"Jesus the Obvious"
Sven met his old friend Ollie walking down the road – (and I can tell this story because my blood is saturated with Scandinavian DNA.) So Sven meets his old friend Ollie walking down the road – and Sven says to him "Ollie, whatcha' up to?"
"I been fishin" says Ollie, holding up his basket.
"Oh," says Sven, "How ‘bout you give me a fish if I can guess how many fish you got in dat there basket."
Ollie smiles and says – "I'd give you both of them."
Sven thinks for a moment and then says -- "I guess five."
If only we'd left all of our denseness in the old world. Sometimes things are so obvious that we overlook them.
This is the apostle John's concern here in 1 John 2 (and we’ll be looking at a few verses in chapter 4, too). "Don't overlook the obvious," says John. You remember that he is laying out tests or indicators by which we can know if we're in true fellowship with God.
Earlier on he stresses that love and obedience are two key indicators (or tests) of our fellowship with God. And here in our passage this morning he lays out a third test – a test that is so obvious that many people miss it.
We get so caught up in living life – helping the kids pass their spelling tests and appeasing incompetent bosses – even in keeping the church moving ahead.
We get so caught up in it all – the franticness of it – that we overlook the obvious. Look at 1 John 2:21-24
“So I am writing to you not because you don’t know the truth but because you know the difference between truth and lies. 22 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. 23 Anyone who denies the Son doesn’t have the Father, either. But anyone who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.
24 So you must 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.”Then skip over to chapter 4 vss. 2
“This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God: If a person claiming to be a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God.”In a nutshell John is saying, if you don't have Jesus right you don't really have fellowship with God -- because there is nothing more basic to relating to God than relating to Jesus.
There are all kinds of people running around purporting to have great religious truth and spiritual insights. There are solution gurus by the thousands. Wonderful! But if they don't have Jesus right they aren't from God. They're under the influence of the antichrist, says John. They are forerunners of the great evil opponent who will have it out with God at the end of the age.
They may sound religious. They may act religious. They may put on a high energy, deeply moving religious show. They may accomplish a lot – but they aren't from God because they don't acknowledge his Son Jesus Christ.
Key Point: Real fellowship with God involves a real acknowledgment of Jesus.
Jesus is what it's all about.
"No kidding," says the cynic. "That's a no-brainer. Everyone knows that Christianity is about Jesus Christ. Just look at the word Christianity. It's all embedded right in there...Christ...ianity. Tell me something new!"
But, you know what, this is often the obvious that gets overlooked. There's a lot of stuff out there that tries to pass itself off as Christianity but fails to acknowledge Jesus in the right way.
And there are a lot of people who claim to be Christians but who fail to personally acknowledge Jesus.
They like church -- the music, the programs, and the fellowship it offers but they start to become uncomfortable if you start talking about Jesus as though he were a real person who makes a real difference – as though he were a person with whom you could have an actual and real relationship.
The Jesus story is great as long as you don't get too personal with it.
And increasingly there are people who don't even know the story. This is the first post-Christian generation in America. In the past people knew the story, the details, and at least talked like they owned it. But now, increasingly people don't even know the gospel story.
One of the ironies of our time is that crosses have become extremely popular as decorations -- t-shirts, jewelry -- even tattoos. I was talking with a clerk in Circle K the other night and he had a huge cross tattoo on his right arm. But the more we talked the more I could tell that the cross was nothing more than ornamentation.
A young woman was recently shopping to buy one in one of the costume jewelry kiosks that sets in the middle of the mall.
She started looking over the display and the clerk asked "can I help you?"
"Yes," she said, "I'd like to buy a cross."
"Well, which kind?" he asked. "We've got the kind with the little man on it and the kind without."
He didn't even know who the little man was or why they made crosses with him on it. And you know what – you can't blame him because nobody has ever taken the time to explain the good news of how God became a man on that first Christmas, allowed himself to be crucified on a cross – a murder which somehow -- paid the penalty for all of our sin and rebellion against God.
The cross wiped our slate clean – at least for all who would accept a clean slate being offered on their account. (You see, God doesn't force himself on anyone.) Furthermore, that little dead man on the cross was put in a tomb -- but three days later he came alive and broke loose -- the first person to permanently defeat death -- breaking it's ultimate grip on humanity.
It's a pretty amazing story. But most people have never had it explained to them. Or maybe they just aren’t hearing it when it is.
