Ravi Zacharias at 1983 Amsterdam Conference with Billy Graham



my message is a very difficult one and about the most absurd thing that I could do is to think that in the time we have I'm going to do justice to it cultures barriers presuppositions philosophies prejudices beliefs religions form vast chasms between the message of Christ and the mind of man and what I'd like to do ladies and gentlemen you have got your outline in front of you and I'm going to do the first thing Reverend Houston said is important for good communication you will not be able to predict where I'm going in the light of that outline you have because as time goes on I will shrink my latter points in accordance with which the first one or two have been expanded so follow it very carefully and fortunately you'll be able to read the full manuscript when the compendium is issued I would like to read for you just two or three verses from Acts chapter 17 and take as my blueprint the message of the Apostle Paul as delivered to the Athenian crowd his famous Mars Hill address now in Athens Paul was beginning to speak and it is important to know he was in that stage of his life where he was really a hunted man he had been in Philippi where he had been imprisoned from Philippi he went to Thessalonica where he nearly created a riot from Thessalonica he went to Berea where Timothy told him to please move on for a little while they would try and settle the crowds down and so Paul came to Athens and he was waiting for his colleagues to join him and he began this whole message with a heart that was really stirring up within him please look at verse 16 of Acts 17 while Paul was waiting for them in Athens he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols an important verse so he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the god-fearing Greeks as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there a group of epicurean and stoic philosophers began to dispute with him some of them asked what is this babbler trying to say others remarked he seems to be advocating foreign gods they said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection I remember when I was raised in India many a times seeing this sight take place somewhere in the streets of the city of New Delhi an english-speaking tourist is looking for directions and he stops an average man on the street and unknown to the tourists the man in the street did not know a word of English and so the english-speaking tourist goes on for three or four sentences looking for some information and this confused non-english speaking Indian rugs his shoulders and speaks out the only two words he knows in the English language no English at most he will say no speak English what do you think the tourist does he shouts louder the second time as if to assume that his volume was going to compensate for the person's illiteracy in the language just because I shout louder doesn't be mean I am being heard more clearly and I'm afraid very often in speaking to those of other religions and other cultures our volume is being used as a substitute for true content and communicating that which needs to be understood I would like to take basically three lessons that I learned from this great Pauline sermon you need to realize ladies and gentlemen that Athens was called the eye of Greece the mother of arts and eloquence there were four people that had come out of there that had changed the world unalterably one of the greatest philosophers who ever lived walked its streets his name was Socrates his best student was Plato Plato's best student was Aristotle Aristotle's best student was Alexander the great for tremendous personalities Socrates Plato Aristotle Alexander the Great and then through the streets of Athens walks this man called Paul who is now going to proclaim the news of Jesus Christ into these Athenian ears please notice that three powerful truths we learned from him and how he communicated in such a hostile and antagonistic audience number one my dear evangelist brother I think you and I need to have this engraved upon our hearts you will never lighten any load until you feel the pressure in your own soul you will never lighten any load until you feel the pressure in your own soul the Bible reminds me that when Paul walked through Athens he was deeply stirred within his heart the words in the Greek really use the concept of being gripped in his intestines his intestinal tract was being gripped when he saw what was happening around him I do not know of any preacher who will accomplish much for the kingdom of God unless he senses this pressure in his own soul when you look at the words of Jeremiah the Prophet he cries out oh my comforter in sorrow my heart is faint within me listen to the try of my people from a land far away oh that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of Tears that I could weep day and night for the for the slain of my people when you read the words of Jesus we are reminded by the Gospel writers that as he walked from city to city preaching and healing and performing his miracles it says he was stirred with compassion as he looked upon the masses as sheep without a shepherd scattered in all of these areas I want to take us one key example to sustain this true the old test prophet by the name of Ezekiel let me demonstrate for you what God was doing in him in order to do something great through him this young man was taken away captive and one day God began to speak to him in visions and his dreams then God said to Ezekiel son of man would you please lie on your left side for 390 days if you were as they killed you would had the same question he did why why do I have to lie on my left side for 390 days and God said because the northern kingdom has gone into captivity and will remain in captivity for 390 years Ezekiel I want you to lie on your left side one day symbolizing one year of captivity after he had finished that experience God comes and says to him I have some good news for you the good news is you can now get up the bad news is would you please flip over to your right side so Ezekiel moves over to his right side and then God says to