SERMON TITLE: Aren’t All Religions the Same?
TEXT: Matthew 19:16-30; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 (ESV)
SPEAKER: Josh Hanson
It’s good to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And one thing I want you to know — and it doesn’t matter if it’s your first time with us or if you’re worshipping at our North Main campus — is that God loves you and I love you too.
We’re in week two of our series that we’re calling Evil. Just about a year ago, we took some time to look at topics that are divisive in our country. It turned out to be a pretty popular series and so we thought we’d return to a similar kind of series this year.
And we’re calling this series “Evil” because there’s a dangerous tendency to call things good that God has said are evil. Where we blur the lines between good and evil, acquire a taste for evil, and even allow evil practices to become acceptable. And this is just as true for the church as it is anywhere else — so we want to look at the ways we’re exhausting God by calling good — what He’s said is evil. And what it means to experience the justice of God as we do these things.
That’s the imagery in the opening video. Evil things that were called good by some. Some of those evil things were done by the church. Evil things people did while thinking they were pleasing God.
And the idea behind this series is found in the Old Testament book of Malachi who wrote these words.
“You have wearied the Lord with your words. But you say, "How have we wearied him?" By saying, "Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them." Or by asking, "Where is the God of justice?" (And then the prophet gives some examples of the evil going on in his day.) "Then I (that’s God speaking...then I) will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 2:17; 3:5 ESV)
And these two verses are guiding us in this series. Last week, we looked at God’s justice and we saw how it has both a retributive and a liberating side. There’s the side of justice we usually think of — judgment — punishment — getting what you deserve — and then there’s the unexpected freeing — liberating — side of God’s justice. And we’re taking these two sides of God’s justice and seeing how they apply to the different groups that Malachi mentions.
Next week, we’ll look at how God’s justice applies to the foreigners among us — that’s what the word sojourner means. Pastor Ben is going to help us see how God’s justice applies in this area of life. Then in two weeks, Pastor Ben will help us explore how God’s justice and sanctity of life come together.
Then I’ll help us connect God’s justice to lying — or swearing falsely. Then we’ll wrap up this series, by looking at God’s justice for the adulterer. And odds are this will either be the least or highest attended weekend in a long time because — this topic — is a wee bit prickly. But I’m praying especially for this week as I want us all to see how God offers freedom for the adulterer — we won’t ignore God’s judgment for the unrepentant — but my hope is that many who walk in shame because of this sin will find the freedom that Christ offers.
And today we’re going to look at God’s justice and how it applies to the different religions in the world. So let’s turn to our passages for today.
ANNOUNCE THE TEXT
If you have your Bible, please turn with me to Matthew 19. We’ll be looking at verses 16-30. And then you’ll want to find 1 Corinthians 15 — as we’ll be looking at some verses there as well.
And, if you’re a guest with us, something we like to do at Gateway is let you ask questions. So if you have a question during the sermon, you can text it in to the number printed on the bottom of the sermon notes sheet or you can submit it on the Gateway app.
RE-ANNOUNCE AND READ THE TEXT
Here are the words found in Matthew 19. Beginning in verse 16.
“And behold, a man came up to him (him being Jesus), saying, "Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?" 17 And he said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments." 18 He said to him, "Which ones?" And Jesus said, "You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 20 The young man said to him, "All these I have kept. What do I still lack?" 21 Jesus said to him, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. 23 And Jesus said to his disciples, "Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, "Who then can be saved?" 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." 27 Then Peter said in reply, "See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?" 28 Jesus said to them, "Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Matthew 19:16-30 ESV)
And now turn to 1 Corinthians chapter 15. We’ll begin in verse 1. First Corinthians chapter 15 — verse 1.
The apostle Paul writes. “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you — unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.” (1 Corinthians 15:1-11 ESV)
There’s a quote — by a Christian theologian — that says, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” The theologian was Augustine who was born in North Africa in 354AD. His mother was a Christian and his father a pagan. Augustine was a notoriously rebellious teenager who lived with his girlfriend, joined what was basically an ancient cult, and ran away from his mother and her faith.
He went on to become a brilliant teacher of public speaking and was living the life he always wanted. No sin was to great for him as he tried to find pleasure in all that the world could offer. But in the words of U2, he “still [hadn’t] found what [he was] looking for.” (U2, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (Dublin: Island, 1987), https://www.u2.com/index/home.)
