Description / Transcription
Father in heaven, we pray that You would direct our hearts and our thoughts to the sentiment, the truth, that we have just sung, that Christ the babe is Lord of all. Wherever our minds are right now, focus our attention on Your Word. We may be thinking of presents we opened, of food that we’re going to eat shortly, of festivities yet to have this coming week, of people that we’re looking forward to seeing, perhaps even with sadness upon those we will not see or those who are no longer with us. In all of these thoughts, Lord, would you now give us ears to hear what you have to say from Your Word. We don’t want to waste our time. We are here and so we want to hear from You. We pray that You would give us grace to do so. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Our text this morning comes from 2 Corinthians, chapter 11, in the New Testament towards the back of your Bibles, after the four gospels, then Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians. We’ve been going through this on and off, and now morning and evening, for several months, and Lord willing we’ll be finishing soon. We come this morning to chapter 11.
You’ll say, “Well, this is not much of a Christmas passage,” and it’s on the face of it, but it has everything to do with who the real Jesus is, and that has everything to do with Christmas.
Follow along as I read the first 15 verses of 2 Corinthians chapter 11.
“I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me! For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. Indeed, I consider that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles. Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; indeed, in every way we have made this plain to you in all things.”
“Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached God’s gospel to you free of charge? I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my need. So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way. As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be silenced in the regions of Achaia. And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!”
“And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.”
It is no exaggeration to say that there is nothing more important in all the world, and therefore nothing more important for you this morning, on the day after Christmas, then that you know who the real Jesus is.
Let me start by reading from four different paragraphs as they present four different pictures of Jesus, and I wonder how you would respond to these depictions of Jesus.
Here’s the first. It comes from a book and this man quoted in the book says, “Jesus was a great teacher, a caregiver, a carpenter, a human being, approachable. He was the everyday man who lived among others and understood the trial and tribulations of what it takes to put food on the table, but at the same time he was able to organize groups of people. He was a great leader. Jesus was a voice of peace and hope and inspiration to many people. Jesus had a lot of moral convictions about the goodness of human beings. Instead of seeing darkness in people, he saw goodness. Turn the other cheek. If your brother sins against you, forgive him. He believed in people.”
I wonder what you would make of that sentiment.
Here’s another example, different book, different author, a little more theological: “Jesus is the Son of God the Father and as such inherited powers of Godhood and divinity from His Father, including immortality, the capacity to live forever. Furthermore, Jesus can extend those same attributes and powers to others. While he walked the dusty road to Palestine as a man, he possessed the powers of a God and ministered as one having authority, including powers over the elements and power over life and death.”
A little different.
Here’s a third paragraph, different author, different book. Maybe some of you will recognize this one from a few decades ago: “If you want to find happiness, real deep, forever happiness, then learn more about Jesus Christ. I have referred to him as the greatest possibility thinker who ever lived. To Jesus, every person was a goldmine of undiscovered hidden possibilities. He truly believed that common people can become uncommonly powerful. He knew without a shadow of a doubt that ordinary persons could become extraordinary persons if they could become possibility thinkers. So Jesus made it is his aim to give self-confidence to inferiority-complexed persons. He made it possible for guilt-infected, failure-plagued, problem-swamped persons to start loving themselves and stop hating themselves.”
One more example. Different book, different author. “The Christian faith finds its center in the story of Jesus, not because this is where the problem of God’s anger is solved. Jesus is the core of Christianity because it is through Jesus that we see the fullness of God’s hope for the world. Jesus is the redemption of the creation plan. He shows us what it means to live in partnership with our Creator. He leads us into what it means to be integrated with God. The point of the resurrection was to recalibrate the balance of creation, to bring it all into sync with the agenda of God. The resurrection through Jesus was God showing us the way to live out the agenda of love and life.”
What would you do if you saw those four different paragraphs come across your social media feed? Or you heard them very quickly. Would you immediately think, “Ah, that doesn’t sound right,” or, “No, that sounds pretty close to the Christmas message.” What do you think about the Jesus presented in each of those four paragraphs?
Well, the first one comes from a 30-year-old coffee store manager, quoted in a book I read several years ago. The second one about Jesus inheriting God-like powers from His father comes from a Mormon theologian. The third, about the power of possibility thinking, comes from Robert Schuller’s best-selling book The Be-Happy Attitudes. And the fourth is from a pastor who is a leader in the emergent church.
