If I Were God I’d Make Myself Clearer
Bible Text: John 14:6 – 10, Acts 17:16 – 34 | Speaker: Clayton Fopp | Series: If I Were God … | If I were God I’d make myself clearer
John 14:6 – 10 Acts 17:16 – 34
When God is unknown …
A few years ago, my wife, Kathy and I were staying with her relatives in Canberra, and they took us to visit the Australian War Memorial.
As probably, many of you have done, we stood for a moment in the Hall of Memory, at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
As you know, buried in that spot, are the remains of an unknown Australian soldier, recovered from a cemetery in France.
And this soldier, buried in his Tasmanian Blackwood coffin, his bayonet at his side, and sprig of wattle on his chest, he represents all Australians who have been killed in war, especially those whose earthly remains have never been recovered.
Lots of other countries have a similar tomb,
Under the Arc de Triumph, in Paris,
In the Arlington National Cemetery in the United States.
We feel a cultural and moral obligation to honour those from our country, who have been killed in war, but we recognise that it’s hard to honour those we don’t know,
And so we have a tomb, in honour of the unknown.
In that part of the Bible, from book of Acts that we read earlier, the citizens of the ancient Greek city of Athens, had a similar challenge when it came to honouring their gods.
Did you notice how Luke, our historian, described the city? Verse 16, While Paul was waiting for them, his friends, in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.
The Athenians erected, statues, and altars, and idols, for all the gods they’d ever heard about. One ancient writer even commented that in Athens “it was easier to find a god, than a man”!
But what do you do about any other god that might be out there, who you haven’t heard about yet?
How do you make sure you don’t leave one out?!
Well, the solution for these first century Athenians, was to set up an altar, dedicated, verse 23, “to an unknown god”.
And then that god can be honoured, even though you don’t know who he, or she, or it is.
We live in a world where God often doesn’t seem clear
But of course, the challenge of being surrounded by religious options, isn’t something just limited to first century Athens.
Our world is a world of religious alternatives.
Many of you know we’ve just finished running Simply Christianity, both here in the school at lunchtimes, and in the evenings. It’s a short course to help people understand what the Christian faith is all about. And so a couple of months ago I went online to order a box-full of Simply Christianity workbooks for people to use.
I discovered that in the “Religious books” section of Amazon.com, there are 1 million, 410 thousand, 205 books for sale.
1 million, 410 thousand, 205 different ways to God, or different understandings of God.
You can choose from:
Llama llama Easter egg, which, according to the reviews, contains no religious content whatsoever, and so is perhaps incorrectly filed,
Books on all the major religions,
The Unicorn Coloring Book for Adults,
There are over 900,000 about Christianity, including one, as it happens, written by me, which, let me tell you, is on the most popular list! It’s the 2 million, 720 thousdandth most popular book on all of Amazon!
I also discovered a book called “Ina May’s guide to childbirth”, which for reasons beyond my comprehension, is categorised under the occult!
Friends, our streets may not be filled, with altars and idols, and yet we are faced countless claims, offering to make God clear to us,
And yet the sheer abundance of competing offers can make God seem anything but clear.
We walk down the street, and we see people in different kinds of religious dress.
If you walk into a shop in some parts of Adelaide, you might find a shrine behind the counter,
There are posters on community notice boards promising to connect you with the true Spirit, or Creator, or Life-force or whatever it is that you might be seeking.
Our world is a religious supermarket, and as any husband knows, going to the supermarket is a dangerous business.
Those things might all look the same, but if you choose the wrong one, out of all those seemingly identical things on offer, well there’ll be serious consequences!
You see it’s really popular today, to say that all these religions and philosophies are the same,
All paths lead to God,
It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you’re sincere.
I’m sure you’ve heard people say that,
The problem is, anyone who says those kinds of things is showing themselves to be woefully ignorant of the religions and philosophies they’re talking about.
This week’s and last week’s titles we’ve taken from a couple of books by a Sydney guy called John Dickon, and I once heard him say, “Saying all religions are the same, is a bit like saying all Asians are the same. You can say it, but no one from Asia will agree with you!”
