Many people wonder if Christianity is true, but for more and more people, the most important question is, “Is it actually good?”
- Does Christianity seem like good news to you? If not, was there a time in your life when you considered it to be good news? Explain.
- Andy mentioned that many Christians believe the message of Jesus is nothing more than an invitation to “be good.” Do you agree or disagree? Discuss.
- If you grew up in or around Christianity, what role—if any— did mercy play in the lives of the Christians you knew?
- Have you ever felt you were not a good enough person to be a Christian? Would your perspective change if you removed this expectation?
NOTE: The following content is a raw transcript and has not been edited for grammar, punctuation, or word usage.
For a lot of people, resistance to Christianity revolves around this question. Is it true? Is this true, and maybe that’s you. And if you don’t believe the story of Jesus, and the story of Christianity is true, you have good reason not to believe. And the reason I say that is, because you’re a smart person, and if you don’t believe, you have reasons that you don’t believe. And so for a lot of people, this is kind of the question they wrestle with, is it even true? Did Jesus even exist, or did he do all those things? And I really love talking about this.
Especially, this word, the it part, is it true? Because the question that you have to wrestle to the ground is, what is the it, what is it that you think you have to embrace in order to be a Christian? And for many people, the it, is the Bible. And that’s unfortunate, because there were tens of thousands of Christians before there was the B-I-B-L-E, right? The Bible did not create Christianity, it’s the other way around. But that’s a subject for another day.
More and more in our culture, the question isn’t so much, is it true? But this question, is it good? Even if it’s true, is it good? Even if it’s partially true, is it good? Is Christianity good for society? Is Christianity good for humanity? Is Christianity good for children? Is Christianity good for you, is it good for me? Is it dangerous, is it harmful? Should we dispense with all religion, because all religion is harmful including, the message of Jesus, and including the message of Christianity? Now, to kind of get us focused in on where we’re going.
This is true, when we hear news that’s not good, when you hear news that’s not good, don’t you hope it’s not true? I mean, this is just human nature, when you hear something that’s not true, you hope it’s not… When you hear something that’s not good, you hope it’s not true. So when you find out that Netflix is doubling their monthly subscription rate, it’s likely, that’s like, “I hope that’s not true” Then you gotta find out if it’s true. So when you hear news that’s not good news, you hope it’s not true. But the opposite is true as well, right? When you hear good news, you hope it’s true, right? When you hear good news, you hope it’s true. I mean, imagine this, what if we find out processed sugar extends life expectancy!
I mean, is this not like the best news ever? I made this up, but I think this might be the best clickbait [laughter] ever in the history of clickbait, because you would click that, right? I would click that, processed sugar extends life expectancy. And when you saw that, most of us, not all of us, but most of us, all of us if we were honest, right? That would be good news. It’s like, “What, you mean I can eat whatever I want? So you would hope it’s true. Now, it wouldn’t necessarily be true. And the fact that you hope it’s true, doesn’t make it true.
And to be clear, the fact that it’s good news doesn’t make it true. My point is simply this, when you hear something that’s good, or you hear about something that’s good, you hope it’s true. You lean in, that’s human nature. So when the announcement of Jesus’ birth, was first announced, or when the announcement that Jesus was being born was first announced. It was actually described on day one. This is so interesting, it was described on day one as, good news of great joy. And then here’s the surprise, here’s the part that I don’t think anybody would have made up, because the world was too divided. Especially, in Judea and Galilee, in that particular part of the world. But the angel announced that there would be something… It was good news of great joy, and then here’s the kicker. Here’s the surprise, for all people. That the message of Jesus, and they didn’t know what the message was yet, would be good news. It would spark joy for all people, the Jews, the Gentiles, the Romans, the Samaritans the Sumerians, the anybody who’d ever lived and whatever lived. That this message was so good, it would be good news of great joy for all people.
The original version, the original version was not called the Bible, the original version of the good news was actually called the Gospel. The gospel comes from two old English words, that mean… The word is Godspell, some of you know about this. Godspell means good story.
