Do you know why you are a Christian? If someone were to ask you why you follow Jesus rather than the myriad of religions and philosophies in the world, what would you say? Would your answer be convincing?
I confess there was a time when that question haunted me. I really didn't have a good answer for it. I grew up in the church. Sang Jesus Loves Me. I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior at a young age and was baptized. But when I entered my teenage years and began thinking critically, I asked, "If I had been born into a different religion, would I still choose to follow Jesus?"
What makes Christianity so special? There are roughly 4,200 religions in the world. Why should Christianity be any different than the rest of them?
Maybe you have asked the same question. Do you wonder why you follow Jesus instead of another religion. Is it because you were born into a Christian home? Maybe a professor challenged you, a skeptical friend criticized you, or you watched a documentary on world religions which caused you to question the validity of your faith.
Or perhaps you have always been on the edge of becoming a Christian. You want to follow Jesus, but the one obstacle for you has been the question, "Why Jesus instead of another religion?"
I am going to tell you why. At the end of this message you will be able to tell your skeptical friends a compelling reason why you are a Christian. And if you are someone still searching for faith, this message just may be the tipping point for you.
What is so unique and compelling about the Christian faith? And why should it make a difference to your life? I am going to let the gospel of John tell you. The very first chapter of John explains WHY Jesus is compelling and life changing:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the World was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. -John 1:1-3
What is John talking about? He is talking about Jesus. Substitute Word with Jesus. Why wouldn't John just say Jesus? Because John is trying to tell us something unique about Jesus. Word means the essence of God or God's personality. Jesus is God's personality. In the beginning was God's personality and it was God's personality that made the world. Take a look at what it says next:
In him was life, and that life was the light of all humankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. -John 1:4-5, 9
God's Word, God's personality, is filled with light and life. You've heard of people who light up a room. Well, God's personality lights up the world! And that light is so strong that nothing, not even darkness, can kill it.
Those who are open to understanding and experiencing God's personality and light will be transformed by it. How is that possible? Let's read again:
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. -John 1:14
And there it is! God's personality took human form 2,000 years ago in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. God's personality has always existed, but that personality intersected human history when Jesus was born!
So, why did many folks not recognize or receive Jesus? Because God showed up in a way no one expected. He wasn't born in a palace. His parents were not royalty. There was no earthquake that announced his coming. He was born in a dirty feeding trough inside a cold cave to poor peasant parents. Other than a few shepherds and some astrologists, no one had a clue God had shown up.
Why did God choose to display his personality this way? Because if he had been royalty, he would have been untouchable. If he had come with great fanfare, we would have been intimidated. If he came swooping in on a high horse, he would have been unrelatable.
But a little baby born in a humble manner? Now, that warms my heart. There is nothing more disarming than a precious baby.
I think of when my son, Paul, was born just 16 months ago. I just fell to pieces. I felt such love; my heart was so open. If you had asked me that day to give you all the money in my bank account, I would have done it! Our little baby has changed our lives. A baby has a way of doing that.
One night we were at a restaurant with Paul and he was getting restless. Brandy and I were taking turns holding him so we could eat. Near our table there was a bar filled with people. They were loud and cynical. Not a lot of smiles. But when Brandy walked Paul near that bar so he could see out a window, the people at the bar lit up! Their frowns turned into smiles and they reached out to play with Paul's hair! They were transformed. There was life in their eyes. A baby does that to people.
You know what? Baby Jesus did that for the whole world! He gave life and love to the world. It was the best way God could convey how much he loves us and wants a relationship with us. Nobody in the history of humankind changed things the way that baby did. Jesus had the most humble beginning, the most humiliating ending, and yet the biggest impact the earth has ever seen. You see, it had to start like this - we had to see that God gets us. That he is with us.
So, why is Jesus so compelling? Why does Jesus and the Christian faith stand out for me? Why do I love being a follower of Jesus? Because religion is reaching for God; Christianity (Jesus) is God reaching for us.
