Sermon notes from Bishop Bruce Barnett - guest preacher.
A few weeks ago we celebrated the churchs birthday. That was when the apostle Peter first preached the risen Christ. It was during the feast of Pentecost.
God then poured out his Holy Spirit on the 3000 who put their trust in Christ. So the church of Jesus Christ was born.
We know that whenever Jesus Christ is preached people will come to believe in him. We know that the Spirit of God will bring life to human hearts and gather people into his church.
Tonight there will be people here - and among our listeners who have been gathered into that church in recent days. We thank God for the Spirit which he gives and for the word of God, the gospel and for faithful ministers who preach it.
A Crisis: The Jesus Studies Movement.
But today we face a problem. There are those who claim to be ministers of Jesus Christ but who are not true to the message. Even as we speak the church of Jesus Christ is facing a crisis, a challenge like that many centuries ago when a theologian named Arius preached that Jesus was not truly the Son of God and that God was not truly a Trinity.
The church was almost swamped by the Arian heresy.
What is the present crisis ?
It is the Jesus studies movement an academic movement, based in the US. Maybe you have heard of the Jesus Seminar? The Jesus Seminar thinks that only one thing in five spoken by Jesus is genuine.
Like the ancient Arians they are preaching a Jesus who is not the Son of God.
These people are - to use Pauls words - preaching another
I should say they are preaching other Jesuses.
Hundreds of different books have been written in the last few years. And there are dozens of different Jesuses.
You would like a Jewish Jesus ? OK.
You would like a Greek philosophical Jesus ? OK.
You would like a new age Jesus? OK
You would like an apocalyptic fiery Jesus ? OK.
You would like an anapocalyptic, unfiery Jesus ? OK.
Here is post-modern, deconstructed Jesus by post-modern, deconstucted scholars. Is there anything in common, between these dozens of different presentations of Jesus?
Yes! Each Jesus is Jesus bears the image of the scholar in question.
Each Jesus is a Jesus whom the scholar would like other people to be like. This no new thing, this fashioning of Jesus according to ourselves.
Hitler had theologians who preached a fascist Jesus.
Left wing politicians have theologians who preach a liberationist Jesus. Jesus - it seems - can be whatever - I think other people should be, which is usually a replica of myself.
After all, we all tend to know what other people should be like. They should be like us.
So studying and teaching Jesus is dangerous. We can so easily make him what we want him to be so that we can influence people to make them what we want them to be. It is so easy to have a political agenda and make Jesus a political reformer along the lines we see to be best.
I believe this is what is happening today.
These scholars tend to have two things in common:
1. They depend on gospels outside the NT - eg The Gospel of Thomas.
The Gospel of Thomas purports to be written by one of the Twelve Disciples. In fact it was written more than a century later, from Egypt. It is vague and theosophical with little historical content.
The Christians of the period recognised it for what it was, inauthentic. They were rock solid that there were only four gospels - Mt, Mk, Lk and Jn.
So our modern scholars are guilty of two sins:
* they downgrade the 4 authentic gospels
* and they use spurious ones.
2. They pick and choose which parts of the gospels they will use.
Is Jesus a healer ? Then concentrate on the miracles; forget his teachings.
Is Jesus a social reformer? Then concentrate on those teachings which fit your political agenda; forget the miracles.
But proper scholarship addresses the total message of the gospels and not just the bits that suit my own theories. These scholars have exerted a powerful world-wide influence through the Jesus Seminar and through the media.
So the church faces one of its greatest crises.
Peters Preaching of Jesus. I wonder did you notice in our reading that Peter 3 times used the words, this Jesus.
The Jesus he was speaking about was raised from the dead. The Jesus he was speaking about ascended to Gods right hand as Lord and Christ. Peter spoke about him as this Jesus.
This Jesus Peters hearers knew - or knew about. They had heard him preach and teach and debate in Galilee and Jerusalem.
People of Israel...
a man attested to you
with mighty works and wonders and signs
which God did through him, as you yourselves know...
this Jesus...you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men (the Romans)
But this Jesus God raised from the dead... God has made him Lord and Christ.
The same Jesus, the same historical Jesus from Nazareth, the same Jesus who preached to the people and taught in the synagogues, the same Jesus who worked miracles, the same Jesus who was crucified a few weeks ago in Jerusalem this Jesus God has made Lord and Christ.
It was Peters preaching of this Jesus that launched the early church and brought the power of the Spirit of God into the lives of many people.
Back to the Crisis.
