“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet. Yet simply calling something a rose does not make it one.
This is the problem with many of the modern day cults that claim to be Christian groups. They may claim to be Christian. They may be have the word ‘Christian’ in their name. But at a closer look you can see that they simply are not. Here is a list of some of the major teachings about Jesus from some of these groups and why what they teach doesn’t smell as sweet as true Christianity.
1. Was Jesus Created?
Jesus is the literal “son of God”.
He was the first spirit baby created.
He and Satan were brothers.
2. Jehovah’s Witness
“Since all created things had a beginning, there was a time when God was alone. Countless ages ago, however, God became a Creator. Who was his first creation? The last book of the Bible identifies Jesus as “the beginning of the creation by God.” Jesus is “the firstborn of all creation.” … Yes, Jesus was the only one directly created by God himself.”
3. The Bible does not teach that Jesus was created.
Revelation 3:14 means that Jesus is the source of all creation, not the first thing created.
Colossians 1:15,16 means that he is first in order of important – the firstborn of creation.
John 1:3 says that there is nothing that has been made that was not made by Jesus (this would include himself!).
2. Is Jesus God?
1. Jehovah’s Witness
“Jesus never claimed to be God. Everything he said about himself indicates that he did not consider himself equal to God in any way—not in power, not in knowledge, not in age. In every period of his existence, whether in heaven or on earth, his speech and conduct reflect subordination to God. God is always the superior, Jesus the lesser one who was created by God.”
2. Christian Science
“Do you believe that Jesus is the same as God? No. But Christian Scientists do believe that Jesus stands alone in his mission and purpose as the promised Messiah. Christian Science teaches that Jesus embodied the divinity of God but that he himself was not Deity—in keeping with Jesus’ own words that he was not the Father, and that God, the Father, alone should be worshiped.”
3. The Bible claims that Jesus is God.
He is prayed to (2 Corinthians 12:8).
He forgives sins (Mark 2:1-12).
He fulfills OT passages that are clearly about YHWY, the God of Israel (Mark 1:3; Matthew 11:28-30; John 10:14).
He is called God (John 20:28; Titus 2:13).
He affirms to others that he is God (John 8:58-59).
He is worshiped by men and angels (Matthew 14:32-33; Revelation 5).
3. Is Jesus Our Only Hope?
1. Both Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons
Salvation is through Christ, but also involves participation in the organization, obedience to the organization’s practices and rules.
Jesus is the greatest spirit-filled human teacher that ever lived; yet salvation is for everyone of every religion and faith.
3. The Bible clearly claims that Jesus Christ is our only hope.
Salvation is in no other name (Acts 4:17).
I am the way, the truth, and the life – no one comes to the Father, but through me (John 14:6).
There is one God and one mediator between God and men – the man Jesus Christ (1 Tim 2:5).
Matt 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13
When we last left off, we saw a spectacular scene at the baptism of Jesus. The Spirit came upon him like a dove and anointed him to do the work of the Christ. God, the Father, spoke from heaven and declared that Jesus was in fact the coming King who would be his beloved Son. Yet, one final question needed to be answered before Jesus could begin his ministry – what kind of Messiah would he be? We are told that the Spirit led him to wilderness for testing after forty days and nights of fasting. We cannot help but hear echos of the story of Israel in the wilderness as well as the Garden scene in Genesis. Will Jesus be faithful to God’s will or will he, like Adam and Israel, succumb to the temptation and join their failure?
Once Jesus’ fasting is complete, an act that is very impressive in itself, Satan comes to him to offer three temptations. First, he tempts Jesus to turn stones to bread. Second (following Matthew’s order), he tempts Jesus to put God to the test by jumping from the temple mount. Third, he tempts Jesus with all the kingdoms of the world if he will only bow down and worship Satan. All three temptations are quite similar to the many temptations that we all face. John gives us a very similar list in 1 John 2:16 – the lust of the flesh (stones), lust of the eyes (kingdoms), the pride of life (testing God). And in fact the author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus was tempted in every way that we are (Heb 4:15). Yet, we will miss the depth and force of these temptations, if we fail to see what is at stake:
1. Will he be a Messiah who will embrace or reject his dependence upon the Father? Adam faced this temptation and sought to become himself like God. He rejected his dependence upon God. Israel too faced this temptation and directed their dependence towards the pagan gods and idols. But Jesus, facing the temptation to turn stones to bread, instead embraced his dependence upon God. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” (Matt 4:4). He will be a Messiah who will embrace his dependence upon the Father.
2. Will he be a Messiah who will embrace or reject his humility? The issue at hand within this temptation is not whether or not Jesus has the allegiance of heaven’s hosts. Satan and Jesus both know that he does. The issue at hand is will Jesus exploit his equality with God or will he empty himself of these divine prerogatives. Jesus responds by saying that God is not one to be put to test. Paul’s words in the book of Philippians ring true in Jesus’ triumph over this temptation: “Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men,” (Phil 2:6-7). He will be a Messiah who will embrace his humility.
