The Problem with Christianity
Two weeks ago today I got some unexpected news. We were hanging out at Mike and Holly’s house for Mike’s 30th birthday party and I got a text from my college roommate, one of my best friends, Brady. The text simply said this, “I think my dad is dead. Please pray for my family.” It was only six months ago, in November, that Brady first told me that his dad wasn’t feeling well. And it was only in January that they had finally figured out that he had myeloma. Over the last four months his dad, Steve, had spent time in hospitals in Houston and Little Rock, and it seemed like he was getting better. The original plan, earlier that week, so almost 3 weeks ago now, was for Steve (Brady’s father) to spend 21 days in the hospital, receiving treatment and recovering, but he was doing so well by the end of that week that they sent him home. Well, two weeks ago, on that Sunday morning, he wasn’t feeling so well, so he didn’t go to church that Sunday morning. Brady’s mom went to church, and her name is Cindy. She came home and his dad, Steve, asked her if she’d make him a bowl of soup and maybe he would feel better. As she prepared his lunch, he went back to the bedroom to get his cell phone, probably to either call or text Brady, who lives in Texas. She is making his lunch. Cindy heard a crash; she ran back to the bedroom by the time she got back there, he was already gone. Steve was 58 years old.
Why do bad things like this happen? I mean it’s not like Steve was 101 years old. Sure, it’s sad when any one dies, even someone who’s lived 100 years, but when someone has lived 100 years it’s not unexpected. 58 is still pretty young. Steve’s mother is still alive, I was with her two weeks ago, she’s in her eighties. I watched her bury her son. How are we supposed to think about this evil that exists in the world? Some of you sitting in the room this morning have experienced the pain of burying a loved one. Someone of you have experienced that pain recently. But even if you haven’t, all of us have felt the ravaging effects of sin on God’s good world. Pastor Kevin mentioned moments ago that we are all coming to worship this morning with some kind of pain, some kind of family issue, some kind of hurt, some kind of brokenness. We all know the pain of living east of Eden. Some of you are dealing with chronic pain. Some of you are in the middle of painful relationship issues with a spouse or family members. Some of you are lonely. Why do these bad things happen to God’s people, and I guess more importantly how are we supposed to deal with them?
Theresa of Ávila was a 6th century Spanish Mystic and an old story is told of Theresa that one time she confronted God about her suffering. “Why am I suffering in this way?” God responded, “This is how I deal with my friends.” She responded, “Well in that case you shouldn’t be surprised if you don’t have many.”
Christianity has always historically had this problem, at least philosophically. The world had always charged Christianity with the problem of evil. How do you people deal with evil? If God is sovereign, and God is good, why does evil exist in the world? And the world has looked at Christianity and said, “You don’t have a good answer.” Those who believe in reincarnation, they have an answer. They believe that every reincarnation is a chance for you to pay for the sins of your former lives. So when you deal with pain and loss in this life, it is because of all the wrongs that you committed in past lives. That’s encouraging Buddhism and Hinduism address the problem of evil by contending that the physical world doesn’t matter. The material body does not matter, only spiritual things matters. So if you are a Buddhist or a Hindu you will be “saved” when you can shed your body and you shed the world for good. But Christianity has never believed that. Christianity has always taught that God created a good world, and that he will recreate the eternal new earth. We as Christians, as we sang this morning, have always believed in the resurrection of the dead on the last day. When Jesus returns he will raise the dead, judge the world, and make all things new. If that’s true, then what do we do with the pain and loss that we experience right now in this life? The pain that my friend Brady is experiencing, the pain that you are experiencing this morning, whatever it is.
We have spent several weeks now walking through Hebrews 11 and what we have called biblical theology of faith, the story of faith from the very beginning. The Holy Spirit has conducted for us a symphony of the saints. Beginning with creation and moving through what many have called the old, old story to last week when we dwelt in Rahab’s tavern together, and we have been captivated by the score of redemptive history. Now we find ourselves in verses 32-38, that we just read a few moments ago, and this is what Al Mohler calls the crescendo of this great masterpiece. In verse 32 the author picks up a more rapid pace than we have been experiencing; And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets. Basically saying we could talk forever about the faith that God’s people have displayed around the world.
I think Jerry Seinfeld would call this the “yada yada yada” portion of the sermon. To quote Johnny from Angels With Even Filthier Souls: “I could go on forever, baby.” All of the books in the entire world could not contain the stories of faith that fill history. The Internet couldn’t hold all of the stories of how God has caused his saints to persevere. “Could we with ink the ocean fill and were the skies of parchment made, were every stalk on earth a quill and every man a scribe by trade. To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry. Nor could the scroll contain the whole though stretched from sky to sky.”
We could talk endlessly about those who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. These judges, these prophets, these kings did unbelievable things by faith. David conquered kingdoms. Daniel stopped the mouth of lions. Elijah quenched the power of fire, and both he and Elisha brought children back from the dead. The Bible is seeping with stories of God’s people doing miraculous things by faith.
