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Inglesia del Nazareno Communidad de la Esperanza
October 16, 2016 | Just In Case
Dr. Burnie R. Burnside
Idea: Jesus did not show up to give answers as much as to be the answer. Religion asks, “Who’s right?” Christianity asks, “Who’s Jesus?” Religion asks, “What’s true?” Christianity asks, “What happened?”
Religions exist to explain the unexplainable . . . to bridge the gap between the seen and the unseen, the sacred and the secular.
Religions exist to answer questions: Is there a God? Is God personal? A force? Who is God? Where do I stand with God? Does God know my name? How do I earn/merit his blessing on my crops, business, family, health?
Religion can get weird pretty quickly.
It becomes superstitious: Face of Jesus or Mary in a pancake. Don’t put anything on top of your Bible. Cross yourself. Repeat things over and over.
It becomes legalistic: Someone hands you a list—if you don’t, God won’t. If you do, God will! Better watch out.
It becomes hypocritical because what we do on the outside is not reflected by who we are on the inside. And eventually the inside moves to the outside. We claim vs. we do.
The more uncomfortable and odd something is the more religious it feels . . . because we are trying to connect to something that is so different than us.
Consequently . . .
Religion often leaves one wondering, questioning, doubting, lost.
Some press on because we know people who are more devout and they don’t doubt, so there must be more to it than we know. We try harder.
Some walk away completely. And now that you are outside, you look in and think, “I was so deceived.” You feel free . . . but every once in a while, you wonder.
It is tempting to throw Christianity into the bucket. But when you read the story of the birth of Christianity, it stands in stark contrast to all of that. It is not a story of people trying to discover what God’s like. It is a story of God coming so near that it erased all questions.
And it is not a story of men reaching out and figuring it out as much as it is a story of God touching down and disturbing man’s religious sensibilities. This becomes clear when Paul presents the message of Jesus to some very religious Greeks.
Last week we focused on Paul’s conversion from religion to Jesus. Fast-forward a few years and he’s now introducing Jesus to Greek civilization. Acts 17 finds him in Athens waiting for his traveling companions, Silas and Timothy, to catch up from Berea.
16While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. [Multiple idols represented confusion to Paul. Smart but searching.]
17So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God–fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. [Stoics: emphasized rationality of man. Self-sufficiency. Pantheistic: God is in all things. Prideful. Epicureans: pleasure is the chief end of life. Free from pain and disturbing passions and superstitions and fear. Just live. Don’t try to figure things out. Gods took no interest in human affairs.]
Some of them asked, “What is this babbler [derogatory] trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus [Savior/sin] and the resurrection. [Their religion/intangible. Paul was making his case based on a person and recent event. Didn’t fit with religion.]
19Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? [Court of the Areopagus: a religious court not for trial but for evaluation to see if a religion/philosophy had merit and should be permitted.]
20You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” 21(All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)
22Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. [Paul probably meant superstitious.]
23For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. [This was a ‘just in case.’ This signified a lack of confidence/assurance/a gap in their system. Many Americans take a “JUST IN CASE” approach. Easter/Christmas/cross yourself/say a little prayer/give a little $.]
Here’s Paul’s take on the JUST IN CASE approach . . .
So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you. [Since you admit there is a gap/that there are things you don’t know/I’ll fill in the blank!]
24“The God [as in one] who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. [Implication: you’ve been wrong about some things.]
26From one man [Adam] he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. [Dissed the entire Greek/Roman understanding of the gods/worldview.]
27God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. [He defines religion. Seeking God.]
Then he quotes two Greek poets . . . who were right!
28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being’. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ [Originally associated with Zeus]
29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. [You are right about some things. But the idols, you are wrong.]
30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.
Repent of ignorance. Universal call to people of all religions! God is doing something new and everybody is invited.
31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. [Divine accountability]
He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
[The issue is Jesus. The proof is an event. And the significance of the event is it proves the significance of his death: Forgiveness.] 32When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, The god Apollo was to have said: “Once a man dies and the earth drinks up his blood, there is no resurrection.”
[This was a direct contradiction to what they believed. But what they believed gave them no assurance.]
. . . but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” 33At that, Paul left the Council. 34Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed.
Paul’s message was a complete departure from the religious conversations they were used to having. He introduced two disturbing elements: a person and a recent event—Jesus and the resurrection.
They were accustomed to debating religious questions . . .
Who is right? What do you believe is true? What does God want from us? What is the proper sacrifice?
Who is Jesus? What do you believe happened? What has God done for us? Will you accept his sacrifice? The resurrection shifted the conversation from the theoretical and philosophical to the historical. God had been shrouded in mystery and mysticism. The resurrection put God in history in a move to erase all doubt about his presence, concern, his standard, and his solution: forgiveness. Paul did not ask them to experience or feel something. He asked them to believe an event took place and to believe in Jesus.
The reason the New Testament writers referred to this as good news rather than religion 2.0 was that God didn’t send an “answer” to our religious questions. He sent a person.
Jesus didn’t simply come to answer the questions that religion was asking. He is the answer.
Want to know what God’s like? Follow me.
Want to know where you stand? Call him Father.
Want to know if there’s life after death? Visit my empty tomb.
And this didn’t require blind faith. There was a resurrection. Come and see. Now go and tell. The questions that religion raises are answered in Jesus.
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