June 22, 2010 David Balzer

Acts 14: Politically Incorrect

On June 22 this year Pastors Danny Nalliah and Daniel Scot were ordered to publish apologies for VILIFYING MUSLIMS.

Judge Michael Higgins, of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal ruled. And here’s what he said – the pastors were otherwise of good character, but their PASSIONATE RELIGIOUS BELIEFS CAUSED THEM TO TRANSGRESS THE LAW.

He ordered them to publish apologies on their website, in their newsletter and in four advertisements in Melbourne newspapers and to promise not to repeat the vilification anywhere in Australia.

It was the first case under Victoria’s controversial Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001. And it came about because of a complaint from the Islamic Council of Victoria. They said that Muslims were vilified in a seminar, newsletter and website article. These suggested that the Koran promoted and looting, that Muslims wanted to take over Australia, and that ists were true Muslims.

Mr Scot said he would defy the tribunal, even if it meant jail. “You don’t compromise truth for fear of jail. If God will save Australia by us being in jail, that’s wonderful.”

Mr Nalliah said he could not surrender “freedom of speech to a law which is sharia law by stealth”. “We will not bow down to pressure, and if it means we go to prison we will go to prison,” he said.

The case is on appeal before the Supreme Court.

These two guys have got themselves in trouble because they had the HIDE to suggest what very few people will say publicly. To some, they were and insensitive.

And let me just warn you that I’m going to do the same thing this morning. This is like one of those ratings messages you get before a movie. There’s not going to be any ; and there’s not a whole lot of . But there is going to be a lot of stuff that you’d have to call POLITICALLY INCORRECT.

And if you think you might find it OFFENSIVE, just leave quietly when you don’t agree.

Let me warn you that for starters, I’m going to suggest the unmentionable idea that if CHRISTIANITY IS RIGHT, then OTHER RELIGIONS ARE WRONG.

And that if CHRISTIANITY IS RIGHT, the only sensible thing for Muslims, and BUDDHISTS and HINDUS and ABORIGINAL ANCESTOR WORSHIPPERS and ZEUS WORSHIPPERS to do is to GIVE UP WHAT THEY’RE DOING. And become followers of Jesus instead.

Which is no more than what’s at the heart of what Pastors Nalliah and Scot were saying. And CONTINUE to say.

In Victoria at least, and perhaps before too long in NSW too. It seems you can’t say CHRISTIANITY IS RIGHT – because if you do, you’re saying NON CHRISTIANS are wrong. Which is vilification apparently.

Prince Charles is the same. Did you know that one of the titles of the English Monarch is DEFENDER OF THE FAITH. And when you become the King or Queen of England you automatically become the Head of the Church of England.

Except Prince Charles says, that instead of having the title Defender of THE faith, he wants to change it. To DEFENDER OF FAITHS. So that no matter WHAT faith you’re part of, he’ll defend it. Buddhist, Hindu, New Age, anything.

Now it’s a nice idea, isn’t it? And it’s VERY FAIR MINDED. And it’s very REASONABLE.

In fact, in the end there’s only one problem with it. And that is, IT IGNORES REALITY. It ignores WHAT’S REALLY REAL. And because of that, it FLIES IN THE FACE OF GOD.

Of course, in a time like ours, one idea that’s very much out of date is the idea of MISSIONARIES. I mean, you’ve heard all the stories, you’ve heard people complain about what they call CULTURAL IMPERIALISM – how all missionaries wanted to do was prove that WHITE PEOPLE were superior; and they’ve gone through the world and DESTROYED CULTURES. Which to some extent might be true.

But the REAL GRIPE people have is the idea that MISSIONARIES have the GALL to go to another culture and tell people they should become Christians. That they’re WRONG. And that Christians are RIGHT.

Well, this morning we’re looking at the VERY FIRST MISSIONARIES. And they’re on their first ever MISSION TRIP. We’ve seen it for the last of weeks.

(See overhead) Paul and Barnabas and a few of their friends, they sail for Cyprus; they cross it from one end to the other. And then they sail North to the area that these days is TURKEY.

