Jesus: Hope of America
Sunday, June 28 2009
Pastor Joe Fuiten
"Hear a Rabbi, a Christian, a Muslim, a Sikh and a Mormon defend their sacred scriptures, and debate the role of religion in a no-holds-bar roundtable with Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic magazine and Scientific American." That is the promotional billing for my part in Freedom Fest held in Las Vegas in early July. They are expecting over 1,000 to attend, including "dozens of experts, authors, think tanks, and media. It\'s truly a Renaissance weekend for free thinkers."
John 20:19-31 "On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21 Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven." 24 Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it." 26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" 27 Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." 28 Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!" 29 Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." 30 Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name."
A sacred text can be judged by a lot of different standards. Probably the scariest one today is that the Gospels might be judged by my defense of it. In spite of my inadequacies which will be readily evident in time, I do think the Gospels stand up well to scrutiny. As one evidence of the Gospels standing up to scrutiny, I would just note that Christianity is the largest and also the fastest growing religion in the world. After 2,000 years it continues to thrive, often in spite of its practitioners, but surely for reasons intrinsic to Christianity.
I would like to consider the Gospels from a couple of viewpoints today. First, what my competition thinks of my guy, Jesus and second, consider the Gospels in terms of historiography. That is, why certain details are in the Gospels and others not. Third, I want to consider the Gospels in light of what they produce. We have already noted its size of impact but I want to consider a couple of qualitative measurements of the Gospels.
First, consider what other religions say about Jesus. Islam professes a high regard for Jesus considering him to be a prophet. "Sikhs do not discount that Jesus may have merged with God," at least according to a website claiming to teach correct ideas about the Sikhs. Mormons have named themselves after him. Atheists tend to define themselves primarily in opposition to him, that is, atheism tends to be in opposition to the Christian god first and more general "gods" less so. Jewish religion tends to see him as a false god, but in quieter moments note that he was another Jewish boy who made good.
Every religion has to have some answer for Jesus since he made claims, according to the Gospels, that cannot be dismissed readily. For example, in John 8:54-58 it reads like this: Jesus replied, "If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. 55 Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and keep his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad." 57 "You are not yet fifty years old," the Jews said to him, "and you have seen Abraham!" 58 "I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born, I am!" (NIV)
Jesus called himself, "I AM" and placed himself before Abraham. Jesus is recorded in the Gospels as claiming to be God. It is a very famous line out of Exodus (3:13-14) where "Moses said to God, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, \'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,\' and they ask me, \'What is his name?\' Then what shall I tell them?" 14 God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM . This is what you are to say to the Israelites: \'I AM has sent me to you.\'" (NIV)
So when Jesus says "before Abraham was born, I am!" a very clear message was being sent. The Jews of the time understood it plainly because upon hearing it they wanted to stone Jesus. Islam has to deal with it because Jesus did not claim to be a prophet in a long line of prophets but to be God. Sikhs have to deal with it because, contrary to what they say, Jesus did not merge with God, but claimed to be God.
Second, consider the Gospels in terms of historiography. That is, why are certain details are in the Gospels and others not? The Gospels don\'t try to hide what they are about. The Apostle John, the last of the four writers said it quite plainly. "But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." A historian or an author who tells you up front his intended outcome is helping you. So, for example, it would be like Michael Shermer of Skeptics Magazine saying, "I am writing this article because I don\'t believe in God and I don\'t want you to either."
The Gospels do claim that Jesus is the promised Messiah. That is the meaning of the term "Christ." Christ was not his last name. It was the title "Anointed One." (I know some thought Obama was that one, but it was actually Jesus.)
A further descriptor of John\'s history is that Jesus is the Son of God. He is more than the Son of God according to John. He is the one and only Son of God as John 3:16 expresses it. He is not a son, at one with God, as the Sikh or the Eastern religions would might allow it. He is not one of the sons of God as Mormonism would have it. Islam tries to deny it through the Koran. In the Gospels he is the one and only Son of God.
To this point we have an academic discussion. John does not want it to be merely academic. This information about Jesus is something John wants us to believe and "by believing you may have life in his name." It is the means of life. John means eternal life, Salvation. This belief will result in you living forever, even after your body dies.
In an earlier statement, John quotes Jesus as saying in John 10:9-10 "I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."
The life that Jesus describes was what the Gospels present. Jesus fed the hungry and made almsgiving the first act of the righteous life. He healed the sick and made both divine healing and natural healing the center of his ministry. He included the broken hearted and those who were bruised.
The Gospels were telling the story of Jesus as both Savior and model. Jesus is the model for the faithful who would follow which leads me to my third point.
