daily biblical sermons


Should we use words to try to convince people that Jesus alone saves us from our sins?
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Saturday, ,, January 04, 2020
1 John 3:7-10, Psalm 97, John 1:35-42


Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted

 

 

 

“The next day again John [the Baptist] was standing with two of his disciples; and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus … One of the two who heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon, and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which means Christ). And he brought him to Jesus” (John 1:35-37, 40-42).

 

 

Today’s gospel reading presents us with a very important question that is now making headlines in the Church, namely should we use words, explanations, and quote Scripture and use reasonable arguments to explain the Christian faith when talking to people in order to convince them that Jesus is the only Savior that God has sent into the world who can save us from our sins? Or should we rather simply recognize Christianity as a particular system of symbols, stories, doctrines, prayers, and myths that human beings that belong to a certain culture and religion have put together, and that we should not try to convert, by using words, another culture or people who have a different system of symbols, stories, doctrines, and myths that help them make sense of themselves and the world?

 

 

Some people today are telling us that it would be imperialistic to impose your culture and your religious beliefs, symbols, stories, and doctrines on another culture and religion, for they have their own system that should be respected, and it is wrong to try to convert them to Christianity using words, speech, and arguments. So missionaries should not go out and preach Christianity with words, but merely live among the people and do good deeds, helping the poor and the sick, educating children, teaching better agricultural methods, and helping them financially; and this good example should be sufficient.

 

 

This is a rather shocking way of looking at Christian mission, for it stands in sharp contrast to what the risen Jesus told his disciples to do when he sent them out into the whole world to preach the gospel to every culture, language, and religious group, telling them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16).

 

 

How do you preach to the whole world without using words? And how can you tell whether people believe or not if words are not used? Furthermore, the risen Jesus told his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). How do you make disciples without using a lot of words and explanations of what the gospel message is and what Christians believe? It can’t be done! And how do you teach them to observe all that Jesus taught us in words without using words? That also can’t be done.

 

 

Christianity, as it is presented in the New Testament, is not just a cultural phenomenon, not just a system of myths, stories, and doctrines that human beings have invented in a particular culture. Rather, it is presented in the Scriptures as divine revelation, which continues and fulfills the divine revelation of the Old Testament Scriptures. Other cultures with different religions do not have divine revelation; rather they simply have human wisdom and reason that concocts a philosophy to explain the world about them, human life, and themselves, using only natural human reason and natural observation and drawing reasonable conclusions from what they see and observe in the world, in themselves, and in other people.

 

 

This is not at all on the same level as a divinely revealed religion which we have in Christianity and in the divinely revealed and inspired sacred Scriptures of both the Old and especially the New Testament, which completes and fulfills the Old Testament. This is the Christian faith. This is Christianity as it is presented and understood in the New Testament.

 

 

Therefore to think that Christianity is on the same level as Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, the indigenous animistic religions of the Amazon, or African traditional religions – to think that Christianity is on the same level as these is to deny Christianity. It is to deny the faith. A person who sees all of these religions on the same level has denied his faith that Christ is the only Savior of the world, the only one capable of freeing us from sin and granting us eternal life with God in heaven and eventually on the new earth. The Christian faith was revealed by God through special divine revelation contained in the Holy Scriptures. This can be said of no other religion, even though they may have their sacred texts.

 

 

How, then, can Christianity be communicated to other people and how can we baptize them, make disciples of them, and teach them to observe all that Christ has commanded us if we do not use words and explanations and if we do not quote the inspired Scriptures and use arguments to explain what Christianity is all about? How, without using words and reasoned explanations, can we explain how Christ saves us from our sins and how no one else can save us from our sins and bring us eternal life except him?

 

 

Sometimes people proposing this new dialogical schema in which all religions are looked at on the same level quote an apocryphal saying of St. Francis of Assisi that we should evangelize with our good example and our actions, and, if necessary, even use words, as though words were not normally necessary when evangelizing. This is not anything that St. Francis ever said, and it contradicts what he spent his life doing, namely going around preaching the gospel with words. He also gave good example.

 

 

To set good example against words is absurd. It is something that St. Francis never did or said and something that Jesus and the apostles never did. Certainly St. Paul never did such a thing. They all spent their lives proclaiming the gospel with words, which were and are necessary. Then the good example of their lives and good works backed up their words and made them even more credible.

 

 

Jesus clearly tells us to use words to proclaim the gospel, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16). How do you preach the gospel without words? And how do you believe or not believe unless there are words expressing what you are to believe?

 

 

Why do I talk about this today? It is because John the Baptist, in today’s gospel, says to two of his disciples, when Jesus walked by, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” Here he is referring to a fuller sentence which he said the previous day, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Upon saying this, John’s two disciples left him and started to follow Jesus. One of them, Andrew, went and found his brother Simon and told him, “We have found the Messiah” (John 1:41). And “he [Andrew] brought him [Simon] to Jesus” (John 1:42).

 

 

Here we see an example of John the Baptist preaching the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ, who is the lamb of sacrifice, whose sacrifice takes away the sin of the world, with the result that he makes two converts, Andrew and an unnamed disciple; and then Andrew makes another convert, his brother Simon, on the basis of hearing the gospel preached with words about Jesus being the sacrifice (God’s lamb of sacrifice – the Lamb of God) whose sacrifice takes away the sin of the world. They, being fallen sinful men, are struck to the heart by what they hear, and they want to hear more. They want to know where Jesus lives so that they can contact him at another time and receive more instruction from him, and they become his disciples.

 

 

John the Baptist here preached the gospel in miniature. He preached the basic gospel message that Jesus will be the sacrifice that takes away sins, that Jesus will be the fulfillment of the Old Testament sin offerings, whereby one chose an animal, putting his hand on its head, indicating it as his representative and substitute, and then killed it before the Lord so that the animal died vicariously, for the person’s sins, saving him from having to die for his own sins.

 

 

The Old Testament animal sacrifices were symbols preparing the people for the coming of the Messiah, who would be the Son of God who would be sacrificed on the cross and whose death on the cross would be a vicarious, substitutionary death in place of all sinners who put their faith in him so that their sins might be punished in Christ on the cross, and they, through their faith in him, might go free of this punishment and of their sins, fully absolved and declared and thereby made righteous by God, with God himself reckoning his own righteousness to them.

 

 

This proclamation and this fuller explanation of it with words is the basic gospel message. It requires words to communicate it. This is what the risen Jesus sent his disciples out into all the world to preach to the whole creation. How do you preach this to the whole creation without words? It can’t be done. It was never intended to be done. And how can those who believe and are baptized be saved except that they heard a divinely revealed message from God in words which they accepted in their heart with faith? All this requires words.

 

 

And what words are to be spoken? There are many aspects to the gospel and to the teachings of Jesus and of the Old Testament that need to be communicated with words that are convincing and satisfying.

 

 

Of course, you are not to coerce people or try to force them to believe, but simply invite them so that they may freely make up their own mind and decide to believe or not to believe. This is what preaching the gospel means. This is the mission of the Church. This is evangelization, and this is what we as Christians are called by Christ to do.

 

 

So when we meet with Christians today who tell us that every religion is equal and they are all just human attempts to put into words, symbols, and myths divine realities, no one religion being better than another, and therefore no one should present his religion to nonbelievers – when we hear people saying this, we know that they are not Christians. If they claim to be Christians, they have lost the essence of the Christian faith.

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