G.K.Chesterton, brilliant English author and essayist earlier in this century said "there must surely have been something not only mysterious but many sided about Christ if so many smaller Christ's could be carved out of Him." Since the 1980's many theologians have been carving smaller Christs. Some have been bureaucrats within the Uniting Church in Australia. Wanting to ride controversy, they propagate the changing attitudes to Jesus. Like children who peer at objects through a pair of binoculars around the wrong way, these clergy look at an ever diminishing Jesus.
When Jesus healed a blind man, some said: John 10:20-21 "He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?" 21 But others said, "These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?" Others said John 10:33 "We are not stoning you for any of these," replied the Jews, "but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God." These are strange attitudes.
1. ATTITUDES TO JESUS ARE CHANGING AMONG SOME. There have always been those who shock their generation with unusual attitudes towards Jesus. A dozen films on the life of Jesus were made to shock, and rock musicals like "Jesus Christ Superstar" re-wrote the story to elevate minor characters like Mary Magdalene and Judas Iscariot into mega-stars. Perhaps there came a turning point in 1988 with Martin Scorese's film "The Last Temptation of Christ". He took Nikos Kazantzakis's story and had Jesus having onscreen sex with his first wife Mary Magdalene. This Jesus later marries Mary, the sister of Martha, and commits adultery with Martha.
Scorese's Jesus lives to old age and when he hears Paul preaching about the resurrection from the dead for the forgiveness of sins, interrupts and says he did not die upon the cross at all. Paul says it doesn't matter as long as people have something to believe. This is not just lies and heresy, but a calculated attack upon Christianity.
This apostasy was taken up by some theologians who further attacked Jesus. Newsmagazines last Easter took up the story. "TIME"'s cover story was on what can be believed in the Gospels. "NEWSWEEK" ran a story "Rethinking the Resurrection." They reveal the hype surrounding 75 self-appointed scholars of "The Jesus Seminar" who decided 82% of the sayings of Jesus were not spoken by Him at all; he did not walk on water, turn water into wine, or feed the hungry with loaves and fish. They said Jesus did no miracles, did not raise Lazarus, and did not rise from the dead. Instead dogs ate his body.
A seminar leader, Robert Funk said: "we want to set Jesus free from the scriptural and creedal prisons in which we have entombed him." (Reuters Ltd,5/4/96) The re-written words of Jesus, "The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus really Say" had an Australian to launch it, Dr Barbara Thiering. The ABC telecast her views on Palm Sunday 1990 about the relationship between the Gospels and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Dr Theiring, formally of Sydney University, in 1992 published "Jesus the Man" promoting Jesus in full humanity, even if this means "the divinity of Jesus may have to be sacrificed to the humanity." Among her proposals are that Jesus did not die upon the Cross, but recovered, married Mary Magdalene, had three children and lived until he was 70.
Within The Uniting Church some follow her. Dr John Squires of the United Theological College is careful not to present his own views, but quotes with apparent approval these views of others. He wrote about "The Jesus Quest" in December's "Insights" which provoked Eric Hatfield to write in February's edition of "Insights" "Not for the first time I was frustrated by your generally sceptical approach to the Bible... You need to be as critical of scholars as they are of the Bible. For good reasons which scholarship alone may never appreciate, many Christians have decided to go beyond the scholar's conclusions and trust the Jesus of the Bible and His God."
Likewise Dr Sarah Mitchell, Principal of the United Theological College at North Parramatta speaks about Jesus, a Canaanite woman and the healing of her daughter. She said ("Insights" Nov '96) "Jesus is actually shown up as the one who got it wrong. ..Instead of welcoming her Jesus acted in an offensive manner and at first refused her healing. Eventually he healed the daughter grudgingly because of the woman's faith. Is this a moment when Jesus is confronted with the Christ in another? Is this a critical junction in his ministry when he needs to face the fact that even his vision of the kingdom is too limited?" How smug we have become! How superior! She not only knows more than Jesus, she know his motivation, his limitations, and his offensive attitudes! And who is this Christ, Jesus is supposed to face in the Canaanite woman? (Matt 15:21-28). This is not heresy. This is smug superiority! Her College Principal predecessors loved Jesus and obeyed Him as Lord. But attitudes have changed. Why have attitudes towards Jesus Christ changed?
2. 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 discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls but they tell us nothing about Jesus. They were written long before the time of Jesus. We have learned more of the Jewish lifestyle of those days and we will study that in future weeks, but nothing there accounts for His life and the impact of His death and resurrection.