And of course, you just show yourself to be ignorant!
These worldviews are all incredibly different. And they contradict each other at all sorts of points, so they can’t possibly all be true
Here’s an easy example:
The Bible teaches that Jesus, the Messiah God’s king, was killed. We know the story, died on a cross, etc, etc. This very chapter in Acts insists that Jesus died.
But Islam teaches Jesus wasn’t killed, it claims people were just confused. And for claiming that they killed the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, the messenger of GOD. In fact, they never killed him, they never crucified him – they were made to think that they did., For certain, they never killed him
It’s in Surah 4:157, you can look it up if you want.
That’s just the first example that came to my mind, but it’s a pretty key one. The Christian faith centres on the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Clearly, if Islam gives us a clear picture of God, then Christianity doesn’t.
If the message of Christianity, Jesus the Son of God, died and risen, if that’s where we see God most clearly, then Islam cannot be true.
If you want to find the clear truth about God, and maybe you’ve come here this morning specifically to do that, please don’t believe all that relativistic politically correct rubbish that all these religions reveal the same God.
Some of these so-called pathways to God tell us that God is only pleased with us when we work hard,
Some say God loves us no matter what we do.
Some say that God is within us,
Others, that God is out there somewhere,
So why couldn’t God have got his act together and made it clear who he is and what he wants from us, instead of this multi-franchise arrangement where every outlet seems to have a different story?
A few years ago the Good Weekend magazine ran a series of interviews with prominent Australians about their beliefs in God. They interviewed Richard Neville, social commentator and futurist, obviously before he died in 2016.
He said this about God being clear:
God is the world’s oldest celebrity and the cleverest magician, with the uncanny ability to adapt his image to suit the eye of the beholder. God is smart enough to have transcended human form and gender, he can speak any language, but says very little.
Is that what God is like?
Whatever you want to see, that’s what God is, but without actually revealing anything about what he’s really like?
Next month is the Body, Mind and Psychic Expo at Wayville. I used to go down there each year and speak to people who were looking for God to make himself clear.
Once I met a man named George, who concluded that anything you wanted to learn about God you could just, know from your feelings. Which sounds appealing! “I can imagine God to be like, such and such”,
But I could tell you about heaps of occasions when my feelings have led me to conclude all manner of things that weren’t the slightest bit true.
I don’t want to rely on my feelings to determine the truth about God.
But there is good news.
God has in fact, been very clear, in letting us know what he is like.
Jesus is God made clear (John 14:6 – 10)
Christians believe that God speaks to us through the Bible. If you’re new with us this morning, that might seem like a strange concept to you, and that’s OK.
What I hope is that this morning you’ll see that the Bible speaks very clearly on this issue.
And so if that’s your question, “How can I know God?”, the Bible has a simple clear answer;,
We can know God because he has made himself known to us;
Christians believe that in the person of Jesus, God enters human history.
God adds a human nature to his divine nature, and steps into the world that he made, to reveal himself.
So how do we know what God is like?
We look to Jesus, because he is God.
How do we know what God thinks about us, or about this issue or that issue?
We listen to Jesus because he speaks God’s words.
How do we know what God requires of us?
We look to Jesus’ example, as he calls us to follow him.
Where has God revealed himself the most clearly?
Not in my thoughts,
Not in my feelings,
Not in our religious practices,
But in Jesus Christ, God come as a man.
Now, that’s a big claim to make. I realise that!
I reckon that as far as big claims go, that one is right up there!
But it seems to me, that the claims of Jesus, stack up, remarkably well to investigation and testing.
So let’s have another listen to that exchange between Jesus and his friends, which we read earlier.
It’s not long before his death, and Jesus says,
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
9 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’?
Now, if there’s one thing our society hates, it’s claims to exclusivity, isn’t it?
I read just this week of some foster parents who had their kids taken away from them by the authorities, not for talking about Jesus, that was allowed, but for saying Jesus is unique,
That Jesus’ offer to make God known, this very claim here, that he is the only one who can make this offer, that’s exclusive, and in some civilised western countries, enough to have your foster children taken away.
