Jesus Never Said That – 04.11.2018
[Hebrews 1 and John 1:1-7]
I had a history professor in seminary who introduced me to an idea that I wanted to share with you this morning. It’s called the “principle of the pendulum.” Imagine a giant pendulum, sort of like this one [put picture on screen]. Now, on every topic there are often two sides, two extremes on the far left and the far right. Throughout history the modern position of the pendulum is usually a reaction to the teachings of the generation before us. The middle is usually the best answer, the most balanced response, but as time goes on the swings too far to the right, and so it gets pushed back to the left, but then it swings too far to the left, and so it starts to get pushed back to the right. Now my teacher, Professor Papandrea – he used it to talk about arguments in the early church, because it was a history class. But I’ve found it to be true in all areas of my life. The principle of the pendulum, swinging back and forth in our responses, throughout history, searching for truth.
For example, in the early church there was a lot of arguing about Jesus. Who was that Jesus guy? Was he just a man, a good teacher, maybe even a prophet? Or was he divine, was he God, was he supernatural and all powerful? And so you have two sides of the pendulum. People on the left claimed Jesus was not divine, he was just an ordinary guy. For extra history points, that teaching is called Arianism – Jesus is not divine. But then way over on the other side, there was a group called the Gnostics. Gnostics hated the physical world, they pursued only the spiritual world and the most extreme of them denied that Jesus ever had a earthly body, because to them, that’s icky. Now the truth, as best we can describe it, is found somewhere in the middle. Jesus was fully divine, AND fully human. And throughout history you’ll see different groups emphasize one side or the other. The pendulum swings one way, focusing on the divinity, and then it swings back, focusing on the humanity.
Here’s another example – hell. For a long time people in the church would preach about hell with the goal of terrifying people into loving Jesus. The phrase “turn or burn” was very popular. Turn from your sins, or burn for all of eternity in fiery damnation. I can’t really wrap my head around scaring people into love, but that was a very popular teaching, even just 50-60 years ago. And it went way too far, beyond what the bible says. But then the next generation, pushed back and focused on God’s grace and forgiveness. Following Jesus as an act of gratitude for grace instead of fear, and the pendulum swung back. Then it swung too far, and we got into universalism in the last twenty years – saying “there is no hell, the bible was just kidding about that.” And so now, in the modern movement we are starting to see people push back against universalism. We look at the bible and say, “hmmm, it does look like Jesus sort of talked about hell a lot, and he was pretty clear about it. I don’t want to swing all the way back to “turn or burn” but in search of the truth we push it back towards the middle. Do you see the pendulum swinging? And so what we find is that a lot of what we say can be seen as a reaction to the focus of the previous generation. People will ask me, “how come you don’t talk about hell more? And the answer is – because it was done poorly and abused as a teaching for a long time, so we have to be careful with how we approach it. The principle of the pendulum is very helpful in understanding different positions and why they hold them.
Today is the start of a brand new sermon series called Homegrown Heresies: popular lies that have become everyday truths. You see, we live in a country with freedom of religion, and that’s a beautiful thing. We can worship in this place without fear. BUT freedom of religion also means that there’s a lot of false stuff flying around out there. There are a lot of teachings that are wrong. And I’m not talking about those moments when people say, “I have a different opinion than you on a small issue.” And I’m not talking about people from other religions who claim their religion is right and mine is wrong. I’m talking about people who SAY they are Christian, but then they are following teachings that actually go against the Christian faith. This sermon series come from a conviction I have that the truth is worth defending. In this series what we are going to do is examine the weeds that are sprouting in our own backyard. Popular phrases and teachings that some of us have come to accept, but if we look close we will see that they are actually heresy. (If you don’t know, “heresy” is a belief that goes against what the official position of the church is). Every week will take apart one of these phrases – see if these sound familiar: Grace is good people. You Just Have to Believe. God will give me health and wealth. And we will get started today with the phrase, “Jesus never said that.”