And then in their Greek New Testaments, it’s euaggelion is the Greek word. And it’s translated in our English Bible, good news. So from the very beginning don’t miss this, even if you’ve walked away, you’re thinking about walking away, or you’re reaching for the doorknob. This is amazing. In the first century, at the epicenter of the action, at the epicenter of the activity. When this whole idea first touched down on planet Earth and intersected with human beings, it was considered such good news for all people. [chuckle] They named it Good News. You know it’s not very original. It’s not very original. It’s the best we can come up with, and it’s the best of scripture. This is Good News of great joy for all people.
The initial news, it was so good that it was compelling. In fact, Luke records Jesus saying something so interesting. I’ve shared this with you before, but it’s become one of my favorite things that Jesus said. Here’s what Jesus said. He said, “The Law and the Prophets… The Law and the Prophets.” And that’s what we call the Old Testament. ” He said, “The Law and the Prophets had been proclaimed up until the time of John the Baptist,” when Jesus stepped on to the pages of history as a grown up. He said, “But since that time.” In other words, “Since the time that I have stepped into this world and have begun to teach the good news of the Kingdom of God. The good news of the universal Kingdom of God, the values of the Kingdom of God, what God is truly like, how God truly loves, how God views mankind, how God wants to be viewed by mankind, how God wants the human race to treat each other. These brand new values, this brand new world system, the Kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is leaning toward, leaning into, fighting to get in, forcing their way into it. His point was simply this, “That when people understand what I’m saying,” he would say.
When they understand what I’ve come to offer, when they understand what God is like, when they understand that I am as close to understanding what God is like as they’ll ever get close to, that I’m the perfect, the most perfect possible picture of God. When people understand this, they are going to lean in, they’re going to want it to be true.” So, if the life and the teaching and the message of Jesus doesn’t strike you as Good News, perhaps it’s because the version you grew up with, the version you walked away from, the version you’re thinking about walking away from, wasn’t the original version.
It wasn’t the Good News. It wasn’t the Good News version, because the original version was compelling, the original version was worth telling, and so it was told. Now, this is amazing. In the first century, second century, third century and previous centuries, very few people had their stories documented.
So the fact… This is amazing, the fact that we have an account… One account, of the life of Jesus is amazing, because he was a nobody. He was a day laborer from Galilee,. And Luke, at the very beginning of his account of the life of Jesus… Matthew, Mark, Luke, the third Gospel writer. In the very first word of his Gospel, he says something that should stop everybody in their tracks. And here’s what he says: He says, “Many, many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us.” This is astounding. Luke says, We’re not the only four. Many people have endeavored to draw up an account of the things that have happened or been fulfilled among us.”
So this is the question to wrestle to the ground, this is where faith begins, this is the thing that, maybe, that’s easy to overlook. Why? Why so many? Why did so many people try to document the life of a dead man?
And the answer is this, because in the first century in the land of Judea something significant happened, and the reason it was documented by so many is because something good happened.
Here’s what Luke goes on to say. He says, “Just like so many people have documented, attempted to write down these events that have taken place or been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses, this is now the account I’m about to give you. These are eyewitness accounts. This isn’t me just trying to cobble together some stories I’ve heard. And these were eyewitnesses and they were servants of Jesus. With this in mind.” This is the introduction to his gospel. “With this in mind, I myself have carefully investigated. In other words, I’m not just doing this from memory, I’m talking to everybody I can talk to who was an eyewitness or a friend of an eyewitness who was there, who knew somebody who was there. I have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, the beginning.” And, meaning the beginning of Jesus’ life. And then he says this. Luke says, “And I too.” I too decided, in addition to all these other people, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus.”
