HTG Sermon 14.10.18 Is any Religion Right? John 14: 1-14
Imagine a scenario with me. Imagine a handful of religious leaders get together: say an Islamic Imam, a Buddhist monk and a Hindu Swami (I had to look up that last one). Imagine they get together at the local Costa, order a few cinnamon lattes and sit down to answer the question : "How do you get to heaven?"
• And the Imam says "Well you've got to keep the 5 pillars of Islam, obviously"
• The Buddhist monk says "No, you've got to follow the Noble Eightfold Path. That's the way to true enlightenment."
• And the Hindu Brahmin says "No no no you've got to get rid of your bad karma: that's the only way to break the cycle of reincarnation and become truly one with god."
How do you tell who's right? How do you tell if anyone's right? That's the question we're looking at tonight. And I don't know everyone here, maybe you're an invited guest this evening and maybe that's where you're at when it comes to God, heaven, religion. You look out and think "Everybody's saying something different. How on earth are you supposed to know who's right?"
And just as you think that, suddenly a 4th person joins the table at Costa. And he says "Guys guys guys, let me clear this up for you. You're all right! Well actually I think you're all wrong 'cos I'm an atheist, but that's not the point, because this isn't a right/wrong question. Don't you get it? It's different for different people. And what you've got to do is just stick true to what you believe, you know 'you do you', and it'll all work out." That is…
(1.) Our Culture's Answer
...to this question, isn't it? Our culture says that the many different ideas about God are all equally valid because they're all equally made up, or at least all equally unprovable – religious belief isn't based in facts, it's a personal thing.
So two people can wonder "Is there a God out there?", one says "Yes! I think he's a chicken, so we shouldn't eat chicken" and the other says "Yes! I think she's a banana, so be nice to bananas". And our culture demands that neither person says "I'm right, you're wrong" because…
1. To do that is offensive, and our culture is all about not causing offense right now.
2. But also because our culture thinks both ideas they're just untestable guesses. There's no evidence. And so neither's more right than the other. And most likely, they're both wrong.
And maybe that's where you're at tonight when it comes to God and religion. They're all guesses. But that doesn't matter because the important thing is to just stick true to what you believe, no matter what it is.
Well let's go back to Costa. 'Cos now a 5th person joins the conversation: Jesus. Which might make you say "Hang on, you've got a bunch of random blokes and then Jesus!" Well it's only unfair if you think Jesus is different. Let's look at his answer to the question, and for that we drop into the Bible, to the bit that was read for us earlier from John's gospel.
(2.) Jesus' Answer
John was one of Jesus' early disciples and biographers. And we're dropping in on a very private scene. It's Jesus' final night before he goes to be crucified, and he's having a final meal with his friends. He tells them that he's going to be leaving soon which has put a slight downer on things and so he says this to them:
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house [i.e. heaven] are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there [that is, heaven via the cross and his resurrection] to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going."
Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
When I still lived back in Enniskillen in N.I., my friend Paul and I, there he is, used to regularly head down to Donaldson's, which was the slightly less scummy of the two pool halls our town had to offer. You had less chance of being beaten up on the way in. And we always bypassed the pool tables and headed straight for the snooker room, because we were cocky and thought we could play snooker. We couldn't.
And actually nobody could play snooker in that place. This photo makes it look nice, but my Photoshop senses are tingling:
1. Those lights did not work when I was there – you basically played by candlelight.
2. There was never enough equipment. The carpet was grim.
3. And they've left out the drunk guy who always sat watching you from those stools, and would occasionally fall off.
Anyway great place. And I remember the day, the grand day, when Paul decided to pay the extortionate £20 to become a lifetime member of Donaldson's. And what that got you was the key to the members' room . Oh yea. Unfortunately, this is the only photo I can find of it, so you're going to have to imagine the glory.
• Leather sofas, a deep pile carpet – taking your shoes off was a delight rather than a hazard. There was even a hat stand!
• Free tea and coffee brought on demand. The table was perfect, ex-championship, not a scratch on it.
• And there was only one table in here, meaning you could lock the door and no-one could disturb you. It was bliss.