him now you're going to symbolize the captivity of the south what do you think was Ezekiel first question how long is the south going to be in captivity 4 and God said thrilling news for you 40 years lie on your right side for forty days one day symbolizing one year of captivity after that was over God said to him take a razor and shave your head completely bald take the hair in front of you divide it into three Lots chop up the first scattered a second into the wind and take the third part of it and toss it into the flames before you do it take a fraction from each of these portions tie it at the hem of your garment Ezekiel said why do you want me to do this Lord God said because a third of my people are going to be killed by the sword a second group of them are going to be scattered to the uttermost parts of the earth a third group of them are going to be tossed into the flames to be burnt a burnt by fire the fire of the enemy take a fraction tie it at the hem to symbolize our remnant from each of these three groups then God said to Ezekiel would you please bore a huge hole in one of the walls of your home I don't know of any woman who would have wanted to be married to this man bore a big hole in the a in one of the walls of your home Ezekiel said why at an unearthly hour you will be dragged out of your beds with a bag over your shoulders some rations in that bag because at an unexpected hour you'll be dragged away into captivity with foods only meeting your bare minimum needs and you will be given foods in foreign lands that you will despise finally he was told to take a frying pan in front of his face put it in front of his face and walk around the city walls a few times and somebody was gonna say to him what are you doing now is zekiel and you are to say to them the siege as if by iron is closing in on you and that those iron bonds and those iron chains are gonna leave you handcuffed when I was first talking to my little girl Sarah who's eight years old about Ezekiel she had a question she said daddy was Ezekiel sleeping on his left side for three hundred and ninety days all the time or only when he was supposed to sleep was he sleeping for three hundred and ninety days 24-hour spans or only during his sleeping hours and I gave her the brilliant answer of most theologians I don't know I said but I'll tell you one thing whether it was 390 into 24 or 390 into six hours at the end of the three hundred and ninety days when he stood up to walk he felt the pain of his message within his bones when he looked into the mirror he sensed his message when he walked around the city walls he sensed his message when he looked at the wall in his home he sensed his message when the man sat at the table to eat he sensed his message when he got up to walk he sensed his message God was in an enduring sense putting that pressure within the soul of this man and my dear fellow evangelist we will never reach the lost of other beliefs until we begin to sense the pressure within their own souls and within our souls too how do we do this my brother Houston so graphically described this he talked of the Khans of seeing and I would like to ask compliment that as I'm sure was playing his mind to the concept of seeing and hearing in proximity the concept of seeing and hearing in the presence of the situation let me illustrate this in 1974 I believe maybe off the mark a little there there was a young woman who moved to the city of New York because she wanted to live in a huge city where you could live with some degree of anonymity so that nobody would know too much about you she was a poor woman young in her early 20s and she was living off the government welfare support system in the part of New York City where she lived there were nearly a thousand people living on every floor it is a massive massive setting of people most of whom are not very well-to-do a few days after her arrival she was mercilessly raped after the woman had been raped through the trauma in her mind she decided to fight the case in court but she was not getting anywhere and she decided to drop charges and was going to go through and give birth to this baby that was born out of this rapacious act on a Wednesday morning she sensed the labor pains in her body on the Wednesday night having checked herself into the hospital she gave birth to that bear illegitimate child Sunday morning or Sunday evening she was discharged from the hospital although she asked the doctor to please keep her for one more day because she only had six dollars in her wallet and would not be able to cash her welfare check till the next day but there were not sufficient rooms in the hospital and so she was discharged she took her baby that was unwell got into a taxi and went to her apartment the taxi fare came to four dollars and the taxi driver didn't let her get down a get off until she gave him a $1 tip this left her with just one dollar separating her from poverty she went into that cold clammy unwarned apartment and with a sick child and a weakened body she endured the night next morning she went to cash her welfare check and she realized the baby was too sick to take out so she the baby lying on the floor there wasn't a stick of furniture in the house she left the baby lying on the floor and when she came back I'm sure some of you have read this to her shock and horror it even caused New Yorkers who are basically immune to most kinds of shock it even caused New Yorkers to be stunned and wonder how in one of the commercial capitals of the world somebody could be so desperately in need when she opened the door of her apartment she looked into her room and found out that her dog that had not been fed for five days had eaten her baby five days that unfed animal had devoured the child do you know following that incident there was stunned silence in the city because by their silence people were speaking volumes finally the silence was broken in words when one of the men in government there said this how can so much go wrong in one life with nobody be alerted enough to know something is wrong how can so much go wrong with nobody be alert and after the fact to know that something