When we come to 2 Corinthians chapter 11, there’s a lot going on here and a lot we could focus on. Paul’s over-arching argument is again to defend his apostleship against these so-called super apostles. You see that in verse 5. Whether that’s the name Paul’s given to them or that’s the name they’re boasting of for themselves, it’s appropriate because these men came in, they claimed to be on the same terms as Paul, saying the same things, but unlike Paul they didn’t have his weakness, they were trained rhetoricians, they were skilled in their speech. They came with great power, Paul had great weakness. They were super apostles.
So the over-arching argument in these 15 verses, and it continues into the passage that Alberto will cover tonight, is Paul speaking sort of as a fool to defend himself against the fools who are claiming that his apostleship is somehow lacking.
But I want us to notice is in particular verse 4. That’s going to be our focus. “For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaim, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different Gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.”
As Paul says at the end of the passage, “Satan loves to masquerade as an angel of light.” It would be very simple to avoid Satan and his schemes and his lies if he really did parade around with pitchfork and, you know, red pajamas and horns, and if he was very easy to spot, but of course that wouldn’t make him very deceptive. He masquerades as an angel of light so that people say, “Wow, look at the brilliance, look at the power, look at the glory, the beauty.”
Well, in the same way, these false apostles, these false teachers, masquerade as an angel of light, and we must be on our guard. The New Testament is full of rebukes to false teachers, full of warnings to avoid false teaching, not fall prey to their message. As unpopular as it may seem, that means there are very rigid boundaries to the Christian faith.
Now, it’s true there are some things Christians fight over that aren’t worth fighting over. And then there are hills that are actually worth dying on and there are walls that actually protect and preserve everyone inside.
Just like if you’re driving through some mountain pass and you see guardrails on the side, hopefully you don’t curse the guardrails, “Well, this is really cramping my style.” You say, “Thankfully someone saw fit to protect me and keep me safe.”
And so it is with this message, this Jesus, this Gospel that Paul preached, and he says there are some even in your midst, Corinth, who are preaching a different Jesus and a different Gospel.
God wants to equip us to determine what is true and what is false. That’s why I said this doesn’t sound like much of a Christmas message, but what is more important the day after Christmas then that you be able to tell the real Jesus from a false Jesus.
I want us to look at this process in three steps. First we must establish the right categories. Second, we must see what is at stake. And third, we must cultivate biblical discernment.
First. We must establish the right categories. Again, some differences among Christians are important, some are unimportant. Even among the ones that are important, we don’t think that every Christian who disagrees with, say, how to understand baptism or how to understand the millennial reign of Christ, we don’t say that the differences there are tantamount to false teachers who are in danger of hell. Not every difference, or even as we might see them every mistake, is on the level of sort of heresy. So set that aside as an important qualification.
And yet, if we are to be true to the Bible itself, we must establish these categories. There are some teachers who are not just different, but are false. And there are some teachings that are not just of a different opinion or your truth and my truth, but are actually doing the work of the devil. And that’s what we find here.
Look at verses 13 through 15. Look at how deeply mistaken these false teachers are. Paul calls them false apostles. Deceitful workmen. Disguising themselves as apostles of Christ, just like Satan. It’s no surprise, verse 15, that they would disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.
One of the things we don’t know in this passage is whether the false apostles knew they were false apostles. Perhaps they were infiltrating and trying to make money by charging for their services probably, maybe they understood, “We don’t really believe this but we’re going in and we’re trying to make a buck.” Or, as is more often the case, they may have been very convinced in their own mind that they were doing the work of God when actually they were doing the work of the devil.
Jesus says this very same thing in the Sermon on the Mount: Some of you will say to Me on that last day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name? Didn’t we cast out demons in Your name?” and Jesus will say, “Depart from Me. I never knew you.” That’s a sobering thought. Sobering for me as a preacher, sobering for all of us, that there will be people on the last day who get ready and they brush themselves off and they stand up straight, ready to receive their commendation, “Jesus, I cast out demons in Your name. I taught in Your name. I wrote books in Your name. I wrote articles in Your name. I raised children in Your name” and Jesus will say, “You didn’t. You didn’t. Depart from Me.”
So whether these men knew it or not, Paul knows who they are. They’re false.
