The "Jesus" the World Loves

Saturday, February 21, 2009

What do you think of Jesus? That's a question I've asked at times to engage non-Christians in conversation about Him for the purpose of witnessing. A fairly typical response used to be that He was a religious teacher who did a lot of good, said many good things, and they usually concluded with a belief that He was a very good man. I then could ask, "Did you know that He claimed to be God?" When looks of puzzlement followed, I would explain that He couldn't be just a "very good man." In claiming to be God, He was either self-deluded or an outright fraud--that is, unless He was telling the truth. More often than not, that thought, raising the issue of being accountable to God, would bring our conversation to an awkward end. At least it had provided the opportunity to plant some seeds that I hoped would grow into conviction. Most people aren't comfortable with the truth about Jesus.

Those who profess to be Christians quite often have ideas about Jesus that are just as wrong as those people who are not Christians. For example, Jehovah's Witnesses believe that Jesus is a created god and that He is also Michael the Archangel. Mormons believe Jesus is the spirit brother of Lucifer and that He was married and had children. The followers of Christian Science and the Religious Science religions believe that Jesus was simply a man upon whom the "Christ empowerment" came. Roman Catholics believe that the bread and wine of the Eucharist can be transubstantiated, or changed, into the literal body and blood of Jesus, who is then ingested into one's stomach. Lutherans believe that Jesus is consubstantiated, or present, "in, with, and under" the bread and wine of communion. Such unbiblical beliefs are a mere handful among hundreds promoted by various Christian denominations and cults. Yet what is even more appalling is that an inquiry about Jesus today among those who call themselves evangelicals (Bible-believing Christians!) too often reveals "another Jesus" and a "false Christ." How does that happen?

Let's start with how one comes to a true knowledge of, and relationship with, Jesus Christ. It begins with a simple understanding of the gospel -1) that Jesus is God, -2) who became a Man -3) in order to save mankind from everlasting separation from God -4) that resulted from man's sin. -5) Jesus satisfied the perfect justice of God -6) by His once-and-for-all payment for the sins of humanity -7) through His death on the Cross. -8) His resurrection from the dead -9) assures the salvation of all those who acknowledge before God their sin -10) and their hopelessness in saving themselves, -11) and who by grace through faith -12) accept Christ's sacrifice on their behalf -13) and His free gift of eternal life. ) -14) This is how one is reconciled to God -15) and born again spiritually. -16) This is how one's relationship with the biblical Jesus Christ -17) begins.

Although that relationship is supernatural in that every true believer in Christ is indwelt by God, -18) it nevertheless progresses, as any good relationship does, by getting to know the person with whom one has a relationship.

The primary way a relationship with Jesus develops is by reading the revelation of Himself given in His Word. This is the only way to obtain specific information about Him that is objective and absolutely true. In addition, not only is the content of Scripture inspired by the Holy Spirit, -19) but that same Spirit of Truth is given to believers to understand that content. -20) How then could those who profess to follow God's Word come up with erroneous ideas about Jesus? Regrettably, many are getting their information about Jesus from sources outside the Bible or second hand from those who claim to be teaching what the Bible says about our Lord.

To demonstrate how ludicrous a relationship dependent upon such sources of knowledge is, consider what might happen to a husband and wife who try to form an intimate relationship with each other by relying on the insights of other people who claim to know them. That's a sure recipe for failure, yet Christians often run to extrabiblical sources for their knowledge of Jesus.

The amazing popularity of the book The Shack among evangelicals is just a recent example of someone depicting a Jesus who is foreign to the Bible and worse. What does the author think about Jesus? He characterizes Him in a way that may make some people feel more comfortable with Him, yet the Jesus of The Shack is clearly a false Christ. He's a "good old boy," who likes to fix things and takes "pleasure in cooking and gardening." He laughs at crude jokes, is a bit of a klutz, engages in trout fishing by chasing one down as He runs on water, carves a coffin for the body of a little girl, and enjoys kissing, hugging, and laughing with the two other members of the "Trinity." The book is filled with dialogue from the characters of God the Father (portrayed as an overweight Afro-American woman), the Holy Spirit (a petite Asian woman), and Jesus. All three speak as the "oracles of God," giving insights and explanations neither found in nor consistent with Scripture. Some enthusiastic readers say the words and interactions with the Godhead have comforted them, answered difficult questions about their faith, and made the person of the Lord seem all the more real to them.