After spending some time listening to the preaching of the Bishop of Milan — a man named Ambrose — Augustine turned away from his secular career and became a monk. And his earlier quote shows us that he came to realize that all of the stuff that he thought would make him happy — from all the sex a man could want, to having a prestigious job, to “trying out” a new and exciting spirituality — he realized — after become a Christian — that those things wouldn’t satisfy him. He realized that the only way for his longing heart to be put at ease was to find satisfaction, joy, love, and peace in God
And like Augustine, many of us have recognized this same kind of longing. We feel it with each waking moment, but our temptation is to try and appease this longing with things that don’t last — money, material possessions, relationships, sex, even spiritual experiences that we think offer a way to God, but ultimately fall short and end in disappointment.
And it’s in this longing to find fulfillment that many have turned to any number of religions. Now there are a few ways you may view religion. I’ve heard these views from non-Christians and from people who claim to be a Christian. But — what we find in the two views we’ll be looking at — is a blurring of the lines between what God has said is good and evil — these views are a way that we exhaust God by ignoring what He’s said is right and wrong — what’s good and evil — when it comes to spiritual faith.
First, you may view all religions as being the same and having equal value and worth. You see all religions as basically trying to grasp at the same divine truth and — so instead of dividing over religion — you wish that people would embrace all religions for the uniqueness and beauty each brings as a way of experiencing spiritual things.
An example that’s been used, is that all religions are like blind men touching an elephant. The first blind man put out his hand and touched the side of the elephant. “How smooth! An elephant is like a wall,” he said. The second blind man put out his hand and touched the elephant’s trunk. “How round! An elephant is like a snake.” The third blind man touched the tusk of the elephant. “How sharp! An elephant is like a spear.” The fourth blind man touched the leg of the elephant. “How tall! An elephant is like a tree.” The fifth blind man touched the ear of the elephant. “How wide! An elephant is like a fan.” The sixth blind man put out his hand and touched the tail of the elephant. “How thin! An elephant is like a rope.”
All of the blind men are touching the same elephant — but they’re all limited in their understanding of what the elephant actually is. And that’s religions — for you — all grasping a part of spiritual truth but none of them understanding all of it. And if only they’d all listen to one another they’d have a better understanding of the spiritual truth they’re all trying to grab hold of. Maybe that’s your view of religion.
A second approach to religion is the opposite. Instead of being good, you view all religions as damaging and destructive. You think we’d be better off if all religions were rejected. Maybe you believe that there’s no ultimate spiritual truth — and so — you think religions are comprised of superstitious — maybe even irrational people — and things would be better off if these people would get a clue.
Two different attitudes towards religion. Now there are some things that I appreciate about both of these views. First — for those who say that “all religions are the same” — what I can appreciate is that often this idea comes out of a deep longing for people to get along — even with all of their differences. You long for peace and you see how religion can be divisive and so — in an effort to find peace — you want to show how religions are more alike than dislike one another.
And — as hard as this may be for you to believe — I even have appreciation for folks who hold the second view — the view where religions are damaging and should be avoided. For many who hold this view — their skepticism is based on religious movements that have required full obedience — they’ve seen how religions have used people — brainwashed them — controlled unsuspecting folks. And that’s evil. I’m thankful that there are people — even unbelievers — who hold religious leaders and organizations accountable for how they treat people.
But both of these views have some things I disagree with. For example, to say that “all religions are the same” actually denies the uniqueness of the various religious traditions. And often people who make these claims do so without listening to the people who practice the religions. You see, most devotees of the major religions would not say that all religions are the same. People who practice the major religions in the world know that many of their central claims are quite exclusive and contradict the claims of other religions.
For example, the heart of Islam isn’t the prophet Muhammad — which is what most people think — the heart of Islam are the revelations he said he received. The first words spoken in the ear of a Muslim infant are: “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the Messenger of God.” That shows us the significance of Muhammad’s revelations — his messages. To deny his messages would mean that you have a significant disagreement with the Muslim faith.
And guess what? Other religions deny Muhammad’s revelations. Muhammad believed he was receiving words from the Creator of all things — yet Buddhism doesn’t believe in a creator God. In fact — this may surprise you — Buddhists don’t worship Buddha — Buddha isn’t a god. Buddhism is a religion focused on wisdom, enlightenment, and compassion. It has some gods, but they’re not nearly as important as in other religions.
Like — say — Hinduism — a religion that has 33 million gods. Islam has one god, Buddhism doesn’t make a big deal about gods, and then Hinduism has 33 million gods. And Hinduism teaches that the “ultimate cause of suffering is people’s ignorance of the Self,” which Hinduism teaches is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, perfect, and eternal.” (Mary Pat Fisher, Living Religions, ed. Dickson Musslewhite (Boston: Prentice Hall, 2011), 80.) The self — not God — is all knowing, all powerful, present everywhere, perfect, and eternal.