Jesus never said that! I hear this all the time when you’re talking about something in the bible. Jesus never said that, that’s in the old Testament. Of if it’s in the New Testament, Jesus didn’t say that – Paul did. I follow Jesus, not Paul. Well, let’s take a look at what the scriptures say. John chapter one starts out, [read v.1]. Now let’s pretend for a second that we have not idea what John is talking about. In the beginning, God was there, and there was this other thing – called the Word. [read v.2]. Alright, so now we have a pronoun. HE. In the beginning, HE was there with God. [read v.3-5]. All things were made through him – he is life, he is light, so whoever HE is, he is a very big deal. [read v.6-8]. A man named John came to tell us about this guy who is the light. By now you’re probably recognizing, we’re talking about Jesus. John the Baptist came and proclaimed the way, John was here to point at Jesus.
Then it talks about Jesus some more, [read v.9-11]. Jesus was Jewish, the jewish leaders killed him, rejected by his own people. [read v.12-14]. By the time we get to verse 14, it’s super obvious that we are talking about Jesus. Verse 15 says John pointed at Jesus, and then it says [read v.16-18]. Verse 18 has a very simple and very important message. Let’s hear it again, [read v.18]. The message here is that Jesus is God. And part of Jesus’ job was to make God known. Here’s a fun piece of trivia. How far do you have to go in the bible to find Jesus? And a lot of people will say, “well he shows up in the New Testament, after the Old Testament. And they’re right – Jesus shows up in bodily form, born on this earth, in the new testament. But the real answer, how far do you have to go in the bible to find Jesus – the real answer is four words. You go four words into the bible and you bump into Jesus. Genesis chapter 1, verse 1 says, “in the beginning, GOD.” There he is. There he is! Jesus is there WITH God.
Now at this point you might be scratching your head a little bit – wait, do we have two Gods? Hang in there, let’s take a look at Hebrews. [read v.1-2]. Long ago, all throughout history God has spoken to his people through prophets, but if you remember that didn’t work out so well. A lot of times people ignored the prophets, and so God sent His son. And now God speaks to us through Jesus. [read v.3]. Again we see it. Jesus is God. What did it say, “the radiance of the glory of God, and the exact imprint of his nature.” Jesus God. The next couple of verses they compare Jesus to the angels and basically we get the same theme: Angels are awesome, Jesus is better. And then listen to verse 8, this is God talking [read it]. talking about the son, talking about Jesus he says, “Your throne O GOD.” We just witnessed God calling Jesus God. And it goes on like that [read v.9-12]. Very, very clearly – all over the bible this fact is concrete: Jesus is God. Then verse 13 finishes up the chapter with the same message. Angels are awesome, Jesus is better.
Now, at this point you might be thinking, “alright, alright, Jesus is God – what is the big deal?” Well, let me tell you a little story about Saint Nicholas. Not the fat guy in a red suit – I mean the historical character the reindeer guy is based on. Saint Nicholas. Nicholas was a Bishop in the church back in the fourth century, and he got invited to the very first ecumenical council of Nicea in 325 AD, which was called by Emperor Constantine. At that meeting this guy Arius got up and said some stuff about how Jesus was not divine. It upset Nicholas so much that he got up and heretic slapped Arius in the face. I don’t understand how the hallmark channel has not made a movie about the time Santa went to jail after he heretic slapped a guy who said Jesus was not God. Actually in the real story the slapping was really terrible. They really did put him in jail, because bishops should not be slapping people they disagree with – and Bishop Nicholas apologized and repented and all that.
Jesus is God. But of course it’s not that simple, right? Jesus is not the SAME as God, but he is God. This was actually one of the most confusing things for people in the early church. They would talk about Jesus, and how he was God, but there’s also God the Father, and Jesus is the son, and then there’s also the Holy Spirit. So early on people would ask, “wait, how many gods do you have?” And we would say – one, one God. So – God the Father. Right, and the son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. So you have three gods? No, one God, 3 parts. And the ancient people would look at Christians and say, “you guys are so weird.” And it would go around and around. The pendulum would swing back and forth until we finally nailed down how to talk about it. And we came up with a teaching called “the trinity.” The Trinity is the idea that God has one essence, one nature, but three distinct persons. There are three parts, God the Father, God the Son – Jesus, and God the Holy Spirit – but they are all one God. They are distinct and separate but they’re the same essence, and so are united. Like a tricycle has three wheels, the trinity is divinity with three parts.