Although we might react against the exclusivity of this. But it’s not that Jesus is kind of pushing other people out the way, so that he can say “no one comes except through me.”
The rest of that discussion tells us why Jesus is uniquely placed to make God clear.
If you know me, he says, you know my Father, that is, God in heaven.
Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.
And if you’re someone who genuinely wants God to be clear, and wishes that God was clearer, then this is very good news, isn’t it?
You might not be convinced, simply by the claim. That’s fine. I certainly wouldn’t be. I’d want to know if he can back it up!
But the fact that here is someone, who’s had this group of friends hanging around him for the last 3 years or so, watching him,
Listening to him,
Seeing how he treats people,
Witnessing him perform miraculous deeds, that they have no other explanation other than to say, God must be at work here,
For these people who know Jesus so well, to think that he’s in a position to make God clear, this should make us think about taking a closer look.
A few weeks ago our internet connection was out. And when someone turned up on the front door in an NBN uniform, with a toolkit and a van, saying, “I hear you want your internet fixed.”
There are all kinds of signs aren’t there, that this person might be able to help me with my problem.
And so I need to let him in and see what he has to say.
John’s eye-witness account of Jesus’ life, and the testimony of those who followed Jesus for 3 years, these are some of the signs that here is someone who can make God clear.
And so, if Jesus’ claim is true, then we aren’t free to browse the aisles of the religious supermarket and decide on a God that seems good to us, that suits our taste, our culture, and our budget.
Jesus is God made clear, even in other cultures, and even amidst religious pluralism (Acts 17:16 – 34)
See Jesus is God made clear, even in cultures where there are lots of claims about who God is.
These eye-witnesses of Jesus’ life and ministry, thought that his claims to reveal God clearly, needed to be heard by people everywhere, even right in the middle of this multi-faith, multi-cultural city of Athens, where there were so many statues of gods and idols that the historians resort to metaphor to try and capture the religiosity. They speak of a “forest of idols”, that the marketplace was “lined with idols.”
Luke our historian gives us a very abbreviated version of what Paul said in Athens. The speech that Paul gives, beginning in verse 22, is less than 300 words. That’s as many words as I’ve said since I mentioned the NBN a moment ago.
So Luke’s writing shorthand so he can fit in everything he wants to record, but we don’t have to look too far to work out what the detail is. Just up in the beginning of this chapter, Luke has taken the time, to tell us, exactly what Paul says whenever he meets people.
It’s printed in on your outline,
Acts 17:2 – 3
As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said
In the synagogue or in the marketplace, basically to anyone who would listen, Paul says, “let me tell you about Jesus.”
To people, for whom God is unknown, what’s Paul’s solution?
How can people who don’t know God find out about God?
How can people who are trying to honour all the gods, actually find the truth about God?
Well, it might sound pretty boring to us, not very revolutionary, but Paul opens the Bible, and he talks about Jesus.
Since God has been made clear, it’s not enough simply to be sincere
And even for people who are the most dedicated, and sincere in their leaving room for all the gods that might be,
Today we’d call these Athenians “well-meaning” and “sincere” wouldn’t we?
And I’ve realised you can make yourself quite unpopular, by telling people who are sincere in their beliefs, that there’s more they should know!
But to these people, Paul says, Jesus is where God is made clear.
See, if Jesus can be trusted;,
If he really is God, made clear.
If he really is the truth of God, the life of God, and the way to God, the only way of finding out who God really is,
Then simply being sincere about some other concept of God, doesn’t help you know God. That doesn’t make you right with God.
But I still meet people who think being sincere is enough. Probably most of my friends, think that if you’re sincere in your beliefs about what God is like, then you can’t be wrong.
There is an actual religious supermarket in Brooklyn, in New York. Jason, the guy who runs it, sells everything from voodoo dolls, to snakeskins, incense, statues of Jesus – in every conceivable skin colour! No matter what religion you are, you’ll find what you need in the store, Jason says, and here’s his philosophy, he says of his customers, “As long as they believe, it works for them.”
