I have some sympathy with a novelist who writes a biography of Jesus and does not get it right. What more can you expect from a novelist? Andrew (A N) Wilson, is a British novelist who rejects the scriptures but tries to discover "the real Jesus" ("Jesus" Norton 1992). But by rejecting the Bible, he can only give an unsubstantiated picture of Him.
Last Saturday's paper (SMH APR 12 97) featured his Easter released book PAUL:THE MIND OF THE APOSTLE. The SM Herald says "Wilson claims Jesus Christ was not a Christian at all, and that he had no intention of founding a religion. Rather, Jesus was a very minor Galilean exorcist, no more significant than dozens of other similar prophets who caused trouble for the Romans. The faith that bears his name was invented by the religious genius and visionary Paul of Tarsus. It was Paul's brilliant mythologising of Jesus as the Christ that ensured the immortality of his name, not some piece of magic in which a dead body was said to have come back to life."
Wilson has written several novels and biographies including one on C.S.LEWIS the great Oxford don, Christian apologist and writer. But the novelist was not of Lewis' stature: he has no faith. "I did not feel it was honest to continue to call myself a Christian, to attend churches which addressed Jesus as if he were alive, to recite creeds which acknowledged Jesus as Lord and Judge of the world." (pxvi). Wilson ends: "we can only be surprised that a historical figure of whom so little is known should have attracted to himself such a reputation."(p230). Wilson has exchanged a threatening Christ of faith with a harmless Jew and is relieved.
I have deep dispute with Jesus Search theologians who have more knowledge than a novelist and who seek to use it to destroy the very faith they profess to hold. Some claim Jesus was like a cynic scholar from the Greek world using a biting sense of humour; another said He was a devout Jewish sage seeking renewal within Judaism; another said He was a fiery prophet seeking to overturn the structures of Judaism; another thought Him a rationalist, another a zealot, another a mystic, another an immoral wonder worker! What an unbelievable variety of conclusions! We will examine these claims later.
But the end result is that these theologians end up with an emasculated Jesus. This is no Jesus whom the Jews would hate and the Romans would crucify. Without fire and passion, and not saying three quarters of what is said by Him in the Bible, but who only walks the country quoting amusing and mild parables, this milk and water Jesus is a pale apology for the Master who strode the Galilean hills. He ends up merely a reflection of the anaemic New Age theologians who make Him in their own image. I have deep dispute with these theologians and in these sermons take the fight up to them.
I have no respect for a Uniting Church minister who is quoted by Rev David Milligan in this month's edition of "Insights".(p27 Apr 97) He writes "I had a conversation with a Uniting Church minister... I asked him, "Do you believe that Jesus was God?' He said: 'The biggest mistake the Church ever made was to ascribe divinity to Jesus." I was intrigued to know what he did with the liturgies and prayers of the Uniting Church which are unequivocally committed to the divinity of Jesus.
I asked, "What do you do on Sunday morning? Do you pray to Jesus?" He said, "I am very careful how I refer to Jesus. And I do not pray to him." I asked, "Do you call him Lord?" "No" he replied. As we talked further he told me about the sense of liberation and freedom when he shifted from the orthodox teaching of the Church about Jesus. He said, "It liberated Jesus from the dogma of the church. He becomes so much more significant to me when I think of what he was as a person. It allows me more room to move and be myself and enter the experience he holds out for us.'"
I have no respect for a minister who circumvents the doctrines of the Uniting Church, who hides his beliefs from the people of his church, and who takes money as a Christian minister under false pretences. Such a person usually ends up hiding from the eyes of Church members by taking a job within the church's bureaucracy or colleges!
The problem all of these have is they no not accept the scriptures as God's Word despite their ordination and induction vows. As Dr Paul Barnett, a Fellow In History at Macquarrie University and Bishop of North Sydney says of them: "Jesus will never be understood outside of the framework of the New Testament writers. Jesus will remain a riddle, a parable, an enigma. His obvious greatness, as it appears from His impact on history and by the accounts of Him in the Gospels, will continue to provoke scholarly enquiry. But failure to take seriously the perceptions of the writers of the New Testament will mean that modern scholars will explain Him in novel and imaginative ways." ("Aust Bapt." 14/9/89).
You understand Jesus only from the accounts of those eye-witnesses who recorded His life and teaching in the Gospels. You must also accept Him as the One they claimed Him to be: Son of God. Otherwise you are not a Christian theologian or Christian minister. You are nothing more than the theologian and good man Nicodemus. Jesus said to him: John 3:10-18 "You are Israel's teacher and do you not understand these things? 11 I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven--the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life." (John comments) 16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son."
