FAITH YOU CAN BET ON by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson
This morning we begin a brand new series titled, “WHAT IF GOD LIVED NEXT DOOR?” I’ve never been more excited about a series than this one! This series will cover the entire life of Christ from all four gospels. The first message is on Luke 1:1-4 called, “FAITH YOU CAN BET ON.” Unlike all other religions in the world, Christianity alone is based on rock solid historical evidence. The proof is so overwhelming that, just like poker (Not that I am advocating playing poker), you can move all your chips into the pot. You don’t have to worry about any bluffs and look for any tells. Compared to all other faiths in the world, this is the real deal. Anything other than Christianity is a losing hand.
Luke 1:1-4 1 Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.
Overall Background: In the New Testament there are 4 individual accounts of the life of Jesus – Gospel of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Each of them is from a unique perspective. Matthew was a tax collector (a government official), Mark was a young man (imagine someone in their mid-late 20s), Luke was a medical doctor, and John had a fishing business. The Holy Spirit used their different personalities, experiences, and capabilities to give us a different angle on the same Jesus. He guided them and guarded them through the whole process. Listen to what Peter says in 2 Pet. 1, (By the way, tradition tells us that he was Mark’s source for his gospel.) 16 For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. But then he clarifies in verse 20 knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture (even the gospels are prophecies because prophecy is not just foretelling but also forth telling) is of any private interpretation, 21 for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. So different human beings but one Holy Spirit.
Now Luke does something in his opening lines that the other gospel writers don’t. He tells us the process by which he wrote his gospel. Even though Matthew, Mark, and John don’t tells us their process of research and writing, more than likely, they used a similar process.
Why did I choose to preach on this process of how the gospels were written? There is a myth, false belief, out there that the holy books of all religions came together the same way the Bible did. In other words, the way the Bible was written for the Christians is the way the Quran was written for the Muslims, the Gita for the Hindus, the Lotus Sutra for the Buddhists, and the Norse sagas for the early Scandinavians. It’s just that we happened to be born in a world where the Bible is prominent that we think the Bible alone is the Word of God. To say that is to be a bigot and ignorant.
I know some of you are saying – “Oh, I believe that the Bible alone is the Word of God.” That’s wonderful but your children and your grandchildren are living in a different world. They don’t necessarily think the way you do. Our young people are being told that all sacred books are on the same level.
This morning I am going to give you a glimpse of how the other sacred books where put together and then we will return to how the gospels were put together.
I. HOW OTHER “HOLY BOOKS” CAME TOGETHER?
1. AVESTA – The holy book of the Parsis or the Zoroastrians. It’s a religion that came from ancient Persia (Iran) somewhere around the 6th century BC. It’s founder, Zoroaster, lived about the same time as Jeremiah and Daniel in the Old Testament. The Parsis had to flee their homeland because of Muslim persecution and many of them came to India and became very successful. You may have heard the name Zubin Mehta – a famous orchestra conductor. Here’s one I’m sure you have heard – Freddie Mercury from Queen (We are the Champions) was born into a Parsi family.
The Avesta is a collection of writings that came at different times in the history of Zoroastrianism. Some of them are from the early period written by Zoroaster himself. They are hymns or Gathas. Others are prayers and magic rituals. Some of the old writings are in an ancient language called Avestan, which is very hard to understand. In fact, many sentences make no sense. Others were written as late as the ninth century AD known as Pahlavi scriptures and there seems to be a conflict between the later stuff and the stuff that Zoroaster taught. By the way, scholars even estimate that approximately 75% of the Avesta has been lost.
This is the holy book of the Parsis or the Zoroastrians.
2. VEDAS, UPANISHADS, AND GITA – The holy books of the Hindus. Hinduism is a religion that has gone back and forth through various phases. You see monotheism (worship of one god), henotheism (worship of one god even though there are other gods), polytheism (worship of many gods), and animism (everything has a spirit so worship of animals, plants, rocks, rivers, stars, etc.) Bottom line – there is no core set of beliefs but part of being a Hindu means to consider the Vedas as holy books.
Let’s start with the Vedas – There are 4 Vedas – Rigveda (1,028 hymns to gods of early Hinduism), Samaveda, Yajurveda (hymns of rituals and offering formulas), and Atharvaveda (magic formulas). Altogether, they are several times the size of the Bible. No one knows who wrote them. They were composed somewhere between 1500 and 800 BC and passed down orally until the sixteenth century. If you want to go back and check who wrote what for sure, you can’t. There’s nothing there!
There’s more – Brahmanas (instructions for the priests), Sutras (instructions for the people), and Upanishads (supplements to the Vedas). The last one (Upanishads) were written by wise men after 500BC. Again, nothing was written down until the 17th century.
