“STEVEN EARL KRAMER!”
My mom used these words when she wanted my absolute attention and obedience. They were always said with a certain tone and intensity, so I knew when she spoke them it was serious. I’d better listen up and watch myself because I might be headed toward trouble.
In our passage for today, Pastor John, the apostle, is using some strong, intense language. They have some emotion, some intensity behind them. Why the ire and alarm? Because his flock was in danger. Don’t mess with the pastor’s flock. Someone was feeding them spiritual poison, and as a result some very important basics of the Christian faith were being questioned.
In John’s mind, some situations require the use of intense language in order to make a point, such as calling those who were giving these crazy teachings liars and antichrists. A battle is going on for the soul. The problem? The identity of Jesus has been called into question. The truth about Jesus is up for grabs, and whenever that happens in the church, people get confused and are knocked off track. False teachers making false claims. Leaders of movements claim they are the Messiah.
By the way, Jesus had told His disciples this would happen when. So John wasn’t so much surprised as just irate as a protective pastor. These so-called religious experts were teaching some awful untruths. These preachers, these teachers with a certain charisma and charm, were causing problems in the church, and John, of course, was upset about it.
I love the way Eugene Peterson captures this in his paraphrase of the New Testament book we call The Message. “My dear friends, don’t believe everything you hear. Carefully weigh and examine what people tell you. Not everyone who talks about God comes from God. A lot of lying preachers are loose in this world.” This is true, even today. People at that time were denying Jesus is the Christ. People today still deny He was the Messiah whom God had promised His people, the One to whom the Old Testament points.
Other preachers were denying the divinity of Jesus. He’s just a man, they said. He’s a good teacher but He went a little crazy at the end. He was delusional. Others were denying the humanity of Jesus. They reasoned in their own minds that God sees the material world as something evil and unclean in the flesh. Therefore, God would never come in the flesh as the Gospel says. They concocted a belief that this was an illusion of some sort.
What is at stake is the Christian teaching on the incarnation of Jesus Christ. His identity. The incarnation is an all-important doctrine of the Christian faith. We celebrate it at Christmas, which is more than a birthday or holiday. It is a lifesaving truth for the world about the Son of God coming into our world to rescue and save us. That is the reason we sing the words “. . . Hail the incarnate Deity” in the familiar Christian Christmas Carol Hark! the Herald Angels Sing. Christmas, you see, is not about sentiment, but salvation. It is a lifesaving truth.
It is interesting to note that the Gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke have a lot to say about angels, shepherds, and all the rest. However, in John’s Gospel, we find no baby in a manger, no angels, no shepherds, no talk about a virgin birth. Perhaps John felt this was all too distracting to the main truth. He begins his Christmas gospel this way, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us . . . full of grace and truth.” John wanted to make sure his readers didn’t miss the truth about who Jesus is.
First of all, Jesus is the Son of God. He is divine; God revealing Himself to us in the flesh. In Jesus, we get a picture of God and what God is like. One time in the Upper Room before Jesus was to go to the cross, Philip, one of His disciples, said, “Show us the Father . . .”
Jesus replied, “Philip all this time I have been with you and you still don’t get it? If you have seen me, you have seen the Father!” (John 14:8-9).
So Jesus shows us what God is like.
• In Jesus we see God is compassionate toward the hurting, the hungry, and the lowly.
• In Jesus we learn God knows us and values us. We are of more value than many sparrows.
• In Jesus we find God hates sin and death. Jesus wept at the tomb of His friend Lazarus. He forgives the sinner and does not write us off as lost causes. His criticism of the Pharisees’ hypocrisy shows us that God values serving, justice, and kindness. He is love. He’s the most loving Father imaginable.
• In Jesus we see God is big. He is in charge of the world. He has power and authority over everything: life and death and storms – you name it. He is true God in the flesh.
John also points out that Jesus is true Man. He was 100% human being as well as 100% divine. He came in the flesh; God in the flesh. He wasn’t just a spiritual apparition or an illusion of some sort as the false teachers were claiming.
Jesus, the physical creation, has been actually reaffirmed. God actually loves the creation He made. He loves us so much, He entered into it by becoming one of us, which has implications. What a tremendous compliment to human beings that God became one of us and went to such drastic measures! He entered our world and became one of us experiencing all we experience. He knows how I feel. He is the great High Priest who sympathizes with me because He understands what it means to hurt. He understands what it means to be disappointed. He understands what it means to be hungry or thirsty or to have your heart broken.
Jesus is also the prototype. He is what God intended for humanity to be in the first place – perfectly loving God and perfectly loving your neighbor. John tells us, In Jesus, we not only have true God and true man, He is also the perfect, sinless sacrifice for humanity’s sin. He is the perfect man who lived the perfect life making Him the perfect payment for human sin as God invites us to a restored relationship with Him through His Son.
