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That is a Great Question -Week 5: Is Christianity Against Other Faiths?
Richard Root
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That is a Great Question -Week 5: Is Christianity Against Other Faiths? Oct 18, 2020
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Richard Root Numbers 22-25 Sunday Online
Acts 9:1-19 Hits: 44


Sermon -Sunday Online -2020/10/18 11am -Richard Root
-"That is a Great Question -Week 5: Is Christianity Against Other Faiths?" -Number 22-25; Acts 9:1-19

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5. Is Christianity Against Other Faiths?

October 18, 2020

In 1788, an English poet, William Blake, wrote a book titled All Religions Are One. It was the first publication to suggest an idea that has become very popular in our society: that every religion is true in its own way and they all really say the same thing.
Perhaps in olden days, when people were not exposed to a lot of different religious ideas, it might have been possible for people to think their religion was the only “right” one, but now we know there are intelligent people who hold different religious views. Isn’t it arrogant for any one person to think they’re right? Alvin Plantiga recalls this telling conversation:
“If you had been born in Morocco instead of Michigan, you’d be a Muslim instead of a Christian,” said one of his students, “and that’s why I’m an agnostic. What you believe is just a by-product of where you were born.”
Plantinga’s response is, “But if you had been born in Morocco instead of Michigan, you’d be a Muslim instead of an agnostic.”
• The simple fact that where we were born impacts what we believe does not give anybody a free pass from discerning where truth lies. A question worth asking is simply this:
“Do you want a particular religion to be true?”
• Many people struggle to answer that question. Why? Because they are concerned that if they hold their beliefs to be “true” that means people who disagree with them might be wrong. Doesn’t that lead to arrogance and feelings of superiority? Isn’t that the cause of religious violence like the Crusades or the Inquisitions or terrorism?
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)

Key Question: What does following Jesus look like in a multifaith region like the GTA? What is the posture of those who follow Jesus toward other faiths?
1. We’re going to start by looking at a disturbing story from the Old Testament.
2. We’ll look at a rabbi named Saul: how he treated people with different religious ideas, went through a dramatic change, and modelled a radically new way of relating to others.
3. Finally, we’ll look at what it all means for us today.

1. Numbers 22-25
The book of Numbers records the life of Israel just before they make it into the Promised Land. Their final enemy is the king of Midian. The king tries to bribe a soothsayer, a man named Balaam, to curse Israel. Balaam is on the way to do this when an angel of the Lord blocks his path. What follows is a humorous account God speaking through Balaam’s donkey. From there the story gets dark: promiscuity, unfaithfulness, idolatry.
• Idolatry was the ultimate moral and spiritual sinkhole for Israel. The prophets of Israel railed against idolatry not because it was just a different religion and not just because idols were false, but because idols did not demand justice for the poor or fidelity for your spouse or concern for widows and aliens or parental care for children.
Idolatry meant trying to use spiritual power without spiritual or moral accountability or concern for justice, and it always ends up meaning enslavement for the idolaters.
• Idolatry would mean for Israel the loss of the central tenet of their faith: there was one great God and he is good. It would mean spiritual, national, missional suicide for Israel.
• The low point of this sordid tale was when one Israelite was so brazen that he brought his Midianite idolatress girlfriend into his tent in full view of Moses. A priest named Phinehas grabbed his spear, ran into the tent, caught them both in the act, and killed them with a single thrust. Phinehas who opposed idolatry was a hero, and the key word in the story is the word “zeal.” Three times that word is used to commend Phinehas.
“He had zeal for the Lord.” (Numbers 25:11)
• That word, “zeal,” took on a life of its own. It was the rallying cry for Judas Maccabeus (“Judas the Hammer”) in the revolts 200 years before Christ. It was the namesake of the zealots referred to in the Bible. And, it is an apt description of a young rabbi named Saul.

2. The Story of Saul
• Saul, was the Apostle Paul’s original name. We first meet him when he is overseeing the execution of a follower of Jesus whose name is Stephen.
“Stephen fell on his knees as he was being stoned and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he fell asleep. [That is he died]. And Saul approved of their killing him.” (Acts 7:60-8:1)
• Saul had zeal like Phinehas, like Judas the Hammer. He believed those who disagreed with him should be stopped by any means possible, including prison or execution. This is how Saul described himself in those early days. He says he was…
“...circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church…” (Phil. 3:5-6)
• For Saul, zeal was the willingness to do anything to fight God’s enemies. He says to the church at Galatia,
“For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was...extremely zealous...for the traditions of my fathers.” (Galatians 1:13-14)
• Paul did not have just zeal; he had what he calls here “extreme zeal,” like Phinehas and like Judas the Hammer. Then, something happened that would change his life and that would change the history of the world and would completely reverse the way Saul, or any follower of Jesus, should regard and live with people of any faith.
• It happens in Acts, chapter 9.
“Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way...”
That is, the way of Jesus.
“...whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.”
Saul’s heart is full of zeal. He is on a mission for God. It is dangerous and violent.
“...suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.”
• It is given to some human beings (not many, but some) to have a profound experience of God, of transcendent reality, that is so shattering that it changes them forever, brings them sobriety, turns them around, and so it comes to Saul.
• Then, something utterly unexpected happens. He is not commended by God for his zeal; he is rebuked for it. He is condemned for it, and this comes in the form of a question he could not have imagined.
“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
• This encounter is the end of his old life and the beginning of a new one.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting...”
“Every time you threaten, every time you harm, every time you kill a little one, a brother,
or sister who follows me, you persecute me. Now, get up and you will be told what to
do. I am Jesus.”
• Saul had been absolutely right to be zealous for God but tragically wrong about what zeal looks like. He was completely correct that God was at work in the world but horribly misguided—as we can all get—about what God’s work looks like.
• In Jesus, the persecuted Jesus, Saul finally sees the kind of zeal God requires. Not the zeal to kill your enemies but to die on their behalf. Not the zeal to persecute your enemies but the willingness to suffer persecution in order to help them.
The zeal God is looking for is the zeal to love, the zeal to forgive, the zeal to embrace, the zeal to identify with, to understand, to break down barriers, to realize in repentance that those we thought were enemies are beloved by God.
• Jesus loved and served and cared for and touched people of other religions (pagan Canaanites and Roman centurions and Samaritans) the same way he did people of Israel.
• Once Paul met this Jesus he could never look at zeal the same way. This is why later on he would say about others in Israel who were part of that old zeal movement:
“For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.” (Romans 10:2)
• Religious zeal not based on knowledge is very dangerous. We see it in our world every day. The belief that somehow killing the enemies of God is an act of service to God, but that zeal not based on knowledge.
• § What does zeal based on knowledge look like? It’s the exact opposite of what Paul used to think. He would write to the church at Rome,
“Never be lacking in zeal...” That old word. “...but keep your spiritual fervor...” (Romans 12:11) Then, Paul goes on one sentence later. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” (Romans 12:14)

3. Counsel for the Church
• Often the best thing to do with other people of other faiths in this life is to listen. Be curious. Care about them. Ask questions. Want to learn. Sincerely want to know. Assume that you might have something to learn. Learn to listen with love.
• Before you leave today, write down the name of one person in your life who has a religious difference from you (a different faith). Pray for them and just start a conversation.
“Tell me about your spiritual journey. What was it like growing up in that tradition? How has it shaped your life? What do you believe about this or about that?”
• Zeal according to knowledge means we don’t just tolerate people of other faiths; we honor them. We love them. We protect them. Following Jesus may put you on the opposite side of destructive ideas, unjust practices, oppressive worldviews—many of them held in the name of religion—but it does not put you on the opposite side of those who believe them.

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