How about the Gita? It is part of large epic called the Mahabharata that tells the story of the struggle between two branches of a family. It contains the conversation between Arjun and Krishna on the need to be totally devoted to Krishna and do his duty as a member of his caste. It was written somewhere between 400-100BC. Again, we don’t have any ancient copies.
These are the holy books of the Hindus (loosely speaking).
3. THE PALI CANON AND THE LOTUS SUTRA – The holy books of the Buddhists. The first one comes from the early stages of Buddhism known as Thervada Buddhism. The Pali Canon is also called Tripitaka or 3 divisions: rules for Buddhist monks, teachings of Buddha, and some analysis of Buddha’s teachings. Even though it was formulated by Buddha’s disciples after he was gone, it grew through the centuries. The complete form came about 400 years later in the first century BC. So much has been added and taken away that no one knows what was originally there.
The Lotus Sutra comes from the later stage of Buddhism known as the Mahayana Buddhism. It supposedly contains Buddha’s teachings given towards the end of his life. Here’s the problem. It wasn’t put together until the 2nd century AD, that is 700 years after he lived. By the way, there are many contradictions between what the Lotus Sutra says that Buddha said and what the Pali Canon says.
These are the holy books of the Buddhists (loosely speaking).
4. QURAN – It is the holy book of the Muslims. I don’t have to give you a lot of introduction on Muslims and Islam. Since September 11, 2001, we have come to know this religion more than any other.
So what’s the deal with the Quran? It is claimed to contain material that Mohammed had received as revelation from the angel Gabriel. Some he gave at Mecca and others at Medina. These sayings were collected by his followers on whatever they could find – pieces of parchments, palm leaf, piece of wood, bones, etc. There were differences between what his followers wrote down. Not only that but some of them were killed in a battle a year after Mohammed’s death. Then Mohammed’ s most trusted secretary, Zayd ibn Thabit, was appointed to gather the material. Even then there were several different versions of the Quran floating around. Once again Zayd was called to edit an official version of the Quran and all other manuscripts were destroyed.
Many different branches of Muslims disagree over the integrity of the Quran. Many scholars have tried to point out the errors and they have been threatened by the Islamic clerics. By the way, there are also the Hadiths – they contain information on Mohammed’s life and informal sayings. They are used to shed light on the Quran. But there are many disagreements over them.
This is the holy book of the Muslims.
4. DAODEJING – The holy book of Daoism – Chinese popular religion. More than likely it was put together about 300 years after its founder had died. It has not much to do with Daoism but deals with how metaphysical balance brings about spiritual power.
5. KOJIKI, NIHONGI, AND AMATSU NORITO – The writings of Shintoism. It was put together in the 7th century by a man named Yasumaro under the command of the emperor.
6. NORSE SAGAS – The myths and mythologies of the Anglo-Saxons. There are no writings, except what were written down by the Christians.
7. GURU GRANTH SAHIB – The holy book of the Sikhs. It contains some 6000 hymns. It was collected by the 5th guru Arjan Dev about 1604 AD. About a hundred years later it was elevated to the status of a guru. The original copy is at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India. It is treated as a person.
II. HOW WERE THE GOSPELS WRITTEN?
Listen once again to how Luke begins his gospel. This is one long Greek sentence with no stop. – 1 Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative
Meaning: I’m not the only one who has thought about writing a gospel. Maybe he is referring to Matthew and Mark but more than likely there were more. By the way, the “more” are not the Gnostic gospels – Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Mary, and Gospel of Judas. These came much later. The gospels he’s referring to are probably lost forever. Did you also notice that Luke does not say “My gospel sets the rest of them straight”? They were telling the same historical account.
of those things which have been fulfilled among us,
Meaning: These were not random events. These were fulfillments of Old Testament prophecies. The gospel is not something new. It is an account of prophecies given since the beginning of time that have finally come to pass.
2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us,
Meaning: Luke is not 50 years or 100 years after Jesus. He is still able to talk to the eyewitnesses. If Luke were to write something untrue, those eyewitnesses will stand up and defend the truth.
3 it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first,
Meaning: Literally, it is “having followed along closely.” This is no haphazard writing.
to write to you an orderly account,
Meaning: The product is no gibberish or some mystical stuff that no one understands. It is orderly.
most excellent Theophilus,
Meaning: There is much debate over who was Theophilus. Some say he was a real person and others say that he was just someone who was looking for the living God since Theophilus means “Lover of God.” Either way, it is clear that Theophilus was not looking for fluff. He wanted rock, solid truth.
4 that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.
Meaning: Theophilus already has some good idea of who Jesus was and what He did. Luke wrote not just to inform but to confirm.
This is the Gospel that we have in our hands. It is the Word of God. No other book comes even close to being its equal.
This is the Book that says – John 3:16-17 16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
Are you willing to trust what this gospel says?