You choose (Joshua 24)

I will not have time to cover the “Is The Matrix A Christian Film?” issue at our baptismal service today.  I showed the first two or three minutes of the film to illustrate the point that we all face the choice between freedom and slavery.  Of whether we live in a “world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth”, or one in which “I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it”.

It’s a gripping moment.  But I need to be careful here for those who know the film well. The world of The Matrix is in the power of an evil force – true. It devours humans, while keeping them distracted with material pleasures – true. And a small band of brave humans know the truth, and seek to free the race from destruction – true.

On the other hand, there are many syncretistic themes:

1.  Neo, "the One," is clearly depicted as a type of saviour, who dies and rises from the dead. Morpheus, is a kind of John the Baptist; a woman is called Trinity; and the camp of freed humans is Zion.  But in the film, salvation means the absolute opposite what it does in traditional Christianity.  For Morpheus, reality is ‘all in your mind’ and this illusion of reality is much closer to Buddhism. Faced with the problem of the world as being an illusion, Nero’s role is much more like that of the Buddha, who is given extraordinary powers to help humanity become enlightened.

2. The Christian view of salvation, as we have seen in the story of Joshua, depends solely on the grace of God. Within the Matrix, those people controlled by the machines have no guilt from which they need to be saved. Their slavery is no fault of theirs. They are therefore unwitting victims of the aggressor computers. Christians believe that salvation is necessary because of real individual guilt caused by sin which prevents us from knowing God. In fact, humans are indeed culpable for their sin!

3. Neo’s death and resurrection are simply not the same as Christ’s death and resurrection. Neo does not die for other humans. He dies only for himself. Neo did not die for the sins of others. His death accomplished nothing for the other people trapped in the Matrix. Neo can only be their example not their saviour.

It may look, at the end of the film, as if Neo evades death, but his "resurrection" is not into a world where death has been overcome by a miraculous divine love, rather, he has been saved by an earthly intervention – a sort of tender CPR – quite within the bounds of physics and chemistry.

And of course, Neo "died" in the artificial world of the Matrix and so he had not died in reality. Christ’s death was for real!

You get the picture!  The Matrix is a cracking film – one of my favourites.  But like most stories, it needs to be treated with care. o think about these issues in more depth, try the essays hidden deep in the Warner Brother site.

Actually, in my view, The Matrix gets things completely upside down!  In The Matrix, normality is seen as a deceptive lie, generated by evil forces. Real reality, the way Neo and the others discover it, is ugly, dirty, and grey. Therefore, Neo and the others must resist the desire to return to the “illusory world of flowers, birdsong, and sizzling steaks. Courageous humans instead must remain resolutely in their muddy realm, wearing their dingy clothes”.

Christians don’t believe that this whole world is deceptive illusion (maya). We believe that it was created good — very good — and filled with the presence of God. "The heavens are telling the glory of God" (Ps 19:1). All creation reveals his presence.

In fact, and this is the point of my sermon, the closer you draw to God, the more the beauty of reality unfolds. The Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards said:

God’s excellency, his wisdom, his purity and love, seemed to appear in everything; in the sun, moon, and stars, in the clouds and blue sky; in the grass, flowers, trees, in the water, and all nature."

Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote

"The world is charged with the grandeur of God; it will flame out like shining from shook foil."

And the Quaker founder George Fox found that, after his conversion, the world smelt different!

The grey world that The Matrix presents as "real" is actually a phony one. "Facing reality" does mean facing grim and unpleasant truths. Our world is not like it is to distract us us from uglier truths, but to awaken in us a desire to know and serve for the one who himself is Truth. But the goal isn’t to live in an ugly world, but see the Kingdom of God break into our present one.  Commitment to Christ is the foundation stone to see world differently.

Commitment is sensible.  It make sense (Jos 24.14a, Rom 12.1-2)

Commitment is exclusive. If the choice is not for God it is between the competing non-gods of this world.  To choose them is be choose to be stupid! (Jos 24.15) 

Commitment is cautious.  We cannot serve God in our own strength. It has to be by his grace and power!  (Luke 14:25-33) 

Cell outline

1. Look back over Joshua 24:1-13. What is the value of recalling history? How could your story be used to have the same impact?

2. What choice or challenge did Joshua put before the people in v 14-15? What choice had Joshua himself made? Why do you think he only gives them two choices?

3. What can we learn here about our power of choice? Is there freewill in choosing Jesus as saviour or does God choose us? What other passages other passages can you think of which confirm this? ( Hints: Genesis 2:16,17; 3:1-7; 1 Corinthians 10:13; Hebrews 4:15; 11:25; 1 Kings 18:21; Psalm 119:30).

4. What can we learn here about parents’ responsibilities in leading their families? (Hints: Proverbs 22:6; Ephesians 6:4; Titus 2:4; Genesis 18:19). How do your family’s commitment to the Lord impact on your other relationships?

5. Why did the people make the choice they did?

6. What does Joshua warn Israel will happen if they fail to worship the Lord?

Going Deeper

1. How do you demonstrate commitment? Why has commitment to a cause become more difficult in the 21st century?

2. Is a commitment to Christ the same as behaving Christianly? How would you differentiate between them?

3. What lesson do you learn from this passage regarding your own household?

4. What will you remember from the whole of this series from Joshua? Are you now more or less like to agree with John Bright that “You simply cannot preach from this book, and you ought not to teach it to children. Shield our gentle ears from violence such as this!”

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