Here in chapter 14 they’re preaching in the city of Iconium; and if you look at verse 4, the result is, they cause IMMEDIATE DIVISION.

What’s happened is that they’ve been preaching about Jesus, and they’ve done it so effectively that a huge number of both Jews and non-Jews are convinced. And believe.

Except the Jews who DON’T believe… stir up trouble.

So in verse 5 you can see there’s a plot hatching to grab Paul and Barnabas and to stone them; Verse 6; “But they found out about it, and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe..” You can see where they go on the map.

And when they get there, we’re told in verse 7, they CONTINUED TO PREACH THE GOOD NEWS.

Now it’s in Lystra where the stuff happens that I really want to focus on this morning. And if you’re following in a bible, it’s verses 8 to 20.

Because it’s here that for the very first time, you see Christianity face to face with OTHER RELIGIONS. And in this case a very TIME HONOURED RELIGION as well.

You might have heard the names of ZEUS and HERMES before. They were gods of the ancient GREEKS. The gods of Mount Olympus. Of the Pantheon.

An interesting bunch. Always fighting each other, inter-marrying, having affairs, full of rage and jealousy. Hardly the sort of god you’d be ATTRACTED TO. But people SACRIFICED to them. To stop them being angry. And to beg favours from them. To stay in their good books.

But look at what happens when Christianity meets a religion like THAT.

Follow from verse 9. There’s a crippled guy in Lystra, he’s been lame from birth. Never walked. And he’s listening as Paul is speaking. Hanging on every word. Paul looks at him; sees that he’s taking it in; sees that he has faith; and he calls out to him. “STAND UP ON YOUR FEET.” And at that, the guy jumps up and starts walking.

Which as you can imagine, causes QUITE A STIR. I mean, it’s done in front of a crowd, they’ve known the guy as one of the town beggars since he was a kid. But now he’s WALKING.

Now here’s the point. If you run your eye back a few verses to verse 3, you’ll know Paul and Barnabas are speaking in the name of JESUS. And in verse 3 it says that it’s actually THE POWER OF THE LORD JESUS at work whenever these apostles do miraculous signs and wonders.

This isn’t PAUL’S POWER. There’s nothing special about PAUL. When the crippled guy gets up and starts walking, it’s by the power of JESUS.

But you try telling that to the people of LYSTRA. See, these are people who’ve grown up hearing the stories of the gods who come down from Mount Olympus. Of Zeus, the father of the gods with his big long white beard; of HERMES the messenger with the WINGS ON THE BACK OF HIS FEET who these days delivers INTERFLORA FLOWERS.

So when they see a MIRACLE, they reckon it’s their GODS COME TO VISIT. Follow in verse 11. “When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” And Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes; because he was the chief speaker.

And it gets worse. The priest of the temple of Zeus, he brings some bulls and some wreaths of leaves to the city gate, and the crowd’s about to offer sacrifices to them and start WORSHIPPING THEM as their GODS.

In a way it’s a bit of an IRONY, isn’t it. Here are these two guys, and all they want to do is tell them that THE GOD OF ALL CREATION came into the world in human form in the person of JESUS. And they end up being worshipped as GODS IN HUMAN FORM THEMSELVES.

The problem isn’t so much that a god couldn’t come in human form. Because that’s EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED. The problem is they’ve got the WRONG GOD. And they’ve got the wrong HUMANS as well.

So what are Paul and Barnabas going to do? Well, let me put it to you/ they could quite comfortably JUST GO ALONG FOR THE RIDE. I mean, I reckon it would be pretty nice to get treated like a GOD. In fact, for most of us, it’s probably our secret ambition. Have everyone treat you like you’re a SUPERIOR BEING. A bit like when you get off the cruise ship at Hawaii and they put the wreaths around your neck and sing songs to you; that’s what’s happening here.

