Explore God – Is Christianity Too Narrow by John Burke

Explore God is a citywide conversation in Austin. No matter where you come from, what your beliefs are, Explore God is an experience that will help you on your journey  through life as you search for meaning.
Join us on Sundays at Gateway at one of the following locations:
  • McNeil Campus (7104 McNeil Dr 78729) at 9:30am, 11am, or 12:30pm
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This week, John Burke spoke on the topic: “Is Christianity Too Narrow?”
Here are some of the ideas he shared:

A man once asked God how long a million years was to him. God replied, “A million years to me is just like a single second in your time.” Then the man asked God what a million dollars was to him. God replied, “To me, a million dollars is just like a single penny to you.” Then the man got up his courage and asked, “God, could I have one of your pennies?” God smiled and said, “Sure, just a second.”

How you ask a question is incredibly important. Asking the right question often determines whether you get the answer you’re really looking for. Today we’re asking “Is Christianity too narrow in our culture?” In order to answer that question, there are other questions we need to ask first because people get sidetracked with the question of which religion is the right way–or are all equally valid, but I believe that’s a secondary question. The real question we first need to answer is “Has God revealed Himself?”

There is a Jain parable that has become popular. Four blind men came upon an elephant. One of them felt its trunk and said “an elephant is like a hose.” Another felt its side and said, “No, an elephant is like a wall.” The third blind man put his arms around its leg and said, “an elephant is like a tree.” Finally the fourth blind man grabbed its tail and said, “an elephant is like a snake.” This parable, it is said, explains the many religions’ descriptions of God. That all of the world’s religions are trying to describe a God we can’t see (a God who exists beyond our limited, 4-dimensional understanding), so we all describe God a little differently. I think there’s probably a lot of truth to this parable. No one person knows or sees all—we’re all limited, unless God reveals himself, we’re all just making blind guesses.

I have read large parts of the sacred texts of the world’s great religions, I’ve studied comparative religion, I’ve traveled around the world and visited with Buddhist monks in Mongolia, atheists in communist Russia, Muslims in Kahsakstan and the Middle East, Jews in Jerusalem, animists in Haiti, Hindus from India. All the religions of the world teach a similar moral code which we talked about in week 2 “Is There A God?.” We’re all searching to explain our relationship to the cosmos and how to best live this life according to this internal moral compass we all have, but we come up with different answers. I think this explains the many religious views—we all grope for answers.

The more important question is this: “Has God revealed Himself clearly so we CAN know what he’s really like?”The problem with the blind men is that they’re all blind. None of them are right. An elephant is nothing like a hose, wall, snake, or tree. What we blind people really need is someone who can see – someone who can see the whole elephant and describe clearly to us blind folks what an elephant is really like.

As you scan the horizon of human history and religious writing, asking the all-important question “Has God revealed Himself to us blind people?” one name stands out above the rest. Only one man has ever made such a claim and done anything by which history would even consider it’s viability: Jesus. Every year Time or Newsweek or some TV show has a major deal about “Who was Jesus?” And if I weren’t already a convinced fan and follower, I would be saying “Let it rest – what’s the big deal about some guy who died 2000 years ago?

Well, it’s because Jesus is the most remarkable and fascinating person in history. He has inspired more hope, shown more compassion, and taught more love than any other person of history. He is the central character of the best-selling, most widely translated book of history – the Bible.

Napoleon Bonaparte made this observation, “I know men, and I tell you, Jesus Christ is no mere man. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ alone founded his empire upon love; and at this hour, millions of men would die for him.” Everywhere His name goes, lives are changed by the power of his love.

More hospitals have been built in His Name, more orphanages & child advocacy programs started, more organizations established to care for the poor founded in His Name than any other single name on the planet. Jesus made a HUGE impact in just 3 short years. For about 30 years, he lived as a simple, humble, carpenter’s son from a poor neighborhood. Once he started his public ministry, within one year, he’d have 15,ooo-20,000 people flocking from all the nearby regions coming to listen to him teach all day, and he fed them that night because they skipped lunch and dinner to listen.

Most people deeply respect Jesus’ teachings. People like Jesus’ emphasis on the need for love and honesty and integrity. Most people appreciate Jesus’ concern for the poor, the oppressed, and the forgotten. Lots of people admire Jesus’ courage for confronting the religious hypocrites of his day. What bugs people about Jesus is not his teachings or his amazing life, what bugs people are his audacious claims. Jesus made claims that no other person in history has made and supported.

Buddha claimed to know the way to end suffering, but he never claimed to know God and wasn’t sure if there was a God. Mohammad claimed to be a prophet of God. Confucious claimed to know the best way to live in a society. Lao Tzu (of Daoism) claimed to know the way to Harmony with nature. And without a doubt, all of them taught great truths out of the wellspring of the moral law God has put in our hearts. But Jesus taught something unique about God.

