It is rare to find someone who does not admire Jesus. After all, he has given the world the highest ethical teaching and world-shaping, unforgettable stories like The Good Samaritan and The Prodigal Son.
But a pernicious problem plagues this high respect for Jesus – people don’t know who he truly is – or, they don’t want to know. Do people want to honor Jesus as a great teacher? Absolutely. But he is much more. Do people want to follow his example of love? No doubt. But he is much more. Do some people think him to be a prophet? Yes! 1.5 billion Muslims revere him as a prophet. But he is much more.
The Gospel presents him as the world’s Savior and the true Lord of heaven and earth. Jesus is Lord of all.
“But wait! In recent years new Gospels have been discovered – we can now read the Gospel of Judas, the Gospel of Philip, of Mary Magdalene, and Thomas. They present a different Jesus. Why do you insist on Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?”
These kinds of questions and issues form the third challenge the Church faces today. I call it “The Mystic Messiah.” This is the challenge that relativizes the uniqueness of Jesus and reduces him to a mystic like other mystics and teachers of “timeless truths.”
We have combated this spirit of syncretism by quoting a few key verses:
- I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but by Me (John 14:6).
- And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12)
- For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5).
These are great words and potent weapons. But let me suggest a far more powerful weapon – the weapon of connecting the story of Christ to the greater story of the Gospel of the Kingdom. Let me explain.
Why should we believe, for example, the Gospel of John over the Gospel of Thomas or the Gospel of Mary Magdalene? Today, many advocate giving equal weight to them all and speak of the different versions of Christianity in the ancient world. If one Gospel is as good as another, why would John 14:6 take precedent over a verse, say, in Thomas?
Here is how we answer this question. We ask, “which Gospel connects to the Narrative of Power in a cohesive way? Which Gospel completes the story begun in ancient times with the stories of Abraham, Moses, David, and the prophets? Does Thomas complete the story? Does Luke? John? Which ones?”
When one examines the Gospel of Thomas, one discovers there is no narrative at all! It is just a collection of sayings; some identical to the traditional Gospel statements, some roughly similar, and some completely different. But because Thomas has no narrative, one can take a “Jesus saying” and place it within whatever framework he likes to tell whatever story he likes! Actually, the sayings in Thomas do tell a story of sorts, or, at least provide a perspective, but it is not Christian. It is a Gnostic work providing a strange conclusion to a centuries long story that was headed in another direction.
This is more apparent in the Gospels of Mary Magdalene and Judas. The Gospel of Mary Magdalene provides some narrative, but when we examine it, we discover that it is telling another story – the Gnostic story – which has a different approach to life, a different worldview, and a different destiny than the controlling narrative of Scripture – the kingdom of God. Imagine telling your children the story of the three pigs as you tuck them into bed at night. You build up the story line and you get to the climax of the big bad wolf trying to blow down the house of bricks, but as you do so, you suddenly start telling the story of Jack and the Beanstalk. He climbs down the beanstalk with the giant who steps on the house smashing it to pieces and the wolf, who turns out to be hero, gobbles up the selfish pigs. You start with one story line but end with another. Your kids would look at you and say, “What are you doing? You are messing up the story!”
The other Gospels so many hear about today are doing exactly that – they are messing up the Story! When we understand the sayings and events in the life of Jesus within the history long narrative of the kingdom of God, we put it in its right context and have a bulwark against the spirit of syncretism that relativizes Jesus and reduces him to a teacher, example, or prophet only. Failure to put the Gospel of Christ within the larger Story line of the Kingdom of God opens us to dire consequences.
Without the overarching Story, we can more easily reduce Christ to another religious teacher with timeless words of wisdom about the mystery of life. The uniqueness of his message and identity are lost. Without the Story, we can synchronize Christ’s words with eastern religions or incorporate them into other religious tales that present a vastly different view of reality, the purpose of life, and how people return to God. But with the Story, we can confidently affirm the biblical Gospels over today’s trendy embrace of these other Gospels that tell a different tale.
Jesus was no “Mystic Messiah,” no “teacher of timeless truths.” He came with the urgent message of the kingdom of God that would transform people and will eventually transform this world. He died for all, rose on the third day, and is enthroned as the world’s true Lord.
Equip yourself and learn these vital truths to share with your friends.