Over the years I’ve had many people tell me that they grew up in such and such church but no one ever explained the gospel to them. Well, I know for a fact that in the churches which they mention that they do a lot of public Bible reading and the gospel is clearly spelled out in the readings -- even if they don’t connect to it in the preaching.
But for whatever reason there are people who haven’t heard the story of Jesus -- I mean really heard. And so they think that the little man on the cross is a cute decoration -- one more consumer choice for people who want to adorn themselves with the ancient symbol of execution.
But for those who know and who believe, Jesus, is so obvious, that it's easy to overlook him. He's not new, He's not novel. He's not entertaining.
He's just Jesus who has always been there and always will be.
And this is why John is reminding us that Real fellowship with God involves a real acknowledgment of Jesus. Now, you remember the context from which John writes in the book of 1 John. (We’re slowly working our way through 1 John.) There were some religious people around who had started out as followers of Christ – or at least they appeared as such.
“These people left our churches because they never really belonged with us; otherwise they would have stayed with us. When they left us, it proved that they do not belong with us.”Likewise, 4:1 --
"Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world.”That is, don’t believe every being or person who purports to be speaking the truth. So many people are sucked in just by the fact that a person sounds convincing and spiritual. They carry themselves in an authoritative manner and talk about spiritual matters. They have a growing following.
And people somehow take that to mean that they must be from God -- but they aren't! Don’t overlook the obvious. Just because someone has a following doesn’t mean they are from God.
Thus John writes:
“...do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world.”The apostle is writing as a precaution against the false-prophets -- the James Arthur Rays, Jim Jones, David Koreshs, and the Joseph Smiths who had left the fold of legitimacy (if they were ever really there) to preach their own version of the gospel.
But how do we know who's telling the truth and who is a spiritual con-man? Sometimes it's not so easy to see – especially if we're a little bit dense -- which we all are at times..
Well, responds John, don't over look the obvious. And most people who get sucked into false teaching, whether it be the extremes of the cults or the watered-down generic religion championed by some in the old mainline churches, are overlooking the obvious.
You can tell whether something is true or not. You can tell, whether a prophet or teacher or preacher is in true fellowship with God by what he or she does with Jesus.
This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God: If a person claiming to be a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God.Remember, this was the first century heresy – to deny that Jesus was truly human. Instead in their minds he was some kind of spiritual phantom that appeared human but he wasn't really a man.
Today, the dominate heresy is to deny his divinity and to say he was just a very special and a very enlightened man – the pendulum swings back and forth.
Whatever the teaching, though, go back to what's being said about Jesus to help get your bearings and a reality check.
Chapter 4, Verse 3 --
“But if someone claims to be a prophet and does not acknowledge the truth about Jesus, that person is not from God. Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard is coming into the world and indeed is already here.”Real fellowship with God involves a real acknowledgment of Jesus.
Well, What exactly does this mean? What does it mean to really acknowledge Jesus?
Let me suggest this morning that there are two ways that Jesus is acknowledged (in addition to what we discussed earlier when we identified that obedience and love). Perhaps I should say that we acknowledge Jesus on two additional levels. Neither is greater than the other – they are two sides of the same coin.
#1 -- First of all there is doctrinal acknowledgment.
Who can tell me what the word “doctrine” means?
Right, the word doctrine simply means TEACHING. And thus a "doctor" is a teacher. That's what the word means in Latin.
Doctrine is the content of what we believe. The facts through which we make decisions about faith.
Now, I know that apart from a few people it is not popular to make a big deal out of doctrine these days.
I remember having a conversation with a visitor to one of the church’s I served and he told me that he was looking for a church which didn't have any doctrine.
This, of course, doesn't make any sense. I think he was confused and had probably had an experience at a church which uncharitably used doctrine to club people to death. But the fact is that a church without doctrine is merely a social organization – a fraternity!
Friends, we have doctrine in our church. We believe in the apostolic view of Jesus. This is the truth which we believe is spelled out in the Bible and in which we trust – in which we will not compromise.
And if someone comes along and teaches that Jesus wasn't really born of the virgin Mary and that he only appeared to be raised from the dead – that there was some kind of a divine hallucination... We don't believe that such a person is from God or is in fellowship with God because he has gotten the important point of God's revelation wrong! He's missed the basics. He's missed the obvious.
And even if he's sincere he's not really connected with Jesus. This is why it is so important that if you claim Jesus as your Savior and Lord that you understand as much about him as you possibly can.