Last year, I was talking with a friend who grew up muslim. He had been exploring here at Gateway for a year or so—awesome guy. I asked him, so what’s up with you and God. He said, I have read the Koran, I have read the Bible—they are basically saying the same thing about morality—but there’s one difference, Grace! Jesus taught about God’s Grace—that he freely forgives our sins and shortcomings, and is willing to enter into life with us to help us—that’s the difference.” All the world’s religions reveal the common moral law, yet none of us can keep it—what if they all are like tutors pointing us to our need for God’s forgiveness and Grace—his help to change us from the inside out.

Jesus made claims that no great teacher, no wise man, in fact-no sane person would make if they weren’t true.

  • Jesus answered. 44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. 46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father.” John 6:44-46 Don’t miss this—Jesus is claiming to be the only one who is NOT blind—the only one who has seen the unseen God. And he claims that all people, from all religious backgrounds who are truly seeking the Creator and to be taught by God—when they hear what Jesus claimed—they want to know more, why wouldn’t they? It’s what we all ask of God: “God, show yourself so I can know You.” What if He did? Are we really seeking God enough to check it out? To determine if He’s a liar, insane, greatly misrepresented, or telling the real deal?
  • Jesus said to his close friends, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” John 14:6-7 Now, the disciples were skeptics and cynics just like you and me. And so just like us, Philip, one of his followers said, “Well, show us the Father, we want to see God, something tangible. But look at how Jesus responds, making it crystal clear what he is claiming: “Jesus answered, ‘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. How can you say, “Show us the Father.” 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.’” John 14:9-11 “I am the 3-D image of the unseen God—as much as you can humanly comprehend Phillip—and don’t the miracles I’ve done prove it to you? And all 4 eyewitness writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) claim Jesus made many similar statements and performed many miracles to substantiate them—healing people, freeing people, feeding people.
  • Now skeptics will say, “Yeah, but lots of people have claimed whacky things and supposedly done miraculous things—how do you know it’s true?” Good question—and if you’re really willing to seek, it’s gonna take longer than 30 minutes to understand, don’t miss next week. Not only did the eyewitnesses who wrote the 27 books that make up the New Testament claim Jesus did miraculous things—some historians from Jesus time inadvertently did as well. Josephus, a Roman/Jewish Historian in Jesus’ day writes: “Now there arose about this time a source of further trouble in one Jesus, a wise man who performed surprising works, a teacher of men who gladly welcome strange things. He led away many Jews, and many Gentiles. He was the so-called Messiah. Pilate…condemned him to the cross.” Josephus, Antiquities 18 (A.D. 93) Josephus reported common knowledge of Jesus as a wise teacher, who people claimed did miraculous deeds and was crucified on charges of Blasphemy—for claiming to be Messiah, God’s long-foretold self-revelation. The reason some of the Jewish religious leaders didn’t believe was not because he didn’t do miraculous things—they claimed his miraculous powers were Satanic! Why? Jesus said it was because they were not really humbly seeking God, they were using God for their own purposes (we all tend to do this—Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus).
  • Jesus offered forgiveness, healing, mercy to all who admitted they needed it—That’s why sin-stained people flocked to him. But those who were self-righteous rejected him. “Jesus said to [the religious leaders], “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.” Matthew 21:31 No wonder the religious leaders wanted to kill him. Jesus didn’t put up with religious pretense or self-righteousness—he cared about people who got lost, broken, messed up in an evil world—you know, isn’t that what we hope God is like—strong and just, yet merciful and compassionate to those truly seeking His help?
  • At the funeral of a friend, Lazarus, Jesus said to Lazarus’ sister. “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies….” John 11:25 And then to prove his point, John, the witness of this claims Jesus called Lazarus out of the grave, and after the Crucifixion, claims Jesus raised himself to life. Now these are preposterous claims to make–to be the son of God, the Messiah, the savior—To have power over death? I’ve never seen anyone risen from the dead, have you? I’ve seen people who LOOK like they were risen from the dead.

People hear these claims and say, “Oh, now why’d you have to go and say that, Jesus? We were doing just fine with your good teachings. We all applaud your sermon on the mount, and your “love God, love people” thing-high marks in the popularity polls. Why the seemingly narrow, intolerant, impossible statements?”

Because He claimed to be the 3D representation of the unseen God. [Jesus] said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” The Pharisees challenged him… “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?” “I am not possessed by a demon,” said Jesus, “but I honor my Father and you dishonor me…Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.” John 8:12-13, 48-51 In this very passage, Jesus predicts they will hang him.

His enemies couldn’t deny that Jesus was doing miraculous things, so they attributed it to the power of Satan! In fact, one of the strongest extra-biblical evidences comes from the writings of the Religious Leaders who had Jesus crucified. “On the eve of Passover they hanged Yeshu [Jesus]…because he practiced sorcery and enticed and led Israel astray.” Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a Understand, this was written in the first century by The Pharisees who ordered Jesus execution—they couldn’t deny the miracles so they called it sorcery and had him crucified on the eve of Passover in Jerusalem for blasphemy! As we will look at next week—all this was foretold to prove it was from God. This is not myth—it’s confirmed by his enemies and secular history.

