19 Jul 2020
Christianity in Three Words
Passage Matthew 11:25-30
Speaker Chris Haley
Christianity in Three Words
What is Christianity all about? This is much more hotly debated topic than you’d think! There are four main theories in general circulation! If you’re looking into Christianity this morning think one of these is closest to what you think. If you’re already a believer- which one do you find yourself most tempted to go along with:
Firstly there’s “Pitchfork Theory”. That’s the idea that Christianity is all about being nasty and intolerant to people. At its heart Christianity is there to set people against each other, spread hate and take us back to the dark ages. Hateful God, hateful people.
Some people subscribe to the “Peace man! Theory”. It’s the opposite of pitchfork theory. Christianity is there to help everyone be nicer to one another. So we can all set up communes, wear sandals, and hold hands (when not socially distancing!)
Third theory, a very popular one “Pompous Theory”. Pompous theory states that Christianity is just a front for those who want to look good themselves and look down on others. At it’s heart Christianity is a hypocrisy, a show, an excuse for people to feel holier than thou.
Lastly there are people who subscribe to “Political Theory” What is Christianity? Control. It was a system set up by the powers that be to control the masses, or manipulated to make it serve the will of the people in power as part of a big conspiracy.
I wonder whether any of those resonate with you? Is that what you think Christianity is all about? Or maybe a combination of all of the above? This morning though I want to show you a fifth way. I’m going to sum it up in the three words, using the passage that was read for us before from Matthew’s Gospel. The three words are: Revelation, Relationship, Rest. What can I say I’m a stickler for alliteration! We’re going to look at those three words and see what the Bible says about what’s at the heart of Christianity. First of all “Revelation”.
I want you to imagine for a second that you wake up tomorrow morning in a white room with no doors and no windows. There are other people around you, but no-one knows why you’re there or how you got there. A debate starts.
Someone starts up “I know why we’re here. We’ve been abducted by aliens, they’re grey with huge eyes and big heads and they want to do experiments on us, they’re outside watching us now!”
“Nonsense”, says another, “It’s aliens, but they’re green, with small eyes!”
“Ridiculous”, says another, “there’s no-one outside this room, we’re alone. There’s zero evidence that anyone is outside this room!”
“Balderdash!” says another, “this is the government, we’ve all been kidnapped by the government and this is our holding cell, outside this room are other cells with other people who have been kidnapped!”
“You’re all crazy!“ says another, “I’ve had a dream that outside this room is a world filled with unicorns and pixies, so that’s what must be outside this room.”
The debate goes on and on, why? Because they’re all guessing. Some guesses might be more sensible than others, but nobody can know for sure. What they need is someone from outside the room to come and tell them why they’re there, to come and reveal to them what’s outside the room. What they need is revelation from outside the room. And that’s what Christians claim to have: information from outside the room.
Christianity is all about revelation. We believe that God has sent a message to our world and we believe that message is the Bible. Now we don’t believe it dropped out of heaven. We don’t believe it was dictated by an Angel like Islam claims for the Koran. Equally though we don’t believe it was just the product of human wisdom like the Buddhist Sutras. We believe that God inspired human writers to write it down, and he used their personalities and style in its writing, not to diminish it, but to enhance it. I love the way the Bible’s different parts have different styles, but just one big message: a message revealed to us by God.
But not everybody likes the idea of revelation. Many of us prefer the idea of working out things for ourselves We don’t like the idea that someone else tells us what’s true and what’s not. Even when I watching quiz shows on the TV or playing a pub quiz, I’m suspicious of the quiz master!
“I really thought Montreal was the capital of Canada! Are you sure that’s right?”
“Well when I was at school there were nine planets!”
I’m so sure of myself I doubt all other truth claims! I think I get the final decision as to what’s true- so I won’t accept anything my clever brain has decided isn’t true.
And that’s what we see here in these verses: this revelation is hidden “from those who think themselves wise and clever.” Not because it’s actually hidden, but because people who think themselves wise and clever won’t accept it. Have you ever had that situation trying to explain something to something who thinks they know it already? It’s frustrating isn’t it!? Some people at home are looking at each other now I think!