And we don’t know who Theophilus was, but our best guess is that he was a wealthy curious Christian and that he had heard these teachings of Jesus, he had become a Jesus follower. He knew somebody who had seen the resurrected Jesus, perhaps, so he was all in. But he wanted to understand the story, and he wanted to know the story from the beginning all the way up to the end. And so he said to Luke, “Luke, would you spend your time and use your skills to investigate and to put together an orderly account?” But listen to what Luke says next to Theophilus. He says, “The reason I’m doing this for you,” and the reason he did this for you and for me was, “so that,” this is wonderful, “so that you may know the certainty, so that you would be secure in your knowledge of the things that you have been taught. You have been taught the life and the message of Jesus, but I want you to have confidence in what you’ve been taught. So I’m gonna put together an orderly account for you.”
Little did he know, this is amazing, little did he know, little did Luke know that his account that he was writing for a single individual would be one of the four accounts of the life of Jesus that would survive antiquity. Isn’t that amazing? This story was worth telling because it was good, because people leaned in.
And how good was this message? It was real good. It was so good that forgiveness… And perhaps this is what first intersects with most of our lives if you’re a Jesus follower, that forgiveness of sin would be announced ahead of time, that you could ask God for forgiveness and be forgiven. You didn’t have to sacrifice any more animals and you didn’t have to work for it, and you didn’t have to work through it. And not only was this good news, this was brand new news, this was disturbing news. This made the entire temple system in Jerusalem antiquated.
In fact, it’s Luke that tells us the story that you, perhaps you heard if you grew up in church, that Jesus is teaching one day and he’s in a wealthy person’s house, it’s a big home, and the living room or where the biggest room in that house was full of people.
And while he’s teaching, they hear a noise on the roof remember this story, and they look up and then he keeps teaching and there’s more noise and more noise, and then there’s mortar falling down, and then suddenly there’s a ray of light, that pierces the dark room where he’s teaching and then another ray of light and another ray of light, and they look up and there is a face. And the next thing you know it’s dark again and they look up and it looks like they have some sort of hammock and they’re lowering a hammock down and it’s not lunch they, it gets to the floor and they make space and there’s a guy laying there, Remember this story, And it’s quiet.
And in this crowd in the living room are some Pharisees and some teachers of the law that have come from Jerusalem, because they are shadowing Jesus to listen to what this strange rabbi has to say,
And Jesus looks down at this man he smiles, And then he says the strangest thing. He said, “Sir, your sins are forgiven” to which the guy looked up at Jesus and thought that’s not why I am here, [laughter] Sir your sins are forgiven. He hadn’t even asked. And the Pharisees and the teachers of law, They got the circus like wait wait wait okay, you can teach fun stories, and cool parables that none of us really understand that’s fine, and blessed are all these people, that’s great but you can’t forgive sin only God has the power to forgive sin?
Only God can forgive sin to which Jesus says, “That’s true, but who can heal a paralyzed man other than God?” And then Jesus says this to you and he says this to me, and he says this to his audience and Luke records this, for all generations he said, “But I want you to know, I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on Earth to forgive sin” to which the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, responded. “But we have a whole system for that, we have an entire temple built for that, we have a ceremonial law for that. We have a sophisticated system that people have to work through in order to get forgiveness. You can’t just announce that someone is forgiven”. But he did and to punctuate His authority, He said to the young man, pick up your mat and walk and people were in awe. This was good news, this was new news and this is good news for you and this is good news for me. See, when it comes to sin.
Jesus was so specific that when you hurt another person that God loves, which would be everyone you have ever met, that when you sin against people who are made in the image of God, that you sin against God.
All of us have dishonored all of us have disrespected, all of us fall short, get this, all of us fall short of our own standard, much less the standard of other people, much less the standard of a God who loves the people that you’ve offended and Jesus had claimed the ability to forgive your sin and make you right with God. That’s good news, but it got even better. How good this good, Get this. According to Jesus, anybody can make a step and choose to take a step to follow Jesus from where they are right now. Everyone is invited to take a step to follow Jesus, this is incredible news. We know this because Luke once again, records, this event, this encounter that most of us, many of us are familiar with Jesus and his guys come to a big intersection of what they would consider a highway.