Jesus reveals that God is a lover who humbles himself to enter into the pain and suffering of a world that runs from God and hurts each other, and yet he woos us back into relationship if we’re willing. Are you willing?

“If this is true (just giving the benefit of the doubt for a second), what about people of other Religions? What about those who have never heard the name of Jesus?” I often find that some people aren’t even open to considering Jesus claims because this seems unfair, too narrow. But it’s actually just the opposite. Ultimately, I don’t know how God will deal with other people because I don’t know their heart. But here’s what I do know that the Bible tells us:

1). God is the God of all people. What’s fascinating if you read the sacred Scriptures of the World’s Religions is that only one God speaks to All Nations, or seems concerned with all people on earth. 1500 years before Buddha, Confucious, or the writing down of the Hindu Vedas, Yahweh called Abraham (the Father of the Jewish nation) The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation…all the families on earth will be blessed through you”…. Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness… “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant.” Genesis 12:1-3; 15:6, 18 God claims to have created the Jewish people to preserve His words given through the Old Testament Prophets (and we’ll see in the next two weeks how amazingly well preserved these 30 books were–written over 1000s of years—placing signposts in history foretelling God’s self-revelation through the coming Messiah). He did this for the sake of all the nations—to bless all people. And notice one more thing – it says Abram believed, or trusted in what God promised, and it says God credited that faith as righteousness. In other words, Abram was made right with God by his faith, his trust in God’s promise of covenant relationship. That’s what God’s after—covenant relationship with all willing people.

God wants a covenant relationship with you. Jesus made that possible. That’s what He revealed 1000 years before Jesus came: “The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” 2 Chronicles 16:9. What does He see when he looks in your heart—a desire to seek Him? To humbly follow him? To love him?

2). God alone is fair and just. You don’t need to worry that God will unfairly judge a person because of a lack of knowledge or cultural or religious conditioning—The only thing that keeps people from God is that they really do not want God’s leadership—They don’t want God in their lives, they want to play God—to call the shots. They don’t want God’s will done, they want their will done. But if the Bible is telling the truth about God, God is more than fair and just—He’s merciful, compassionate, and sacrificially loving. Cause what all the religions of the world teach us is that none of us are good if good means “we keep our moral laws.” When someone says “I’m basically a good person,” what they really mean is “I’m not as bad as the people I compare myself to” who are always worse than they are. Ever noticed that? We all fall short, shoot—we can’t even keep our own moral law. Ever said, “I’ll never, or knew something was wrong…yet you did it anyway?”

Here’s how scripture puts it, “Yes, all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious ideal; yet now God declares us “not guilty” of offending him if we trust in Jesus Christ, who in his kindness freely takes away our sins.” Romans 3:23 If this is true, God is more than fair—he removes every barrier between all humans and himself—we don’t have to pay for our bad Karma, keep the 10 commandments, 5 Pillars, 8-fold path, Every Barrier has been removed by Jesus, except one—our Pride. We must choose to humble ourselves, accept his forgiveness and depend on his help. Because we can’t be good, loving people apart from the God who IS love and who created us for himself. So in that since, the Bible teaches that all people have equal opportunity to turn back to God in faith—trusting in His love and forgiveness.

3). People who never heard of Jesus will be in heaven because of Jesus. Will there be people in heaven, made right with God who never heard the name of Jesus? Yes! All of the people of Old Testament, Abraham, Moses, Rahab the prostitute, it says were made right with God by faith—by trusting God’s forgiveness and leadership. God took the faith they placed in the light and knowledge revealed to them—and God looked ahead to Jesus death on their behalf, and applied it to them. Was it only through Jesus—Yes! Did they know the name Jesus? No. Does God do the same for those who don’t know about Jesus? Ultimately, we don’t know, but we don’t need to worry about “those other people” because God cares about them more than you do. The last book of the Bible gives a picture of what Jesus accomplished: You were slain, and with your blood you purchased people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. Revelation 5:9 What Jesus did will somehow apply to every tribe, tongue, religious group and nation.

4). Finally, God wants people to know confidently, so he sent Christ. “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God.” I John 5:13-14 God wants everyone to know with confidence that they can approach God (without fear of condemnation) because of what He’s done through Christ. Then we can stay connected to the God of Love, so He can help us love like He does. So the important question for you and me is not, “What about other religions” or “How will God deal with people who have never heard.” We don’t really know. The better question for us is, “What will I do with what I do know?” Will I seek God? Will I live for God? God wants relationship with you—but He won’t force himself on you—you must choose. He’s removed every barrier, all He requires is a heart that says “I want what Jesus did to count for me. I want your forgiveness and guidance God.”

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