Jesus called this theologian to believe that He is God's Son. There is no difference today. All the other answers given by those who see Jesus only as a Jewish rabbi, a moral teacher, an ideal figure, a religious genius, a revolutionary, and a deluded fanatic, all these resemble the varied answers reported by His disciples, when Jesus Himself asked them, "Who do men say that I am?" (Mark 8:27).
Their replies were equally diverse. So Jesus said, "But who do you say that I am?" and received from Peter the answer, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."(Matt 16:16). This answer comes not by trying to estimate Him, but by confessing faith from a personal encounter with Him. So John concludes his Gospel: "these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name" (Jn 20:31). The foundation of Christian faith is that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
1. JESUS CHRIST IS THE SON OF GOD. This shows the uniqueness of Jesus. Christians believe not merely that God acted in Jesus. This would mean Jesus is different from us only in the degree of His Holiness. But He is different in kind. Jesus Christ is more than the finest man of God; He is the Son of God. There is more than divine action in Him. There is divine being. This is the essential difference between Christ and other godly men like Nicodemus. God "gave His one and only Son". That's the difference!
This makes His coming definitive. This is the fundamental difference between prophets of God and the Son of God.(Heb 1) This is the difference between a servant and a son (Heb 3:1-6; Gal 4:1-7; Mark 12:1-11). God's very self is in the Son. 122 times in John, God is spoken of as "The Father" as distinct from "the Son". The Father and the Son work in the same way. Jesus never acts independently of the Father (5:19-24); the relationship is one of love (5:20); like the Father, Jesus gives life to the dead (5:21); Jesus judges as does the Father (5:22-29) and Jesus gives salvation and eternal life (5:25). Jesus was from the beginning God's Son, uniquely, the only begotten Son of the Father.
2. THIS SHOWS THE UNIQUENESS OF CHRISTIANITY. Alone of all beliefs, whether religious, political or philosophical, Christianity is based upon historical fact. Other religions centre on the ethical and religious teachings of their founders, but Christianity is built on the fact of the resurrection of Jesus.
Islam is based on teachings of Muhammad. Buddhism on teachings of Buddha. Confucianism on teachings of Confucius. Marxism is based on teachings of Karl Marx. Not one is based on the observation of historical facts, but on the teachings and theories of men. Christianity, however is founded, not on what Jesus taught but on who Jesus is and what Jesus did. We learn from Christ's teachings. But the significance of Jesus lies in what He accomplished upon the Cross and by His resurrection from the tomb. Christianity alone is based on historical, objective facts rather than subjective ideas. It is based upon Jesus being the Son of God and God proving it by raising Jesus from the dead. That belief is essential to being a Christian.
3. SO WE TOO FACE THE CLAIMS OF JESUS. Each person must face the claims of Jesus to be God's Son, whom God has raised from the dead. These claims are extraordinary, but belief in them is the essential factor to being a Christian. Christianity is not a life-style, a code of conduct, a civilised way of life, being a member of a nation or a church and certainly not following the Western way of life.
This is exactly what these novelists like A N Wilson, theologians like those mentioned from "The Jesus Seminar", hypocritical ministers like the one quoted in "Insights" and others will not except. So they should resign and no longer call themselves "Christian". For they fail to answer the stunning logic of C S Lewis who writes "I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Jesus: "I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God." That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic - on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg - or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us." ("Mere Christianity" p41)
We are not to judge the orthodoxy of novelists, theologians and ministers who do not accept Jesus as the Son of God and who make a living from the Christian faith, but we can can point out the hypocrisy of such two faced behaviour. We can call upon their constituancy to ask them pointed questions. And we can make sure that we build our faith upon clear trust in the facts that Jesus is God's Son whom God raised from the dead. We may then have our own ideas about all other matters, but these facts are the basis of being Christian. These facts are the bed-rock upon which the church has been built. They are the common binding that holds Christians together. Without believing Jesus is God's Son you can be just as good as Nicodemus and just as lost! For outside of your belief that Jesus is God's Son there is nothing but death.
MODERN REFERENCES USED IN THIS SERMON:
THE REAL JESUS Luke Timothy Johnson Harper 1996
THE SEARCH FOR JESUS H Shanks BAR 1994
WHO KILLED JESUS J.D.Crossan Harper 1995
DICTIONARY OF NT THEOLOGY C Brown Paternoster 71
MERE CHRISTIANITY C S Lewis Fontana 1952
JESUS A N Wilson Norton 1992.
PAUL:THE MIND OF THE APOSTLE A N Wilson 1997
HONEST TO JESUS R Funk Hodder 1996
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