Consider the Gospels in light of what they produce. Jesus and Christianity have given you a world worth living in. A world or a place without Jesus is a scary place.
If your car has a problem and you are broken down on the side of the road, a Christian culture motivates someone to stop and help you. Jesus taught us to love one another and particularly to help the person in need. This is not Karma, or the will of Allah; it is an opportunity to be Christ-like.
If you are traveling and have a major medical problem, a Christian culture makes them willing to help you even if you are old and without any power or influence.
We accept these ideas as normal and we no longer connect them to their origination in Christianity. Without these ideas this would be a much less desirable place to live.
The big debate in America is about health care. If it were not for Jesus, it would not be a discussion. Nobody, not even President Obama can hope to change to change Health Care as much as Jesus did. From the ministry of Jesus forward, Christianity has had an unusual concern for healthcare. In Matthew 25:36 Jesus said, "I was sick and you looked after me." The care for the medical needs of an ordinary person was seen as a way to serve Jesus.
Jesus himself was a healer. He called his disciples to be healers. When he sent the disciples out he said, "to preach the kingdom of God and heal the sick."
This was in strong contrast to the pagan world. Dionysius, a Christian bishop of the third century described the attitude of his countrymen. The pagans, he said, "thrust aside anyone who began to be sick, and kept aloof even from their dearest friends, and cast the sufferers out upon the public roads half dead, and left them unburied, and treated them with utter contempt when they died." Romans saw helping a sick person as a sign of human weakness. If a plague started, Romans would just leave the sick behind to care for themselves.
The Greeks had diagnostic centers (Iatreia) but these were not nursing facilities.
I have only seen one place in the ancient world, the asclepieion at Pergamon, devoted to healing. That was not so much a medical facility as a place where people would go to spend the night in hopes that Aesculapius would appear to them in their dreams to tell them a course of treatment. The Romans did have some facilities to treat gladiators, slaves, and soldiers, but nothing for the average person.
Seneca, the first-century Roman Philosopher said, "We drown children who at birth are weakly and abnormal."
Christians, on the other hand, actively helped the sick in their own homes since they could not build hospitals. As soon as Christianity became legal, we set about building hospitals. The very first ecumenical council at Nicea in 325 directed bishops to establish a hospice in every city that had a cathedral. Such a hospice took care of nursing but also provided shelter for the poor and lodging for Christian pilgrims.
The first actual hospital ever built was built by St. Basil in Caesarea in Cappadocia (Turkey) in 369. It was one of "a large number of buildings, with houses for physicians and nurses, workshops, and industrial schools." They not only cared for the sick, but essentially operated a rehabilitation center to get people back on their feet. The first hospital in the West was built in Rome in 390 by Fabiola, a wealthy widow. She donated all her wealth for that purpose. Eight years later she built another hospital at Ostia, the Roman seaport. Within a matter of years there were Christian hospitals all over the Christian world.
On an entirely different but related aspect, these hospitals were the world\'s first voluntary charitable institutions. Nearly 400 years after Christians began building hospitals, the practice drew the attention of Arabs in the eighth century. They followed the practice of Christians and began building their own hospitals.
In the new world, Hernando Cortes, the conquistador founded JESUS OF NAZARETH Hospital in Mexico City in 1524. That hospital is still in operation today. By 1583 every principal town in the archdiocese of Mexico had a hospital, each with a priest who cared for the souls of the patients.
In our own state we have Mother Joseph and in this city, we have the legacy of Providence Hospital as a reminder. Even more than that, Mark Matthews, the famous pastor of First Presbyterian in Seattle led the drive to build Harborview Hospital.
I cannot give the time to it today, but if I were to continue it would be along these lines: How Jesus changed the family and the status of women and children! Then how Jesus changed our economy, science, and gave to us the give of freedom which we celebrate today.
Today we are in grave danger of losing America. A whole generation is growing up without God and in hostility to God. We must change that through conduct and through prayer. God needs to give us a burden for bringing people to Jesus. They certainly want to whether they know it or not. The very disastrous nature of the world today is itself a prayer for Jesus to come. We need the Messiah, now.
 Christianity has 2.2 Billion Adherents, Islam 1.3 Billion, and Hinduism , 900 million. Christianity is the fastest growing religion in the world with 30,360,000 new adherents annually (from 2000-2005). This is followed by Islam with 23,000,000 new adherents annually and Hinduism at 13,000,000. http://worldchristiandatabase.org/wcd/about/more.asp. Additionally, Christianity records about 2 millions conversions annually while Islam records about 800,000.