3. Will he be a Messiah who will embrace or reject the cross? This last temptation is very subtle and is more than meets the eye. We look at this temptation and say, How is worshiping Satan a temptation? Why would that even tempt Jesus, who is himself God in the flesh? Why would God be tempted to worship Satan? The force of this temptation comes in what Satan is offering. He is offering Jesus all the peoples of the earth. But isn’t this what God is offering Jesus (Psalm 2:7-8; Phil 2:10-11)? Yes, but God offers the nations to Jesus only through the work of the cross. Satan is offering Jesus the world without suffering, without shame, and without the cross. Yet, no matter how painful or how difficult that suffering might be, Jesus for the joy set before him will not inherit the earth without the cross. He will love and obey only God. Even if that means a road to Calvary. He will be a Messiah who will embrace his cross.
Matt 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-23; John 1:29-34
Jesus is not one to do things as we might expect. The truth is there are some things Jesus says and does that are quite unexpected. One such thing is his coming to John to be baptized. We are told that men and women were coming to John to baptized by him in the Jordan. And his baptism was one of repentance. Those coming to John were seeking to return their hearts to God, to seek him in repentance. John had a very fruitful ministry and was no doubt very busy teaching on the kingdom of God and on repentance. Its not hard to image his surprise when he sees Jesus coming to him to be baptized. We might expect Jesus to come and approve. We might even expect Jesus to join John in teaching and baptizing. But what Jesus did was quite unexpected.
Jesus wanted to be baptized by John. Even John himself was perplexed by Jesus’ request. Why would the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world need to repent himself? Matthew tells us that John even tried to resist saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Matt 3:14). But Jesus responded and said that he needed to be baptized in order to “fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus was coming to be baptized because it was what God desired for him to do. It was to fulfill what is right or pleasing to God. But why would Jesus need to be baptized to please God? If he is not coming to repent of his own sin – which he by no means is – then what does his baptism mean?
First, Jesus’ baptism was a way of identifying with his people. He wasn’t baptized because he need to repent of his own sins. He was baptized as a way of joining with the people of Israel who were, as a corporate whole, turning to God. This was the purpose of John’s ministry – to prepare the hearts of Israel for the coming of the Lord. And Jesus, who is that coming Lord, joins his people and identifies himself with them.
Second, Jesus’ baptism was in a sense his coronation ceremony. All four gospels tell us that when Jesus was baptized the Holy Spirit came upon him like a dove. What exactly this looked like is unclear. But what is clear is that Jesus was being anointed to do the work of God’s Messiah. This scene was pictured in the Old Testament. At the coronation of the king, the priest would anoint them with oil, an act that signifed the anointing of God’s Spirit upon them. Every anointed king in the Old Testament was pointing to the One who would come. And now the Spirit has come upon Jesus and the Father has testified to fact that Jesus is his beloved Son, the true King (Psalm 2). Jesus is now ready to do the work for which he was sent. The Christ is now ready for his ministry.
A PREPARED WAY
Matt 3:1-12; Mark 1:1-8; Luke 3:1-18; John 1:19-28
At the beginning of every gospel in the New Testament, we find an unusual character. This man was John the Baptist. He stationed his ministry in the most unlikely of places, the wilderness. He was dressed in a garment full of camel’s hair. His diet consisted of everyone’s favorite dish, locusts and honey. If we were to lay eyes on him, we would probably think he looked more like a beggar or maybe a social outcast.
However, this man was no outcast wandering in the wilderness alone. He was a man with a powerful voice. A man with a great ministry by preaching on repentance and baptizing men and women in the Jordan River. In fact, he had such a following that the scripture says “Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him” (Matthew 3:5). Yet with such a great ministry it was never centered around his glory and his fame.
Instead, in our passage we see John the Baptist fully devoted to one thing, and that is fulfilling this prophecy from Isaiah 40 (similar prophecies can be found in Malachi 3):
“A voice cries: In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 40:3-5
The Lord had sent John the Baptist as a prophet to pave the way for Jesus Christ. He was the voice promised in Isaiah. The one called to make the path straight for the glory of the Lord. The voice that would be an arrow pointing to Jesus Christ.
John the Baptist preached repentance, but Jesus would grant the gift of repentance through his life and death.
John the Baptist would baptize with water, but Jesus would baptize believers with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
John the Baptist preached forgiveness of sins, but Jesus was he Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world.
John the Baptist was ushering in the coming King who would be the very glory of God, and Jesus is that King.
