Thursday, April 13, 2006

Ravi Zacharias on the Uniqueness of Jesus Christ

On the second night Dr Zacharias spoke about Jesus' claims as the only way to God in a pluralistic world. He is, of course, very well-equipped to discuss this subject. Having been born into the Brahman caste in Delhi, the highest caste of the Hindu priesthood, he grew up surrounded by Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists. It was at the age of 17, on the bed of suicide, searching for meaning, searching for the answers to life's basic questions, that he came to Christ.

He talked about how there were four fundamental questions in life: origin, meaning, morality and destiny. How did I come into being? What brings life meaning? How do I know right from wrong? Where am I headed after I die? We have all asked ourselves these questions, he said, but only Jesus Christ gives us all the answers. He gave us several reasons why.

Firstly, Jesus gave a very accurate description of our malady. He told us that none of us escape this condition, and that we will end up tumbling down the slippery slope if we continue to deny it. We all fall short of God's standards, not primarily in our actions, but in our very intents and motives. The heart is desperately wicked.

He told us a very funny story about two brothers.

Two brothers were notoriously immoral. They were synonymous with the vice that had overtaken their city. When one of them suddenly died, the surviving brother asked the local pastor to perform the funeral service. He offered him an enormous sum of money if, in his eulogy, he would refer to his deceased brother as a saint. After much pondering, the pastor agreed. As the service came to an end, the pastor (in the thick of his description of the departed individual) said, “The man we have come to bury was a thief. In fact, he deserves every vile description the mind can muster. He was depraved, immoral, lewd, hateful, and the scum of the earth. But compared to his brother, he was a saint!”

The pastor may not have received the promised gift, but he certainly got across a vital point! We set up an arbitrary hierarchy of vices, and then exonerate ourselves by how far we are from the bottom.

The trouble is, we are all saints compared to somebody else. But the truth is we are all as equally wretched in our hearts. And if we do not understand this, there is no way to stop the human heart. He spoke of an encounter with an aid worker from on an airplane. She told him chillingly that she had just rescued an 18 month old baby girl from the hands of a man fuelled by snake blood and hard liquor, intent on sexually abusing her. Never in her life had she seen such a thing. Can anyone say that that is not evil? Not just the actions of that man, but also the people that offered her to him. In the history of humanity, there are some things that have transpired, things that we have done to each other, that are just pure evil. There are really no other words to describe it. The unchecked human heart can justify anything. It was G. K. Chesterton who said that, When a Man stops believing in God he doesn't then believe in nothing, he believes anything.

Secondly, Jesus provides uniquely for our malady. Dr Zacharias said that Christianity is not an ethical system calling us to a more moral life. Christianity is about becoming a self that the self itself, could not produce. The depravity of man is the condition of his heart - the moral life cannot fix this. He talked about how he was asked to speak at the United Nations Annual Prayer breakfast about absolutes in a relativistic world. He was asked not to specifically mention religion - he reached a compromise with the organisers that would allow him to speak about his personal beliefs in the last five minutes of the speech. He spoke about the absolutes of evil, how it exists, justice, how we all seek it, love, how relationships of love are of fundamental importance to us and forgiveness, how we all need it sometimes. Twenty minutes had passed and the audience was in full agreement with him. In the last five minutes he shared with them how he believed that it is only on the cross of Christ that all these absolutes converge. We see the harsh reality of sin, borne entirely by Jesus on the cross. On the cross, Jesus did not just suffer physical torment - he suffered infinite separation and alienation from the Father whom he had known and loved for all eternity. Death. God the Son went through hell on our behalves, that we may never have to bear it, if we repent and acknowledge him as the Lord of our lives. This speaks of God's justice, in that sin is punished, but it speaks also powerfully of his love, in that he bore it in himself. And in all this, we have every hope of forgiveness.

He told a very moving story about his encounter with Sheikh Talal Sider in Palestine, a Hamas sheikh. He spoke about how killing innocents is wrong, but now suicide bombing had become the only way that they could fight. He had lost several of his children to the conflict.

Dr Zacharias asked him if he remembered the story of Abraham or Ibrahim, who walked up a mountain, not too far from where they sitting, 5000 years ago. He was following God's orders, to sacrifice his son. As the axe is about to fall on the child, what does the Lord say?

"Stop, I will provide," replied the Sheikh.

Dr Zacharias told him, that on another hill, also not too far from here, God did not stop the axe from falling on his own Son. Until we receive the Son that God has paid with, he told the Sheikh, we will be paying with our sons and daughters in battlefields all over the world. When they wrong you, you want to wrong them. It goes on and on. But when insult and violence was hurled upon Christ, sin didn’t bounce back. Sin stopped.

The Sheikh was silent.

As Dr Zacharias stood to leave, the Sheikh reached out and embraced him tightly. "I hope I see you again," he said.

Thirdly, all philosophy has been about the search for unity in diversity.

In 585 B.C., a man named Thales correctly predicted a solar eclipse. It was Thales' love for ordered knowledge that gave birth to philosophy, but Thales fervently sought the answer to another question. He knew the world was made of an infinite variety of things — plants, animals, clouds. What, he wondered, was the one basic element that pulled it all together? Thales thought that element must be water, but his students went on to expand the underlying reality to four elements—earth, air, water, and fire. Since then the quest for the philosopher has been to find unity in diversity.

This very search has made inroads into our cultures. For example, the word quintessence literally means "the fifth essence." Every American coin reads E Pluribus Unum—out of the many, one. Out of our diversity, unity. And the very word university means to find unity in diversity.

How did diversity come about, and how do we locate or identify the unity?

When you think about it, diversity is on every side. We speak to others. We love others. There is an I-You relationship with which we live. May I suggest that only in the Christian faith can these diversities be explained. There is unity and diversity in life because there is unity and diversity in the first cause of our being — the Triune God. Before the creation of man, personhood, love, and communication existed in the one Triune God — what we call the Holy Trinity.

The Trinity gives us a key to understanding unity in diversity, for there is an implicit difference in the persons within the Godhead that does not negate equality of essence. We too have a unity of essential humanity, originally made in the image of the Triune God. Jesus spoke of how we recover that which was lost.

We long for this unity in diversity within, between passion and reason, rationality and desire, between body, mind and soul. There is no other concept in the world as diverse and unified as the Trinity. God from the beginning is a being in relationship. Made in His image, our hearts hunger for relationship, and all other relationships are secondary until we find relationship with Christ himself.

William Temple, the renowned archbishop of Canterbury, defined worship as quickening the conscience by the holiness of God, feeding the mind with the truth of God, purging the imagination by the beauty of God, opening the heart to the love of God, and devoting the will to the purpose of God.

We were made to live lives of worship, for all things come together in Christ.


Anonymous said...

Great article!

JCanDo said...

Yea! Great recount of what Ravi Zacharias said!

Muralee said...

truly amazing!
Sri Lana