But Christianity is about revealed truth, God revealing what is true to us. Christianity is not just a belief in a vague god, but a God who has revealed Himself to us in the Bible. He has told us what he is like, he has told us why we are in the room. That’s why as a church we put so much emphasis on looking at the Bible and what it says. That’s why we’re doing that now. Who wants to hear my opinion on stuff? By myself I know nothing, I’m just another guy in the room. My job is to explain to you what THAT guy has said in HERE!
If you’re looking into Christianity the best place to start is the Bible. Read it with a friend, meet up, ask questions, look at it for yourselves. Look for yourselves, don’t just trust the opinions of others, after all they’re just in the room as well!
But what does the Bible say about what life is all about? Why are we in the room? The answer is “Relationship”.
The Bible’s claim is that our ultimate purpose in life is a relationship with God, to know our creator. That makes a lot of sense of why relationships are such a big deal to us as human beings. The passage here points us to what the nature of that relationship we were created for: it’s a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
In fact a relationship with Jesus is a relationship with God. God the Father has entrusted everything to His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus knows his Father perfectly and shows his Father perfectly. To know Jesus is to know both Jesus and His Father. There are parallels in our relationships. People are telling me all the time that my two sons are the spitting image of me, but this is something deeper, something fuller: to know Jesus, the son really is to know the Father. The Son, Jesus reveals the father fully. If you want to know what God is like- look at Jesus. If you want to know God, know Jesus.
Jesus himself says the same thing. One of his disciples says to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” And Jesus replies, “Have I been with you all this time, and yet you still don’t know who I am? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father!” (John 14:8-9 NLT) Jesus is the image of His Father, the image of the invisible God . So this isn’t a distanced relationship. To know Jesus is to know God. And that is the goal of Christianity to know God, to enjoy a relationship with him as our loving Heavenly Father.
We talk lots about forgiveness as Christians, but forgiveness is a means to an end. What we want to do is know the living God. Our sin, our rebellious attitude, our wrongdoing, gets in the way, separates us from God. That’s why we talk about forgiveness so much. Forgiveness opens up the way for us to know God, to enjoy a real living relationship with God that starts now and lasts on to eternity
Again Jesus said “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3 ESV) Eternal life, as the Bible speaks about it, is not just living forever, that could be a real bore! No eternal life in the Bible is knowing the inexhaustible God forever- something that will never get boring! What we know grasp by faith, one day we will grasp by sight!
To know God though, to gain eternal life, we do need to be forgiven. How does the happen? The answer may well shock you! Our third and final point is “Rest”
You might have expected re-double your efforts, try harder, do more. But the passage takes us in a completely different direction. In fact the opposite direction. The way we are forgiven has to do with rest, repose, maybe even relax. But I didn’t want you to think about t-shirts saying “Jesus says relax!” What we see here really is two parts of the same to thing.
Jesus says come to me! That is the first part. If we want to know forgiveness that we might know God- we need to come to Jesus! If we want to come to Father we have to come through the son, Jesus. Jesus said “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 ESV) There is a negative side of that verse, but think about the positive for a second. The verse says we can come to the Father, we can approach Him, and the way is to come to Jesus. So it’s not first and foremost about some process or procedure, it’s about a person- we come to a person, Jesus.
The second part is give up our struggle to make ourselves good enough for God. Yes, you heard me right- to give up our struggle to make ourselves good enough for God. Basically every religion in the world says this: do this and you’ll earn you way to heaven or Nirvana, or Moksha, or something along those lines. Here’s some rules to follow- try your best and God, or Allah or the laws of karma will let you in, but Jesus flips this on its head!
Jesus says “You give me your burdens and I will give you rest!” The religious leaders in Jesus’ day weighed people down with rule after rule, law after law. They even had laws about when you could wear false teeth and what days you could take a bath!
They were weighed down with laws, and they were weighed down with sin. Giving people rules doesn’t change the person, it very rarely even changes their behaviour. As we can see all around us at the moment with the rules handed down from the government!