It wasn’t really a highway like we think of a highway and there was a toll booth. We know what those are. But instead of a plastic arm, it was a Roman spear everybody had to stop and pay the toll and the guy collecting the toll in Luke’s account is named Levi he’s a tax collector. And you know the reputation of tax collectors in the first century. They didn’t have any friends other than other tax collectors and other people who weren’t allowed into the temple or anywhere close to the temple,
And Jesus walks up to Levi and he says you know this story, and maybe it’s for your sake or my sake, that Luke records this story he says Levi follow me, follow me. And Levi staring in disbelief like you want me to follow you. You’re a rabbi. I see your robe, I see your followers. Come on Jesus, look look no rabbi has ever invited me to follow him.
I mean, everybody knows what I do, I’m doing it and you want me to follow you? Isn’t that good news, that regardless of how low you go, or how far you wander. Or how deep a pit you’ve dug and you dug your own pit, you’ve become your own worst enemy, that Jesus says, you can start there and follow me. And then the real surprising story according to Luke and the other Gospel writers is that Levi gets up and says, “Alright, I’ll follow you. Where are we going?” And remember what Jesus said, he said, We’re gonna go to your house.
And the Pharisees are out in the cul de sac ’cause they can’t even… They don’t even step on the yard and they send a message into Jesus. Like what in the world are you doing? You’re disrupting everything you say you’re a man sent from God, but this isn’t how God operates. Jesus smiled and he sends them a message out and he said, go out there and tell them this: I have not come, I have not come for the self-righteous.
I’ve not come for the people that think they never fall short of even their own standard. I’ve not come for the perfect people, I’ve come for the honest people, the people that know there’s a standard out there, that they don’t live up to and they don’t even know where the standard came from, and the reason they know there’s a standard out there that they’re accountable to is even though they don’t live up to that standard they hold everybody else up to that standard. We’re gonna talk about that next week. Jesus said, “I’ve come for the people who know that they’re not all that good that they could be better.” That’s Good news but listen to this next part, “I’ve come to call sinners to repentance”. Do you know what this means? This may be the best news of all.
I’ve come to call them to see the entire world in a different way to change their thinking about themselves to change their thinking as we’ll see in a minute about God to change their thinking about the people around them to change their thinking about everything and to see themselves in a way that allows them to connect with God, their Heavenly Father and to change from the inside out. That’s good news, because here’s what I know about you, and we’ve never met. You’ve tried to change yourself, right? It’s virtually impossible. This was the invitation of Jesus the Savior and this is why people leaned in because they hoped there was something behind these words, It was good, How good was it? It just kept getting better, it was toward the end, a whole new level of good a stop and stare good, because Jesus followers were not only invited to be good and unfortunately, this is where the message of Christianity stops for way too many people. We just need to be good. I can’t be that good. And the people that claim to be that good, they’re not even that good, they’re hypocrites, and I can’t be a part of that. But Jesus didn’t stop there. In fact, Jesus didn’t even start there.
That’s why Levi could follow him. He called his followers not to simply be good but to do good. But not in the usual way because everybody does good. Here’s what he said, “If you’re gonna follow me. I want you to do good but I want you to do good to those who hate you. And I want you to pray for those that mistreat you, who does that? They would say to which Jesus would say, “Hang on, you’re about to learn something about God, your Father, that no one ever told you before”. He said “If you do good to those who are good to you that’s just average. Everybody does that, That is so unremarkable”, he says, What credit is that to you?” That brand of good has been around since the very beginning of time, right? But then he leans in, and he says, “Come on, love your enemies and do good to them and lend to them without expecting to get anything in return. And are you ready for this next part? This is when people put down their quills, this is when people gasp, this is when people are like, “Okay”.