But this is not the Jesus of the new theologians. Some say he is a pious sage. Others say he is a social reformer, others an inoffensive wonder worker, theirs is a half mad apocalyptic prophet. Whatever the theologian chooses. The new Jesus is confined to whatever ministry they think he had; he terminates on himself. He does not continue his existence through resurrection to become messiah of the church and Lord of history.
How can we reply to this crisis?
The authority of the Bible is fundamental. But for those who do not accept the Bible let me appeal to historical common sense. History itself answers these dismissive views of Jesus.
These reconstructions can offer no satisfactory explanation for his death - either historically or theologically. Such inoffensive Jesuses would never have been crucified.
These pale Galileans would have posed no threat to the Romans, ruffled no feathers. But Jesus in the gospels is crucified by the Romans for treason, as the messiah, as the KING OF THE JEWS.
And this Christ died for our sins. This the historical verdict and the theological verdict of the New Testament.
These reconstructions are forced to explain away the resurrection - their explanations of the resurrection are often weird. Jesus was thrown into a common pit, they say.
Then all the disciples had a group vision that he was alive - in their hearts. That was it? A group vision? That launched Christianity? That led people to die as martyrs?
It is no easy thing to believe in the resurrection from the dead. But a group vision! Two people sharing the same bed seldom have the same dream. But 500-600 people having the same dream, not just one day but for more than 40 days on 12 different occasions!
That is harder to believe than that God raised him alive from the dead.
And that is what in fact did happen.
These scholars strangely ignore the Acts of the Apostles and the Letters of the Apostles. These historical writings tell of the rise of the early church immediately after Jesus, worshipping and preaching the risen Lord.
How did the early church - which is stubborn fact of history - come into being if its founder was a damp squib, a pale, pathetic failed prophet or guru, as we are now asked to believe he was?
The early church had a definite direction and a powerful momentum. Who gave it that direction and momentum?
Of course, it was this Jesus.
The early church could no more begin its dynamic direction and speed than a bullet can fire itself. It was Jesus - mighty messiah - whose impact launched the church in its momentum and direction.
Nothing less and nothing else.
This is a matter of history.
These scholars run up against the stumblingblock of the apostle Paul. How they hate him. They blame him for Christianity. But he is like a solid concrete road block against their own reconstructions of Jesus.
He is our earliest written evidence. First he attempted to destroy Jesus by destroying his people. Then God broke into his life on the way to Damascus. So Paul didnt found Christianity, as these scholars want to say, driving a wedge between the enemy Paul and whoever they want Jesus to be.
Paul won't let them. Why?
The church was already there, in the few weeks between Jesus and Paul. He didnt found it. He tried to destroy it. The churchs faith in the Messiah and Lord was already there; Paul didnt invent it. It was already there. The churchs apostles were already there: apostles of Jesus before Paul. He didnt appoint them. Jesus did. This is matter of history.
A common sense approach to history demands that we have a powerful view of Jesus as Messiah and Lord, as Peter said he was. Nothing less can account for his death, or his resuurection, or for the rise of Christianity, or for the Apostle Paul whose persecutions point to the reality of that church already in existence, going back to Jesus.
Only our committment to this message, to Jesus as Lord and Christ, will bring the Spirit of God and change our lives.
Australia Needs This Message.
That message and that power is badly needed today in our country. We are bitterly divided over our indigenous people; forgiveness given and accepted is needed - from both sides; if we are to go into the next century as one nation. May the word of God and the Spirit of God touch our lives, bringing understanding, patience and where appropriate, repentance. God is the great reconciler; and his mediator is Christ. He gives forgiveness; He makes possible our forgiveness given to others and received from others.
He makes this possible because he changes the heart.
Then there is the grim situation with many of our young people, the lost X generation. Many seek meaning in drugs. Some take their own lives. Not just because of unemployment. They are caught in a values vacuum. They see no hope, only futility. Or they are deceived by some New Age belief about reincarnation; That says, go ahead take your own life. Everything will be OK. You will live on. But the word of God and the Spirit of God bring hope and bring values and bring motivation and bring a sense of purpose.
In a letter he wrote some time later Peter spoke about the practical blessings Christ gives to his people; He spoke of a living hope; He spoke of redemption from futility; He spoke of the cleansing of the guilty conscience. These are universal needs. These are needs which the gospel meets, for old and young alike. Troubles remain - for all of us. But God changes us and empowers us to overcome and rise above and prevail against whatever it is and whatever pain it brings.
But God will bring that change only by his true word; not by a false word this the word that Peter spoke when he said this Jesus God has made Lord and Christ.
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