A REASONABLE PROPOSITION
Back in the days when we lived in Espanola and our boys were quite young, I came home from worship one Sunday and was astounded at what happened when I walked through the front door. I walked in just in time to see one of our dinner plates fly through the air like a frisbee. I couldn’t see who had tossed it because a wall blocked my vision but I was pretty sure that it was not Ruth. It was like watching in slow motion as the plate sailed through the air and went through the patio doors at the back of the living room. The only problem, of course, was that the patio doors was closed. It was actually rather impressive to watch the small hole that had been created by the impact slowly get larger as, bit by bit, the glass gave way. The whole window crackled as the glass cracked to the very edges of the door frame and then, in one motion, went crashing to the living room floor.
After witnessing that incredible sight, I walked the three steps into the living room and looked around the corner of the wall to see who might have thrown the now smashed dinner plate. There were three little boys waiting there with bemused looks on their faces. “Okay,” I said, “who threw the plate?” at which point three little fingers started pointing at the other guy.
“Now, be honest,” I continued, “I want to know who threw the plate?” Andrew and John, being six and five respectively, looked at their little two year old brother sitting on the floor clutching his teddy bear, and said in unison, “Stephen did it.” I knew Stephen pretty well and was rather certain that he could not have mustered the strength to toss a heavy dinner plate across the room.
“Come on boys, be honest. I just want you to be honest.” But they never were. Neither Andrew nor John ever owned up to tossing the plate and even when I asked them the question years later, neither of them could remember who had actually done it. I guess I will never know who threw it but I do know that it was either Andrew or John because it was not a reasonable proposition to suspect Stephen of the act. He was just too busy clutching his teddy bear.
John Wesley, the great 18 century British revivalist and one of my heroes of the faith, once said something that we need to take very seriously. He said that faith needs to be a reasonable proposition. What he meant by that was that faith must make some sense. It makes no sense to believe something that we know to be false. It makes no sense to believe something that cannot be substantiated by the available evidence. Just as it was a reasonable proposition to conclude that either Andrew or John threw the dinner plate, based on the available evidence, faith must also be a reasonable proposition. Be careful though because I’m not saying that faith has to be provable. I’m also not saying that faith has to make sense beyond the shadow of a doubt. I’m just saying that it has to be reasonable.
I think that John Wesley was right. Faith does need to be a reasonable proposition. It has to make sense to believe what we believe. It does not make any sense to believe lies or half truths. We need to be able to substantiate the facts of our faith if it is to stand the test of time. If we cannot do that, then we have to question the authenticity of our belief structure.
This point was drilled home to me one day when I was talking to a new Christian. He had been raised a Catholic but had wandered away from the faith to explore other world religions. When I asked him what brought him back to Christ, he told me that it was the Creation story in Genesis. I was curious and asked him if it would mind explaining that statement. He told me that he had looked at the creations stories in various religions. One of them talked about a magic turtle being sliced up by the gods and the pieces tossed around to make creation. Another one had something to do with an egg getting smashed. He said that none of those made sense to him. The creation story in Genesis, however, was different. While he had questions about the literal reading of the story, he concluded that of all the creation stories it was the most reasonable and the closest to the truth as he understood it. What that said to me was that, for him, faith had to be a reasonable proposition.
So, here’s a question: Is Christianity a reasonable proposition? Does it make sense to believe the truth claims of the Bible about Jesus’ life and what his actions mean for us today? I, of course, believe that faith in Jesus is very reasonable and I want to share with you why I believe that to be true.
THE TESTIMONY OF EYE WITNESSES
The first reason I believe that the faith in Jesus Christ is a reasonable proposition is because we have the eyewitnesses accounts of those who witnessed the biblical events firsthand. These eyewitness accounts can be found all over the New Testament. Let’s start with the words of Peter, who in 2 Peter 1:16-21 (NIV), writes about his experience of Jesus at the Transfiguration:
16 For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.
19 We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
In verse 17, Peter writes that he clearly saw the majesty of Jesus. He writes that during that event, he witnessed God giving Jesus honour and glory. He then writes that he was standing on a mountain with some other people when he heard the voice from heaven saying, “This is my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (2 Pe. 1:17)
Again, this is the story of what we call the Transfiguration. It is found three of the four Gospels, in Matthew 17, Mark 9 and Luke 9. All of the important points of Peter’s testimony are verified by the other Gospel writers. Peter is on a mountain with James and John when Jesus is transfigured before their eyes and shown in all his future glory. There is also a voice from heaven which says – can you guess – “This is my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Mt. 17:5) It is true that Peter does not write in all of the details that we read in the Gospel narratives but it is clear that all of these writings describe the same event.
Peter has a reason for writing these words. He tells us that in verse 16. Basically, he wants to assure the early Christians that they are not being asked to follow cleverly devised myths or stories. They are being asked to believe the testimony of eyewitnesses like Peter who was actually there and saw the events as they unfolded.
