A brilliant magician was performing on an ocean liner. But every time he did a trick, the Captain's parrot would yell, "It's a trick. He's a phony. That's not magic." Then one evening during a storm, the ship sank while the magician was performing. The parrot and the magician ended up in the same lifeboat. For several days they just glared at each other, neither saying a word to the other. Finally the parrot said, "OK, I give up. What did you do with the ship?"
Funny enough, the parrot had a problem. The parrot couldn’t distinguish between what was real and what was fantasy. The parrot couldn’t distinguish between what was truly an act and the tragedy that had befallen the ship. Sometimes, I wonder if we don’t have the same problem. Why do I say that?
How do you know Christianity is true?
Perhaps you have never thought about that question. Perhaps you have simply assumed its truth as something taught to you by your parents, Sunday School teachers, pastors, or other such authority figures. Perhaps you have simply been raised as a Christian and so the question has never bothered you. Perhaps you simply haven’t taken or haven’t had the time to deeply reflect upon this faith you have come to participate in this morning. Perhaps you are one of those sitting out there who has had such doubts as you have run into more and more people who have become a part of the fastest growing religious group in our nation: the nones–but you have been afraid to voice your doubts for fear that someone will be disappointed in you or that someone will automatically condemn you to hell. The reasons may be many and varied, but this morning I want to put it front and center in our conversation.
How do you know Christianity is true?
On the one hand, you may simply answer: I know it is true because I have felt a deep, personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. I know it’s true because it helps me order my life; it makes everything fit; or as C.S. Lewis once said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” For some of us, the answer is as plain as this. Yet, in our world today, this point of view is often rebutted by someone saying, “Well, that’s fine for you. What is truth for you isn’t necessarily truth for me. What works for you doesn’t necessarily work for me. Truth is relative.”
And their rebuttal works...IF, if mind you, truth is simply something that works. If truth is simply a way of making sense of the world, then there are myriads of ways of making sense out of life. Who is to say which one is right and which one is wrong? But what if truth isn’t simply something that works? What if truth isn’t just something that gives a person a frame of reference? I mean, we do know that certain frames of reference are better than others, do we not? We know that Mother Teresa’s way of looking at the world is better than those who flew their planes into the world trade centers, do we not? We know the liberties we experience in this nation are better than the brutality experienced by people in dictatorships, do we not? If we begin making such claims, then we are appealing to a higher truth.
And how do we come to know that higher truth? How do we know we simply haven’t created it on our own? Let’s try to work our way through this just a little bit this morning. Mind you, I don’t quite to pin everything down in 15 minutes or so, but I want to begin making a case for the truth of Christianity–a truth you can understand and begin to share with those who offer their doubts.
We will begin with the opening statement of our second lesson this morning from 2 Peter chapter 1 verse 16, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.”
Stop right here a moment and process this statement. The author of this book, who Christian tradition attributes to St. Peter is blunt. “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Apparently, there were those who were spreading this thought regarding Christianity. There were those who believed that the whole shebang was completely and totally made up. There are those who adamantly say this about Christianity today, so really, as the Church, we are not facing anything we haven’t faced before. Peter doesn’t mince words, he draws a line in the sand and says, “Nope. This isn’t some kind of cleverly devised myth.” What does he appeal to next?
Again, listen to this carefully, “we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ 18We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed.”
We were eyewitnesses to Jesus’ majesty. We heard the voice on the mountaintop. We were there watching this all transpire.
Now, we need to deviate for just a moment. Some scholars have often said that the way the Bible developed is that over a span of decades, people started telling stories. Those stories became embellished as folks told of Jesus’ words and deeds. As time passed, it was thought it would be a good idea to write the stories down and what got written down was the embellished tales and not any sort of historical truth. The myth was written; the truth was lost. This train of thought assumes a couple of things: it assumes that the stories about Jesus were written long after his original followers had died off, and it assumes there were no checks and balances going on in the early Christian movement. It assumes that the eyewitness testimony of the disciples was less important than the embellishment. I think their assumptions are wrong. I’m not the only one. Why is this important?
As people we are geared to accept and trust the eyewitness accounts of people–unless we have a good reason to distrust those accounts. What do I mean by that? Well, let’s say you are having dinner one evening with your significant other. You arrive at a restaurant and are making pleasant conversation. Your significant other begins telling you about her day. She says, “I had a very productive day. I went to work and managed to handle several important cases in a matter of hours. I counseled a couple of junior employees and they are better equipped to handle their jobs. After work, I enjoyed a brisk work out at the gym and am feeling fantastic.”
Would you then look at your significant other and say, “Sounds interesting, but do you have any evidence to back your assertions up?”
How do you think the rest of your evening is going to go?
We are programmed to accept eyewitness testimony unless we have a good reason to distrust it–the person who tells us is found to be a liar; we discover evidence to the contrary; we find others who testify a different set of events.
2 Peter 1:16 is an intriguing piece of scripture as it claims to be eyewitness testimony to the transfiguration. Peter claims to have been there, seen that, and now we have to decide whether or not to trust the account. “We did not follow any cleverly devised myths.”
Let me take just a moment to say a word about this before trying to bring everything together. We know how many world religions got their start. We know what most of them teach. Islam started when the Muhammed wrote down the Koran. Buddhism started when Siddartha Guatama wrote down the eight fold path. Mormonism started with Joseph Smith wrote down some intranslatable tablets. In every one of these religions, the founders wrote down what it means to get into God’s good graces. In every one of these religions, it’s about what I have to do to attain salvation. In every one of the world’s major religions, it is up to us as humans to appease God by our actions and our beliefs. In every one of the world’s other major religions, God asks for obedience before showing mercy. Each of the religions is cleverly devised to show this axiom. Only Christianity is different. Only Christianity begins with God coming down and bestowing grace and then asking us for obedience. Only Christianity has God dying for the sake of humanity, offering us His love, and then asking for obedience. One could call this clever, but one could also say this represents a radical departure from human understanding. One could say this represents a tectonic shift in an understanding about God and God’s love. And it all centers around Jesus.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but so that the world may be saved through Him.
How do we know this to be true? First off, it’s based on eyewitness testimony, and I do not think we have had anything which has shown this testimony to be absolutely untrustworthy. Second, Christianity presents such a radical departure from the norm, that it could not have been devised by human thought, but it had to come from outside of ourselves. It is the only faith that does not have humankind work its way to God, but has God work His way to humankind. “We do not follow cleverly devised myths.” We follow Christ, and we seek to Live His Word Daily. Amen.