With so many opinions about Jesus, whom do we trust?
We live in days of opinions on everything. Masks, or no masks? Vaccines, or no vaccines? Jesus, or no Jesus? There is no shortage of opinions on politics, hockey, religion, the weather, anything and everything.
The internet has only made things worse, or better, depending on your perspective. It is said that thanks to the internet we live in the Information Age. It may be more correct to say that thanks to the internet, we live in the age of opinions.
Anyone can now share their opinion with the world, no matter how ridiculous the opinion may actually end up being. Nothing needs to be reasonable, or sensible, to be published.
This might be fine when the opinion does not matter much. Which hockey team will win the Stanley cup? I may have an opinion on that, in fact I do. You may not care. It may matter to some of us now, in fact there is a whole industry devoted to sharing opinions on sports. But will I care in 100 years? Will any of us?
There is something that matters now, that can make a big difference in our lives now, and will matter to each and every one of us 100 years from now; What, or better, who, is God?
What, or better, who is God? This is the most important question ever asked. This is the most important question ever avoided on a regular basis. When it is asked, there are so many opinions.
Even if we narrow it down to thinking about Jesus, asking, ‘is Jesus the best representation of God the world has ever seen?’, even then, there are so many opinions.
Some are of the opinion that Jesus is just a mythical figure. Some are of the opinion that Jesus was a man who lived, but the early devotees, or rather ‘inventors’, of Christianity, made him bigger than he is, turning the man Jesus into a God following his death. Some of us are of the opinion that Jesus rose from the dead and is, in fact, Lord and Saviour.
How do we ever find our way in a sea of opinions about Jesus?
John, in his letter known to us as 1st John, responds to an opinion some were promoting about Jesus. What John has to say in helping the early Christians navigate a different opinion about Jesus will help us navigate different opinions about Jesus in our day. So let’s take a look:
Dear children, the last hour is here. You have heard that the Antichrist is coming, and already many such antichrists have appeared. From this we know that the last hour has come. These people left our churches, but they never really belonged with us; otherwise they would have stayed with us. When they left, it proved that they did not belong with us.11 John 2:18-19 (NLT)
With our fascination with the end of the world, we may want to know more about the Antichrist. However, John here is not wanting to talk about one figure, but rather some people who were sharing opinions about Jesus that were new and different. They are “anti,” meaning “instead of” Christ. They were promoting their own conception of Jesus instead of receiving the teaching about Jesus already given by the apostles. John is careful to point out that these people may have hung out with the Christian community, but they were never really Christians.
Who are these people?
In John’s day there was a way of looking at things which developed more fully into what is now called Gnosticism. There is much to say, but to keep it simple, anything “spiritual” and “otherworldly” was good, anything “material” and “this-wordly” was bad. Interestingly, many Christians today are somewhat gnostic in their thinking!
Given such a view, you can well imagine how certain teachings of Jesus would resonate, things like “I am the light of the world.” Since some of the teachings would resonate, they basically highjacked Jesus. They tried to change Jesus to fit their way of understanding instead of changing their understanding to fit Jesus.
They denied the humanity of Jesus, his death, and his bodily resurrection, and the logical conclusions from those facts. These things were all too “worldly” to fit with their way of thinking.
What is important for us to understand here is that the apostles, including John, were eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life, death, and life after death. They were with Jesus, heard his teaching, knew him to be a man like any other, yet a man unlike any other, saw him killed, and saw him alive again, not as some ghost, but as he was, in the body, yet different somehow. The disciples of Jesus adjusted their thinking to fit the facts before them. So when some people come along giving their opinions on how Jesus fits their way of thinking if you just think differently about Jesus, John is eager to set the record straight.
To this, John says,
But you are not like that, for the Holy One has given you his Spirit, and all of you know the truth. So I am writing to you not because you don’t know the truth but because you know the difference between truth and lies. And who is a liar? Anyone who says that Jesus is not the Christ. Anyone who denies the Father and the Son is an antichrist.1 John 2:20-22 (NLT)
John is saying, you know the truth! And you know that these opinions from the false teachers are not it! You have heard about Jesus, his life, teaching, death, and resurrection, from the eyewitnesses. That’s it! Plus there is a presence through the Holy Spirit that brings you to a place of hearing about Jesus and saying “that’s it.” And “it” is the best news ever!
You know it and in fact you don’t need these false teachers to teach you anything anything extra:
I am writing these things to warn you about those who want to lead you astray. But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true—it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ.1 John 2:26-27 (NLT)
Hearing the false teachers would be like being on a jury, hearing all the evidence that has been carefully collected and presented, then picking up a tabloid with the headline “the shocking truth” about the case you are working on. So John is saying, don’t trade facts for opinions!
So remain faithful to what you have been taught from the beginning. If you do, you will remain in fellowship with the Son and with the Father. And in this fellowship we enjoy the eternal life he promised us.1 John 2:24-25 (NLT)
So how does this help us navigate the many opinions being shared about Jesus today? Is Jesus just a mythical figure? Is Jesus just a mere man that other mere men conferred divinity upon later?
Just as the false teachers in John’s day were trying to change Jesus to fit their way of thinking instead of changing their thinking to fit the facts about Jesus, there are those today, who having already made up their minds that miracles do not happen, that the supernatural is not real, or that Christianity is a bad religion, try to change Jesus to fit their thinking rather than change their thinking to fit Jesus.
We do well to do as the early followers of Jesus did and follow the evidence.
The early Christians had heard about Jesus, his life, teaching, death, and resurrection from the eyewitnesses, the apostles who had experienced the reality of Jesus, his life, teaching, death, and resurrection. With the testimony of the Holy Spirit, the news rang true, that Jesus is Lord. And the news was the best news ever.
Today we still follow the evidence. We still have the testimony of those who knew Jesus, witnesses of his life, teaching, death and resurrection. It is found in the writings we now call the New Testament. The case for Jesus as Lord and Saviour is compelling. It is both beautiful and believable. (See my sermon series called “Compelling” which is summarized here.)
People can share their opinions about the lake I go windsurfing in. They might be of the opinion that the lake is teeming with great white sharks and that since I fall off a lot I had better not windsurf there. They would be correct about my falling off a lot, but what about the presence of great white sharks? I can do the research and look up what kinds of fish are found in Ontario’s lakes. I can do the research and find out what kind of water great white sharks live in. I can ask those who regularly swim in the lake. I can learn from my own experience of swimming in the lake.
Let us follow the evidence, then walk with Jesus:
And now, dear children, remain in fellowship with Christ so that when he returns, you will be full of courage and not shrink back from him in shame.1 John 2:28 (NLT)
There are many opinions about Jesus, but it really matters that we get it right.
Sorting out the identity of Jesus affects life now, it matters now, it makes a big difference, not just for us, but for everyone around us.
Sorting out the identity of Jesus will still matter to us 100 years from now and beyond, when God’s grace, God’s gift of eternal life will matter more to us than anything.
Let us not settle for opinions about Jesus, Let us pursue Jesus.
With so many opinions about Jesus being shared in our day, whom do we trust? Let us trust Jesus!
(The full sermon can be seen as part of this “online worship expression”)