They were weighed down with sin and guilt and all the religious leaders could do is give them new rules, new laws, which only made them feel more guilty for not keeping these new rules. They were weighed down, burdened by it all. The picture is the same of like a heavy black rucksack on our back- weighing us down, causing us to despair. And Jesus steps in and says “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.“ The are the burdens he’s talking about are not physical ones, spiritual ones. He’s not offering help with our shopping bags, he’s offering help for our burden of sin and guilt.
Jesus says we can get rid of those burdens. How? By us simply giving them to him. Not by working harder, or by trying harder, or by some religious ceremony or sprinkling some water, but by handing our burdens to him, trusting Him to deal with the burden of our sin and guilt. And the Bible’s claim is that when we do that, when we trust Jesus to do that, he does. He takes our burden of sin, he takes the rucksack off us, puts it on his own back and dies with on the cross.
So far from being a religion of do this: Jesus teaches one of: done that! What remains for us is to rest in that, to take that light yoke that Jesus offers. A yoke was a wooden contraption used to attach oxen together. They could weigh a ton- but Jesus says his yoke is light. Not that he makes no demands, but his demand is to rest in, to trust what he has already done.
Does that mean there are no rules for the Christian? Is it just “Thou shalt chillax?” Yes and no. There is no rule keeping that will earn you forgiveness. Our forgiveness was won by Christ and is given to us as a free gift. What the Bible calls grace- a gift we don’t deserve. It’s where we get our word 'Gratis' from.
But yes of course there are rules for the Christian, because there are rules to a relationship: rules that allow you to enjoy that rest together. I’m in a relationship with my wife and there are rules, some spoken, some unspoken. I am not allowed to cheat on my wife. I cannot hit my wife. I cannot grow a beard. She cannot make me go shoe shopping. But none of those rules make her my wife. None of those rules earn our relationship. They flow out of love for one another.
Let me put it this way- I keep the rules with my wife for very different reasons as to why I used to keep the rules with my boss. I kept the rules with my boss for a promotion. I keep the rules with my wife because I love her. They’re not a burden, they’re a joy! (Even if I moan from time to time about the beard thing!) The goal is to please my wife- to enjoy the relationship we already have, to rest in it, to repose in it, not to make it. Christianity at the heart of it is about rest, not rules.
So it’s not quite “thou shalt chillax”, but I hope you can see that’s it’s very different from what many people make it out to be: a religion of rules trying to earn you way to heaven. No, Jesus says come to me with your burden- give it to me and I will give you rest. Turn from your sin and Put your trust in me alone.
So can you see how that’s different from all those theories we had at the start. It’s not about hating people, it’s about knowing and loving God- which incidentally leads to loving others- not hating them. It’s not about being nice to people to get into heaven, the Bible says we can’t earn our way to heaven. It’s not about pretending to be better than we are, it’s about being honest about our failures- and seeking. If it’s about control then it’s the most rubbish invention ever- who would create a religion to control people that says you’re not saved by what you do! It’s about those three words and I can sum them up in one word: Jesus. Jesus who reveals God in the pages of the Bible. Jesus who offers a relationship with God. Jesus who offers us rest- rest in God, rest from our works good or bad.
Christianity is all about Christ! (I guess the clue’s in the name!) If you’re looking into Christianity this morning that’s what I want to leave you with this morning. Find out about Jesus Christ. Do some digging for yourself. Why not ask whoever invited you if you could look at the one of the accounts of Jesus’ life in the Bible together or if you could meet up, online or for real and ask them some questions? Or Why not join us another Sunday morning and find out more?
If you’re already a believer, is Jesus at the centre of your faith? Are these three words still at the heart of your faith? Are you still trusting more in what God has said, or are you trusting in what you feel? Is your faith a living relationship with God through Jesus, or has it become a list of rules you follow? Are you resting in God and what He has done for you in Jesus, or are you wearing yourself out trying to win his approval? An approval that is already yours in Christ? Remember the struggle is not work your way into his good books, but to trust that he has put you there through Christ.
What is Christianity all about? Let’s pray that God would give us clarity and thank him for not just leaving us guessing, but revealing himself to us.