The Peaceful Jihad of Jesus

il_570xN_371575700_bgd9I don’t know enough about Islamic theology and history to make definitive utterances on whether or not it is a religion of peace. I will leave that to our political leaders and social media commentators and celebrities to discuss. But I will tell you what I do know: Jesus is the Prince of Peace, and Christianity practiced and based upon his teaching and example is a religion of peace.

I do know this: Jesus never physically harmed any person, never carried a weapon, never invaded another’s territory or led military campaigns, never took slaves, did not have multiple wives, did not plunder the wealth of others, did not order the death of those who walked away from the faith, did not allow people to stone a woman for adultery, and did not die as a powerful and wealthy man.

Instead, Jesus preached God’s love and forgiveness, calling people to turn from sin and selfishness. He was tender-hearted and compassionate to the poor, the friendless and the outcast. In a society that didn’t, he treated women with honour and respect. In compassion he healed the sick and welcomed the lepers. He taught people not to retaliate or resort to violence against their enemies. He modelled and taught people to do good, be kind, forgive, bless, serve, and he gave his own life for humanity by dying on a cross, condemned as a poor and powerless criminal.

I can’t comment on other world religions regarding whether they preach peace, and frankly, I don’t have the time to investigate all of them. But if you can find a better example, a better person, a more inspirational leader and teacher than Jesus, then follow that person and give your life fully to emulating them. For me, Jesus is the destination and my spiritual quest has ended. I can imagine no one better, no one more worthy of my life and my love.

For Christians, Jesus is more than a wonderful, inspirational, noble and sublime spiritual teacher. He was God become a human being. For Christians, Jesus is what God is like. In fact, we might be better to say that Jesus does not look like God, but rather, God looks like Jesus. You cannot study the life of Jesus in the 4 Gospels, or look at the sacrificial and generous lives of the first Jesus followers, and conclude anything other than this was a man and a movement marked by radical and sacrificial love, gracious forgiveness, generous care and servant-hearted giving.

Whatever we think and hear about the violence being done in the name of religion in Paris, Beirut, Syria, Iraq—or wherever, let’s do this as Christians: Let’s stop being so shy, coy, and even embarrassed about Jesus, and let’s shout his name and message from the rooftops, in the alleyways, in our homes, and back this up with lives of humble love and compassionate deeds. This, my friends, will show the world a religion of peace.

Shalom.

 

A couple of Biblical references to the Messiah Jesus:

The Prophet Isaiah:

“For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

The Letter to the Church at Ephesus:

“The Messiah has made things up between us so that we’re now together on this, both non-Jewish outsiders and Jewish insiders. He tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance. He repealed the law code that had become so clogged with fine print and footnotes that it hindered more than it helped. Then he started over. Instead of continuing with two groups of people separated by centuries of animosity and suspicion, he created a new kind of human being, a fresh start for everybody.

Christ brought us together through his death on the cross. The Cross got us to embrace, and that was the end of the hostility. Christ came and preached peace to you outsiders and peace to us insiders. He treated us as equals, and so made us equals. Through him we both share the same Spirit and have equal access to the Father.”

 

* Image is called “Jesus-Shed Blood”,  by artist Sara Bowersock

Reason for Hope

Eulissyes-butMy heart is numb with the horror and carnage that took place in Paris in the last 48 hours. I think of friends sharing a drink at a bar after a long week at work, callously murdered. One second laughing and enjoying one another’s company, the next second their drinks fall from their hands, smashing to the ground, as they lie gasping their final breath on this earth.

I think of the young people excited to see one of their favourite bands, anticipating the event since buying their ticket, exposed to an experience of horror so black, so dark in its calculated evil, it is beyond human comprehension. One moment dancing, enjoying the music, the next moment the music stops and they are surrounded by gunfire, explosives, people screaming in the agony of death, pools of blood, dead bodies all around.