is wrong he said why are we licensing taxi drivers who are making a living through coercion where is the social worker when the victim of a rape is giving birth to a baby why are the hospital so overcrowded that we have to discharge people not ready to leave the hospital premises yet and to his questions everybody was only resounding a seconding of the motion there finally one man broke the silence and he said this he said mr. Moynahan do you really know what you're asking us you are asking me why I am not listening to the heart cry of this woman I want you to know something sir I have enough of a struggle in my life coping up with my own heartaches I don't even have sufficient time to hear the heartaches of my immediate and remote families mr. Moynahan if I had to listen to the heart cry of every citizen in the city of New York you may as well ask me to listen to the sound of every blade of grass growing and the heartbeat of every squirrel the noise would be deafening on the other side of silence you may as we'll ask me to listen to the sound of every blade of grass growing he was quoting a well-known poet you may as well ask me to listen to the sound of every blade blade of grass growing and the heartbeat of every squirrel the noise would be deafening on the other side of silence from here my wife and I will be going to India the land of my birth land of my heritage the land to which I owe so much and there are times where I have walked through the streets of Calcutta through the streets of Delhi and I see so much want and I have so much comfort and yet I have to keep reminding myself that the symbolic want in their material possessions is only a small speck of the massive blob of need in their spiritual dilemma you and I need to feel that pressure in our souls that's the first thing I learned from Paul's address at Athens secondly and very importantly ladies and gentlemen Paul rely realizes and communicates this to them as he does to you and me our religious rigorous religion can be conceived and nurtured in ignorance a rigorous religion can be conceived and nurtured in ignorant ignorant man is incurably religious we all know that he paints pictures builds buildings carves out statues writes poems preaches his messages pronounces prayers before solemn occasions and so on and no matter where you go in this world you see religion as a matter of fact dr. East Stanley Jones made a very astute comment having spent most of his life in India he said this in the western part of the world people are asking if there is a God in the eastern part of the world the question people are asking is which God to believe in in the Western world if there is a God in the eastern world which farts to believe in but I want you to listen very carefully so you don't miss read me if you misunderstand what I'm saying now you were to miss the heart of something very important Paul commended the people for their search he commended the people for their search just like Jesus speaking to the woman of the whale he lauded her for some of her good characteristics just like Jesus used it many many times in his personal encounter he commended people for the good that he saw within them one of the fears I have in certain strands of evangelicalism is we sometimes think it is necessary to so humiliate somebody of a different worldview that unless we destroy everything is valuable we cannot preach to him the gospel of Christ that's what some of us believe that's wrong that's categorically wrong you see we need to understand that within the framework of some of their beliefs not everything they believe is wrong the total system may end up being wrong but everything everybody believes this obviously is not wrong certainly the major systems I've studied dr. W Cantwell Smith said this and I consider this very valuable as a professor of the world religions he said this he said if you can make any leading religion of the world look like complete nonsense you can be sure of only one thing you haven't understood it if you can make it look like complete nonsense you can be sure of one thing you haven't understood it now what am I trying to say I am not by any means calling for a joining of religions categorically not nor am i detracting from the uniqueness and the singularity and the exclusive wait took to God through the person of Jesus Christ I am just saying this when you are trying to reach somebody please be sensitive to what it is he holds valuable because there's a very well-known proverb in India it says after you cut off a person's nose there is no point to giving him a rose to smell and you can preach the most you can preach the most eloquent message on the person of Jesus Christ but if you have so cut off the person's nose the sweet aroma of Christ will never come through to him and my point there is very simple see the positive aspects of religion and culture and you as you encounter it and then notice how the Apostle Paul moved in lording their their initial search he does a classic step in evangelism he quotes from their own writers as one of your writers have said what does that do it forces the man to open up within his own assumptions when you quote what I have said when you bring to my mind what I believe and you ask me questions about it you are forcing me to open up within my own assumptions and then I realize I had better get my belief in order let me give you the two perspectives of how diverse and how powerful illustrations can be within cultural frameworks in order to open people up within their own assumptions I'm racing through this so please bear with me here this illustration comes out of India it is a parable which is so powerful a way of communicating truth in that particular illustration the story stole of a young man in one village in love with a girl in another village he was a good man she was an evil woman and he wanted to marry her but she said you don't love me the most in this world there is somebody you love more than me he said who is that she said you loved your mother more than me he says don't be a fool they're two different categories when I marry you you will be the one that I will be wedded to