By Josh Buice
In late July, I traveled through Europe on a Reformation tour with Ligonier ministries on the Rhine River. Through the tour, we visited several different key locations from church history – all centered on the Reformation. As we departed from each city, it was apparent that there remains a need for the Reformation to continue in our present day. Likewise there was the constant reminder of what religion without hope looks like in places and contexts far from home.
In the city of Cologne, Germany stands a massive cathedral that transcends over 500 feet upward above the city. Visitors come from all around the world to this historic landmark owned and operated by the Roman Catholic Church. The architecture is overwhelming and as you enter the lofty cathedral, it’s apparent that many people are on a mission to see the celebrated treasure in the heart of the cathedral.
As you walk forward, you can’t help but notice the large golden chest positioned in the front and center of the cathedral. After navigating through the crowd, you can finally move forward enough to get a glimpse of the box more closely. According to the Roman Catholic Church, the golden chest contains the bones of the “three wise men” who came to visit Jesus.
They officially call it The Shrine of the Three Kings. Apparently, they were brought back years ago and laid to rest in the cathedral. Songs and skits have been written about these mysterious men. They are often put on display in nativity scenes. These men bring to mind specific images of three men riding on the backs of camels to find baby Jesus as they were led by the star. Who knew they were buried in Cologne?
My first assessment was that this is nothing more than a good campus fundraiser. It draws crowds on average of 20,000 people per day. And upon second thought, it’s much worse. People are traveling to Cologne to see a golden box that contains the bones of three men who are said to be the magi who visited the Christ child.
Although the cathedral contains many relics and images of Mary, the cathedral has no gospel. It’s a beautiful building that points high into the European sky, but the hope of the gospel is lost inside this massive structure. There is a golden box with dead men inside, but no Christ. Cologne stands in need of the gospel of Jesus.
As I stood in the midst of this majestic cathedral, I watched people make their journey into the building. They dropped their money into the box and lit a candle as they worshipped. I looked onward to see what they were looking to, but the only visible thing that I could see were relics, images, carvings, and statues of saints – especially exalting Mary. At the forefront was the centerpiece of this cathedral – the golden box. John Owen once said: “Trying to be holy from a self-strength, carried on by ways of self-invention, unto the end of a self-righteousness, is the soul and substance of all false religion in the world.”
The gospel is good news because it presents hope to the hopeless. Far above shallow satisfaction provided by relics and golden boxes, the gospel of Christ actually saves sinners. While I don’t believe for a minute that the bones in the golden box are the actual wise men who visited Jesus (not to mention that far more than three men came to visit Jesus), but let’s suppose for a minute that the whole thing is valid. Now what? Does it change the scenario at all? Can a transcendent and historic cathedral with a golden box give hope to guilty sinners?
The clear answer is – no.
We need a religion that provides true hope. We need something more than dead men in a box. That’s why we preach Christ crucified, buried, and resurrected. By extreme contrast, we can travel across the map to a different part of the world where we find an empty tomb with no bones. The very tomb of Christ contains no body. Jesus was raised from the dead after being put to death for guilty sinners. Therein is hope. In this message we find true contentment and genuine satisfaction.
Paul said to the church at Corinth these words: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).
Examine your religion and make sure that you’re not building your eternal hope on a faulty foundation. Cling to Jesus Christ alone and find true hope and satisfaction. Make no mistake on such eternal matters, we need a religion that actually saves. We need a religion of hope. J.C. Ryle writes, “Our hearts are weak. Our sins are many. We need a Redeemer who is able to save completely, and set us free from the wrath to come. We have such a Redeemer in Jesus Christ. He is ‘Mighty God’” (Is. 9:6).
Do you have true hope today?