Christianity means we don't have to search for God. Instead, God searches for us. No other religion in the world makes this claim. In every other religion people are desperately seeking to find God or the divine. There is beauty and truth in many of them. But in the Christian faith, a faith unlike any other, God finds us in the person of Jesus Christ. God seeks us out. And, to be honest, there's really no other way we could find our way.
Author Max Lucado tells about a trip his family took to the United Kingdom. They visited a castle. In the center of the castle garden sat a maze with row after row of shoulder-high hedges, leading to one dead end after another. If you successfully navigate the labyrinth, you discover the door to a tall tower in the center of the garden.
Lucado says that if you were to look at their family pictures of the trip, you'd see four of their five family members standing on the top of the tower. Guess who was missing? That's right, Lucado. Lucado says he was lost and stuck in that maze. He couldn't figure out which way to go. But then he heard a voice from above, "Hey, Dad." He looked up to the top of the tower to see his daughter Sara, peering down at him. "You're going the wrong way," she explained. "Back up and turn right."
Do you think he trusted her? He could have trusted his own instincts, asked other lost people for directions, or whine about how he couldn't find his way. But do you know what he did? He listened. Her vantage point was better than his. She was above the maze. She could see what he couldn't.
It's the same way with us. We don't know where we are going. Trying to find or figure out God is like getting lost in that maze. There are so many options, so many opinions. Which way do we go? Who do we listen to? We could never figure it out. It's beyond us. That's why we need someone from above who can show us the way. And that is exactly why God came to us in Jesus. He came down to find us and point us the way home.
If that doesn't hit home to you, let me ask you this question: What would the world be like if Jesus had never been born? Ever thought of it that way? Imagine this world if Jesus had never been born.
Many atheists claim that faith and religion are bad for the world. Well, they just haven't thought through it. Do you know what would be missing in this world if Jesus had never been born? No Christmas cards, caroling or concerts. No Christmas gift giving, candle lights or twinkling trees. But also, no Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Easter, Halloween, or Thanksgiving. Each one of these holidays is based on or tied to Christianity. But that is just on the surface.
Reflecting on this question Greg Asimakoupoulos writes, "Women and children would not be valued as human beings but instead be treated as property. You see, it was Jesus who elevated women and children to their rightful place of worth and value."
If Jesus had never been born, we would not have the Sermon on the Mount. Health care and education would be less important. The rights of the elderly would be overlooked.
Jesus's influence on this world is mind boggling!
Can you imagine a world without Paul's words on faith, hope and love and the greatest of these is love?
Can you imagine a world without the writings of Augustine, Aquinas, or St. Francis?
Can you imagine a world without the masterful pieces of art throughout history that have been influenced by Christianity?
Can you imagine a world without Handle's Messiah or the Hallelujah Chorus?
Can you imagine a world without Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton? They were all founded by Christians to train Christians.
Can you imagine a world without the Red Cross?
Can you imagine a world without those who abolished slavery or a world without Bonhoeffer and those who stood against Hitler?
Can you imagine a world without AA and the 12 Steps, both influenced by the Christian faith?
Can you imagine a world without Billy Graham's Crusades, Martin Luther King Jr.'s Christian movement against racism, or Mother Theresa's Christ-like compassion to the poor and dying?
"Most of all, can you imagine living in a world without knowing God is love, approachable, compassionate, or living in a world without the assurance that we have been forgiven and redeemed?" (Greg Asimakoupoulos, Finding God in "It's a Wonderful Life").
Without Jesus all of that would be missing from our world.
If Jesus did that for the world, imagine what he can do for your life! Religion is reaching for God; Christianity is God reaching for us. Jesus is not a gift we find, but a gift that finds us! Imagine what your life would be missing without him. Or maybe I should say - imagine what your life IS missing without him.
You see, although Jesus searches and finds us, we still have to invite him into our lives. Will you? Will you embrace God's embrace of you in Christ? You will never be the same again.
Let us pray.
O Lord, thank you for your amazing love that came down in Christ to search for us and find us and show us the way. Amen.