I think of the married couple sharing a meal at their favourite restaurant, celebrating their love and life together, at this, their final meal. Shot down by an anonymous madman with whom they had no argument and with whom they had no quarrel. Now they are dead, slumped over the table that should have been a communion of love, but has become instead a place of death.

I think of the parents who are filed with anxiety and panic as they text and call their adult sons and daughters to see if they are safe. There is no answer; the phone rings out, and text messages remain unanswered. Their worst fears are realised.

I think of the children at home with one parent, or with baby sitters, the other parent, or both parents having drinks after work with friends, or at a concert, or out for dinner. They wait…they wait in vain. Maman and Papa are not coming home. Slain by hate, murdered by madness, evil has triumphed in this moment.

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”

This was our text this morning at church and was written by Peter, a disciple of Jesus, in his letter in the New Testament.

In all of this you ask me to give a reason for the hope that I have?

In the light of the Paris terrorist attacks, let me state the hope that I have.

Yes. Let me give you my reason.

I believe that the world is broken, broken beyond the ability of human beings to put it back together. More than this, I believe that humanity itself is broken; split in its heart between good and evil. There is a sickness in us…it is the root of evil.

But I believe that there is hope. Hope because 2000 year ago a man walked this earth full of grace and truth. He healed sick people, gave sight to blind, released those in mental torment from their anguish, befriended and welcomed the friendless and outcast, he fed the poor, and he spoke truth to oppressive powers and called people to follow him.

The words of one of his sermons have inspired millions and changed our world:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

He not only said it he lived it with every last breath of his being.

He said and lived this also:

 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

And as he gave his life in love for the world, dying on a cross for their sins, he said this:

“Father God, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

You ask me to give a reason for the hope that I have? It is this:

God is working all things together for good.

Evil may laugh today, but God will one day annihilate it.

Love will triumph- God’s love has triumphed in Jesus.

And here is my hope as depicted by John, one of Jesus’ first followers in a vision he had:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth,  for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

On Christ the solid rock I stand.

All other ground is sinking sand.

The Hope of Christian Unity

 I have a very strong commitment to interchurch relationships as I believe it is at the heart of what God desires for the church and the world. In the Gospel of John, we have a record of Jesus’ prayer where he asks that his followers would be one and that they “may be brought to complete unity.” The fruit of Christian unity is that the message of Jesus will be seen and understood by others, says Jesus: “Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
But to be honest, at times over the years I have been discouraged at just how inwardlooking and insular churches can be. It shouldn’t take so much time and effort to get congregations to work together as it sometimes does. My prayer is that we continue to see our church work with other local churches in sharing the good news of God’s love for the world.
When we look at our world we see that a message of unity and peace is desperately needed. And Jesus provides such a message which offers peace to the individual person and in turn the opportunity of peace between one another. And I believe that only Jesus offers true peace. His message was not given by the sword and can never be shared by violent means. Jesus gave his life in sacrifice for humanity out of love.
His forgiveness of our sins enables us to have peace with God; and our forgiveness of each other enables us to have peace in our relationships. And in a world that will be increasingly religious and less secular and atheist, Christians must not only proclaim
Jesus’ peace but live it out among ourselves.
The influential and respected global research organisation, the Pew Forum, has this week released a report stating that by around 2050:

  • The number of Muslims will equal the number of Christians around the world. 
  • Atheists, agnostics and other people who do not affiliate with any
    religion…will make up a declining share of the world’s total population.
  • Four out of every 10 Christians in the world will live in subSaharan Africa

Faith will play a part in the future of the world; but whether it will be divisive or
healing is another question. The calling of our church, indeed every church, is to
believe and live out the good news of Jesus in our own lives, and show to others the unity, peace and love that are available to us from God. Remember what Jesus said: “Love one another: By this will everyone know that you are my disciples, if you have love for each other.” Because in the end, God wants to show his love to the whole world, and the church is the vehicle he has chosen to do this. 

