Scriptures: II Corinthians 11:1-6; I Corinthians 15:1-11
While studying our scripture passage for this week, I discovered a new image for what it means to be a minister. I’m a matchmaker. In days before online dating apps, the way you met a compatible person was often through a friend, someone who knew you and the other person and set you up on a date. It was called matchmaking. To me, that is a great image for what it means to be a pastor. A church is not supposed to fall in love with its pastor; it’s supposed to fall in love with Jesus. My job is to set up you and Jesus on a date, to get you and Jesus into a relationship.
Which is what the apostle Paul has been trying to do with the Corinthians. Verse 2: “I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I promised you in marriage to one husband, to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” Okay, maybe this goes beyond matchmaking; it’s more like an arranged marriage. But the idea is that Paul is an intermediary. Paul is trying to get the Corinthians into a relationship with Jesus.
But something has gone terribly wrong. Verse 3: “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by its cunnings, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” The Corinthians are being seduced into a kind of spiritual adultery, taking up with partners other than the one to whom they have been engaged.
But here is the tricky part. The other partners are disguising themselves as the fiancé. They are masquerading as Jesus. Paul warns about this in verse 4: “For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you submit to it readily enough.” The Corinthians are being seduced away from Jesus by people who dress up to look like Jesus. They use all the same words that are found in the Bible—Jesus, spirit, gospel—they use all the same religious words but give them a different meaning.
In his book The Jesus I Never Knew Philip Yancey describes some of the interpretations of Jesus which he has heard from various people. He writes,
Norm Evans, former Miami Dolphins lineman, wrote in his book On God's Squad, "I guarantee you Christ would be the toughest guy who ever played this game. ... If he were alive today I would picture a six-foot-six-inch 260-pound defensive tackle who would always make the big plays and would be hard to keep out of the backfield for offensive lineman like myself." Fritz Peterson, former New York Yankee, more easily fancies Jesus in a baseball uniform: "I firmly believe that if Jesus Christ was sliding into second base, he would knock the second baseman into left field to break up the double play" (p. 19).
You see the problem? People use the terms “Jesus” and “Christ,” but they use those words to picture a Jesus of their own creation, a Jesus who looks less like God and more like themselves.
How do we prevent that from happening? The answer, I think, is to check sources. The way to distinguish between a fake Jesus and the true Jesus is by checking the source.
By the way, I think this is also a good way to distinguish true news from fake news. Check sources. To begin with don’t accept anything as fact just because it is reposted on Facebook or re-tweeted on Twitter. Go back and check sources, preferably multiple sources.
The apostle Paul operates in a similar way when it comes to claims about Jesus. Listen again to what he says to the Corinthians in our first scripture reading—I Corinthians 15:3-8:
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I had in turn received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sister, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
Notice how Paul uses sources for his gospel about Jesus. Yes, he had his own personal experience of Jesus, but he checked out his understanding of Jesus with the people who actually knew him, like Peter and James. When Paul wrote this letter, Peter and James were still alive. Paul met them. He describes this in his letter to the Galatians. By the way, even the most skeptical, critical Bible scholars agree that the apostle Paul wrote the letters to the Romans, the Corinthians, the Galatians, the Philippians, and the first letter to the Thessalonians, and that Paul wrote these letter between about 60 and 70 AD. Even critical Bible scholars agree that Paul knew at least some of Jesus’ first followers and that he wrote these letters only 30 to 40 years after Jesus actually walked the earth. So Paul knows who he is talking about.
There are a lot of people out there today who talk about Jesus and don’t know who they are talking about. Back in the 1980s, there was a church in north Idaho called The Church of Jesus Christ Aryan Nations. Their pastor, Richard Butler, talked about Jesus all the time, but the Jesus he described was a white supremacist, someone who believed that white people—I should add “white non-Jewish people”—were the chosen race. But that flies in the face of the people who actually knew Jesus. For Jesus, by all accounts of the people who knew him, was a Middle Eastern Jew. That is the truth: Jesus was a Middle Eastern Jew who taught us about loving people beyond our own clan. Richard Butler preached a fake gospel, a gospel that contradicted the best sources we have for what Jesus actually said and did.
There are many other groups out there claiming to know the mind of Jesus on various issues. Do they really know the mind of Jesus? I think the only way to answer that is to check the sources. Read the book, and not just a verse or two that fits the way you already think. Read the whole thing, at least the whole New Testament, so that your picture of Jesus fits into the total context of what God is doing in Jesus and in our world today. That’s what we are trying to do here on Sunday mornings and in Bible studies during the week, and if you want additional help, I can suggest other resources.
A psychiatrist named Scott Peck tells a wonderful story about meeting Jesus again as a 40 year-old adult when he began reading the gospels for himself. This is from Scott Peck’s book The Road Less Traveled:
There were all kinds of milestones on (my journey of faith), but perhaps the most important was reading the Gospels for the first time at the age of forty. ... I was absolutely thunderstruck by the extraordinary reality of the man I found in the Gospels. I discovered a man who was almost continually frustrated. His frustration leaps out of virtually every page: "What do I have to say to you? How many times do I have to say it? What do I have to do to get through to you?" I also discovered a man who was frequently sad and sometimes depressed ... a man who was terribly, terribly lonely, yet often desperately needed to be alone. I discovered a man so incredibly real that no one could have made Him up.
It occurred to me then that if the Gospel writers had been into PR and embellishment, as I had assumed, they would have created the kind of Jesus three quarters of Christians still seem to be trying to create ... (someone) with a sweet, unending smile on His face, patting little children on the head, just strolling the earth with this unflappable, unshakable equanimity, because with His mellow-yellow Christ consciousness, He's got peace of mind. But the Jesus of the Gospels--who some suggest is the best-kept secret of Christianity--did not have much "peace of mind," as we ordinarily think of peace of mind in the world's terms, and insofar as we can be His followers, perhaps we won't either. Perhaps that's not the point.
So that's when I began to suspect that, rather than being public relations specialists, the Gospel writers were … [trying to describe] the events and sayings in the life of a man they themselves hardly began to understand, but in whom they knew that Heaven and earth had met. And that's when I began to fall in love with Jesus (pp. 159-61).
You don’t have to go far to distinguish the true gospel from fake gospels. Just read the book, and if you need help, ask me. I am, after all, in the business of matchmaking.