Do you remember when you first became interested in a certain boy or girl? Do you remember the fact finding mission you launched?
You asked everyone who knew her what she was like? Did she do sports? Is she really as nice as she seems? What year is she? Is she smart? Does she have a boyfriend somewhere?
You don't want to ask her out to a Lady Gaga concert if she thinks that Mozart is wild and cutting edge -- which he was in his day!
If you're going to be with someone you want to have as clear of a picture of that person as you possibly can. YOU WANT AS MANY FACTS AS YOU CAN GET YOUR HANDS ON.
Fortunately for us God has revealed an extremely clear picture of Jesus in the Bible. Actually, in the Old Testament it's kind'a fuzzy. You see a unique figure out there -- a savior of some sort. But as we get closer and move into the gospels that figure comes into focus.
We see a messiah who identifies with the poor and marginalized, raises the dead, calms storms, and pulls the rug out from under the religious experts. He is crucified for the sins of the world and then raised from the dead. After which he returns to the presence of God the Father.
The rest of the NT is an unpacking of these doctrinal facts by the apostles and their associates. The people who personally knew Jesus are interpreting what his story means for us. This is doctrine and we ought not to shy away from it but we ought to be engrossed by it because it is about the most important person in the world.
There is a second dimension of confessing or acknowledging Jesus Christ that I want to highlight here. These passages are packed and we could spend months dissecting them, talking about the antichrist, the last hour, the idea of anointing, the idea of truth vs. error, the notion of confidence in faith -- and there is plenty more.
But in terms of where we're at and in light of the time frame we're working with, I've chosen only two to highlight --
- the first being doctrinal acknowledgment
- And the second, is heart acknowledgment.
“So you must 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.”1 John 2:28 --
“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.”Knowing someone is not merely a matter of having right information about someone.
I know a lot about Barak Obama, but I don't have a relationship with him so I don't really know him. I don't really acknowledge him with my life.
On the other hand, I know a lot about Cheryl. She had one of the highest GPAs in our high school. She likes dark chocolate -- but can’t eat chocolate because of allergies. She drinks decaf coffee -- because it doesn’t have caffeine. Her hair is a lot darker than when I met her in the 7th grade at Edwin Markham Junior High School – (mine is a lot lighter!). These are the facts, the doctrine, if you will!
But more than this I have a relationship with her -- she has my heart. And I acknowledge her significance in my life by calling her my wife. I want to do things for her. I want to be with her. I want to talk with her. This is heart acknowledgment -- the same kind of acknowledgment that is implied by John when he says in 2:28 we must "remain” or “live in fellowship with Christ." A dynamic living confession.
The Message translation of 2:28 resonates with me. “And now, children, stay with Christ. Live deeply in Christ.”
Are you living deeply with Christ? Do you have a heart-lived relationship with Jesus Christ? Sure you recite the creed and even believe it to be true – but do you have a relationship with Jesus?
Yes, you can rattle of the books of the Bible in order -- Perhaps you’ve memorized lots of Bible verses -- and you can tell me the story of the gospel in total detail. That’s good -- but do you have a relationship with Jesus?
Perhaps I'm stuck on the obvious -- but that's the point, isn't it? We often mess up with the obvious --the basics. How did Vince Lombardi, whom many still consider to be the greatest coach in the history of football... How did he start each of his player lectures?
"Gentlemen, this is a football."
The basics. You’ve got to keep returning to the basics if you’re going to be successful.
And John is saying -- "Church, this is Jesus.” This is what it means to acknowledge Jesus. You’ve got to know about him and you got to know him.
Remember, 1 John is a letter written to seasoned believers -- people who had heard all of this stuff before.
In vs. 21 of chapter 2 John says "So I am writing to you not because you don’t know the truth but because you know the difference between truth and lies.”
Vs. 24 -- "So you must 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."
"I'm reminding you of the obvious," says John.
If you acknowledge Jesus as Savior and Lord then you're in fellowship with God – no matter what the religious scammers say. You've got it all. It's the real and genuine thing.
Maybe, though, you’re not a seasoned follower of Jesus. Now is the time to turn and acknowledge him in your heart and in your mind – in your life – and all your actions.
This, I would contend with the apostles, is the obvious thing to do – regardless of who you are – where you’ve been – what you’ve done.
If you’re serious about knowing God you need to know that real fellowship with him involves a real acknowledgement of Jesus -- an acknowledgment that is doctrine and heart-lived. There is no better time to take such a step than today. And this is the good news.