Then there’s the Jewish faith. They have much in common with Christianity up until we get to Jesus — He kind of drew a line in the sand — a line that many Jews have refused to step over. Jews are waiting for their Messiah to come — Christianity claims the Messiah has come — His name is Jesus.
And then there’s the Christian faith. Central to it is Jesus Christ. His life, His death, His resurrection, His divinity and humanity. To Muslims, Jesus was a great prophet, but not god. To Jews, Jesus wasn’t the Messiah. Even among the religions that believe in one god — there’s no agreement about Jesus.
So with all of these differences — all of these very distinct beliefs and teachings — their different views on Jesus being one — how can you say that all religions are essentially the same?
And to the person who’s skeptical of religion — or believes that the world would be better off without religion — well — if this is you — I think you may have overlooked the significance that religion has done for good — especially Christianity. The ways in which the Christian faith has helped to shape the world we live in for the better. For example, how many hospitals have a name that comes from the Christian faith? So whether or not you agree with the truth about Jesus, it’s hard to avoid the fact that much good has been — and continues to be done — in His name.
THE RELIGIONS OF OUR WORKS
But something that all religions — but one — do have in common is this: Ultimately, getting into Heaven, eternity, nirvana, eternal bliss — call it whatever you like — all but one religion believes that you have to work to get there. That’s what the story from the gospel of Matthew is about.
A rich young man comes to Jesus asking what he must do to be sure that he has eternal life. He wants to know how to get to Heaven. And Jesus asks him about his obedience to the commandments. This is the standard for a lot of people when it comes to getting into Heaven. “I’m a good person. Here are the good things I’ve done and here’s a list of the bad things I haven’t done. For instance, I haven’t murdered anyone.”
I was meeting with some staff and we were talking about this and I said to them, “When someone says — ‘I’m a good person; I haven’t murdered anyone’ — I want to say, ‘Well welcome to the club, buddy. In the history of mankind the majority of people have never murdered anyone. Not murdering doesn’t make you all that particularly special.’”
But this rich young man doesn’t realize that it’s easy to deceive oneself about your true inner desires. That’s what Jesus shows him when He basically tells the guy, “Well you’ve almost got this whole eternal life thing figured out. Just two things left for you to do and Heaven is yours. Sell everything you own and follow Me.” What a test. “You say you’re a good person — well let’s see — because surely a good person would be willing to give up all the treasures of the world in order to show how good, and noble, and God centered they are.”
But the guy doesn’t do it. His heart loves money — more than it loves God. And that shows us that the young man — though he may never have murdered anyone — had broken the first commandment — to have no other gods in his life but the one true God. Money was his god.
That’s the thing about working your way to Heaven. You can’t slip up once or you’re done for. James said, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. 11 For he who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.” (James 2:10-11 ESV)
James says, “You want to talk about works and earning your way to Heaven? OK. If you break one commandment — you’ve broken them all. Game over.” Now this is so obvious that it hardly needs mentioning, but do you know the ninth commandment? It’s about not lying. Game over for all of us.
Paul takes it one step further when he writes, “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” (Galatians 2:16 ESV)
Even if you somehow deceive yourself into thinking you’re doing a pretty swell job at obeying the law — that your works are out of this world — well guess what? No one will be justified by the works they do. Justified means to be declared not guilty — to be justified means that you’re declared to be — by God — worthy of Heaven and His presence for all eternity. And no one will receive that news based on what they do.
But this is what most people think of when they think of religion. And this is what most people think will get them into Heaven — even many who claim to be a Christian. They think of religion as a bunch of rules — things to do and not do. And usually you have to do a bunch of stuff you don’t want to do and you’re not supposed to do all of the fun stuff you want to do. That’s religion — that’s how you work your way to Heaven — no fun — whatsoever.
But then — in the name of being irreligious — some people make up all kinds of new rules that sway the “I’m going to Heaven when I die” scale in their favor.
You know, where the command to not lie isn’t really that big of a deal. I mean, “Who doesn’t lie?”
So we’ll scratch that one off the list — but keep don’t murder on the list — because most of us pass that one.
Scratch off anything about not being greedy — because we love our money and stuff — but put on the list something about not being a University of Michigan fan — that’ll earn some points with God for sure.
Doesn’t it all sound ridiculous? But why do so many of us believe that what we do is what will get us into Heaven?
And I know that your list may or may not include the things I just said — but don’t be deceived — your list is just as ridiculous.
And if Jesus came to you today — like He did to that rich young man — He’d ask you to give up the very thing that’s keeping you from really following Him. And — listen — I say this because I love you and your eternity is too important for me to not say the hard things in love — the very thing Jesus is asking you to give up is the very thing that He knows will lead you straight to Hell.
For the young man, it was his money. For some of us, it’s money.