and the story goes on with all of its melodrama in typical eastern parabolic form until it comes to this he says to her what can I do to prove to you you are the number one person in my life she says go and kill your mother take her heart in your hand and bring it to me as a trophy of my victory he goes back home pawn does this in his mind kills his mother takes the heart in his hand he's running across the miles to present it to this girl running through a wilderness area he stumbles and falls and the heart bounces out of his hand he is on all fours looking for that heart he can't find it finally when he does he picks it up and he's trying to piece it together while he's dusting off the his trousers from having taken a spill on the ground there when he starts dusting his trousers he seems to hear a voice coming out of the heart saying son are you hurt son are you hurt there is something so splendidly Easterns about this with all of its aestheticism put side by side with its melodrama and yet the resulting conclusion that the love of a mother can never be silenced not even at the hands of a murderous son move over to the European scene the Algerian philosopher Albert Camus who probably wrote an awful lot about God's non-existence he wrote pages and pages and pages about the meaninglessness of life assuming those writings were meaningful but everything else was meaningless and in one of his short books he wrote a story called the adulterous woman he talks of this man who has a wife living in a village and he says to her why don't you go with me to the big city today she says I really don't like going into big cities I've lived a sheltered life I don't want to go out there he says why don't you come with me I'll take you into a nice hotel sell our diamonds for the day get that business done check into a hotel spend the night and then we'll be back so she goes with him he starts doing his business he says to her you stay at this intersection I'll pick you up at the end of the day suddenly when he is gone her mind becomes a cauldron a container of unholy loves she begins to remember a temptation she'd had as a young girl a lustful temptation now suddenly alone in the big city nobody there to guide her conscience she is able to fulfill this desire looking at all of the men coming in the opposite direction her mind begins to dwell on indulgence but something with the nurses no because you'll be caught something within us as yes I can do it and get away with she yields and goes and does it this way at the end of the day's work she and her husband go back into the have dinner check into the hotel and while she's lying in bed she wonders if she still has the opportunity to yield and this how she does it then her husband is sound asleep she slips out of the covers gets changed goes out into the night indulges in the lust of the desire she'd had comes back to the hotel room gets changed slips under the covers husband is still soundly asleep and then he hears his wife crying and then sobbing uncontrollably and as she bursts out crying he wakes up and says what's the matter and she says nothing just nothing the loneliest moment in life is when you have just experienced that which you thought would deliver the ultimate and it has let you down the loneliest moment in life is when you have just experienced that which you thought would deliver the ultimate and it has let you down and in this push-button crazy advanced societies in which some people live sit down at home and watch the video get into a machine and break all kinds of barriers and move to this dimension in all kinds of experiences just by the pushing of the button the European scene the North American scene has demonstrated at least one thing that man's loneliness and hopelessness is only being heightened as his advances continue to impede upon him but look at the two different worlds in the two different illustrations one the aesthetic one searching for rigorous meaning as emptiness dominates in the in the European illustration here and the search funder cover a kind of a family solidarity continues to dominate in the eastern world here and all I'm saying to you ladies and gentlemen is by the use of illustration by the use of quotation by quoting what people are thinking and reading and talking to themselves you force them to open up within their own assumptions let me give you a vivid example of this in my experience living as a teenager in delhi having listened to a radio program from salon I wrote the words of this song down and I think I'm gonna quote it to you in its entirety it is in my original script but let me just race through it from the canyons of the mind we wonder on and stumble blind way through the often tangled maze of starless nights and sunless days hoping for some kind of clue a road to lead us to the truth but who will answer side by side two people stand together vowing hand in hand that loves embedded in their hearts but soon an empty feeling starts to overwhelm their hollow lives and if they ask the hows and whys who will answer hi upon a distant Hill a young man's lying very still his arms will never hold his child because a bullet running wild has struck him down and now he cries my god oh why oh why who will answer several other verses ensue which I don't have time to give let me give you the chorus it says this if the soul is darkened by a fear it cannot name if the mind is baffled when the rules don't fit the game who will answer who will answer who will answer an American singing it through radio salon coming into my home in Delhi and I knew exactly what he was asking what was he saying why is there so much intellectual confusion as we stumble through philosophies why are our marriages breaking up when our marriage manuals are getting bigger and bigger why does a father die so young when his child still so desperately needs him why is man killing himself with so many push-button toys still to play with why are we still dancing when we are stirring up weapons enough with firepower to turn this world into a massive furnace why are we praying in so many different directions and ceremonies assuming it doesn't matter