Sunday, 15 June 2014

Are evangelical Christians guilty of arrogance?



Why do followers of Jesus want other people to become followers of Jesus?

I remember a conversation with the mother of one of my college friends. She was asking why I was going to work as a parish assistant in Hackney. I said I wanted people to know about Jesus, because they needed Jesus. And she responded, ‘Malcolm, you are so arrogant’.

Isn’t it arrogant to think that what you believe is better than what the next person believes? They have their own faith and their own ways of doing things. And wouldn’t we believe what they believe if we had been brought up in that culture?

And when we try to convert people, doesn’t that end up with the Crusades or the inquisition – people trying to make other people believe what I believe, even if it means using a sword or a gun? Have not whole populations been baptised by force? That is no different to organisations like Boku Haram claiming that the girls they have kidnapped have converted to Islam (they said the necessary words).

And what about our own nation’s imperialist history?

We’re told that the missionaries went with the gospel and were backed up by the gunship. The soldier imposed British law and order on the pagan natives. The missionary instilled British values among the pagan natives.

That is a skewed reading of history. Yes some of the missionaries were like that. But many were not. Many did not go in strength but in weakness, not as rulers but as servants. They chose to live alongside the people to whom they went, to get to know them, to live like them, to share their dreams, to suffer with them, to serve them and to offer them the word of life.

But because there is this assumption that it is arrogant for people to tell other people of Jesus, our idea of mission has become centred on doing works of mercy for others. You see it in our giving. Christians will give sacrificially to the hospice, to disasters when they occur, to relief agencies – but we don’t really give to those missions that are committed to proclaiming the message of Jesus to all nations.

And St Francis of Assisi is repeatedly quoted when he said, ‘Preach the gospel using words if necessary’. It is as if the good actions are all that is necessary and the words are an unnecessary post-script.  Some lecturer said, ‘I could throttle Francis for saying those words’ – and a wag from the back of the hall said, ‘using hands if necessary’.

So why should we speak of our faith to others?

Why should we seek to make people followers of Jesus – here or overseas? 

Well today we look at Jesus’ command in Matthew 28: ‘Go and make disciples of all nations .. baptising them and teaching them to obey all I have taught you’. 

It is called the great commission

And I would argue that this passage gives us three reasons why we should go and make disciples.

The first reason is this.

1.    It is the risen Jesus who commands us to go.

Christian mission depends on a fact and a command

It was the risen Jesus who stood in front of his followers in Matthew 28. They had watched him die on a cross. And now he is standing in front of them, alive.

Paul writing to the early Christians says, ‘The gospel is this ... Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures. He was buried. On the third day he was raised again in accordance with the scriptures and he appeared to ..’

At the heart of the Christian message is an astonishing truth. 2000 years ago a Palestinian religious teacher claimed to be the Son of God. He spoke with an authority the like of which had not been heard before. He did remarkable things.

But the structures and the systems cannot cope with any person who claims to speak as God. So they put him to death – and they thought it was finished.

But this man was different. He did what no other person has done. On the third day he rose from the dead – having gone into death, having gone through death, he came out the other side.

I read the story of the man who drove past a cemetery with his five year old beside him. The child noticed a large mound of dirt beside a newly excavated grave. He pointed and said: "Look, Dad, one got out!" The man writes, “I laughed, but now, every time I pass a graveyard, I'm reminded of the One who got out”.

That is the fact. Jesus Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead.

It is the basis of mission.

We are not in the business of saying to people here is a set of rules which we want you to obey. That would be arrogant. We want to say to them, Here is a person who we really want you to know. When you know him, your life will change. But we can’t tell you how. That will be between God and you and the people of God where you are.

This is very important.

Our task is not to proclaim our faith.  

That would be arrogant. I’m not here to talk about myself or my faith. If I talk about myself, then I will talk of one who is a sinner – whose motives and desires are very mixed up. I will speak of one who is weak, who occasionally wakes at 2am and wonders how he is going to cope. I will speak of one who loses his temper with his children, who speaks before he has listened, who is so often paralysed from doing what is right because he is scared of what other people will think of him. I will speak of someone who is self-centred, who has dark thoughts, who is paradoxically both proud and filled with a sense of inadequacy.

But I’m not here to talk about myself or my faith - how strong or weak it is – for one simple reason. I have not risen from the dead.
My task is – in obedience to the command of Jesus - to simply speak of Jesus, of his amazing love, of his death for me, for you on the cross, of the incredible forgiveness he offers, of the promise of the Holy Spirit and of his resurrection from the dead.

Paul writes, ‘We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake’.


2.    The authority of Jesus

Jesus says, ‘All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me .. therefore go and make disciples of all nations’.

The reason that we are called to speak to others of Jesus, to urge them to repent, to follow him, is because he is the one who has all authority.

He has authority over all things: over sickness, over demons, over the forces of nature, over death.

