Today is the fourth in a 7-part summer sermon series called “Going Deeper.” This series is intended to inspire worshipers to proactively go one step deeper in their walk with Jesus Christ.
Read: 1 John 2:22; 1 John 4:1-3, 9-10
From time to time I’ll be talking with someone when they happen to tell me that God has more important things to worry about than their troubles. Or that God has more important prayers to hear and answer than theirs.
What does this say about our beliefs about how God works? That God’s like a customer service agent, and we all have to take number and get in line to speak to him, and the more pressing the issue the closer you get to the front of the line? Or that God uses a triage method of addressing our troubles? If your problem isn’t all that big, then you’re simply going to have to wait until things slow down and he has time for you? Or, worse yet, that God’s limited to handling only a few prayer requests and problems at a time?
It’s reminds me of a scene in the film Bruce Almighty. Bruce is a man to whom God has granted his powers for a limited time, including, as you’re about to see, the ability to “manifest some coffee.” In this particular scene he’s trying to figure out a way to answer the millions of prayers which are suddenly coming his way all at once. Because he’s human, he can only address one prayer at a time, which is suddenly very overwhelming. This results in a humorous way of answering peoples’ prayer as quickly as possible. Pay particular attention to the final exclamation Bruce makes after he institutes his approach to answering prayer.
View Bruce Almighty film clip (link to YouTube)
What do I believe about God? That’s actually a good question to ask ourselves? I realize it’s a rather broad question, so we could narrow it down. What do I believe is the nature of God? What do I believe about how God interacts with human beings? What do I believe about how God answers prayer?
These are theological questions and, whether you’ve thought about it or not, most of us have beliefs about these sorts of things. It may sound strange to say, but all of us here are guided by a theology, even if we’ve never thought about it in that term. We all have theological beliefs that guide how we think and act. In the clip we just saw, when it comes to answering prayer, the guiding theology for Bruce is that God’s answer to prayer should make you happy. Therefore, as God’s stand-in he answered everyone’s prayer with an automatic “yes.”
In this sermon series about going spiritually deeper in our relationship with God, one of the points I made a few weeks ago was that what one believes isn’t the only indicator of our spiritual depth. That just as important as our beliefs is our behavior; specifically, that we act in truly loving ways towards all people. In other words, acting in love towards others AND having right beliefs about God generally suggests a spiritual depth we’d want to aim for. Clearly, this isn’t meant to diminish the importance of our beliefs, because what we believe is, in fact, very important. A bad theology can lead to spiritual bondage. A good theology will usually result in a life of grace and freedom.
Today, our focus is on what we believe about Jesus, because our theological beliefs about him can have a profound effect on our spiritual growth.
So, if you’re interested in going deeper spiritually, a good question to ask yourself is one that Jesus asked his own disciples. He asked them what they themselves believed about him. It happened well into their ministry together. After he’d spent quite a bit of time teaching then and modeling the kind of life he was asking of them, he decided it was time for them to go a little deeper in their spiritual development. Luke chapter 9 reveals that Jesus sent the whole group out to do ministry on their own, without him. We don’t know how long they were out, but Luke reports that upon their return, they shared their experiences with Jesus (see v. 10). It’s probably safe to assume that there were some who responded positively to their message, and some who responded negatively. Later in the same day they witnessed Jesus feeding what some scholars think was around 10,000 people with fives loaves and bread and two fish.
It’s at this point, after having personally experienced the power of the Holy Spirit during their short mission trip in the feeding the masses, that Jesus asks them this important question: “Who do you say I am?” He knew what most people thought, but he was putting the question to them: Who do YOU say I am? (Luke 9:22)
That question wasn’t intended only for them to answer; it’s a question aimed at us in the 21st century as well. Who do we say Jesus is? More personally, Who do I say he is? Who do you say he is?
Good news: according to the Barna Research Group, across the generational spectrum, 92% of Americans believe that Jesus Christ was a real person who actually lived. For senior citizens, that number is 96%; for Millennials, it’s 87%. Which averages out to 92%. So that’s good; more than nine out of ten believe he’s not a made-up character.
In response to the statement, “I believe Jesus was God,” only an average of 56% of adults agree. 26% say that he was only a religious leader, and 18% aren’t sure. 62% of today’s elders believe he was God, and 18% say he was only a religious leader. For Millennials, only 48% say he was God, and 35% say he was only a religious leader.
These are 2 foundational questions of our faith: was he a real person, and was he God, who he claimed to be?
Here’s an interesting short list of some non-traditional beliefs about who Jesus was:
- He was a Buddhist monk
- He was not raised from the dead, which makes him a great magician
- He’s the reincarnation of Lord Krishna
- That the traditional story of Jesus was actually a corruption and misinterpretation of the life of Julius Caesar
- He’s the Archangel Michael
- He’s an alien
Some other general beliefs about Jesus include:
- the belief that he received his divine nature only after he was baptized, and that he lost that divine before he was crucified
- that Jesus was in fact never God; he never rose from the dead, never walked on water, etc.
- that he died on a cross, yes, but that it didn’t remove the guilt of sin because he was only a man
- that Jesus was married
If you do your own Google search you’ll find all sorts of the things that people believe about Jesus which is contrary to Scripture and what I would call orthodox theology which the Church has proclaimed for 2 millennia.
Why do I raise this issue? Because John thought it important enough to raise himself. What we know as “1 John” is his attempt to address a crisis of belief in his own day, and it’s still applicable today. In the first two chapters of 1 John he encourages us to live in the light and in the truth. And he warns about anyone who will come along and try to distort the truth – the truth about who Jesus is. He writes, “You know that no lie comes from the truth” (1 John 2:21) There is a fundamental disparity between lies and truth. And so he asks and answers his own question: “Who is the liar? Isn’t it the person who denies that Jesus is the Christ?” In fact, he goes as far as saying that anyone who “denies the Father and the Son” is an “antichrist” (v. 22). The Greek word for “denies” means to reject, or to refuse something offered.
And then in chapter 4 he gets more specific about the crisis that was affecting his church. Again, wanting them to be able to distinguish between truth and lies, he tells them to “test the spirits” to see if they come from God. How do we know if a “spirit” is from God? His answer: “This is how you know if a spirit comes from God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come as a human is from God” (v. 2)
The crux of the crisis John was addressing was a wrong belief about Jesus. Specifically, that some teachers were denying that Jesus was God in the flesh, and he claimed to be. There was a certain brand of teaching at this time that argued that Jesus was really just a person who at the time of his baptism became inhabited by the Spirit of God, but God’s Spirit left him before the crucifixion. They believed that for God to connect himself with the material world, human beings, and suffering, would somehow diminish his nature—that coming down to earth as a human being was beyond his station.
For John, if we don’t have a right belief about Jesus Christ, we’re dead in the water!
John’s reply to this false teaching is clear, definitive, and filled with conviction. To abandon Jesus’ claim of divinity is to let go of the possibility of living the life that God has for you. The Incarnation—God coming into our world and taking on human flesh–is the deep truth that John urges us to keep at the very center of our lives.
For John, if we don’t have a right belief about Jesus Christ, we’re dead in the water! And for him it comes down to the belief that God did in fact enter into our human world, and he did so in the person of Jesus Christ. And the church has historically affirmed the mystery that Jesus was fully human AND fully God. 1 John 4:9 says, “This is how the love of God is revealed to us: God has sent his only Son into the world so that we can live through him.” In whom do we find life? In Jesus Christ – God in the flesh
This is what the church has proclaimed from the beginning. This is who we say Jesus is. How about you? Who do you say he is?