And best of all, because Paul was a member, I got to go in too. And that's what Jesus is talking about in John 14: membership of heaven. He says "Look I've always been a member of heaven, I've always been in a right relationship with my heavenly Father. But all of you," he says to us, "You start out life as non-members. You're out of relationship with God, with no hope of making it on your own through that 'members only' door into heaven."
But he says to his disciples in, v2 "I am going there to prepare a place for you" and then, v3 "I will come back and take you to be with me there". In other words he says, "I'm going to pay your way into heaven. If you're with me, Jesus, you're in." And when he died the next day on that cross, that is exactly what he was doing. Paying our way into heaven, our way into relationship with God, by taking on himself the judgement that should be ours for rejecting God.
And that claim from Jesus is totally unique. 'Cos if we go back to Costa in a sense you would be very right in thinking of these guys and the religions they represent the same way. I don't mean to trivialise very complex things, but their answers to the question 'How do you get to heaven?' all basically boil down to "Do this and you're in". But Jesus you have to treat differently. Because he says "My death paid your way. If you're with me, you're in."
Which is why, if you ask someone who follows another religion "Are you sure you're going to heaven" they can only honestly answer "I hope so", because how can you ever know if you've done enough, or followed the rules closely enough?
Whereas if you ask a Christian, they can only honestly say "Yes, absolutely" because Jesus says he's already done enough.
And sometimes people find that assurance that Christians have arrogant. But it's no more arrogant than saying "Yea I can go into the members' room 'cos I'm with Paul, and he's a member" It's much more arrogant to say "I can get into heaven on my own."
So whatever you make of the different religions, you have to treat Jesus differently. But then the atheist at the table says "OK fine, Jesus' answer is different to the others, that doesn't make him any more right. They could still all be equally wrong. Why believe him?" Well have a look at this short video:
>> THE WORLD'S MOST TESTABLE RELIGION video (1min)
So what that video's saying is if you were to change the question to "Why should I believe you?"
• The Imam would say "Because God privately told the prophet Mohammed and he told the rest of us"
• The monk would say "The Buddha privately reached enlightenment and then told the rest of us"
• And the Brahmin would say "Well modern day Hinduism has its roots in the beliefs of the ancient Aryan people". And if you asked "Where did they get it from?" he'd have to say "I don't know"
Whereas when Philip, one of Jesus' disciples at that final meal, when he asked Jesus for reassurance that trusting him was right, Jesus said:
"Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father... The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves."
In other words he's saying "Philip, you know me. You and the others, you've been with me through it all.
• You were with me on that boat when I calmed that storm using only a few words.
• You plus another 5000 people chowed down food I provided from just a couple of loaves and some fish.
• You saw with your own eyes Lazarus walk out of his tomb alive and well just because I told him to.
• And over the last 3 years you've heard what I have to say about God and about me, and just how different it is to anything you've heard before.
And fast-forwarding from that night, after Jesus died and rose again he made sure that hundreds of people saw him alive and well, despite having seen him executed just 3 days earlier.
And all that is evidence – firm, reliable, eyewitness evidence – that backs up Jesu and his claim. His claim, not to have received the truth about God in private, but to be the truth about God publically. To be God-become-human.
My wife and I were up in Scotland a while ago visiting her brother and his girlfriend. And his girlfriend asked me on that visit "What makes you so convinced about Jesus?" And I said "No matter what questions or doubts come my way, there's one thing that I find that I just cannot get away from, that's inescapably true: that Jesus rose from the dead." And the reason is because he did it, and everything else, publically.
OK I need to wrap up, but last thing: when two people wonder "Is there a God out there?" and one comes up with a pig, the other a banana, here are two things that are true:
1. The atheist, who says "There is no God out there", they're doing exactly the same as the first two people, with no more evidence than they have.
2. But the Christian, who says "Jesus is God, the one and only God" they're doing something entirely different. Because saying that about Jesus isn't guesswork. It's not guessing at what God out there is like, a Christian is saying "God out there came in here to show us what he's like."
So as well as seeing that Jesus' answer to "How do you get to heaven?" is different to everyone else's (if you're with me, you're in) you also have to see that Jesus is much more credible than everyone else too. Christianity is testable.
Which, on going back to Costa, leaves us with one final person at the table. You. What's your answer to the heaven question, to the God question? And what evidence do you have to back it up?
If you want to find out more:
• Christianity Explored
• Case for Christ