Now wouldn’t it be great, if that’s actually how life worked!
I believe there’s a million dollars in my bank account, and so I start going crazy with my credit card.
I believe I can drive safely at double the speed limit. So the cop on the side of the Freeway won’t stop me.
I believe I’d be a better parent than most others, so I’ll just load a dozen kids from the local playground into my car, and take them home with me. Can’t see that going badly!
If you believe that you’d be good at heart surgery, or flying a plane, just offer your services next time you’re at the hospital or the airport, and see how far that gets you.
In no area of life, do we think simply being sincere, or convinced, is enough!
You can be, both sincere, and wrong.
And the fact that you were sincere doesn’t make the consequences any less!
One of the drivers in our family got a speeding ticked in the mail this week. That person, sincerely believed they were doing the speed limit.
They weren’t! They were within the speed limit that applies to another stretch of that road, but they were wrong in thinking that was also the speed limit at the spot in question.
So the infringement notice arrives.
Victims of Crime levy $60
Discount because you sincerely believed you were within the speed limit hundred dollars off!
No! that’s not how it works, is it?
You have to pay the full penalty, because you got it wrong, even though you sincerely believed in something else.
In no area of our lives, is sincerity an alternative for truth!
And yet when it comes to this enormous and hugely significant question of how do we arrive at the truth about God?, we can easily get sucked in by the rhetoric of relativism.
Jesus is God made clear, so we turn to God (Acts 17:29 – 31)
Back in Athens, the Apostle Paul didn’t just see the people’s religiosity and think, “Oh, well, they’ve got their system, their set of beliefs, they seem to be pretty keen on that so I’ll just keep going on my way to Corinth and sort them out instead.
He wants these sincere people to understand the truth about God, verse 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
And jump down with me to verse 29, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
Before God was made known in the person of Jesus Christ, people were ignorant about what God was really like, they didn’t have the whole picture. But since the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, ignorance is no excuse, and all people everywhere are called to repent.
Some of us are old enough to remember seeing maps of the world with the countries of the British Empire coloured in pink. It was so you could see how far the reach of the Empire was. The sun never sets on it, they said.
Well, Jesus’ map, if you like, is coloured in pink. Not just a few countries, but all of it.
Because Jesus makes God clear for all people everywhere, then there’s a response that all people everywhere are called to make.
And repent is the word that Paul uses there in Athens.
That might be a word that has kind of religiousy overtones. But it just means to turn around.
It means you’re going the wrong way, away from God, and you need to turn towards him,
To stop ignoring God,
To stop defining God for ourselves,
Or thinking it doesn’t matter who or what God is,
It is to turn to God as he’s revealed himself clearly in Jesus.
In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice
It’s important to repent, because God will judge sin.
If we think of sin as a list of things not to do, murder, lying, stealing, it’s easy to think of myself as not much of a sinner.
But the Bible’s picture of sin is much more basic, it’s simply ignoring God,
Living in God’s world, without any regard for God,
Deciding to define God for ourselves,
Or put ourselves in the place of God.
And that’s what sin is, and on that measure, we’re all guilty. We’ve all pushed God to the edge of our life and beyond.
And Paul says here in this very religious city of Athens, sin has a penalty that must be paid.
And God has appointed Jesus as the judge,
And because of that certain just judgment, God lovingly commands people to repent,
To turn around,
To turn to God.
God doesn’t does encourage it, suggest it. He commands it.
But don’t think that a command can’t be loving. Any parent who’s ever yelled at their child to watch out for a car, or to step away from the water’s edge, knows that a command can spring from love.
God commands all people everywhere, to repent.
You know those signs on the Freeway exits, “Wrong Way! Go back!”
Actually, I hope you’ve only ever seen them in your rear-view mirror, actually!
Do they say “Go back, unless you’re driving a white Commodore”
Go back, unless you have more than 3 people in your car.
Go back, unless it’s between 3 and 4 PM on a school day.
No! It just says “Go back, you’re going the wrong way.”
God lovingly commands all people everywhere to repent
He has made himself known.
