How can I be sure that Christianity is the one true religion?
Revd Colin R Honour's sermon on Sunday 26th February.
Isaiah chapter 53, verses 1–6.
John chapter 6, verses 25–40.
One of the marks of a healthy church is confidence, and for me, a confident church is one where its members are willing to face new challenges and opportunities secure in God’s provision and promises, a fresh, vibrant, expectant and flexible body able to adapt and to embrace change - and a renewed church- and that for me is the key motivation for engaging in this series of ‘How can I be sure?’
Just one more point before we tackle the subject for this morning. Bishop Graham, you will remember, launched the initiative Survival to Revival and believe it or not, the roots of later Diocesan initiatives under Bishop James, including Making Disciples and God for All have built on that in some way- it’s not a completely new vision…. and Moving Mountains next year, the Diocesan mission of which we are a part, will be the outworking of God for All right across Cumbria.
So we need to be equipped and ready.
I know that a lot of folk pray for revival when perhaps they should be praying for renewal.
What’s the difference?
Revival is a sovereign act of God ‘out of the blue’ so to speak – you can’t prepare for it, you can’t organise it, you can long to see it, you can pray for it, you can wait for it, but God will decide when, where and how to manifest His power. You can read up all about former revivals in Wales, in this country and in other parts of the world. Repeat: revival is a sovereign act of God.
When it happens, the Church is called to respond to the harvest God is creating – and a renewed Church is better equipped to embrace and develop- and re-release -the new growth into mission and ministry and not to hang onto it as a trophy.
In Toronto, during the so-called Toronto Blessing, they had a saying that folk were there to ‘receive the Father’s love and to give it away’. The roblem was that a lot of churches simply were not ready or willing to cope with the mess and the majesty of revival.
So what about renewal?
Renewal is where the Holy Spirit comes to restore tired Christians, re-energise, encourage, and importantly, to rebuild faith and commitment in God’s people – to bring healing where it is needed, challenge where zeal is lacking, and clarity and confidence in God’s revelation through scripture and of course, to make Jesus real among us.
To equip us to be the Body of Christ in this place, nothing less!
So, how can I be sure that Christianity is the one true religion?
Let’s deal with Number 4 first: ‘Well, I just know’.
That might be because you’ve had a wonderful blinding conversion experience, or you’ve simply been taught or told that and believed it, never questioning, or you’ve always assumed that you’re ok because you’ve been baptised and confirmed so you’ve ‘got it’.
What more is there to it?
The question that follows is then: what evidence do you have if challenged?
I’m not proposing to give you a run down on endless religions, rather to focus briefly on the three main branches with a common root- Judaism, Islam and Christianity- we all have Father Abraham in common, and of course much of the Old Testament, except that Islam followed the line of Ismael and we acknowledge the ‘God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’, and so on down the pedigree line to Jesus- or at least Christians do!
Islam is relatively new, that is 7th century, and has its roots in the prophet Mohammad and a fall out with Judaism, but we don’t need to go there.
All three acknowledge ONE sovereign, Almighty God, but only Christianity understands Him in Trinity as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Jews don’t acknowledge Jesus as Messiah – they are still waiting- and of course Islam has a high regard for Jesus as a significant prophet sent from God but cannot and will not see Him as God incarnate, let alone the ‘Suffering Servant’, so at least they have that much in common with the Jews.
Neither will entertain any idea or suggestion that God can have or invites a personal relationship with us through Jesus Christ- and that is the most profound difference!
Our understanding of God’s outrageous plan is found in John’s gospel Chapter One: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.’ (verses 1 and 2). Verse 14 states that ‘The Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us’, and then in verse 18 we read ‘No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God, and is in the closest relationship with the Father, has made him known’.
Jesus is the fulfilment of Old Testament prophesy. Yes, He himself said that he came to ‘fulfil the law and the prophets’; all the gospel writers and theologians down the centuries have pored over the Old Testament looking for links beween the prophesies and the person and activities of Jesus.
Of course, Jesus Himself often referred back to those prophesies - they had nothing else of any substance to try to understand His claims about Himself!
We’ll come back to that in a coupleof minutes.
Much of our own lectionary content, the liturgical seasons, the key elements of our church year all draw on those sources to underscore the good news of Jesus as the Christ. Probably most of us will know some of the references, particularly in the chapters of Isaiah.
You might like to take one of our major Christian events, say Easter, and using your bible, check back through all the references made to the Old Testament in the foot notes- it will take you not only into Isaiah but into the book of Psalms, some of the so-called minor prophets, and much more.
Jesus wasn’t simply the ‘new kid on the block’.