For others, it’s shacking up with your boyfriend or girlfriend.
For others it’s what we watch on our screens.
For others, it’s how we use our time.
If you asked Jesus what you needed to do to get to Heaven — what would He tell you to give up?
THE RELIGION OF JESUS’ WORK
But only those who know it’s not what they do that gives them eternal life — are the ones who are willing to give up all things for Jesus. Because there is another option — a truly different kind of religion — one not based on our works — but based on Someone else’s work. A religion that’s utterly unique when compared to all of the other religions of the world. And that’s the religion of true Christianity — true faith in Jesus. It’s what Paul writes about to the Corinthians.
What Paul says was of first importance is the work that Jesus accomplished in His life, death, and resurrection.
A work where He obeyed all of God’s commandments during His life — not breaking even one of them.
A work of paying the debt for the sins of those whose works always come up short.
A work of substituting His death on a cross for the eternal death we deserve for breaking God’s commands.
Jesus’ work is a perfect work. A complete work. An “it is finished” work.
And Jesus says to us, “If you believe in the work I’ve done for you — the work that I’ve accomplished on your behalf — a work of rescuing people who realize that their works will never earn them Heaven because the admission price is too high for them to pay and their works earn to little compared to the price of admission. But I’ve paid the price for their admission into Heaven. And the ticket — that I earned with my blood — I now give to them as a gift.”
“But,” Jesus says, “know that the ticket is costly in two ways. First, it cost me My life — My life was the cost of your admission into Heaven — that’s the first cost. And second, it’ll cost you your life too. For when I pay for your sins, you are now mine. And this shouldn’t frighten you — for I am good — I’m your friend — I’m the one who willing died for you because I love you. This shouldn’t frighten you — this should free you — release you — liberate you — so that you’re willing to give up all things for Me because I gave up all things for you.”
JUSTICE FOR ALL
And here’s the good news for people of all religions. Here’s good news for the person who thinks that all religions are the same and for the person who’s skeptical of religion. Here’s good news for all of us.
Jesus doesn’t discriminate who He receives into His family. Anyone — no matter what their religious upbringing, their race, their gender, their nationality — anyone — through faith in Jesus — can be made right with God.
That — as we’ve been seeing — God’s liberating justice is possible for all kinds of people — even for people of all religions — if they turn to Christ in faith. Because God’s liberating justice sets captives free from working their way to Heaven.
From trying to earn their way into Heaven.
From thinking that some day they’ll measure up to a standard that they gave up on when they broke their first commandment.
That God delights in pouring out His liberating — freeing — justice on those who believe in His Son who appeased the retributive justice of God on their behalf.
And know — dear friends — that if Jesus did not appease God’s retributive justice on your behalf — then God will pour it out on you for all eternity. Your sin debt must be paid in full. And I’m pleading with you — Jesus is pleading with you — to receive His gift of paying your debt in full. Turn to Him in faith. Give your life to Him. He is good. He can be trusted. He will do you no harm.
Are all religions the same? Not even close. Only one offers the eternal hope that Jesus has made possible. That’s what Augustine discovered after searching for years to fill the void in his life that only Jesus could fill. And filling that void is what so many are still searching for in other religions, in stuff, in sex, in things that are sure to disappoint. Maybe that’s you. But know that what you’re searching for isn’t hidden — it’s right before you. His name is Jesus. And He’s here today — ready for you to receive the gift of eternal life that He’s offering you through faith in the work He’s done on your behalf. Let’s pray.
God of justice, help many who are here today to receive the gift of eternal life that Jesus has made possible through His perfect work on their behalf. Help us all to give up the notion that we can work our way to Heaven. The price of admission is to high for our works to pay the cost.
But the amazing — wonderful — awe inspiring — news of the Christian faith is that You have done for us what we can’t do for ourselves. You sent Your Son — Jesus — to come and live the life of perfect works that we’ve failed to live. To suffer the punishment of Your retributive justice on the cross — so that we might experience Your liberating justice. For Jesus came to set us captives free. Free from Satan, sin, death, and Hell. Free from trying to work our way to Heaven. Freedom from trying to fill the longings of our heart in things that are sure to disappoint.
Spirit, help us to be honest with ourselves — even those of us who claim to be Christians. Help us to see if we’re believing solely in the work of Christ for our eternal hope — or if we’re trying to earn our eternity by our works. For only through faith in Christ alone will anyone experience everlasting joy with You forever. We pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.
BENEDICTION (PRAY FOR: THOSE WHO WANT JESUS TO FILL THE VOID IN THEIR DESIRES)
May you go trusting in the perfect work that Jesus has done for you. Amen.
God loves you. I love you. You are sent.