This changed attitude towards Jesus is due to the changed attitude towards the scriptures by some scholars. In this month's "Insights" Rev Alan Robinson fingered the cause: "As a denomination we have agreed that the books of the Old and New Testament are "unique, prophetic and apostolic testimony", in which we hear the Word of God and by which our faith and obedience are nourished and regulated. This Word will continue to throw light on "modern experience". When it comes to the ordering of our church and the call of Christ to holy living, modern experience has little with which to enlighten us. The church will make its most useful contribution to society not by accommodating its trends, but by providing an alternative."
Post-modernists within the church, who speak on issues of social justice, approach the Gospels as secular humanists accommodating society's trends. So they recommend relationships that are forbidden in scripture, urge the lowering of the age of consent for teenagers to have homosexual sex, and approve behaviour condemned by scripture. They say Scripture is valuable, but not authoritative. They do not accept the veracity of the scriptures.
They reject the supernatural, the miraculous, and the interpretation of what Jesus has accomplished upon the Cross. They want a human Jesus without Christian beliefs. But Evangelicals affirm that the revelation God gave in the Old and New Testaments is unique, final and closed. But this is rejected by humanists who will accept any belief or imagined events except our belief that the Bible has absolute answers to human need. Witchcraft is accepted more easily than Evangelical Christianity. Our opposition to these trends in the Uniting Church is based on our commitment to the Scriptures.
As one man put it: "Because evangelical faith declares that God has spoken in an absolute, final way about human thought, beliefs and conduct and that the duty of every human being in the face of God's revelation is faith and submission. This is a tough pill to swallow for the do-your-own-thing generation, and it comprises the primary scandal of true Christianity in the 20th century." This is why our fight for the evangelical faith within the Uniting Church is so vitally important.
3. HOW THEN ARE PEOPLE LOOKING AT JESUS TODAY? Imagine a room and at each wall people are staring at frames holding representations of Jesus.
1. One frame holds a photograph. Unfortunately, it is a not a photograph of Jesus. Some people look for a photograph of Jesus in the scriptures, but there is none. Not just because there was not the photographic technique in the ancient world, but because they were not interested in physical appearance as much as we who obsessed by it. It never occurred to the Gospel writers to describe the height of Jesus, the colour of his eyes or his physical features.
2. The second frame holds five portraits of Jesus. They represent Jesus according to each artist. Matthew presents Jesus fulfilling Jewish prophecy. Mark presents the portrait of a man among men. Luke presents a portrait of Jesus compassionate towards women, children, the sick and the disabled, and who gave His life as a sacrifice for them. John presents a portrait of Jesus as the answer to human need, the divine Word of God made flesh. Paul presents his portrait of Jesus (he used the word "icon") as the servant who laid down His life for the sins of the world, whom God raised from the dead, and who now is Lord of glory. Most Christians take their image of Jesus from these scriptural portraits.
3. The third frame holds abstract art. Liberal theologians represent their ideas of Jesus as abstract art. The pictures are understood mainly by the artist who debates with others and not many see the real Jesus through the artist's variable images.
4. The fourth frame represents post-modernist theologians' presentations of Jesus today. But when you look, instead of seeing Jesus as Lord and Saviour, what you see is - yourself! The frame contains a mirror. Some modern writers reflect a Jesus made in the image of themselves, reflecting their own value systems. Sometimes our culture leads us to a picture of Jesus that is a reflection of ourselves. Phillip Yancey, in "The Jesus I Never Knew" lists various portraits of Jesus he knows, then reads the scriptures for the Jesus he never knew. Post-modernist theologians look for Jesus and see only themselves, their own prejudices and values, carving off little Christs, upsetting true believers and confirming cynicism among non-believers.
4. WE LOOK FOR THE JESUS OF THE SCRIPTURES. That picture transcends the centuries and theories, prejudice and bias. If you reject the Christ of faith as presented in the scriptures, you have no other reference point other 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 always with you to strengthen you, comfort you and up-hold you.
Dr Albert Schweitzer, that great theologian and missionary doctor, in his book in 1906, "In Search of the Historical Jesus" concluded his survey of how the theologians were picturing Jesus, "It is a good thing that the true historical Jesus should overthrow the modern Jesus, should rise up against the modern spirit and send upon earth, not peace, but a sword. He was not a teacher; He was an imperious ruler. The names in which men expressed their recognition of Him as such, Messiah, Son of Man, Son of God, have become for us historical parables. We can find no designation which expresses what He is for us. He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lake-side, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word: "Follow thou me!" and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfil for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is." (p.401) Discover Jesus as Lord and Saviour!
REFERENCES USED IN THIS SERMON:
"HONEST TO JESUS" Robert W Funk, Hodder 1996;
"THE TRUTH ABOUT JESUS" Paul Barnett Aquilla, 1994.
"JESUS THE FOOL" Michael Frost, Albatross, 1994.
"THE JESUS QUEST" Ben Witherington 111, IVP 1995
"THE JESUS I NEVER KNEW" Phillip Yancey, Zondervan, 1995
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