This isn’t just for people who have grown up in a “Christian country”,
Not people who went to church schools and so should know what God’s on about,
All people, everywhere must repent,
Ignorance of God cannot be tolerated, because, God, has, made, himself, clear.
Of course, Jesus’ unique position as the one and only way to God,
Hinges upon whether or not he can be trusted.
If he’s not the way, the truth, and the life,
If he’s not God made clear, then he’s not even a good man or a wise teacher, the kind of things people sometimes like to say about him.
If Jesus isn’t God made known, then to say the things that he did, makes him a fraud, a lunatic, and a liar.
To say, “I am the one way to God” if you’re not, that’s not wise, loving, or compassionate. That’s the lie of a con artist!
But if Jesus is the way, the truth, the life, without whom no one can know God, then regardless of how sincere you are, if you’re not trusting in Jesus as God made clear, then you’re far from God.
If, he can be trusted.
If his words are true.
Everything hangs on whether we have reason to trust Jesus,
Is there reason to trust that he really is at the centre of what God is doing in the world?
In the religious supermarket of Athens, Paul says, Jesus’ place, as the centre of God’s plans is confirmed.
Every word he spoke is stamped with God’s authority.
Every claim he made is amplified throughout history, by his resurrection from the dead.
One of the other Bible translations says God has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.”
We were talking about this in GiG, our high school youth group last week.
And we concluded that when people who aren’t trustworthy die, they stay dead.
When people who claim to make God known die, they stay dead.
In fact, when any normal person dies, they stay dead.
But in raising Jesus from the dead, never to die again, God the Father gives him a great big stamp of approval and says “I stand behind everything he said.”
And Jesus will be the judge, that is, Jesus determines, just as he said he would, who “gets” to God, and who doesn’t.
The call is universal. And everyone must repent, because the world is going to be judged. And the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the proof that this man, the clear picture of God, is the one who stands at the heart of it all.
This loving command, all people everywhere, repent
It’s a call to us, to accept that Jesus stood in our place,
That he took the punishment for rejecting God that we deserved,
And a call to live with Jesus as our Lord because he is, after all, God, made clear.
Jesus is God made clear to us
he commands everyone everywhere to repent.
It’s universal, but it’s also personal, we, have, to respond, to God.
You have to respond to God.
I have to respond to God.
And what is an appropriate response?
Not to choose a god we like the sound of,
Not simply to be sincere in what we believe,
But to turn from idols,
To turn from false gods, false images of God, and false pathways to God, and to turn to God, made clear.
Richard Neville might have known a lot about social trends, but his picture of God is a false god, The same as the pantheon of gods worshipped in Athens were false gods
Friends the Christian faith is grounded in the events of history, and in history, God has declared that there is one way to know him.
And if you think that, having considered our statement this morning, what you need to do is find out some more about God, made clear, please do something about it.
Use that Communication Card and tick the box that says “I’d like to find out more about Christianity”, and drop it in the collection bag in a moment, and we’ll find someone who can sit down with you and maybe read through Mark’s short account of Jesus life, His account which begins with the words, “this is the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
And through the words of those eyewitnesses, you will encounter God as he really is.
Don’t treat the known as unknown
Because, it can sound like humility, can’t it, to say “Well, I don’t know much about God, I don’t need to find out more, because, well, I’m a bit agnostic really”
But it’s not humility to be ignorant of God, when God has made himself known. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
It’s extreme arrogance.
Interred in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in the Arlington National Cemetery in the US, were the remains of unknown American servicemen from World Wars 1 and 2, from Korea, and from Vietnam.
In 1998, the remains of the Vietnam War unknown, were exhumed, and through DNA testing, were found to be the earthly remains of Air Force Lieutenant Michael Blassie, who was shot down over Vietnam in 1972.
The unknown, was now known.
What do you do in that situation?!
You can’t put the body of a known soldier, back in the tomb of the unknown soldier.
And so that tomb to the unknown, is now empty.
It would be terribly offensive, to continue to call him unknown, when we know exactly who he is.