The National Gallery of Victoria this week closed the exhibition by American photographer Andres Serrano following attacks by angry Roman Catholics on one exhibit. This picture, now nine years old, was torn into pieces by angry US Senators in the US Senate eight years ago. It is used in exhibitions by Serrano to attract attention to himself. He is currently in Australia to launch his new exhibition of sex pictures entitled "A History of Sex". His previous exhibitions have been designed to shock with pictures made using blood and semen, and images from a mortuary. He said "First and foremost I try to get people's attention." What has worked for him is a picture of a crucifix representing Christ lying in a pool of his own urine, called "Piss Christ".
Serrano upsets believers who are soft targets. He does not have the courage to portray Moses in urine or Muhammad in pigs' blood, or Hindus eating cows, or lesbians as paedophiles. Instead he offends Christians who will not retaliate violently. If he wants controversy why not emulate Salman Rushdie? But no - he decided merely to "piss Christ". This expression is offensive and I would not use it, except it has become common among many today.
1. IT HAS BECOME POPULAR TO PISS CHRIST.
1. THIS IS TRUE AMONG MEDIA PEOPLE. Television producers have tried to cash in on the public's demand to know more about Jesus. ABCTV is currently screening a series criticising our belief "Jesus: The God". Recently SBSTV presented a TV series "Jesus: the Evidence" which failed to produce any, and ABCTV presented Dr Barbara Theiring in "The Riddle of the Dead Sea Scrolls" which untangled no riddles.
Film makers, in films like the "Last Temptation of Christ", "Jesus Montreal", "Jesus Christ Superstar" and many others criticise and demean Christian beliefs. Journalists like Robert Maclin in "The Secret Life of Jesus" sensationalised aspects of history for commercial gain. A. N. Wilson, the British author concludes Jesus was not a carpenter, and not the Son of God. Jesus was crucified to prevent a political uprising. There was no resurrection as his followers stole His body away.
2. SADLY THEOLOGIANS ALSO PISS CHRIST. The way they abuse the scriptural record and denigrate Christ is not better than that of the artist. Dr Barbara Theiring claims Jesus was conceived while Mary was engaged to be married and so He was illegitimate. Jesus survived a bungled execution. His loyal followers helped Him escape and He spent the rest of His life in hiding. She claims Jesus married twice, fathered three children and died about 70 years of age, probably in Rome.
Bishop John Shelby Spong makes similar offensive claims as I have outlined in previous weeks. Yet when I suggested that he was similar to Dr Barbara Theiring, he reacted strongly saying he had no wish to be associated with her. The 75 scholars in The Jesus Seminar decided 82% of the sayings of Jesus were not spoken by Him; He did not walk on water, turn water into wine, or feed the hungry with loaves and fish. They say Jesus did no miracles, did not raise Lazarus, and did not rise from the dead. Instead dogs ate his body. Their main concern seems to be to sell books, to make controversy and to gain publicity through day-time Talk shows on television. There is no scholarly purpose.
For if their purpose was to extend our knowledge they would submit their work to peer review by significant theologians. They would publish in scholarly theological journals and seek feedback and the insights of scholars. But no! They head for the press and the media with their claims without consultation with the world of scholarship. Theological Colleges which teach their books without proper scholarly critique and Biblical examination are as bad as the artist who portrays a urine soaked Jesus. Those who dismember Jesus, cut Him down theologically, re-make Jesus in their image, deny He was raised from the dead by the power of God, simply piss Christ! We say to them who are as bereft of spiritual life and hope as the grieving women on the day of the resurrection: Lk 24:5 "Why do you look for the living among the dead?" The reason is simple. Jesus Christ sells! Money is their main motivator.
Have you noticed the problem they have with evidence? Where is their evidence? Theiring, Spong, Crossan, Funk and others float theories but where is their evidence? They claim new sources, new discoveries, and new ways of interpreting. They differ from the Gospels so where is the historic evidence that conclusively supports their claims? Where are the documents? Where are the ancient accounts? There are none! If such evidence has existed, where has it been for 2,000 years? Where is it now? Where was it in the first century? The enemies of the early church would have loved any of these political, sexual or marital claims. Yet Pilate could find no such evidence. The eager scribes and priests could find no moral and theological improprieties despite their best attempts and probing questions. Their false witnesses could not convince with similar lies.
Where is the first century evidence that offers a factual alternate account of Jesus, His death and resurrection? From the safety of 2,000 years these theologians reconstruct history and fabricate fact. It is profitable to "piss Christ". But the issue remains where is the evidence? There is none! They blatantly abuse history. Their writing is fantasy. They not only fail to produce evidence, they abuse the evidence that is there. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John can be rejected as inspired, but they still remain as valid historical contemporary records. They were written by eyewitnesses, contemporaries with Jesus in a time and place. Every fact they recorded and every claim Jesus made was checked out. Yet these deconstructionists take a word from the gospels and pervert it into something fanciful such as Mary Magdalene's conversion by Jesus and they prostitute it for gain. That is an even worse abuse of evidence. They cover Jesus with their urine!