The last part of our text tells us God in His love gave us His gift, Jesus. He is God’s love gift to us that we might live through Him and have life instead of death. This became possible for each one of us through Jesus’ atoning sacrifice for our sins at the cross and the resurrection that affirmed it.
So we have three basics of the Christian faith before us in today’s passage. It still stands. It hasn’t changed.
• Jesus Christ is true God.
• He is true man.
• He is God’s perfect sacrificial gift of love to rescue us from sin and death.
Any preaching, any teaching, or talk about Jesus stating less than this is not the truth, so don’t buy it! They are lies that can be toxic to your spiritual health. Jesus is so much more than what some may say about Him. Jesus is the Son of God, the Savior of the world. He is your Savior and my Savior. He stands alone above all others.
I love this statement by John Stott: “To relegate Christianity to one chapter in a book of the world’s religions is to Christian people intolerable. Jesus Christ to us is not one of many spiritual leaders in the history of the world. He is not one of Hinduism’s 330 million gods. He is not only one of the forty prophets recognized in the Qur’an. He is not even so quote Carnegie Simpson, ‘Jesus the Great’, as you might say or Napoleon the Holy or Alexander the Great. To us, he is the Only, simply Jesus. Nothing could be added to that. He is unique.”
So, if you are a Christian and someone says to you, Jesus was simply a great moral teacher, don’t you buy it.
If someone says, It doesn’t matter what you believe, just as long as you are sincere about it, don’t you buy it.
If someone says, All roads lead to the same place, don’t you buy it.
If someone says, Jesus is nice. He’s a way to God, don’t you buy it. He is THE way.
It’s up to you, someone might say, to live a good life, and God will welcome you in. That’s all that matters. Don’t you buy it.
Someone might say Jesus AND your good works get you in heaven, but don’t you buy it. Jesus + Nothing = Salvation.
Instead, hang onto Jesus, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Way of salvation. Trust in Him alone for eternal life and the promise of heaven. Give Him absolute authority over you for the rest of your days. Entrust yourself to His care and serve Him. Commit yourself to studying under Him in the Gospels and in the letters after the Gospels. Add in some solid theological books such as Basic Christianity by John Stott or some of the writings on Jesus by N. T. Wright. Take an Alpha course in your church on the basics of the faith in order to keep your God-thinking sharp and strong so you don’t get led away from the truth, the life-giving truth of Jesus.
And not only that, stand up for Him. Stand up for Jesus by sharing Him with others who don’t know Him yet. Don’t be silent when someone contends no single religion can know the fullness of truth. You see, your silence is affirmation. And don’t be surprised, as you speak up for Him, when you are called narrowminded or unenlightened, or if you are treated with some condescension. Jesus said we would. However, He also said that as we stand up for Him, He will stand with us. Always.
Stick by Him. Let people know He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Moms and dads – teach it to your kids. It is your responsibility. Disciple them as to who Jesus really is. Share Him boldly without apology with your friends. Give them this truth.
I am a fan of Christian writer, Tim Keller. In an essay in the book, A Place For Truth, Tim claims that he often hears people say, “I don’t know which religion is true” or “No one can know the truth.” According to Keller, this often leads to a conversation that goes something like this:
I’m talking to someone who does not believe in Christianity or Christ. At some point he or she responds to me suddenly, ‘Wait a minute! What are you trying to do to me?’
I respond, “I’m trying to evangelize you.”
“You mean you’re trying to convert me?”
“You’re trying to get me to adopt your view of spiritual reality and convert me?”
“How narrow! How awful! Nobody should say that their view of spirituality is better than anybody else’s and try to convert them to it. No! No! No! Everybody should just leave everybody else alone.”
“Wait a minute . . .” I say. “You want me to adopt your take on spiritual reality; you want me to adopt your view of all the various religions. What are you doing to me? What you’re saying is, you have a take on spiritual reality, and you think I would be better off and the world would be better off if we adopted yours. I have my take on spiritual reality and I think mine is better than yours, and I’m trying to convert you to mine . . . If you say ‘Don’t evangelize anybody,’ that is to evangelize me into your Western, white, individualistic, privatized understanding of religion.”
“Who’s more narrow? It’s not narrow to make an exclusive truth claim because everybody – every religion – makes an exclusive truth claim . . . Everybody has a take on reality. Everybody thinks the world would be better if those people over there adopted mine. Everybody! Narrowness is not the content of a truth claim. Narrowness is our attitude toward the people who don’t happen to share our point of view.”
Truth is truth!
Finally, if you’re someone who’s unfamiliar with what I’ve been talking about today and you have questions, I encourage you to act on this truth today. Place your faith in Jesus Christ, and what He’s done for you. Ask Him to come into your life and take over, for He holds the key to life. He is the way to God, the truth that saves, and the life with God that lasts forever. Amen.
Pastor Steve Kramer