Church. What’s the Point?

The church is irrelevant. It’s clearly corrupt. The church offers nothing of value to the world. These are fairly common sentiments. But have you ever heard anything positive about the church in the media? Can it be that bad? What do you actually know about the church? Actually, what’s the point of the church- or, what is it?

There’s a number of things the church, through its people, has offered the world:

  • Aid and Charity. For thousands of years churches have started, funded and run orphanages, homes for the sick and dying, food kitchens and many other forms of aid and charity for the poor and needy. Think of organisations such as St Vincent de Paul’s, Salvation Army, Brotherhood of St Laurence, World Vision. In fact, 4 of the top 5 Australian Charities are Christian organisations- and the 5th biggest, The Red Cross, was founded by a devoted Christian named Jean Henri Dunant. And what about the abolition of slavery which Christians fought tooth and nail to eradicate under the leadership of William Wilberforce?
  • The Gregorian Calendar– used worldwide, was developed by Catholic astronomers.
  • Scientific Advancement. The towering figures of modern science, Galileo, Johannes Kepler, Blaise Pascal, Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, Charles Babbage, Gregor Mendell, Louis Pasteur, Lord Kelvin, James Clerk-Maxwell were all theists and most Christian.
  • Social Activists and Reformers. Devout Christians such as William Wilberforce, Desmond Tutu, St Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther King, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Oscar Romero and Mother Teresa have literally changed the world for the better for millions of people.
  • Theology and Philosophy. The intellectual history and tradition of the church is one of flourishing and advancement. Leading thinkers such as Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Luther, Ignatius, Barth, and Kierkegaard, have shaped the intellectual landscape of the Western world.
  • Law and Jurisprudence. “Legal principles such as “good faith”, reciprocity of rights, equality before the law, international law, trial by jury, habeas corpus and the obligation to prove an offence beyond a reasonable doubt are all fruits of Catholic civilisation and jurisprudence.”
  • Education and the University System. Many of the major Universities of Europe, including Oxford and Cambridge, for instance, were founded my monks.
  • Art and Architecture. Think Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Bernini; and in architecture think Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic, High Renaissance.
  • Language and Literature. Latin, central to the church’s writings, is the most widely used alphabet system in the world. And think of the contribution to literature by Tyndale, Dante, John Bunyan, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Dostoevsky, John Milton, Solzhenitsyn and Flannery O ‘Conner.
  • Music. a monk named Guido invented musical/staff notation. Imagine music developing without this? The hymn, oratorio, opera were nurtured within the church and artists such as Haydn, Bach, Handel were devout Christians.

But in fact, all of this pales into insignificance when compared to the greatest thing the church has given the world: Jesus. Actually, it was Jesus who gave the church to the world so that his life, truth, love and ministry could go on.

Over the next several weeks at Kew Baptist we will seek to answer the question as to what is the point of the church with a focus on:

  • The Message of Jesus
  • The Mission of Jesus
  • Human Transformation
  • A New Community

Stephen Fry on God and Evil

Dr John Dickson has provided a thoughtful and persuasive response to recent comments by Stephen Fry. He writes:

When The Meaning of Life host Gay Byrne asked Stephen Fry what he would say to God if he found himself standing before the Pearly Gates, his reply was short and sharp: “Bone cancer in children: what’s that about?” Fry then proceeded to launch into a powerful description of how “evil” and “stupid” God is to allow suffering we have not brought on ourselves.

The minute long snippet soon went viral – and rightly so. After all, Fry was expressing the feelings of many, including those who make the same complaint within the pages of the Bible.

But I do sometimes feel that atheists like Stephen Fry could perhaps do more to see things from a believer’s point of view. While the problem of evil continues to unsettle and perplex most thoughtful people, including Christians, there are reasons it cannot succeed as a logical case against God’s existence or goodness.

Read article here:

http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2015/02/18/4182058.htm