Look at verse 4. We don’t know exactly what they were saying that amounted to another Jesus, a different spirit, and a different gospel. What was the other gospel? It may have been that there was some of Judaising influences. Back in chapter 3, verse 3, refers to the tablets of stone and the letter that kills, thinking of the Law. Not that the Law written on the 10 commandments was bad, but that by itself it could not bring light, so maybe part of the false gospel was insisting upon all of the Jewish observances, or some thought that you must be obedient to these things in order to achieve your relationship with God.
Maybe the gospel was false because it was a gospel of personal prosperity and power. The false apostles said, “If you believe this good news, you won’t have to suffer. You won’t get sick. Everything will go your way.”
We don’t know exactly, but it was not the real Gospel.
And it was not the same spirit. You see that in the middle of verse 4 – “You receive a different spirit.” Again, we don’t know exactly what this was. Is it different spirit, lower case? That is a different kind of ethos? Or is different Spirit and it should be capitalized? Maybe they insisted that blessing could come from the law instead of the Spirit of God, or maybe it was a spirit that they said would give ecstatic visions and they were more interested in the grand experiences of faith rather than the plodding faithfulness and holiness. It was a different spirit to their work.
And it was a different Jesus. Perhaps it was a Jesus who had no weakness, no humiliation. Maybe it was a Jesus without moral demands, one that could look the other way with their sexual immorality. Maybe it was a Jesus that they didn’t believe actually came in the flesh. Maybe that’s why Paul is so emphasizing in this passage Christ, He’s Christ, He’s not just an ordinary man.
Or maybe it was a different Jesus because it was simply an empty mantra to cloak whatever they were peddling for their own selfish desires. It certainly wouldn’t have been the first time or the last time that people understood if I just come with a lot of Jesus talk, people are going to listen. People like Jesus talk. People will give money for Jesus talk. People will buy trinkets of Jesus. So whatever it is, I just give them a Jesus.
The important part for us, even if we don’t know in detail what made a different gospel, a different spirit, and a different Jesus, is that we establish this category. We cannot automatically join hands with everyone who loves Jesus. Now, if we could know for certain they really truly love the real Jesus, but this is where it takes so much discernment.
There are people all over Charlotte, all over this country, all over the world, they will talk on and on about Jesus, sing songs to Jesus, freely confess Jesus, write books about Jesus, and in reality it’s a different Jesus.
Sometimes people will say, “Look, as long as we all love Jesus,” but that has never served the Church well. You think at the Council of Nicaea where you had some people saying, “Well, the Son of God is like the Father” and the Orthodox party said, “No, He’s actually of the same essence with the Father.” You imagine people were saying in the middle, “Well, as long as we all love Jesus, as long as we all read the same Bible, as long as we all sing songs to Jesus.”
But they understood the Jesus that you’re proclaiming and claim to be worshiping is not the Jesus of Scripture. It’s a different Jesus.
These false teachers in Corinth, no doubt they got some things right. Again, Satan is an angel of light. If he got everything wrong, that’s easy. If the false teachers get everything wrong on the theology test, if they’re not correcting something that, well, that’s kind of a good point, that sort of needs correction. If they got a zero on their theology test and they got a zero on their morality, nobody follows them. But if, wow, they kind of are emphasizing some important things and they’re getting some things true and well, they’re sort of nice people, or they have some things to show for themselves, that’s what makes false teaching so deadly. Whatever they have gotten right, what they have gotten wrong made their Jesus a different Jesus.
Now we’ll come back at the end to talk about some ways in which we can get Jesus wrong, but what I want you to see here at the beginning in this first step is at least to have this category, because there’s lots of Christians and lots of churches, they don’t have any categories like this. They just read stuff, “Hey, they’re talking about Jesus, that sounds good.” And if people come along and say, “Ah, I don’t think that’s right,” they say, “Well, aren’t you unloving.”
Well, Paul says, “No, no, no. You can have the Gospel and a different gospel. Spirit, different spirit. Jesus or a different Jesus.”
We have to establish the right categories.
Here’s the second step. We must see what is at stake.
There’s a lot at stake. Again, these are not secondary, tertiary theological issues which are very important, but Christians could still disagree on them.