The reality is that out of his own imagination the author has put his words into the mouths of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which are then perceived by multitudes as "thus saith the Lord." This is not only a bogus secondhand source but the arrogance of false prophecy at least and blasphemy and idolatry at worst. It is man, making God in his own fallen image.

More influential among evangelicals than The S
hack is Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, which became a huge box-office success, thanks mostly to evangelical support. Available now as a "definitive edition DVD," it features, for those who want the official Catholic theology of the film explained, a discussion with director Mel Gibson, along with a Catholic apologist and two Catholic priests who were the film's theological consultants. The movie has a false gospel, a false Christ, and is loaded with supposedly biblical scenes from the minds of Gibson and a Catholic nun given to mystical hallucinations. Yet it continues to be used extensively by evangelical churches, especially during Lent and Easter week.

In response to "What do you think of Jesus?" millions who saw the movie now mistakenly believe that He was thrown from a bridge by His captors and dangled from a chain; His image was captured for posterity on the veil of a woman named Veronica; as His cross began to fall, it levitated to keep Him from hitting the ground, and, most contradictory to the gospel, it was the merciless scourging He suffered that paid for the sins of humanity.

These are only a few of the unbiblical images that the world and many in the church have added to their perception of Jesus. Movies are today's most popular form of disseminating superficial information and misinformation. Feature films about Jesus and God have put erroneous ideas about them into the hearts and minds of the masses: Jesus Christ Superstar; The Last Temptation of Christ; Bruce Almighty; The Da Vinci Code; Judas; Oh God!;Oh God, Book II; Jesus of Nazareth, to name but a few.

What about "more biblically accurate" Bible movies--those that take the words directly from Scripture, for example? When you have an actor portraying Jesus who says only the words of Jesus that are found in the Bible, does that make the portrayal more accurate? More accurate than what? Does the actor actually look like Jesus, or talk like Jesus, or reflect the godly demeanor of Jesus? More critically, can he accurately imitate the God-Man, the Creator of the Universe, the One in whom all things consist? Even if he could, which is impossible, it would still be an imitation! Furthermore, he will leave millions, including believers, with an image of a false "Christ."

A few such movies are sincere attempts at communicating the content and stories of the Scriptures through visual media. Although sincere, they are doomed to failure regarding truth. Why? In addition to what was noted above, the Bible is an objective revelation from God given in words. All attempts at visually translating those words abandon objective revelation in favor of subjective interpretation. Take a passage of Scripture, for instance, and have five people give their understanding of the verse based upon the context, the grammatical structure, and the normal meaning of the words. More often than not, the interpretations will be quite similar. Should one of the five come up with something very different, it can be corrected by simply checking it out objectively against the context, grammar, and accepted definitions of the words in the passage. On the other hand, what if five artists were to translate the passage visually? The result would be five very subjective and quite different renderings. Even if only one artist visually translated the verse and four people tried to interpret the image, you would likely have four different views because the medium has no objective criteria comparable to that of words. Are you getting the "picture" here? Imagery is not the way to communicate objective truth.

God did not draw pictures on the tablets He gave to Moses. His continual command to him and to His other prophets was to write down His instructions. Visual imagery was at the heart of pagan worship used by people whose lives centered around idols--the chief by-product being unbridled superstition. The same was true of the medieval Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, who fed their followers images rather than teaching them to read and write (as the Jews had done successfully from the time of Abraham). Even today, superstition continues to be rampant within those visually oriented religious systems.

Where does the world get its ideas about Jesus? Most non-Christians only know what they've picked up from sources they regard as Christian, although rarely is the content biblical. More than a billion Muslims, for example, hold a view of Jesus that Muhammad gleaned from questionable Christians. The Qur'an states that Isa (Jesus) is not the Son of God because Allah has no son. Isa's birth took place under a palm tree, and, while still a babe, he cried out from his cradle that he was a servant of Allah, who had given him a revelation and made him a prophet. He did not die upon the cross; someone took his place--all in contradiction to the Bible.