John truly was a humble man whose greatest desire was that Christ would increase and he would decrease (John 3:3). It would be wise of us today to follow in his steps of humility. Yet it would be wiser, if we would set our gaze on the one he was pointing to, Jesus Christ, the lamb of God who came to take way the sins of the world (John 1:29).
HIS EARLY YEARS
Matthew 2:13-23, Luke 2:39-52
We know very little about the early years of Jesus’ life. We know that he spent some of these years growing up as an exile in Egypt. We know that after the death of Herod the Great, his family returned to Israel and settled in Nazareth of Galilee. We know that he grew up there, the son of a carpenter, living in relative obscurity from the rest of the world. We know that he was raised to know the law and to love the God of Israel, just like every other normal Jewish boy growing up in Palestine. We know that at least once his family made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. And other than these things we don’t know very much.
Throughout the centuries people have been intrigued with this part of Jesus’ life. What was he like as a boy? What was he like as a teenager? Did his parents ever have to teach him anything? How did he relate to his brothers and sister? These questions have led some to create stories about these years of Jesus’ life. In one story the boy Jesus makes clay pigeons and then brings them to life. In another story, some neighbors complain about Jesus’ family and he curses them with blindness. And in another, Jesus heals his brother James who is bitten by a poisonous snake. [These are all stories from the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. To see why it is not part of the Bible read this article: “Who Decided Which Books Should Go in the Bible“]
These stories are at best entertainment and are quite different than the picture of the boy Jesus we see in the gospels. Luke says this of him: “And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him,” (Luke 2:40 ESV). This is about all that we have describing what Jesus was like. We see a story of him when he was twelve, but it just further displays this truth. He wasn’t some boy wizard turning tricks to impress his friends. He wasn’t a testy child who could summons disease and aliments at will. He wasn’t just someone handy to have with you when you went hiking were snakes were found. No, he was a child – just like every other child – who grew in wisdom and was loved by God.
I think that this absence of material on the life of Jesus is meant to show us how normal Jesus was. Sure he was unique. Who else can boast of being both God and man? Yet, he was profoundly one of us. In every way he was one of us. He learned how to walk. He learned the trade of his father. He had friends. He was a big brother. He went to the Synagogue on the Sabbath. He loved his mother. The author of Hebrews tells us that he was made like us in every respect (Hebrews 2:17). How amazing is it that in order to save us, God become one of us. He didn’t just visit us. He didn’t just appear like us. No. He became, in the very truest sense of the word, human.
A SAVIOR KING IS BORN
Matthew 1:1-2:12; Luke 1:1-2:38
Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year. And what I love most about Christmas is that it is a time to celebrate that our Hope has come. After thousands of years of waiting, in the fullness of time, God sent forth his Son (Gal 4:4). After centuries of the people of God looking forward to the One who was to come, Jesus finally came. Christmas is a time to remember the faithfulness of God and to rejoice in the salvation he brings through Jesus.
While these scenes of the Christmas story are familiar to us, their significance may not be. Here are three observation about who Jesus is and why he came from these first stories of our King.
1. Jesus fulfills all the promises and hopes of the Old Testament. Matthew starts his gospel by telling us that this Jesus is the son of David, the son of Abraham. This is not just a note on his family history. It is a declaration that the promised son – a promise given to both men – has now come. The angel tells Mary that this Jesus will sit on the throne of his father David (Luke 1:32). He is the coming King to reign forever (2 Sam 7:13). He is the one through whom God will bless all the families of the earth – the beginnings of which we see in the coming of the Wise Men – (Gen 12:3). Every promise and every hope now finds its yes and amen in him.
2. Jesus was humble in coming to the earth. Beyond the fact that Jesus, the second Person of the Trinity, humbled himself to come to the earth (Phil 2:6-7), the way in which he came was a display of humility. He was born to working-class peasants. He was born in a barn and laid in a feeding trough. No great palace of kings. No great fanfare at his coming. Just a lowly family, treasuring their son and the quite truth that he would one day be King over all. What a humble beginning!
3. Jesus was born to die. Mary and Joseph, at the command of the angel, name the baby Jesus. The name is found in the Old Testament as Joshua. It means “the Lord saves.” Jesus was born to be the savior of his people. Yet, he would save them in an unexpected way – by laying down his life. He was born to save his people from their sins (Matt 1:21). And the only way to do that was to be the perfect sacrifice himself. Even from the beginning of his life, his death was in view. Christmas and Easter are inseparably connected. As John Donne once wrote: “There is an inseparable line from the créche to the cross.” From the créche to the cross, from the cave manger to the Calvary mount, from the swaddling cloths to the grave clothes, we see this truth: Jesus was born to die.
I thought we would start this series off, not with our words, but with the words of the apostle John. What better introduction to Jesus is there?
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”
(John 1:1-18 ESV)