This can’t possibly be true, but if this is true, this changes everything. He said, “If you are that good, if you embrace this level of good, if you choose to be good to those who mistreat you, and those who cheat on you, and those who aren’t good in return, if you choose to be good to those who can’t offer anything in return, you will be called children of the Most High because that’s what your Father in Heaven is like.” This was brand new for them. This may be brand new for you. This may not be the God you were presented with as a child because he, God, is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.
Wait, wait Jesus, okay, wait, you’re telling me that you’re representing God, and you’re telling me that God is kind to ungrateful people and wicked people? See that’s good news because I’ve been ungrateful. That’s good news because you, okay, because I [laughter] have been wicked.
But this is confusing to us and the reason this is confusing to us is because this is not how most Christians act.
Why aren’t we known for being kind to the ungrateful and the wicked? Why are we not known for being merciful to the merciless? Why are we not known for serving the people who don’t wanna have anything to do with us? And I’ll tell you why because too many Christians and I hope we’re not those kinds of Christians, too many Christians, for generations have been content to believe, but not follow. Because believing doesn’t make any difference in this life. It’s following, it’s doing that makes all the difference in the world. This is why Jesus’ initial invitation was “follow me” because if you follow me you’ll discover that following me will make your life better and make you better at life, and you’ll follow me because of who I claim to be and even if at the outset you’re not sure it’s all true you will know it’s all good.
Now listen to what he said next, “And be merciful just as your Father is merciful.” What is not to love about that? If you grew up on a version of Christianity where God was anything but merciful, I’m sorry. It wasn’t the original version, that’s not good news. Jesus’ message was good news for the unrighteous, but it was threatening news to the self-righteous. And just so you know, there are no self-righteous Jesus followers you cannot follow Jesus and hang on to a shred of self-righteousness because at the very beginning here’s the announcement, “Today,” the angel said, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you,” which means God is addressing our fundamental need.
You need a savior, and I need a savior, and your sins may be different than mine, and mine might be different than somebody else’s. But we all need a savior and in that moment the love, the playing field is level there are no righteous, no, not one, for we have all fallen short of our own standard, we’ve certainly fallen short of the standards of the people around us, we have fallen short of that standard that we hold other people accountable to. And God says, “And here’s the good and the bad news you’ve fallen short of my standard, but I have good news of great joy for all people. I’m not sending a second chance, and I’m not sending five commandments rather than 10, I’m sending you a savior he’s been born to you and he is the Messiah, the deliverer, he is God in a body. And the end of the story is foreshadowed at the outset.
The personification of good did not come. This is amazing, the personification of good did not come for his own good. He came for your good and mine. I love this one, Jesus said this, “For the son of man, for the son of man,” talking about himself, “did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life, a ransom for many, for all the fall-shorters, a ransom for many.” That’s good news. He introduced and modeled the new version of good. Then he told us, “That God is good,” and then he took all our un-good on him to create an on-ramp to good God, and then he says to you and he says to me, “Follow, follow.” Is Christianity good? Good for society, good for the world, good for your family, good for you, good for me? Luke thought so, Matthew thought so, Mark thought so, John thought so, Peter thought so, the Apostle Paul eventually thought so, James the brother of Jesus thought so, many, many others thought so. Because the original version was good news, compelling news and when it’s presented in its rawest form, when it’s presented in its clearest and most uncluttered form, I’m convinced because Jesus said so, because this is what the first century teaches us that people will want the message of Jesus to be true before they’re convinced it’s true.
So if you don’t buy it because it never sounded good, maybe you never heard the original “it”. Maybe you grew up with the wrong it and maybe somebody misused it. And if that’s the case I’m so sorry because you need to know the people who were closest to Jesus were convinced they met good in a body because they had seen God in a body. And so they documented the story because they were convinced this was not a story, this was not a life that was lived for a single generation, but for all generations. Not for one group of people, but for all people, all nations, every generation. It was in fact good news of great joy for everybody. But perhaps especially for those of us who aren’t and who haven’t been all that good. And we will pick it up there, next week.