He was long promised and as Saint John says, ‘was there in the beginning’…. but when He came preaching the good news of the Kingdom He wasn’t quite what the Jewish authorities expected!
Take any gospel and as you read it you will see that Jesus is slowly revealed as Messiah by His actions, by His miracles and healings, by His teaching, and by His claims about Himself.
You might like to take a look, say, at Mark’s gospel since it’s the shortest, and pick out the most significant indicators of who Jesus is. Or you could take the ‘I am’ sayings in John’s gospel. Remember them? What does Jesus say about Himself there?
I would like to focus here on one of the ‘I am’ sayings in particular, in John Chapter 6 where Jesus talks about being ‘the bread of life’.
Jesus had fed the 5,000 up in the hills above Galilee and many of the crowd were amazed that He had already reached Capernaeum ahead of them; Jesus doesn’t answer them directly about how he got there, but wades in by saying that they are only following him because of the food, and they had missed the whole point of the amazing miracle of feeding them all.
He tells them not to work for food that spoils, rather food that endures to eternal life ‘which the Son of Man’ will give you’. This food is a gift not to we worked for and it is received by faith.
‘For on him God the father has placed his seal of approval.’ The seal which God has set upon the Son of Man is the mark of authentication; he who holds the seal acts on behalf of the owner of the seal.
So what Jesus says and what he does are the deeds and words of God.
They ask Jesus for a sign (which they have already missed) but anyway it doesn’t compare with Moses’ provision of manna during the wanderings of the Children of Israel, and surely Messiah would do something even more spectacular.
Jesus points out that it is not Moses who continues to give them spiritual bread, rather God, ‘For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’
'I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.’
Total confusion reigns because the Jews could only see the human Jesus, son of Mary and Joseph; His answer wouldn’t make many friends among them: ‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.’.
Jesus refers back to the manna in the desert: their ancestors had eaten it but had still died. This was different.’ Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.’
Even many of Jesus’ disciples found this too much to handle, ‘turned back and no longer followed him.’
Jesus threw out the challenge to the remainder: ‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ And it was Simon Peter who answered: ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe that you are the Holy One of God.’
You will recall the famous quote by C S Lewis that Jesus was either ‘mad, bad, or God’.
I wonder what in particular might convince you?
I suspect that for most of us the key ‘life changer’ and the most decisive and divisive factor would be Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Even the Centurian standing guard at the cross, watching Jesus die, recognized the true nature of who Jesus was. Neither Islam nor Judaism can accept that Jesus is God incarnate, that He died as would a criminal stripped of everything on the cross, and neither can they cope with the idea of His physical resurrection.
That in fact is also a key difference between Christianity and others like the Jehovah’s Witnesses who, whilst acknowledging Jesus and His death on the cross do not believe in His physical resurrection; according to them, when you’re dead, you’re dead – end of story unless you are one of the chosen who is to return in the end times in which case God will create them as new spiritual beings from a divine spark so to speak; therefore Jesus was , if you read their scriptures closely- and you have to- was recreated by God in the same way, that is, as a spiritual being created by God, as ‘A Son of God, not The Son of God- a huge, huge difference!
As Saint Paul writes somewhere, ‘If Christ be not raised, then we are still dead in our sin,’ and nothing has changed. He was talking about a physical as well as spiritual resurrection.
But perhaps that’s drifting into next week’s topic ‘How can I be sure that I am saved?’
But you still need to recognise who IS the Saviour and why!
Just as an appetiser, can I invite you to reflect and pray around these verses: ‘Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people’ (Romans 5 verse 18) and Chapter 6 verse 13: ‘ Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness’.
‘Because you are not under the law, but under grace.’
That’s the difference!
Finally, I would suggest that the history of Christianity over these past 2,000 years, our traditions and institutions, the experience of the Church, and the witness of billions of Christians living in all sorts of circumstances, and the fact that time itself is measured as Before Christ and After Christ, all suggest something very significant happening as a result of the claims and the actions of this man Jesus; so many amazing times when God has clearly broken through into the world doing all the things Jesus did and more whilst He was here on earth – still fulfilling prophesy.
What’s your story?
Christianity is the only true religion because:
a) Jesus said so
Which, if any, of these would you suggest is most important?
What might you say if challenged?
1. If there is only one God and God is love aren’t all religions just different paths to God? (you may well be challenged on this!)
2. Isn’t it a bit presumptuous to suggest that we can have a personal relationship with God?
3. Jesus’ ‘I am’ sayings in John’s gospel:
You might find it useful to explore some of the imagery and its associations with
4. What is your understanding of the picture of Jesus as the ‘Suffering Servant’ (Isaiah Chapter 53)
5. ‘All this talk of eating flesh and drinking blood, death and disaster is a real ‘turn off’.