whom we pray to why do we keep changing the rules of the game if hopelessness is still the ultimate goal number one you'll never lighten the load until you feel the pressure in your own soul number two a rigorous religion can be conceived and nurtured in ignorance because what Paul did was sense what it was they were really doing commending them for it moving them ultimately to the fact that the God they were worshiping was still unknown and finally I've lived through an awful lot here it's a it's a unbelievable a couple and then I moved to my final thought after all this is a supernatural religion we believe so we may as well test it out here number three Christianity is not a religious perspective in Paul it is God's self-disclosure in Jesus Christ Christianity is not a religious perspective and Paul says he it is the self-disclosure of Jesus Christ what I want you to understand is this in my heart this is very important to me ultimately people are not really saying what is the answer ultimately they are saying who is the answer what is it that politicians really say that is different every time a politician runs for elections he says the same lines that the incumbent said when he was trying to gain the office they are basically saying the same thing what it is the people are doing the people are not least really listening to what they are saying maybe they are saying this man will lead us to the promised land they are looking not so much for the what they are looking much more for the who and my simple conclusion in studying acts 17 is clear in the fact that what Paul is doing is taking them from where they are in the limited knowledge they have bringing them ultimately to the point and saying this god you're searching for this unknown God omits all of this darkness I will tell you who he is he is Jesus Christ and I preached this Christ who died for your sins and rose again rose again from the dead the ultimate answer in the world of Aristotle Socrates Plato Alexander the Great and every person in this world the ultimate answer to him is really the person of Jesus Christ please hear me now please hear me people say religions are fundamentally the same and superficially different my proposition is they are superficially the same and fundamentally different superficially the same and fundamentally different what they say about religion we believe about man superficially different mentally the same that's not true of religion it's true of you and me no matter what part of the world we come from and two things always remain the same the need of man and the power of God and so what he really does is goes through his message and ultimately he presents this please follow me now I'll tie this together as he presented this and the person of Jesus Christ he described him in powerful words captured by one great Scottish thinker he says this Jesus was the meekest and the lowliest of all men but he was so austere that that and he was so austere that demons fled from him but he was so meek that little children clung to his presence nobody was so half kind towards sinners as Jesus was nobody spoke more red-hot scorching words about sin he would not break a bruised Reed and his whole life was loved but on one occasion he asked the Pharisees how they expected to escape the condemnation of hell he was a dreamer of dreams and seer of visions but for sheer reality he was much more real than any of the self-styled realists of his time he was a servant of all he washed the disciples feet but when he walked through the temple area there he sent the moneychangers scampering over one another because they'd seen the fury in his eyes he saved others himself he did not save at the last nowhere in history is there such a blending of opposites in one person let me just close with this illustration David Livingstone was born in Blantyre Scotland in 1813 when he was a young boy he prayed marvelous prayers send me anywhere only go with me lay any burden on me only sustain me sever any ties but the ties that bind me to your heart and through it all God said to him lo I'm with you always even unto the end of the age he went into Africa and sent his wife and family back home because of the rugged conditions the next time he saw his wife was after five years but when his wife saw him he had walked into the branch of a tree and walked into the branch of a tree blinding one eye a lion had attacked him and torn his shoulder apart he walked with an awkward walk but after he went back to Africa with his family it was not long after his wife set foot on African soil again as a matter of fact the very day she set foot on African soil diseases began to plague her till he had to bury her there and then he prayed this prayer by her grave my Jesus my king my life my all I again consecrate my life to thee if I can do anything in your service and in your kingdom so is my plea and he said the words of G God came to him lo I'm with you always even unto the end of the age one night a mr. Funt thundering storm he was being carried from village to village on a stretcher because he was so sick finally taken into his little shack and emptied out into his cot there as he was trying to get some sleep and he asks his national brothers please help me onto my knees I need to pray and as he was praying there they left him but they looked into the room five minutes later still on his knees 10 minutes later still on his knees 20 minutes later still on his knees they walked him and shook him by the shoulder because he was so worried they wanted him to get some rest they said juana juana livingston fell over dead he had died exactly the way he had lived in the presence of his Lord how did he do it hearing the voice of the needs of people from other parts of the world sensing the pressure in his soul bridging the gap moving in within their framework he communicated the person and the power of Jesus Christ the early church was as big as you and I are in this auditorium they had greater obstacles than us we've got thousands more to stand with us and the power of God god bless you [Applause]

Michael Martin

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