Many Jews put stock in the alleged Talmudic stories that oppose the gospel accounts. They have been taught that Jesus was an illegitimate child who was born to a harlot and a scoundrel. Declaring himself to be the Messiah, he performed healings by sorcery and consequently was stoned and then hung on a tree for his magic and blasphemy for claiming to be the Son of God.

Hindus have added Jesus as one more avatar, or god, among their 330 million gods. All of their gurus who have become popular in the West--from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi to Rajneesh--preach their own "Jesus." Buddhists, such as the 14th Dalai Lama, regard Jesus as a bodhisattva, or enlightened god, among multitudes of gods reincarnated for the service of humanity.

Incredibly, the above erroneous beliefs about Jesus are fostered within professing Christianity by a popular practice among Emerging Church fellowships. Some invite the followers of the world religions for "conversation" in order to learn more about Jesus from a pluralistic perspective. The goal seems to be to establish a Jesus who is acceptable to people of all faiths--or no faith. A common refrain heard from the Emergent communities is "We love Jesus but not His church." Certainly, as the church has compromised with the world, there is much not to like. Yet sadly, for many, it is neither the biblical Jesus whom they love nor the biblical church that they support. Some are under the delusion that Jesus is becoming more respected in our culture. That has never been the case for the Jesus revealed in Scripture.

It is hard for anyone who has a personal, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ to accept that the world hates Him, this One whom we love so much. It was difficult for me, and I still struggle with that. How could anyone reject the One who loves us more than we could ever comprehend, and whose sacrifice for those He created is so wonderfully unfathomable? Such hatred is often masked and develops progressively and by stealth. It is found in Satan's strategy that began with "Yea, hath God said...?" His dialogue with Eve provided a ripe opportunity to subvert the truth about God and His command. Eve bought the Adversary's lying alteration of God's character and his denial of the consequence of disobedience. Her offspring down through the ages have done likewise.

Yet that reality in the guise of condescension and mockery nearly moved me to despair as I reviewed a particular episode of Fox TV's The Family Guy. The program (presented by the same network that created "Fox Faith" to market movies to Christian families) featured a Jesus character who left heaven to get away from his "nit-picking, overbearing father"; who proves his "deity" by changing meals into ice cream sundaes and enlarging a woman's breasts; who walks on water to fetch a five-dollar bill; who appears on Jay Leno and an MTV award show; who goes Hollywood, gets drunk at a party, and lands in jail, and who comes to the conclusion that he's not mature enough yet to help the world. I immediately searched for protests from Christendom against this Fox TV top-rated program. There were found neither cries of outrage nor weeping for those who blasphemed and ridiculed the only One who could save them. Some Christians offered uneasy rationalizations that Jesus certainly must have a sense of humor. That's the Jesus the world wants.

My mind raced to the Garden of Gethsemane, thinking about our Savior on His knees in prayer before the Father, where in His anguish He sweat as it were great drops of blood. He would become sin for us. Our Creator would take our sins upon Himself and experience the eternal penalty due every soul. Although He would be triumphant in paying for the sins of mankind, He nevertheless cried out to the Father that if there was any other way to save humanity, to let this cup of separation pass. But there was no other way.
I thought of the Lord of Glory hanging upon the cross on Calvary's hill, with the mockers about Him. Yet He died for them--and for those who mock Him still.

Pray that we who truly know Him would not drift from Him because of "another Jesus" conjured up by the world, our own flesh, or the devil. Pray also that the Lord will enable us to reflect the true character of Christ in our words and deeds; that He will help us to show the world the true Jesus, who, being God, came in the likeness of man, was treated as though He were sin itself, and satisfied the divine justice of God by dying upon the Cross, thus providing salvation for all of mankind.

Reminder: The only way to obtain specific information about the LORD JESUS CHRIST that is absolutely true, is by reading the revelation of Himself given in His inspired, inerrant, and preserved Word.