The good news this morning should be super obvious because I’ve said it a thousand times already. Jesus is God. Jesus is God. Jesus is God. I like the way Hebrews puts it, Jesus is the “exact imprint of God’s nature.” Now so far this sermon has been very up here [point to head]. Lots of head knowledge, and deep philosophical arguments. But I promise the reason this is so important is because it affects the practical application. Jesus is God, and the reason that this is such a big deal is that if you get to know Jesus, you are getting to know God. And the more you learn about God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, the better you can understand Jesus the son. The three parts of the trinity are separate and distinct, but they are always on the same team. They never disagree with each other, and growing closer to one means you grow closer to all three. Jesus is God, and if you love Jesus, that will help you better love God. Do you see it? The reason we defend truth, and we reject heresy is that the teachings we believe will affect our lives practically. It will change how we live.
Alright, so let’s move to the practical. There are two big areas where this teaching comes into play. First, Jesus as God affects how we read the bible. People will say, “Jesus never said that, that’s in the Old Testament!” And the response from the trinity is, “yeah Jesus was there in the Old Testament. And if God said it, Jesus is not going to disagree with it. Jesus has the exact imprint of God’s nature. 1 Timothy tells us that all of scripture is God breathed. That the bible is inspired by God. And here’s the important part, if it was inspired by God – it was inspired by Jesus too. People will say, “Jesus never said that, Paul did.” And again the trinity responds, “Yes, Paul said that, and Jesus inspired Paul to do that.” I see this thing in the modern world where people try to take Jesus’ words and set them up as more inspired than the rest of the bible. It’s almost like we’re trying to create a bible rating system, as if these words over here are more godly God’s word than those other God’s words. But if we look at scripture with an understanding of the trinity, we see that all of scripture is inspired by God the Father, and inspired by God the son Jesus, and inspired by the Holy Spirit.
So I want to challenge you – if you look at the bible and you are saying, “well, Jesus never said that” ask yourself – why do you say that. Why do we look at some parts of the bible and say, “Jesus never said that.” Is it possible that we do not like what we read, and we are looking for a way to get rid of it? You see, I have one more pendulum I want to show you. The pendulum on how the bible was written. On one side, some folks think God wrote the bible using human authors like puppets. God took control of those people and wrote his exact words in the bible. That’s not what Christians believe – that’s actually how Muslims look at the Quran, God’s exact words through Muhammad. On one side of the bible you’ve got puppet authors. On the other side, you have the bible as a collection of human stories, written by people, not inspired by God. A collection of nice books. Neither extreme is how Christians look at the bible. We believe the bible is inspired by God, written by humans. That’s why we have bible STUDY. We know the book was written for specific people in a certain time in history, and so we look at things like context and language to figure out what they meant and what God wanted us to learn. I think a long time ago, people used to think “puppet author” position. They used to be over on this side, and say “It’s God’s word, don’t think about it too much.” But more recently we’ve swung the pendulum all the way over here where we emphasis the human collection of stories, and we lost God’s inspiration. And so with this teaching about Jesus, I’m trying to pull us back to the middle – inspired by God, written by humans. So the first application is understanding Jesus as God affects the way we read the bible.
The second piece and the last thing I’m going to say today is that if Jesus is God, then when you get to know Jesus, you are getting to know God. So the practical application is take a step closer to Jesus, and you will take a step closer to God. If you want to learn about how God wants humans to act – study the life and teachings of Jesus. Grow closer to Jesus and you will grow closer to God.
The truth is worth protecting. Sometimes it can be complicated and make my head hurt – but if we want to cling to the truth we need to trim the weeds of homegrown heresy that sprout up in our garden. Jesus is so clearly God the Son and that means if you grow closer to Jesus you can grow closer to God. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you find the center of the pendulum swing. May you seek truth with all your heart and cling to it with all your might. May you love God with all your heart – God the Father, God the son Jesus, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.