Look at verse 2 – “I feel,” Paul says, “a divine jealousy for you since I betrothed you to one husband to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.” Paul is liking himself to their earthly father and here the Corinthian church, you’re the bride and I’m trying to present you to the groom, Jesus Christ, and you were pure, you were a virgin bride, and now you’re in danger of becoming tainted, tainted with your false gospel, tainted with a lack of obedience, tainted with another Jesus. The Church is a bride eagerly anticipating her marriage to Christ, and these outsiders, Paul said, have come in. They’re would-be suitors, they’re other boyfriends, they’re coming and they’re trying to woo her away to someone else.
No, this is not another opinion. This is another gospel, and Paul wants to keep the Church pure for Christ and here come in these other suitors to despoil the bride, to turn the Church into an adulterer. That’s what’s at stake.
And look at verse 3 – “I’m afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”
The serpent in the garden was cunning. It’s the only characteristic mentioned of the snake in the garden is that he was craftier than all the other animals. He was smart, shrewd. He’s a deceiver, after all, and he deceives with words. He doesn’t come to you and say, “God’s stupid. Don’t listen to him.” “Mm, okay. That, nope, not gonna buy that book.” You don’t buy the book that’s entitled God’s Stupid. Okay? At least not church people, that’s not go and, you don’t buy the book that says Why You Shouldn’t Like Jesus. Okay? Maybe non-Christian, but church people, no, they don’t buy that. That’s easy.
But that’s not how Satan operates. He comes craftily. He comes under the guise of academics, or pop culture, or relevance, or even under the guise of religion. He’s cunning. His goal is to make us into spiritual adulterers, to lose our spiritual virginity, to lead us away from a pure devotion to Christ.
Look at what Paul says at the end of verse 4 – “You put up with it readily enough.” This is important for us. The church at Corinth, they were not yet false teachers. No, false teachers, false prophets, had come in, claimed to be on the same team with Paul, Paul says, “Uh uh, I don’t know them. We’re not of the same team.” The problem was that Corinth was in this in-between stage and they were putting up with the false teaching.
Paul wants to say to them, “Don’t invite them in.” He might say to us, “Don’t buy their books. Don’t let them preach. Don’t go to their conferences. Don’t put a like on there, don’t put a heart on their social media posts. You may not be saying these things yet, but you’re putting up with them. You’re encouraging it. You’re giving them an audience, a platform. And the stakes could not be higher.”
You see at the end of verse 15 – “For the false teachers, their end will correspond to their deeds.” They are disguising themselves like Satan as servants of righteousness when they’re actually doing the devil’s work. Now that sounds like crazy talk. Who talks that way? You’re telling me there are people who profess to be Christians and they talk about how much they love Jesus, and actually they’re doing the work of the devil? How dare you.
Well, that’s how the Bible talks. Again, we don’t throw it around every time we disagree with someone. But we must have this category, and we must realize all that is at stake. Some quote/unquote Christian teachers in the world are actually servants of Satan. To follow them is to risk damnation because they themselves will face that end. Their end corresponds to their deeds.
The point is, false teachers will not be obvious. They will look like one of the good guys. Maybe nice looking, maybe friendly, maybe they’ve accomplished much, maybe they’re very winsome, maybe they’re funny, maybe they have many degrees, maybe they’re very knowledgeable, maybe their presentation is attractive. Maybe they say the very things that you were eager to hear. Maybe they boast of great popularity, great numbers. But we must be on our guard. The most deadly poison is served in a golden cup. Ah, that looks good, and you drink it all the way down.
Which leads us to our third step – we must cultivate then biblical discernment.
Discernment is a lost virtue and sometimes it has come under repute. There are so-called “discernment” blogs which sometimes are discerning and sometimes just traffic in rumors and slander and never try to really deal with opponents fairly. That’s not what we’re after.
Discernment, biblical discernment, is something else. To instinctively take the side of your tribe, whatever your tribe is, whether your tribe is a political party or a skin color or whatever your team, whatever jersey you feel like you wear, that’s easy, just instinctively take the side of our tribe. Instinctively hating the other guys, that’s easy.
Lots of studies have shown this in our very polarized times. What motivates people is not so much a love for any particular ideas as it is a great disdain and hatred for the other team. It’s a negative polarization. If they’re for it, we know our side is against it. That’s easy.