So sit back. Relax. Enjoy it. And more to the point, even if they DON’T want to do THAT, at least they should probably say, “LOOK, WE’VE MADE A MISTAKE. We didn’t realise you had OTHER GODS that you worshipped. We’ll go somewhere else. Because WE RECOGNISE that YOUR GODS ARE RIGHT FOR YOU, and OUR GOD IS RIGHT FOR US”.

That’s the POLITICALLY CORRECT way to handle it, isn’t it. When there’s someone with a DIFFERENT RELIGION.

But have a look at Paul and Barnabas. Number 1. They’re not interested in being worshipped. In fact, the whole idea gives them the horrors. They tear their clothes. And they rush into the crowd, and they say STOP IT. They say DON’T SACRIFICE TO US. We’re just flesh and . verse 15. They say “Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you.”

But look at what they say next. Because here’s where they break all the rules. Still in verse 15. “We’re bringing you GOOD NEWS – telling you to TURN FROM THESE WORTHLESS THINGS to the LIVING GOD, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them.

Now do you get the drift? He’s saying, you’ve been worshipping Zeus and Apollo and Hermes. Or WHOEVER it might be – Buddha or sacred cows or Allah or the spirits of your ancestors.

And we’re here with GOOD NEWS. Which is, THAT STUFF’S ALL WORTHLESS – And you need to give it up. And turn to the LIVING GOD instead.

Pretty funny idea of GOOD NEWS, isn’t it. That all your precious ideas about RELIGION are absolutely wrong. That every other religion in the world is ABSOLUTELY WORTHLESS. Strange idea of GOOD NEWS.

Unless, of course, it happens to be TRUE.

Let me put it to you for a moment, that the REAL reason the world wants to say all religions are EQUALLY TRUE is that what they’re really saying / is that NONE OF THEM are REALLY TRUE. So you can pick whatever DELUSION you prefer.

But Paul and Barnabas have seen the REALITY of JESUS. And especially his RESURRECTION. That he died. And he ROSE. Not as some sort of LEGEND or TRADITION. But just a few years before.

And in the light of that, EVERY OTHER GOD is an imposter.

Paul says we’re bringing you GOOD NEWS. Telling you to TURN FROM THESE WORTHLESS THINGS, to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. The CREATOR.

See at the heart of the Christian faith lies the fact that the GOD WE TRUST IN is the GOD WHO CREATED US. Who created EVERYTHING.. And it makes sense, doesn’t it, that the GOD WHO CREATED EVERYTHING has got the right to RULE IT.

These petty little gods of thunder; these Buddhas – any sort of god you can think of, they’re SMALL TIME. Compared to the GOD WHO MADE THE WHOLE LOT.

Follow from verse 16. Paul says, “In the past he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony; he has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”

Look at the seasons. And you see DESIGN. The PLANET EARTH tilts on its axis about 23 degrees. So when it’s rotating, it’s sort of tipped a bit sideways. And BECAUSE OF THAT, we get SEASONS.

Ever think about what sort of world it would be if there was no spring and summer and autumn and winter? No crops. No FOOD.

Paul says, THINK ABOUT THAT. He says we’re here to talk about THE GOD WHO MADE IT THAT WAY. And you need to GIVE UP THE WORTHLESS THINGS YOU’VE BEEN WORSHIPPING, and TURN TO HIM.

Now maybe you think science these days has made a message like that a bit DATED. The LIVING GOD, who made HEAVEN AND EARTH. And you say, huh, SCIENCE DISPROVED THAT A LONG TIME AGO.

Funny thing; YOU MIGHT SAY THAT. But SCIENTISTS DON’T. More and more, even ATHEISTIC scientists are finding evidence for INTELLIGENT DESIGN behind the Universe.

Like STEPHEN HAWKING. He’s the guy in the wheel chair who thought up the idea of BLACK HOLES. He’s written a book called “A Brief History of Time”.

Let me tell you, he’s certainly not a CHRISTIAN. But when you boil it all down, he says that as a scientist he can’t avoid the fact that the UNIVERSE IS FULL OF EVIDENCE OF DESIGN. And he goes on to show some of that evidence. And do the maths to prove his point.

