This piece first appeared on XYZ.
There are a lot of myths about Christians and Christianity that are repeated endlessly in our media, classrooms and casual conversations. It’s a faith that everyone in the West thinks they understand perfectly and have strong opinions about, however the views that people hold are often not based on any solid evidence. Because we might have gone to Catholic school or seen churches around town growing up, we tend to think we know what all that Christianity palaver is about. Familiarity has bred complacency, if not contempt.
The next time you see that old stone church near the centre of town that is now mostly uninhabited, ask yourself: ‘Why did they bother building it?’ Were they really just brainwashed and superstitious? Those buildings weren’t cheap, and the money was given to build it by the people of the local community. Why would communities have done that? What did they think they would get in return, and why is it that we never build anything so beautiful or transcendent today?
It’s an understatement to say that Christians have not always done a good job representing the faith to the world. When you read what Jesus said and did and then look at the words and actions of many Christians and church leaders today, the contradictions are stark. The recent Royal Commission into child sexual abuse breaks the heart of any God-fearing man or woman. So much cruelty and viciousness done by men, and it was usually men, who have put themselves in the position of representing Christ to the world. All I can say to those poor victims is that God will judge those men for what they did to you, and their punishment will be terrible to behold (Matthew 18:6-9).
Other people might have grown up inside a strongly Christian family or community and been hurt by it. It’s not an uncommon story to hear. There are Christian denominations who have become so focused on being good enough for God that they become harsh, even cruel. Although many of the people in such denominations may mean well, they do not resemble Jesus anymore. They resemble the Pharisees, putting burdens on people and using the law of God as a tool for social enforcement of rigid guidelines and oppressive standards. Jesus spent his time eating and feasting with sinners while preaching repentance to them. The Pharisees accused him of being a drunkard and a carouser. They also slandered his mother by saying He was illegitimate. If Jesus were to come back for a visit today, there are many so-called Christians who would do the same to Him again.
Despite what man has done to the faith, the purity of Jesus’ life and teachings is still there recorded in scripture. For those of us who have encountered Him, it’s there also in the daily relationship we have with Him. Many call Him an imaginary friend, and I remember saying such things myself before I knew Him. All I can say to those people is that He is wonderful to know, if you are able to believe and give your life to Him.
Christianity is all about love. It isn’t about being good. It isn’t about getting to heaven. It isn’t even about going to church, praying, giving alms or proclaiming the gospel like Jesus commanded us. Those things come as part of the Christian life, but they’re not the focus. The focus is relationship.
God made humans because He wanted to have a relationship with us. God. The same being who made the galaxies, who formed the planet out of debris in the vacuum of space, who ordered the seasons and who can number the atoms of the universe. He made Adam and Eve because He wanted to walk, talk and fellowship with them. That’s what God longs for. He just wants us to know Him and be found. That’s how special you are.
This is the message of Easter. The cross is not about suffering and death. As Jesus said just before He died, ‘Tetelestai!’ – ‘It is finished!’ Another translation for that word is, ‘It is paid’. At the cross, Jesus paid the penalty for all the sins of the world in order to reconcile humanity to God. We had fallen in the garden of Eden. We chose to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and abandon God’s moral law and decide for ourselves the standards for good and evil. This is the rebellion of man, and it was the greatest tragedy in all of history because it meant that humanity was cut off from God forever. Our perfectly righteous God cannot fellowship with sinners. Under God’s law, the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). God couldn’t walk with Adam and Eve in the daytime anymore, and it broke His heart.
Only God could overcome this impossible situation. He did so by sending His son to live a perfect life as an example to us, and by doing so fulfil God’s law and the prophecies about His coming. When Jesus did it, He became able to pay the debt that Adam and Eve had created at the fall. All of the sacrifices that the Jews had made at the Temple over the centuries were only foreshadows of the one true sacrifice that God would make for all of us at the cross. Two days later, Jesus overcame death itself to make a pathway for us all to be restored to immortality. This is what God is calling us to today, so that we can one day again walk, talk and fellowship with Him in His garden. That’s what He made the universe for.
Jesus didn’t allow himself to be murdered at the cross out of obligation or compulsion. He did it voluntarily. He did it out of love.