To simply follow teachers who seem to be sincere, who have degrees and credentials, well, that’s very easy, too.
Cultivating biblical discernment, that’s hard.
I’ve said a number of times to my own kids and hopefully I’ve said here before, it’s one of the dangers of sending kids to Christian schools if they’re no longer Christian, or Christian schools that have a mix; not that you couldn’t send your kids, but they have to be very discerning. It’s one thing you send your kids off and there’s no pretense, nobody expects that you go to, you know, whatever big U is and that you’re going to get Jesus. No, you just know to be on your guard. And then there’s the schools that are caught halfway in between and the teachers pray before classes and they’re very nice and they go to church, and all the while they are teaching what is false, what undermines the faith that you have tried to instill in your children. That takes biblical discernment.
So how do we tell true from false? Sometimes we can tell by their lives. 1 Timothy 4:16 – Keep a close watch on your life and doctrine.
There was a certain element to that in Corinth. They were boasting of their credentials, but remember these credentials seemed important. They didn’t just come in and boast about how fast they could run or how high they could jump or how much money they had. They weren’t bragging about things that seemed unimportant. They were telling them things that they cared about, their credentials, their skills, the sort of things that made them people worth listening to. They offer them as proof of their apostleship.
So sometimes you can look to a person’s life, but sometimes the person’s life is hidden from us and we don’t know what they’re really like from a distance. More important than discerning by character is discerning by the actual message that is preached. Now you say, “Really? Is that more important, the teaching rather than the life? Surely, it’s more important the kind of life that they’re living.”
Well, no, and here’s why. Philippians chapter 1, Paul says there are some who are going around out of selfishness, rivalry, and ambition and they’re preaching Christ. Because Paul’s in jail. And they’re doing so to make Paul look bad, or to prove that they can one up Paul. And you know what Paul says? Well, I praise God that they’re preaching Christ.
Now he’s not excusing their bad motives, their sinful hearts, their rivalry, their ambition. But Paul says they’re the opposite of what many of us think. We tend to think sincerity is the measure of truth, “Well, they really were sincere.” Paul says, “They weren’t sincere, but they were saying what is true.” Truth is another measure of truth. Obviously you want sincerity and truth, but in that case, Paul said, “If I have to have one or the other, at least they’re saying what is true.”
Paul here among the Corinthians was not the orator that they wanted. Now it doesn’t mean he was unskilled or without gifts, but he didn’t have the skills that were in demand.
Look at verse 6: “Even if I am unskilled in speaking.” You know what that word is in Greek? Even if I am “idiotes.” You can hear our English word “idiot.” “Even if I am idiotes to logo.” That’s what it says in the Greek. “Even if I am unskilled in speech,” even if I’m untrained, even if I’m not what they want, Paul says, “Okay, I don’t have that. I’m not charging exorbitant fees.” And we know from elsewhere that Paul says a worker is worth his wages, don’t muzzle the ox while he’s treading out the corn. So Paul is not opposed to people who preach the Gospel to make a living by the preaching of the Gospel, and I thank you that I’m able to do that.
But he says, for his particular call, he wouldn’t receive any payment because he didn’t want to take away that boast, to be able to tell them, “I am doing this entirely out of love for you.”
So he wasn’t the sort of speaker that they wanted. He says, “Okay, I don’t have the training that you want. I’m not the orator that they culture loves.” And part of what they wanted, they wanted the speaker to itch their ears, to say what they wanted to hear. That’s the way they thought about it. In Greek rhetoric you were trained to persuade your audience no matter the subject. The content was not so important. You could speak about almost anything. It was kind of a show. It was about the art and the craft of persuasion that mattered. Could you get up and make a persuasive case for whatever it was.
The point was to impress them with delivery, in oratory, to string together flowery phrases. People would be impressed with your learning, your vocabulary, your power. In a nutshell, in Greek oratory, the audience was sovereign. They were the ones who paid you. They were the ones who judged how you did. Your job was to impress and entertain them.
It’s not completely unlike a rock concert today. The idea is the people like your songs. They’re standing up and they’re singing to your songs. They want to come again and they want to pay money because they love your music. That’s what you do.
And Paul says preaching the Gospel is not like that. The audience is not sovereign when it comes to the Gospel. Content is king.