But you know the funny thing? The smartest man in the world is also one of the dumbest. Because by the time he proves all that, you know what he says? He says, BOY, this is a GREAT MYSTERY! When what he should have done is what PAUL SAYS TO DO HERE.

We’re not on about a MYSTERY GOD AT ALL. We’re on about a LIVING GOD. Who communicated to us. Who came in the FLESH. AS the man Jesus of Nazareth. And left a mark on the world deeper than any person before or since.

And because Jesus came from THE CREATOR GOD, his claims stand out above every other claim. Because they’re TRUE. Christianity isn’t just some PHILOSOPHY; It’s not just a bunch of ideas. Christianity STAKES A CLAIM. That stands against every other claim. Which I guess is what’s always made being a Christian such a dangerous sport.

Verse 19; Paul and Barnabas are being trailed by a bunch of Jews from Antioch, where they’d spoken before. And they win the crowd over, and they stone Paul; and drag him out of the city and leave him for .

Make no mistake. This stuff was OFFENSIVE.

But can I challenge you this morning to WEIGH THIS MESSAGE UP. It’s very nice to just stand on the sidelines and say, well, you know, maybe it’s right, maybe it’s wrong, maybe everybody’s right. But when you’re doing that you’re casting a vote already aren’t you.

So let me put it to you today, as bluntly as I can; I’ve got some VERY GOOD NEWS for you. And that is, YOU NEED TO TURN AWAY FROM THE WORTHLESS THINGS you’ve been devoting your life to – and you need to TURN TO THE LIVING GOD instead.

When you do that, you’ll find LIFE. If you don’t do it, all you’ve got to look forward to is CERTAIN . The choice is that simple.

I guess you’re not someone who worships ZEUS; but maybe you want a bit each way. You want to keep your options open. To avoid offending anyone.

Forget it. Because I suspect that deep inside all of us, we know we’ve been made; and that we didn’t just happen. And we know that the God who made us wants to CLAIM US BACK. So we argue our way out of it. We push him aside. We say, well, ALL RELIGIONS ARE EQUALLY RIGHT. So we can hide behind the fact that maybe they’re all EQUALLY WRONG.

It might be . But it may be that you’re here this morning and YOU NEED TO BE CHALLENGED. So let me say to you this morning, I want to call you to Turn from whatever WORTHLESS THING things you pour your life into worshipping. And TURN TO THE LIVING GOD.

That’s GOOD NEWS.

But if that’s something you’ve already done. Then I’ve got another challenge for you. If you’ve turned from worthless things, Does your life reflect what you believe? Do your words to other people back up what you know?

Or are you tempted to pull your punches a bit? To hold back a bit on the idea that other people are wrong?

But when you do that, aren’t you giving in? Aren’t you ignoring the reality of what Jesus saves us FROM? Eternity separated from him. and judgment and hell.

Whenever you DON’T try to convince someone you’re right, you’re saying, in your actions, that they’re as right as you are.

Does that mean we need to try to win every argument every time we meet someone? I don’t think so. There’s something wise about having a long term strategy. One of my aims in talking to people is to ALWAYS ADVANCE THE CONVERSATION A LITTLE FURTHER in making them aware of who Jesus is.

But here’s my other aim – TO KEEP THE DOOR OPEN FOR ANOTHER CONVERSATION. If I’ve Bible-bashed someone around the head, I’ve probably NOT converted them, AND I’ve probably shut the door on any MORE conversations.

This stuff will affect ME TOO. We’ve just had Muslim neighbours move in next door. And we had a great conversation with them yesterday. Mohamed knows I’m a Christian.

And the door is still open for more conversations. Pray for me.

Eph 4:15 says we are to SPEAK THE TRUTH IN LOVE. Let’s not be tempted to forget the TRUTH bit. And let’s not forget the IN LOVE bit either.

In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

That’s GOOD NEWS. Let’s proclaim it boldly and gladly. However politically incorrect it might be!

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