Sometime about two-thousand years ago, give or take twenty years, a baby was born to a young couple in a small, dusty Mediterranean town. The ruler of Israel under Roman appointment, Herod the Great, was told of a Jewish prophesy in which a baby had been born in Jerusalem that would one day overthrow him, just as Judas Maccabeus had overthrown the Babylonians in Israel prior to Roman occupation, and as a defense against rebellion, he ordered that the male infants in and around Bethlehem, that small, dusty town, be killed. Luckily for little Yeshua – Jesus, as we call him – his parents had been warned by an angel to flee to Egypt until Herod the Great died a few years later and was replaced by three of his sons, all of whom were named Herod as well.
And with that, the story of Jesus begins, and so does the story of Christianity. Anyone who went to Sunday School can recount tales of Jesus walking on water, multiplying the fish and the bread, or raising Lazarus from the dead. We teach the children songs about how Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and we have them do arts and crafts during Vacation Bible School each summer.
But what’s the point?
If you’ve visited a church at any point, you’ve heard that Jesus was the Son of God, divinity and flesh brought together, and that he died for our sins so that we could be saved. So for many, that becomes the point of Christianity; we’re in it to be saved from damnation. I won’t deny that holding a blessed assurance like that is comforting and motivating, providing strength with every new day and every new struggle, but I would deny that the point of Christianity is to claim a pass out of damnation. Look at the prayer that Jesus, God himself, taught us:
“Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
– Matthew 6: 9-13
Many of us say that prayer every Sunday, but how often do we consider what we’re asking? What we’re committing to do? First, we express to God that we want His kingdom to come on earth as in Heaven. I’d argue that this is the most important part of this prayer, but we’ll revisit it at the end. We need to look at the rest of it first.
Next, we ask for forgiveness. But wait, there’s a caveat! “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Now we’re getting to the part we prefer to lighten or simply ignore. We ask to be forgiven as we forgive, and that isn’t the only time this idea is expressed in the Gospels. Jesus recounts a parable in which a man is forgiven his great debt by his creditor, but turns around and demands payment from another poor man who owes him money.The original creditor is furious! He cancels the forgiveness and holds the man fully accountable, all because he wouldn’t forgive as he had been forgiven (Matthew 18: 21-35). Jesus says that a central pillar of Christianity is forgiving your neighbor with great mercy and without reservation. That’s a serious calling, yet we dismiss it all too often, refusing forgiveness for things as simple as some nasty words.
Lastly, Jesus tells us to ask for deliverance from evil. If you’ve studied the history of the church, you may be familiar with the “Pietism” movement in Germany, or at the very least with the “Holy Clubs” that spawned Methodism. The whole point of these groups was to actively flee from sin, to be build up in faith so that you could withstand temptation and evil. That’s what Jesus is telling us to pursue! We’re supposed to want to live holy lives, lives which are pleasing to God.
So now, let’s revisit that first statement, the request that “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” This, it seems to me, is the point of Christianity. This is the end-goal that we’re working toward, the motivating idea for Christianity; we’re striving to move our cultures, our churches, and ourselves to a state where God’s will can be done on earth. In the end, when the saints are resurrected and all of Creation is perfected, that perfect eternal kingdom should be what we were striving for all along. We should strive to be like Christ in our love of one another and our forgiveness of sins, and we should strive toward a world free of sickness and poverty.
The point of Christianity is to love as Christ loved (John 13: 34) and to be caretakers of Creation.
If you have thoughts, objections, questions, stories, limericks, or anything else to share, please comment! And join me next Wednesday for our next question:
What’s the point of Church?