So though he may be unskilled, verse 6, he says, “I’m not unskilled in knowledge. That is, I may not have the manner that you want, but I have the truth that you need.” He gets the Gospel right. He gets Jesus right. And that’s what’s most important.
Everybody, virtually everybody, in this country likes Jesus. It’s true. Jesus shows up all the time – movies, television specials, documentaries, every Christmas and Easter, He’s on the cover of Newsweek and Time if they still make those things or whatever is in the checkout line. He shows up in mainstream music. You can shop at the mall during the Christmas season and hear the Christmas songs. You can watch It’s a Wonderful Life and they’re going to sing Hark the Herald at the end of it.
If you put Jesus into a Google search, you get 1.33 billion results. There’s a lot out there about Jesus. If you put Jesus into your Amazon search, you get 90,000 results. You can buy Jesus books, DVDs, jewelry, t-shirts, action figures, bobble heads, Halloween costumes, posters, calendars, artwork, Jesus dolls. Jesus is everywhere.
But is the Jesus everyone likes the Jesus that the apostles proclaimed? Or is He another Jesus?
I wonder if you’ve encountered some of these other Jesuses, and each one of these has, many of them have some element of truth, but by themselves they’re not the real Jesus.
The Jesus who’s nothing but a therapist. He helps us cope with life’s problems. He heals your past. He tells you how valuable you are. Tells you not to be hard on yourself.
The open-minded Jesus, loves everyone all the time. He just wants you to live out your truth.
Friendship Jesus. He wants to have a personal relationship with you. But He’s not going to force Himself on you as Lord. He’s not going to tell you that you need to be saved from your sins. He just wants to be your friend.
Touchdown Jesus. He helps athletes run faster, jump higher than non-Christian athletes apparently. He fixes scores. He never loses at Fantasy football.
Life coach Jesus. He’ll help you become your best self. He’ll teach you practical skills and guide you through tough decisions.
Many people have nothing more than a martyr Jesus. He’s a good man. He died a cruel death and we can feel sorry for Him and we can follow His example by living true to our own ideals.
Or spirituality Jesus. He hates religion. He doesn’t like churches or pastors or doctrine and He wants people out in nature and find the god within.
Many people have a platitude Jesus. Good for Christmas specials, greeting cards, bad sermons. He inspires people to believe in themselves, lifts them up so they can walk on mountains. Helps us handle stress in the holidays.
Then there’s revolutionary Jesus. Teaches us how to overthrow the system, replace it with something maybe from Karl Marx.
There’s a guru Jesus many people have. He’s wise, inspirational, helps you find inner peace, sends you out into the woods.
A macho Jesus. He’s got no time for sissies. He knows how to own the libs. He stands ready to bomb the bad guys.
Or what about a prosperity Jesus? Who will bless you with fulfillment and happiness and wealth and he’ll make all your dreams come true?
Positive-thinking Jesus. He’ll help you slay the Goliaths in your life, overcome every obstacle, turn your scars into stars.
Some of you maybe have a businessman Jesus. You follow His principles, He’ll help you close the sale. Lead people, manage your time. Make friends and influence people.
And maybe most common of all is good example of Jesus. He’ll show you the best way to live, give you good advice, model perfect integration with our Creator. Just tell you how to go out and live the Jesus way.
And then there’s the Apostle Paul – “When I came to Corinth, I desired to know nothing among you except for Christ and Him crucified, for we preach Christ crucified, dead, buried, raised, some of the living God, an atoning sacrifice for sin, a stumbling block to Jews, folly to the Gentiles.” That was the Jesus that Paul preached.
How can you tell the real Jesus from another Jesus? Here’s a few phrases, maybe you jot them down.
The false Jesus, here’s how you can tell: If Jesus is less than God, less than man.
If the Jesus has only law or only license.
If the Jesus has no sin, so suffering, no substitution.
Now it’d be a whole other sermon, and I’ll let you know I’m not going to give you that whole other sermon to unpack each of those of seven phrases, but I think it does a fairly good job of summarizing in helping us discern the true apostolic preaching of Jesus with a false counterpart.
Is your Jesus less than God?
2 Corinthians 4:4 – Paul said the light of the Gospel, the glory of Christ, is the image of God. He says to the Romans that by raising Jesus from the dead, He testified that He is the Son of God.
If your Jesus is less than fully God, that’s another Jesus.