2. BUT THE LIVING CHRIST CAN STILL BE FOUND.
The reason why many believers become upset with these artists, TV programmers, journalists and theologians is that Jesus Christ whom they insult, is a living friend. For these others, Christianity has become a form not a force. For them faith is a performance not a person. It is religion not a relationship. They minister by remote control, preach by memory. They have no fire, no fervour, no friendship with the living Jesus. The greatest experience is to know the friendship of the living Lord Jesus. It is natural then, that many ask: "How can I find the friendship of the living Jesus Christ? Where must I look to find Jesus?" Let me give you some answers that work for people in every generation.
1. LOOK TO THE EVIDENCE OF HIS LIFE. There is evidence for the historical Jesus in the Bible but also in secular history. There is historical evidence outside the scripture and we will look at that in detail next Sunday. When Jesus walked through Judea, His footsteps stayed locked into the sands of time. There is the impact of His personality upon history. Look to the evidence of His life - there is much to consider.
2. LOOK TO THE LIVES OF CONVERTED PEOPLE. People were changed. The shifty Simon became Peter the Rock. The persecutor Saul became the preacher Paul. The immoral Augustine became the greatest saint for a thousand years. John Wesley was a defeated Christian until his heart was strangely warmed by the living Lord. The martyrs and those persecuted go to their death with faith in their hearts. You can see Jesus Christ in the lives of converted people in Wesley Mission. You can find Him among Christian people in this Church, at the sacraments, and in our 70 home groups meeting weekly. Treat the task of finding the living Jesus with the same seriousness as you would seek out someone to be your closest friend. You will find Him as you meet with other friends of His. Ask them to introduce you.
3. LOOK TO DEVOUT READING OF THE SCRIPTURES. Why have attitudes to Jesus changed? The reason is not that we are more clever, or that we have discovered new manuscripts or information about the time of Jesus. We have learned more of the Jewish lifestyle of those days, but nothing there accounts for His life and the impact of His death and resurrection. These people who insult Jesus Christ and blaspheme the faith, do so because they reject the authority, veracity and testimony of the Scriptures.
They approach the Gospels as secular humanists accommodating society's trends, scoffing at the holy lifestyle of believers because basically they have rejected the Bible as God's Word. They say Scripture is valuable, but not authoritative. They do not accept the accuracy of the scriptures. They reject the supernatural, the miraculous, and what Jesus did upon the Cross. They want a human Jesus without His divine nature. They are simply the second century gnostics in twentieth century clothes. They will never find the friendship of Jesus.
If you want to find Jesus, you must love the Scriptures. The Scriptures transcend the centuries and theories, prejudice and bias. If you reject the Scriptures, you have no other reference point than your own imagination. The Scriptures present Jesus as the Lord of Life who enables you to find abundant life, life that is full, free and satisfying. The Scriptures present the resurrected Saviour who saves you from your guilt and sin and offers you eternal life. The Scriptures present the ever-present One who strengthens you, comforts and up-holds you. This living Lord can be found when you read the Scriptures with the purpose of finding Him. You must read with a devout heart continuously. Start with the Gospels of Mark and Luke and read daily and you will find the Jesus to whom the Scriptures bear witness.
4. LOOK TO HUMBLE SERVICE TO THE POOR. One great fact is that those who humbly serve the poor, who care for the least and lowliest seeking no personal publicity or reward, discover that Jesus Christ is there serving before them. That is Mother Teresa's testimony and the witness of Christians who serve.
5. LOOK TO PERSONAL EXPERIENCE. Discovering Jesus transforms your life. You ask "How can I know Him in personal experience?" First, open your mind to His indwelling. Believe God has sent His Son into the world to save you from your sin and separation. Do you want more than life is offering at this moment? Then believe that God loves you. Pray that Jesus Christ will enter your heart because you believe. You can receive Him if you are willing to repent of your sin. Pray: "Lord Jesus Christ, I know you love me, and came to find me. I believe you died to save me. I want to clear my life of sin and doubt. I repent of my foolish ways. I believe Lord. Make yourself known to me as friend and Saviour, now. Thankyou."
I have it on the authority of Scripture that if you pray believing, then God hears your prayer and will answer you. Quietly repeat to yourself: "I believe Lord. Come within my heart. I repent of my Sin. Come and cleanse me." Ultimately, Jesus finds you. The sheep do not search to find the Shepherd. It is the shepherd who finds the sheep. The sheep simply stay quiet, and look up and respond to His voice. John 10:27 "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me." Your searching is His finding you.
There are many who scoff and scorn, but deep down I wonder how many are envious of the quiet, simple knowledge of the believer who knows Jesus as their friend? Whose lives are strong and calm because they know Jesus? I suspect that the angry, aggressive attacks on Jesus are but the frustration of those who would have the quiet certainty of the person who lives with the friendship of the living Lord Jesus. And you can find Him as Lord and Christ, Saviour and Friend, here, now by an act of faith.
REFERENCES USED IN THIS SERMON:
THE TRUTH ABOUT JESUS P W Barnett Aquilla 1994.
JESUS AND THE LOGIC OF HISTORY P W Barnett IVP 1997
THE JESUS QUEST B Witherington 111 IVP 1995
THE JESUS I NEVER KNEW P Yancey Zondervan, 1995
JESUS:AN HISTORIANS REVIEW OF THE GOSPELS M Grant S & Schuster 1995
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