It is also noteworthy that the book of Hebrews doesn’t remember these men for their sin, but for their faith. Samson was sexually immoral and he broke his vow to YHWH, Jephthah made a foolish vow to God, and David was an adulterer and a murderer. The list goes on. We could spend all day reciting the sins of our fathers, but Scripture doesn’t do that here, does it? The Word of God commends these men and women for their faith. Church, I want you to be encouraged by the word of God this morning, if you’ve repented of your sin and you’re trusting in Christ, then your legacy is not your mistakes, your legacy is not your rebellion. God does not view you as condemned, but he views you as in Christ. When you believe the gospel by faith, that’s what you’re remembered for in the mind of God. You know, when I was at Steve’s funeral, there was not a single person who we reminiscing about those times when Steve had been a jerk to them, nobody was talking about any of his past sins. Indeed he was a sinner, like the rest of us. But I heard hundreds of people, 700 people, in no-wheresville AR made comment about Steve’s belief in the gospel, and how he lived that out every single day. That is good news church. We believe in the perseverance of the saints. We believe that those whom God chooses, he will keep. Be encouraged in that this morning, because as John MacArthur said, “If you could lose your salvation, you would lose your salvation.” Jesus won’t let go.
It’s interesting, that in verse 35 the text makes a sharp turn. After 34 verses of reciting some of the most epic biblical narratives ever recorded, the Holy Spirit begins to travel down a more unfamiliar road; the melody becomes a lot more difficult to hum along with. 35 Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. For all of the Bible’s blockbuster stories that end in victory, many of which we have recounted over our journey through Hebrews 11, there are just as many that end in tragedy. For all the marquee names that did miraculous things, for all the Noahs, and the Abrahams, for all of the Moses’, and the Davids, there are just as many, if not more, that you’ve never heard of.
This section is a little harsh, isn’t it? It’s kind of abrupt. There were many who were imprisoned, tortured, and murdered. That’s it. There is no “Job ending” to this pericope. It’s like if you were to go to the doctor because you weren’t feeling well and you were to receive a negative diagnosis, you have been diagnosed with X, Y, and Z. And it’s like you coming to church here at Christ Community Church and saying, “Hey can you guys pray for me, I just found out I have blah, blah, blah.” And it would be like someone in your class or block saying, “I’ve heard of that, my mom died from it.” Okay, thanks for the chipper news. You’re not supposed to tell me that your mom died from it, you’re supposed to tell me that your mom had it, she’s recovered, and now she is running the Boston marathon. That’s what I want to hear. I don’t want to hear, “I’ve heard of that. Yeah I know people who have died from that disease.” But that’s kind of what this feels like, isn’t it? That’s not the reality with which we live is it? There isn’t always a “job ending” is there? The point of this section of scripture, church, is that this is what faith looks like. Some times faith is the triumph of Abraham, Moses, and David, and other times it’s an anonymous saint who is persecuted or martyred for their faith. And both are faith.
The point here, the point we are going to see next week as we end Hebrews 11 and in the weeks to come as we move to chapter 12, is that none of these men and women, not Abel, not Enoch, not Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, the Prophets, none of them, non of the men, non of these women, in triumph or tragedy, received what they were hoping in when they died. Verses 39-40 make that clear. In the best of times and in the worst of times, every one of these saints had in incomplete faith when they died. They had not yet seen the one in whom they were hoping. What was their hope? What were they waiting on? Verse 35 reminds us: that they might rise again to a better life. Church, we sang of their hope this morning. I believe in the resurrection when Jesus comes again. They were waiting for the resurrection, they were waiting for the better city, the unshakable kingdom. They were assured in this hope; they were convicted about this truth, even though they couldn’t see it. The good news for us this morning is that the treasure that they groped for in darkness has been given light. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1.5).
The hope of the OT has been realized in the gospel of Jesus. Jesus’ virgin birth, sinless life, substitutionary death, resurrection, and ascension are the sun to which the OT shadow had been pointing. All of the stories, these epic stories, stories that span from Sunday school flannel boards to movies starring Christian Bale and Russell Crowe, stories that captivated even the unbelieving world, of theses stories, the stories of anonymous saints, the names of which you have never even heard, who were faithful to Jesus in their death. These stories were merely signposts pointing us to Jesus Christ of Nazareth, who is the founder and perfecter of the faith. This faith that we have been tracing all the way through Hebrews 11 is all about Jesus. He is the founder, he started it, he is the perfecter, he is the telos, he is the goalkeeper, he is the one who is going to finish it. Jesus is the true Israelite who had more faith than any of these men or women we read about. Jesus is the fulfillment of Israel’s faith – he is messiah that they had been waiting for. Jesus is the snake-crushing warrior king come to save his people.