Or if He’s less than man.
2 Corinthians 5:16 – Do not regard Christ according to the flesh.
The true Jesus can lay a hand on us both. If your Jesus is not a full human being, that’s another Jesus.
Or if your Jesus only has law.
2 Corinthians 3:6 – The letter kills but the Spirit gives life.
That is, your Jesus is only telling you, “Look what you’ve done, you’re a bad do. Look what you did. Do better.” Whether that “do better” message comes from the right, “Stop having sex with people you shouldn’t have sex with, don’t go to those movies, you need to do better,” or from the left, “Don’t you see how you need to recycle more? You need to work for peace. You need to overthrow the system.” It’s all a message of law, just telling you what you must do. That’s not the real Jesus.
Or conversely, if your Jesus is only license.
2 Corinthians 7:1 – Cleanse yourself from every defilement.
If your Jesus is indifferent to sin, He never tells you to mortify your desires, He never is insistent upon obedience… That’s not the real Jesus.
Only law, only license. No sin. That is to say, if your Jesus never calls you to repentance, if the Jesus that you believe in says, “You and I have some other fundamental problem other than sin; it’s your schools, it’s your parents, it’s your society, it’s your skin color, it’s something else is your fundamental problem, not sin,” that’s another Jesus.
2 Corinthians 7:9 – Paul says you are grieved with a godly grief into repentance.
No sin. No suffering. That is to say, if your Jesus doesn’t allow for human weakness, if there’s no cross to carry, if there’s no realism about the human condition and human experience, if your Jesus promises that you always go from strength to strength and all of your dreams come true, that’s not the real Jesus. Paul says I will boast of the things that show my weakness, chapter 11:29.
And if your Jesus has no substitution, that is, if He is not a substitute for sinners on the cross, if that is not front and center, it’s another Jesus.
Be reconciled to God, Paul says in chapter 5, for our sake He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.
That great exchange. He is our substitute. Our sin upon Him, His righteousness imputed to us. Is your Jesus a Savior for something other than sin? Does your Jesus lead you to make much of the cross? Does He point you to your sin and then exalt Himself as the only Savior and substitute?
I’ve been reading in my quiet times a collection of sermons and messages from some of the pastors and theologians from the old Princeton tradition and this was one from Ashbel Green from 1825 and it still is relevant today. The sermon was entitled “Christ Crucified – The Chief Characteristic of Apostolic Preaching.” He says this: “As society advances in what is called refinement, there is always an increase of danger that the plain truths of the Gospel will be refined away. Or in a measure kept back or disguised by those whose sacred office it is to proclaim them faithfully. Of this danger, the whole history of the Church gives us solemn warning as learning, taste, elegance, wealth, and luxury are making progress in our country,” he said that in 1825, “who shall say that they will not disadvantageously affect the preaching of the Gospel among us as they have done among others.”
His point is this: The preaching that saves people, the preaching that brings revival, the preaching that God uses to build His Church, not just a following, anyone can do that, but to build His Church is the preaching of the cross of Christ. Jesus Christ as a Savior for sinners.
Do you and I know the real Jesus? You’re here, probably because you like Jesus, or someone you like likes Jesus and you like them enough to come and be here this morning. Do you know and understand who Jesus is? Do the books we read, the Christian books we read, the ones that we take on… Certainly you read all sorts of things to learn and I read lots of things I don’t agree with, but the songs we sing, the books we read and love, do they affirm this Jesus? Not just in a footnote, not just in a technicality, not just in a statement of faith in an attic somewhere, but they glory in it.
This Jesus, God and man. This Jesus who forgives sinners and calls us to righteousness. This Jesus who summons us to repent. This Jesus who calls us to carry our cross. This Jesus who died on the cross for sinners like us. Is that your Jesus? Because that’s the Jesus of the Bible, and the Jesus of history, and the Jesus of Christmas, the Jesus that Paul preached, and it’s the only Jesus that saves.
Let’s pray. Our Father in heaven, may we never fall prey to another Jesus other than the one that was proclaimed and preached by the apostles. May we not receive another spirit. May we not put up with another gospel. But as You have seen fit in Your providence and Your kindness to proclaim to us the real Jesus, may we walk in this truth – love Him, serve Him, worship Him, and know His grace all the days of our lives. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.