The Bible is full of eyewitness accounts of those who had first hand experience of Jesus. Look at the Gospels. Matthew and John were Jesus’ Apostles from the very beginning of his ministry. Mark did not have first hand experience but his Gospel consists of the stories that Peter told him and Peter was an eyewitness. Luke was the only Gospel writer who compiled stories second hand.
Look at the Epistles or Paul, Peter, James, John and Jude. These men were all first hand, eyewitnesses to the actual events. James and Jude were not only Apostles, they were brothers of Jesus who at first did not believe in him but eventually were persuaded by what they witnessed in the life of their brother that he truly was the Messiah. And you have to admit that there would be no harder audience to convince then your own family.
The witness of the New Testament about the life of Jesus is consistent. Sure, there are some differences in details between the Gospel stories but the essence is the same and the small variations do not affect the overall truth of what we read in the Bible. That’s one reason why faith is Jesus is a reasonable proposition. The eyewitnesses accounts are all there.
The skeptic, however, would not be satisfied with that evidence. Some could say that the writers of the New Testament were all in cahoots. They fabricated the stories of the life and times of Jesus because they wanted to make a point and justify their beliefs. They were simply trying to convince the people of their day that their truth claims were accurate so they collaborated in their scheme of deception.
That is a reasonable argument. Think of the dinner plate going through the patio door window. Because Andrew and John were in cahoots, I never did find out who actually did the deed.
That could cast doubt on the biblical witness, except that there are all kinds of other independent writers who point to the truth of the New Testament. We forget that sometimes. We forget that the biblical writers were not the only ones who wrote about Jesus. There are, for example, the Gnostic writings that are not part of the Bible. These are writings that we knew existed at one time but that were lost sometime after about the second century. In the mid-20th century, a couple of Arabs digging for fertilizer in the Nile Valley came upon some alabaster jars. Guess what they contained. Within those jars was a complete collection of the Gnostic writings which affirmed many of the stories of Jesus’ life from independent sources.
We can look even beyond those writing to the writings of Josephus, a Jewish historian who lived shortly after Jesus from 37-100 C.E. He was a guy who had no axes to grind. His intention was not to write from a theological viewpoint but simply as a pure historian. Even he acknowledged that Jesus was a living, breathing human being who walked around Judea as a prophet, teacher and called himself the Christ. I want to read you what he wrote about Jesus in his book entitled Antiquities:
Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was called the Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day. (Book 18, Chapter 3, Paragraph 3)
Not only did Josephus acknowledge Jesus, he also wrote specifically about John the Baptist, Herod, James the brother of Jesus and Ananias the High Priest. It needs to be noted that Josephus had no ulterior motives. All he wanted to do was present the factual history of the Jewish people and his writings simply verify much of the biblical witness. I find that very compelling. It’s one thing to be skeptical about religious writers. The writings of an independent historian such as Josephus, however, serve to silence the skeptics. That’s another reason why I think Christianity is a reasonable proposition.
A FAITH TO DIE FOR
The third reason why Christianity is a reasonable proposition is the most compelling of all. When I read about the number of early Christians who were willing to die for their faith, I have to know that what they claimed to believe had to be true.
When we look at the early leaders and Apostles of the Christian Church, we read story after story of people who were willing to sacrifice their lives for their faith. That, to me, indicates better that any other evidence that what the Bible says about Jesus is true. That’s because people in general are not willing to die for something they know is false. They might hold fast to myths even in the face of great suffering if they are trying to convince someone of something. But most people are not willing to go that last step and die for something they know not to be true. Yet, there is example after example after example of early Christians, first hand eyewitnesses to the life and times of Jesus, who were willing to do just that. Here’s a partial list.
Of the Twelve Apostles, ten are known to have died as martyrs. James, the elder brother of John, was killed by Herod Agrippa in 44 C.E. Matthew, the tax-collector and Gospel writer from Nazareth, was preaching in Ethiopia when he suffered martyrdom by the sword. Andrew preached the gospel throughout Asia. In Edessa, he was crucified on a cross, the two ends of which were fixed transversely in the ground, giving us the term, St. Andrew’s Cross.Peter was condemned to death and crucified at Rome. The story says that Peter was crucified upside down, at his own request, because he said he was unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as his Lord. Jude, who was also known as Thaddeus, was also crucified. Bartholomew preached in several countries and was cruelly beaten and then crucified. Thomas preached the Gospel in Parthia and India where he was martyred by being thrust through with a spear. Philip suffered martyrdom at Heliopolis where he was scourged, thrown into prison, and afterwards crucified. Simon the Zealot preached the Gospel in Mauritania, Africa, and even in Britain where, legend has it, he was crucified. EvenMatthias, the apostle who replaced of Judas as one of the Twelve, did not escape violent death. He was stoned at Jerusalem and then beheaded. The facts surrounding the death of James the Less are uncertain. Of the Twelve, only John is known to have died from natural causes at a grand old age but even then he probably died in exile.
