Tuesday, March 29, 2016

What Changes Insanity into Sanity?

 In a very real way, I think you have to be somewhat insane to be a Christian.

Now, if you think that Christianity is basically like all other religions that try to simply tell us to be kind to each other and do the right thing so that we can achieve some sort of eternal life, then I probably offended you with that statement.  I am not going to apologize. 

 Before you try to do me bodily harm, please hear me out.  I do not say what I said lightly, and neither do I say it as someone who is outside of Christianity.  In fact, I say it as one who was born and raised a Christian; who is a leader in the Christian church; and as one who works to get people to become Christians and follow Jesus.  But I still say it.  I think you have to be somewhat insane to be a Christian.  Why would I say such a thing?

 Well, let’s delve beneath the superficialities that most people ascribe to the Christian faith.  Let’s delve beneath the idea that Christianity is simply a way of life that tries to get you to be kind to one another; to live morally; and to somehow end up in God’s good graces so that you can live forever.  Let’s examine the reality of what Christianity entails and the things that our founder, Jesus of Nazareth taught and claimed.  Let’s look at these things, not as those who have heard them watered down and explained away, but as if we were hearing them for the first time.  Mind you, at this point, I am going to be quoting Jesus directly.  If you disagree with what I am saying, please know, you are not disagreeing with me; you are disagreeing with Jesus Himself as revealed to us in the writings of the Bible.

 Let’s start off with something that is rather straight-forward.  Troubling, but straight-forward.  In the book of Matthew chapter five, Jesus says this, “21 ‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.” 22But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire.”  Did you catch exactly what Jesus is saying here?  Did you catch how He tells you straight-forward that you cannot be angry with one another because if you are that is comparable to murder?  Who in their right mind would think that simply being angry with another person and murdering a person are the same thing?  Who in their right mind would think that being angry with someone deserves a first class ticket to hell?  And yet, this is what Jesus taught!!!  This is what our leader tells us to do!!!  And this is just the beginning.

 Let’s move onto something else.  Let’s move to the book of Luke chapter 14 where Jesus says the following: “28For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” 31Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”  Again, I ask you, did you hear that last phrase that Jesus said?  Did you hear Him blatantly say, “None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”?  Is there any one of you here this morning who has no possessions?  Is there anyone here this morning who qualifies to be a disciple?  Is there anyone here this morning who can claim to follow Jesus’ teaching here?  Is there anyone here this morning who will ever be able to follow this?  I’m not done either.

 Let me go to the Gospel of Mark chapter 8.  This teaching that I am about to relay to you is found in all of the earliest Gospels–Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus actually said this, and He lays it out for all to consider.  Here is the teaching, “34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”  We’ve sanitized this statement too much throughout the years, and it has lost its power for the most part.  Let me try and put it all out there for you in this way.  Jesus says: give up your identity; give up your status; give up everything that you think makes you, you; give up your history, your claim to fame, your titles, the respect you believe you have earned; give up all of those things and then consider yourself a dead person walking.  Believe that you are under a curse and have died to follow me.  How does that sound for sanity?

 Let me stop for just a moment here and say that these teachings I am putting forward from Jesus are not obscure, dig through as much as you can to find something to fit your agenda, teachings.  These teachings are vintage Jesus.  They are core teachings.  This is what the founder of the Christian movement demanded of His followers!!!  And would any sane person adhere to them?
 Ah, but let me press onward for we must continue down this rabbit hole.  We must continue to wrestle with such matters no matter how uncomfortable they may be making us–for if we are going to get to the truth of the matter, all of the evidence must be set before us.

 For Jesus did not simply offer us these unimaginable teachings; He also claimed something unimaginable about Himself.  He claimed to be God.  Now, I know there are some scholars who say that Jesus did no such thing.  They claim that this thought only entered into the Christian faith long after Jesus’ life and death as an embellishment, but this is simply not the fact of the matter at all.  The apostle Paul is the earliest writer of Christian scripture, and in what we believe to be his final book, Philippians, Paul quotes what many scholars deem to be an early Christian hymn:

 5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
   did not regard equality with God
   as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
   taking the form of a slave,
   being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8   he humbled himself
   and became obedient to the point of death—
   even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
   and gave him the name
   that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
   every knee should bend,
   in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
   that Jesus Christ is Lord,
   to the glory of God the Father.

 Let me point out to you this morning that Paul was born a Jew and that Christianity started off as Jewish movement.  No good Jew would ever–EVER claim that a man had equality with God.   This was forbidden.  It was considered idolatry.  It was blasphemy, and yet, in one of the earliest hymns sung by the church, Jesus is considered equal with God.  The early church believed Jesus was God!!

 And Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John each record Jesus’ teaching that He was indeed God come to earth.  If you do not believe me, please catch me later, and I will show you how in each Gospel, Jesus is shown to be God come to earth.  This was no late fabrication or embellishment.  It was there from the beginning.

 Why is this important?  Here is why: tell me, what do we do when someone claims to be God?  How do we react to someone who thinks he or she is an incarnation of God?  Do we readily accept them?  Do we embrace their teachings?  Do we fall on our faces and worship them?  What would happen to you this morning if I stood up here and claimed that I was God?  You know what you’d do.  You know what we do.  We call such people delusional.  We call them crazy.  If it is in our power, we have them committed.  Most people do not take them seriously in the least!!

 Ah, but you may say, sometimes such people gather a following.  And you are absolutely right.  They do oftentimes gather a following–right up until they die or are killed.  And then, nearly 100 percent of the time, the following dies out.  I mean, let’s use two modern day examples: how many people do you know who claim to follow Jim Jones these days?  If you don’t know who Jim Jones is, I rest my case.  Or David Koresh?  Any Branch Dividians that you know of?  When someone who claims to be God is killed or dies, the movement dies with them.  People realize the person was delusional.  It has happened many, many times in history–almost every time in history.

 But here is the thing: it didn’t happen with Jesus.  In fact, the movement surrounding Jesus actually took off after His death!!  The worship and adoration of Jesus actually increased after He died.  His followers did not hesitate to pass on Jesus’ teachings–no matter how difficult they seemed or how contrary to nature they seemed.  And people actually tried to follow them.  People tried to deny themselves and who they were.  People tried giving up their possessions.  People tried living without anger and animosity toward anyone else.   People proclaimed that Jesus indeed was God who came to earth even though He met His demise hanging bloody, beaten, bruised, shamed; executed on a cross. 

 What would cause people to do such a thing?  What would cause people to become so irrational?  What would cause them to try to follow such difficult, insane teachings?  What would cause them to say that indeed Jesus was God and that He wasn’t lying despite His horrendous death?  What would cause them to begin a movement that grew and grew and grew doing the exact opposite of every other Messianic movement until that time?  What would cause these people to lay down their lives as they proclaimed, “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 that the world might be save through Him!”?

 What would change the course of normal history and cause otherwise normal people to strive toward insane things?

 It’s the reason we are here this morning.

 Christ is risen!
 He is risen indeed!  Amen.  Alleluia!

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