So as Christians, when faced with the problem of evil, there is a sense in which, we must confess that we are not God. There is some math we just can’t do. We can’t fully understand God’s ways. And yet, while there can be some uncertainty in understanding God’s sovereignty and goodness in light of evil, even if that doesn’t fully make sense to you at different times of your life, we do know, based on Hebrews 11, how we can endure this pain, hurt, and loss; the answer, church, is by faith. Verse 38 says that the world was not worthy of these men and women, and that is the answer to the problem of evil. Listen to what N.T. Wright says about this passage of scripture: “the fact that they suffered such things, and that they demonstrated that the world wasn’t worthy of them, was a sign that both they believed God was making new world that would be better and that this belief was in facts true. They were out of tune with their times because they were living by faith in God’s future world, while society all around them was living as though the present world was all there was and all there would be. God was giving them strength to live like that, thus proving the truth of their claim. They were, in their own lives and suffering, pointers to the fact that the God who made the world was intending to remake it and that they were the advanced guard of that great moment.” How could these saints endure the pain, loss, persecution, and martyrdom that they did and still keep faith? How can you endure the pain, loss, persecution, tribulation, hurt, sin, rebellion, and still believe by faith? The answer, church, is that we believe a better world was coming. We believe that the seed of the woman crushed the head of the serpent when he walked out of that tomb. We believe that God is making all things new, starting with his church. God’s great story is filled with people who have experienced joy and sadness, gain and loss, but they all had faith that God would keep his promise, which he did in Jesus Christ. If that’s true of them, if that’s true of Abel all the way down through the Prophets, who greeted Jesus from afar, how much more true is it for us, Christ Community Church, the ones who dine at his table every week?
This is the gospel challenge for us in light of Hebrews 11:32-38, hear God’s Word this morning. Hear the voice of Jesus this morning through his word. Do you believe the gospel? Do you believe the gospel? Not in a trite way. Not in a “that’s my family’s religion” kind of way. Can you look down into the deepest darkest crevices of your sinful broken heart, and say “all I have is Christ. If I lose everything else, Jesus is enough for me.” Because if you can’t, then you are not believing the gospel. You might be believing some stuff about Jesus, but if you don’t believe Jesus is enough for everything, for eternity, then you are not believing the gospel. I want to invite you this morning to belief the stories, because they are true. Jesus is enough. Jesus was enough for all of these Saints. These saints that you‘ve never heard of, who were sawn in two. They could endure that because they were looking forward to Jesus. Do you believe the gospel? Do you live like the New Creation is coming? Not just because it makes for a catchy song, is your life structured around the fact that Jesus is going to physically, visibly return to raise the dead, judge the world, make all things new. Do you live like that is actually going to happen? Do you love your enemies? Do you forgive others when they wrong you? Do you seek forgiveness and restoration when you wrong others? Because these are all marks and signs of someone who believes the gospel. Here is one that challenges our rugged individualism: Christian, are you willing to be wronged? Man, we live in a time where everyone wants immediate justice when they’ve been wronged. Everyone sues everyone. When my waiter doesn't meet my standards, I need to see their manager. When someone makes me mad, I’m going to passive aggressively post something on Facebook. That will shows them. I need vindication. Are you willing to be wronged knowing that God is the final judge? Are you willing if it ever comes, to be tortured, refusing to accept release so that you may rise again to a better life? Are you willing to suffer mocking, flogging, chains, imprisonment, stoning, being sawn in two, killed with the sword, going about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, wandering about in deserts and mountains and dens and caves of the earth. Not don’t mishear this church, we aren’t asking for that, that is sick if you are asking for that. But the question we have to ask ourselves when we are confronted with the gospel this morning, if God-forbid, that madness ever breaks out here or anywhere else, because it does happen, there are Christians in parts of the world who do have to face this reality this morning, is Jesus enough for you if that happens. Are you willing to be wronged for the gospel of Jesus? Let me tell you this, if you can’t help but make a snarky comment on Facebook, when someone is rude, then you are not going to be willing to be sawn in two for the gospel of Jesus. Jesus was wronged for you. These Saints hadn’t seen Jesus yet, and they persevered by faith. Church, we commune with Jesus every week, church let us live like that’s true.
There’s an old story about a man who found an incredibly valuable treasure buried in a field. That man was wise. He was willing to sell everything that he had to buy the field and obtain that treasure. He was willing to lose everything, to acquire that one thing. That’s the faith that’s described in Hebrews 11. That’s our faith, church. We can willingly lose everything this world has to offer, even our own lives, because the treasure we’ve been given is far more valuable than anything this world has to offer. This world, this present, evil, anti-Christ system that has been in rebellion against God since the garden, is not worthy of the gospel treasure that you’ve been given in Jesus. And this is the good word to take with you this morning. That treasure, that gospel treasure, the person of Jesus, that is enough to sustain you. To sustain youthrough sickness, and pain, and even the premature death of your father. Let’s pray.