What about other early Christians? One year after Jesus resurrection, Stephen, a deacon, was thrown out of Jerusalem and stoned to death. Approximately 2,000 Christians suffered martyrdom in Jerusalem at about the same time. James, the brother of Jesus and the first bishop of Jerusalem, at age 94 he was beaten and stoned. Mark was dragged to pieces by the people of Alexandria. Paul’s faith was so dramatic in the face of martyrdom, that the authorities removed him to a private place for execution by the sword. Luke, the author of the Gospel, was reportedly hanged on an olive tree in Greece.
Time after time after time, there is example after example of early Christians who were willing to die for their faith. These were people who were very close to the events. Many of them personally knew Jesus. Then there are ose who had never themselves walked with Jesus on earth but who knew all kinds of other people who had. They had the closest evidence of anyone that Jesus was who he said he was and they were so sure of the facts that they were willing to put their lives on the line for what they believed to be true. People, generally, are not going to do that for something they are not sure about. Those early Christians were willing to die because they were rock solid certain about what they said. They believed that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, that he died on the cross, rose from the dead and ascended to heaven to be with the Father.
Peter tells the early Christians that he wants them to believe. He provides them with eyewitness testimony. He could have provided them with other witnesses to confirm what he wrote. And by the time of Peter’s writing, the young Church had already seen its share of martyrs. If those people who were so close to the events of the Bible, were so sure about what they believed, then I think that believing the same things that they believed is a very reasonable proposition. In fact, to do anything otherwise strikes me as very unreasonable.
Those are some of the reasons why I believe that Jesus is who he said he is. The other reason, of course, is very personal. I received Jesus as my Saviour at the age of 15 and it changed my life. I know him, I feel him every moment of every day. He is as real to me as anyone else here today and he has changed my life in so many ways that I cannot possibly doubt his reality and his presence.
The truth is this: Jesus is the Messiah, the only Son of God, who taught us how to live in peace and justice with one another, who gave his life as a sacrifice for our sins and rose again for our eternal life. Like John Wesley, I believe that to be a very reasonable proposition. It is something that we can all believe.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Holy God, you are in our world. You are in our communities. You are in our lives. You are in our hearts. You are with us every moment of every day and for your constant presence we give you thanks and praise. You are with us in the laughter. You comfort us in our tears. You lift us up in times of pain and offer us the healing protection of your enfolding wings. You come to us in love. We return to you in love.
Although we have received our salvation by faith and not by works, it is a comfort and an inspiration to know that you care about the things that we do. Enable us to always do all that we can for others, taking full advantage of every opportunity to be an example of your love and grace. Thank you for your unconditional love and unfailing promises.
We lift up in prayer those who have been sick at home or in hospital this week. We remember, especially, Carol, Mark, Sheila and Ron. Bless them as you have blessed us all with your Healing and Holy Spirit.
We also pray for the family and friends of Billie Taylor who went to be with the Lord and whose life will be celebrated later this week. Thanks you for her life and witness.
We pray also for the family and friends of Marshall and Blake Fox who were killed in a tragic accident earlier this week. Be with Amanda and the rest of the family as they come to grips with this loss. But thank you for the community that has gathered round them in this time of sadness.
God, you are our Heavenly Parent, the one who nurtures us with matronly care and supports us in the arms of a father. It is our desire that we be always willing to follow your leadership and instructions regardless of how it may appear to others. Help us to have courage and strength to go anywhere and do anything that you ask of us. May we go without hesitation or reservation, confident that all things will happen according to your great purpose.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
February 12, 2023 / Epiphany 6
Deuteronomy 30:15–20; Psalm 119:1–8; Matthew 5:21–37; 1 Corinthians 3:1–9
CALL TO WORSHIP
Blessed be the God of Creation
who watches over the assembly of the people.
Come, let us worship the one who gives us life;
let us give praise to our Shepherd and Friend.
Father God, we seek to be open to you today. Open our hearts and minds by the grace of your Spirit that we be willing and eager to learn more of your wonderful Good News. Sometimes in can uncomfortable to follow you. Sometimes we are required to change our attitudes or our way of doing things. Enable us to always be willing to surrender to your will and way. We seek to embrace you as you have embraced us. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
God of Compassion, we wander away from your path and walk in sinking sand. We are grateful that present circumstances are never permanent in your sight. Regardless of what has happened in the past, you are able to restore situations that would otherwise be impossible. Enable us to focus on your unfailing love and your unlimited mercy and grace. Despite our sinfulness, you offer us hope and assurance. We desire to set our hearts to trust you in all of life’s situations. Lead us into greener pastures of service to you and others.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
The sinfulness of humanity has given way to the grace of God. The power of the Cross is the gift of forgiveness and eternal life. Receive the Good News. When we confess our sins, God heals us and makes us whole.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
We express our thanksgiving through the offering of our tithes. We give in trust, not knowing what you, O God, will do or what difference our gifts will make. We give in faith, knowing that you waste nothing but rather make everything work for your purpose when we offer it in Jesus’ name. Receive our gifts, O God of Creation. Amen.
We have shared in song and prayers. We have offered to God our thanksgiving and praise. May we go back out into the world as transformed people, renewed by the power of the Spirit and the grace of God’s amazing love.