He stands in front of Pilate who says to him, ‘Are you not going to answer me. Do you not realise that I have the authority to put you to death?’ Jesus answers, ‘You would have no authority over me if it were not given you from above’.

And it is the name of Jesus that alone can save us. Education can take us so far; religion can take us so far; scientific advance can take us so far. But nobody can break that barrier between God and people apart from Jesus.

Jesus is THE key to everything for everyone.

He is the eternal Son of God who was there at the very beginning and through him all things were made. He is the one who will be there at the end of history, of space and time as we know it, before whom all rulers and authorities, whether here on earth or there in the spiritual realm, will need to bow. Of course he is the key to everything.  

Jesus is the hope of our utopian dreams; Tim Keller says in an amazingly pregnant sentence: ‘All our fairy tales are about Jesus’. He is the key to the kingdom of heaven; he is the end of our pursuit for freedom, authenticity, beauty, harmony, truth and for that which can never be shaken; he is the overflowing source of life and love

Two illustrations.

1. Imagine an orchestra where everybody is playing the tune at their own speed, as they think it is best played, as it most suits them. It sounds dreadful.

But one or two look up, and notice that there is a conductor. Up to now she has been ignored. But they begin to follow her directions, and as they follow her they realise that she knows what she is doing. So they call over to their neighbours – they don’t say: follow me, follow my lead. There are enough people trying to do that in this orchestra. Instead they say look at the conductor, follow the conductor. And gradually as each person voluntarily submits to the direction of the conductor, the orchestra is liberated to become what it was meant to be, and the music comes alive

Jesus is the conductor of life.
When we begin to follow his lead, play his tune, we discover that he is the one who can set us free to live.

It is not a question of obeying a set of rules he has imposed on us.
He didn’t really give us rules to follow. He gave us a life to live.
He calls us to listen to him, to obey him, to put to death our old desires and motives and agendas, to walk with him, to trust his promises and to seek to be filled by him.

Jesus Christ is the one who has the authority of the conductor of life. He said, ‘Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden. Take my yoke, my burden onto yourself, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’

2. There is the well known story of the captain of a ship who saw a light in the distance. He ordered the other ship to change course. ‘No’, came the reply, ‘you change course’. He sent another message, ‘I am the captain of a battleship. You change course’. The reply came back, ‘I am a lighthouse. You change course’.

Jesus Christ is the one who has the authority of the lighthouse. We can continue to ignore him, but if we do, we will end up shipwrecked.

If we are deaf to his word and refuse to forgive, we will end up knotted and shrivelled up. If we are deaf to his word and live for money, we will end up like our god: cold, hard and calculating. If we are deaf to his his word and judge and condemn others, we will discover in time that we have been judging and condemning ourselves. If we are deaf to his word and refuse to come to him to receive forgiveness and new life and intimacy with God, our boats will shatter against the rocks of despair and death.

And Jesus has authority over all people.

This is not one of those things that is true for some, and not true for others.

Paul writes, ‘At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord’.

One day, at the end of space and time and history as we know it, we will all answer to him.

In the Last Battle, CS Lewis writes of how every living creature must come and stand before Aslan. If they can look at him with love and gratitude, they go through the door into the stable and into paradise. If they look at him with fear and hatred, they go past the stable and Lewis writes, ‘What became of them nobody knows’.

Why should we pray that others become followers of Jesus?
Why should we give so that others become followers of Jesus?
Why should we go so that others become followers of Jesus?
Why should we speak so that others become followers of Jesus?
Why should we be prepared to be embarrassed or rejected so that others become followers of Jesus?

Because Jesus is Lord of all things and all people.

He has all authority.

3.    The presence of Jesus with us.

Jesus says here, ‘And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’.

We do not worship a Jesus who rose from the dead, went into heaven and who reigns from up there, pouring down edicts through his high command, the church authorities or preachers.

We serve a Jesus who came down and lived among us, who knelt down and washed our feet, who lay down and allowed them to smash nails through his hands and feet. We serve a Jesus who was lifted up – but lifted up on a cross.

This is the mystery at the heart of our faith. It is beyond human understanding.
The one who has all authority is the one who loved us so much that he died for us. The one who has all authority submitted himself to human authority;
The one who reigns victorious is the slaughtered lamb of God.

And it is this Jesus who is with us.

So when we go through hell, and we will go through hell, we do not need to despair. We are not alone. There is hope.
When we are crushed or exhausted, we do not need to despair. We are not alone. There is hope

Jesus is with us.

This command to go and make disciples is as important now as it was then.

Yes, we must guard against the arrogance that presumes to preach itself, or the arrogance that stands over another and commands them to repent. 

If we are going to see people come to Jesus, then we need to be prepared to kneel down in front of the other, to listen to them, to receive what is good and right from them, to wash their feet, and to urge them, to plead with them to be reconciled to God.

Not because we are anything. We are not. We are nothing. But because 

Jesus has promised to be present with us
He has all authority
He has risen from the dead and he commands us to make disciples of all nations.

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