how can we know they’re available to us? How can we know that we’re always connected to Him? Let’s look at how joy, peace, and intimacy can be completely secure for the Christian and how they can have total assurance and confidence in these things. Let’s talk about how Jesus satisfies the soul -- how He is existentially satisfying.
To Satisfy the Soul
We’re all on some sort of journey, or quest. Each one of us is born a little investigator, searching for the thing that will satisfy the soul, something that will tell us that we are somebody, that will validate us in life. This may look very different when played out in the lives of different individuals. Some of us may call it meaning, or affirmation, while some of us call it righteousness. It might drive some to seek intimacy in relationships.
One might think, “Oh, this person is going to be the one! Not just the one I marry, but the one who finally satisfies. The one who makes me feel lovable and proves that I can be loved by someone.”
For someone else, it may be success in career. They might think something like, “If I could just become a somebody in this field then my life would be vindicated.”
Others are seeking after free self-expression. But we’re all doing the same thing: looking for soul satisfaction, identity, and security. Every religion the world has known responds to this universal need firstly by acknowledging it and secondly by offering a solution.
They may start out by saying, “What you have to do is suppress that desire. Suppress needing to have that need. Get rid of it, and then you will find freedom.”
Another might suggest, “Yes, you’ve just got to keep going. You’ve got to keep pushing. You’re going to have to make some sacrifices if you want to become this or have that person.”
Or you might hear, “Ah, you see the problem is that you are separated from God. Here’s what you’ll need to do to fix that.”
The problem with all of these is that they are devoid of assurance. They may seem to work at first, but when times get tough, and you feel you aren’t performing well, you’ll always wonder, “Have I done well enough? Am I really expressing myself? How do I even know that I know my true self? I feel like I’m still very young, going around and looking.
Whenever the puppy love fades away, you might think, “I’m not sure if this person is the one anymore.” Or if you’re like me and you realize you’re really just a bad person, you’ll question, “What if haven’t been good enough? What if I haven’t followed the rules enough?” You can’t escape the insecurity. These answers other religions give us don’t exactly do it for us. They only work for very good people.
Christianity tells us that we will never fill this need on our own. In fact, the situation is worse than we ever thought. Our attempts to satisfy ourselves with small joys, with small places of satisfaction, is in direct rejection of God, who is not an impersonal source of joy. God offers us Himself as the true dwelling place of joy and contentment.
He’s a person. He can feel rejected, just as I would feel rejected if my wife quit looking to me for satisfaction as her husband and began looking elsewhere. This rejection is a debt that separates us from God. The Bible tells us that this chasm is infinite in length, breadth, and depth. We cannot cross it on our own; that’s why we need Jesus. I believe the following quote from Christian Japanese social-activist oyohiko Kagawa sums up very well why Jesus gives something much more satisfactory than the answers and solutions offered elsewhere:
“I’m grateful for Shinto, for Buddhism, for Confucianism. I owe much to these faiths. Yet, they could not meet me at the moment of my heart’s deepest needs. I was a pilgrim, journeying on a long road that had no turn. I was weary. I was foot-sore. I wandered through a dark and dismal world, where tragedies were thick. Buddhism teaches great compassion … but since the beginning of time, who has declared, ‘this is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many unto the remission of sins’?”
Toyohiko had searched through the world’s answers and solutions and found a lot of great things, even things he was thankful for. But he also found that no one in world history has said what Jesus did -- his is My blood, the blood of the covenant poured out for you.
Jesus Is All-Satisfying
This means that the debt, which stood like a chasm separating us and God, had to be paid with a ransom of blood. The Bible teaches that either we receive the consequences for our choices, or a substitute can receive it on our behalf. Jesus steps in and says, ere is My blood, poured out for you.
The Gospel tells us that Jesus took on meaninglessness. Have you ever felt meaningless before? Struggling with not knowing if you have purpose or meaning in this life? The Gospel tells us in Scripture that Jesus took on meaninglessness, isolation, and suffering on the cross. He took on all these things and suffered underneath the consequences that we deserve. He suffered these things to purchase blessing, incredible and infinite, which we can receive freely.
The core difference between Christianity and religion is “” vs “on”. Everyone else says “do”. “Do this, do that” -- have you heard that before? However, Jesus says, one. It is finished. It’s all done. This is what the Gospel calls grace. So, I know that when he willingly died for me, He indeed poured His blood out on my behalf, though I did not deserve it. This offers an unshakable source of meaning and identity. If God would do that for me, if He went to that extent, then no matter what happens or how badly I mess up, I never have to wonder again. He truly does become all-satisfying.
Craig, William Lane. “How Can Christ Be the Only Way to God?” Reasonable Faith. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/how-can-christ-be-the-only-way-to-god.
Davis, Tal. “Is Jesus Superior to All Other Religious Leaders?” NAMB. https://www.namb.net/apologetics/is-jesus-superior-to-all-other-religious-leaders.
Geisler, Norman. “The Uniqueness of Jesus Christ.” Bethinking. http://www.bethinking.org/jesus/the-uniqueness-of-jesus-christ.
Keller, Tim. “The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society” (MP3). Sermon, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York, New York, January 13, 2013. http://www.gospelinlife.com/the-gospel-in-a-pluralist-society-6290.
Keller, Timothy. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. Reprint ed. New York: Penguin Books, 2009.
Lewis, C.S. The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses. San Francisco: HarperOne, 2001.
Zacharias, Ravi. “The Anatomy of Faith and the Quest for Reason” (MP3 Podcast). 2014. http://www.oneplace.com/ministries/just-thinking/listen/the-anatomy-of-faith-and-the-quest-for-reason-part-2-419363.html.
Zacharias, Ravi. Jesus Among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message. Nashville, Tenn.: W Publishing Group, 2002.
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