Why Believe? (21 May 2017)

Readings:  Acts 17:22-31, John 14:15-21.

We are surrounded by false gods.  Let’s time warp back to the ancient world of the earliest Old Testament days – about 4,000 years ago.  The gods of ancient Mesopotamia (where Abraham originated) and the gods of the Canaanites whom we meet in the promised land, had a great deal in common.  They were based around the realities of life.  There were the nature gods, the fertility gods, gods of the sea, the sun, of storm – they were all there, and the people believed a whole range of things that were expected of them to worship these gods to keep them on side.

Through the Old Testament we meet the Assyrians, the Babylonians, Persians, and numerous others.  They had different names, but their gods were close to the same types.

Finally we get a hint at the Greeks, but in the New Testament we get full view of the Roman Empire where they are still worshipping the Greek gods, except that Caesar declares himself a god among (and sometimes above) the other gods.

The thing is that the Greek gods are mostly just new names on the old false gods of Mesopotamia.  They get new names, new temples, new faces, and new worship practices, but they are essentially the same.

This was the ancient way, during the times described in the Bible, that gods were imagined, believed and worshipped.

But we are past all that, are we not?  We have become so much smarter; we don’t worship anything these days, do we?  Are we free from such things?

We could make a list of things that people worship these days – things they devote themselves to with a passion that can only be described as worship.

  • Money
  • Family
  • Husband/wife/girlfriend/boyfriend
  • Any of thousands of causes
  • Football or any other of many sports
  • Work
  • Themselves
  • Any of a multitude of leisure pursuits
  • Holidays
  • Sex
  • Alcohol
  • Car; house, or other possessions

The list could go on.  There seems to be a need built into us to devote ourselves to stuff.  And beyond the necessities of life, we seem to need to be passionately devoted to some things in order to function properly.  Without it we seem to only fire on half our cylinders.

But which of these is worthy of worship?  I didn’t put God in the list because God is different.

If God is real, God puts all of these things in the shade.  If real, God is more important by far.  If not real, we are fools for being here because God is the least important of all.

How then can we know whether God is real or not?  I want to return, finally, to our bible reading.  Paul was speaking at the great philosophical gathering place – the Areopagus on Mars Hill in Athens.  He effectively said “I see your devotion, but it is misplaced.  This one you acknowledge – the unknown god – in case you missed one, is the only true God there is.  And he has made himself known.

He made himself known through Jesus of Nazareth, who showed us what God is truly like, died in our place, was raised to life and was seen by many, but now sends his Holy Spirit as his gift to all who believe.

Right here is the only way you can be 100% certain that God is real – that you receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and you experience God yourself.  Until then you are only believing or disbelieving me, believing or disbelieving others.  Until you receive the Holy Spirit, you are only guessing who to believe.  But once you receive the Holy Spirit you will know.

Jesus was speaking to his disciples – I will ask my Father (God) and he will send the gift of the Holy Spirit.  On the day you receive that gift, you will know that this is all true.  You will know that God is God, and you will know you have found the right path.

Yes, human being will always find something to worship, because our wiring demands it.  If all else fails we will turn it on ourselves and make ourselves our own gods.

But Jesus didn’t want to remain hidden, he didn’t want it to be a secret found only rarely by a few.  No, the Holy Spirit is God’s gift to all who would know and follow the truth.

Do you still ask the question whether God is real?  Does it still haunt you in the quiet moments?

There is only one answer – receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  How, by asking, in a prayer.  When you say yes to having Jesus in your life, the Holy Spirit is given.  But to have the Holy Spirit fill you is to be truly delivered into the abundant, full life we discussed last Sunday.

You can live the life everyone has, and take your chances on a good run.  Or you can take the life God offers, and have the life God designed for you to receive.  I’ve found what I want, and what I believe is worthy.  I pray you will find it too, and that God will fill you with his life.