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Recap of Chapter 25

Who do you say I am?  It was the most important question Peter was ever asked.  People did not know what to make of this Jesus.  He was like no other rabbi.  His claims about Himself were outrageous and way out of line if He was merely human. Two thousand years had passed since God promised Abraham that through his seed all nations would be blessed.  A thousand years had passed since God promised David that his descendant would reign forever.  Now, in Jesus, God’s marathon plan of redemption was sprinting toward its climax.  Peter’s answer to the question would change his life forever.

“You are the Messiah,” Peter confessed.  Then Jesus began to teach His disciples that this messianic mission included suffering, death and a resurrection from the dead.  They objected to this idea of a Messiah, but Jesus rebuked them.  His mission was set, and no one could come between Him and the cross.  In fact, He taught His disciples that they too would need to lose their lives to save them.

Jesus took Peter, James and John up a mountain and gave them a glimpse of His future glorification.  When He was transfigured before their very eyes, they fell face down in fear.  Jesus had often made “I Am” statements connecting Himself to the name YHWH or “I Am.”  Then a voice from heaven stated that Jesus was the Son of God, thereby confirming His assertions.

I AM the light of the world.  I AM the bread of life.  Jesus declared that failure to believe in Him would have eternal consequences—you would die in your sins.  But the Pharisees knew full well the weight of the “I AM” statements – and Jesus’ claims to be God were, to them, nothing short of blasphemy.  From then on, their hatred of Him ripened into an assassination plot.

I AM the resurrection and the life.  Despite getting word that His friend Lazarus was on his deathbed, Jesus delayed His journey.  By the time He arrived, Lazarus had been entombed for four long days.  Sisters Mary and Martha mourned their brother’s death, disappointed that Jesus had not arrived in time to heal him, but Jesus assured the women that His delay was for divine glory.  At His command, Lazarus walked out of his tomb, vindicating Jesus’ assertion that He alone is the Source of life.

The march toward Jerusalem continued.  His time was fast approaching, and He had to prepare the disciples for what lay ahead.  He told them that the kingdom of God is accessible to those with childlike trust and humility, not through performance.  Along the way, Jesus met a rich young man, who had performed well since childhood.  Jesus told him that discipleship, for him, would mean giving away his riches.  Unable to part with earthly wealth, the young man walked away from Jesus’ offer.  So strong is the lure of riches that, as far as the gospels record, this is the only time Jesus’ offer was refused.

For the third time, Jesus told them that His work included suffering, death and a resurrection after three days.  Now, it was time for Jesus’ grand entrance.  He sent His disciples to fetch appropriate transportation, and a colt was just where Jesus said it would be.  He mounted the donkey and triumphantly rode into Jerusalem as people laid down their coats and branches on the road and hailed Him as the long-awaited King, son of David!

Jesus was preparing to glorify the Father’s name.  He continued to offer eternal life to all who would believe.  The incensed Pharisees instilled fear in many; some who did believe kept quiet.  But Jesus’ claims were non-negotiable; He was the only Source of eternal life, the climax and culmination of God’s redemptive plan.  Who do you say I am?  It is the single most important question that everyone must answer.

Conversing with Cultists

The video below is a 6:00 min video that has a mix of people talking about who they think Jesus is. This will help us as we dig into our lesson today.

Our lesson aims to uncover the heresies of the past and their fashionable, recycled presentations today promoting a misleading characterization of Jesus.  Then the lesson provides ideas to keep in mind when learners are trying to develop the necessary skills to address cultists and other deceived people more confidently.  The most important thing to remember here, is that we need to seek understanding before we push to make people understand. We should emphasize the true identity of Jesus as He revealed Himself two thousand years ago as the Son of God, uniquely and fully God and fully man.

I.       First Cries

A. Who do you say that I am?  Jesus asked Peter this crucial question some 2000 years ago (Mark 8:27) and how one answers it is a matter of life and death—eternal life, that is.  For “unless you believe that I AM, you will die in your sins,” (John 8:24).  Does it really matter what we believe about Jesus, or just that we believe Jesus was a historical figure who indeed existed.  YES!  Emphatically, YES! It matters!  A false Jesus is a false gospel, and a false gospel leads to false salvation.  If the person of Christ, His nature (fully God and fully man) and His work (on the cross) are altered, then it follows that the eternal life that He provides is likewise invalidated, cancelled, made null and void. This begs the question, Exactly what does Jesus say we need to believe about Him so that we may not die in our sins? Few people will argue that Jesus existed as a historical figure, a good teacher and a compassionate humanitarian.  However, many will not go so far as to affirm His divinity.  Yet His divinity, His equality with God the Father, is at the core of what Jesus taught.  He claimed full authority and eternality as the Self-existent YHWH with His many “I AM” statements (Ex. 3:14).  His assertion of divinity and oneness with the Father was not lost on His original Hebrew audience, for they nearly stoned Him for it.  The Jews answered Him, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.”  (Jn 10:33)  Jesus is the full revelation of God, the Word and the Sin-bearer.

B. The serpent in the Garden prompted Eve to doubt and distort God’s revealed Word.  “Indeed, did God say…?” asked the serpent (Gen. 3:1).  Perhaps all sin can be summed up as such.  Nevertheless, it was still within the lifetimes of the original apostles that people began to distort the person and nature of Jesus.

  1. Paul’s wrote his first letter to the Galatians, probably around 48 A.D.—just 15 years after the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.  He was astonished that they would so quickly abandon the gospel that he had preached to them in exchange for another gospel.  This was not just a matter of splitting hairs—to follow another gospel was to desert God Himself (Gal. 1:6).  I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ. It is particularly interesting to note that Paul warned that even if an angel from heaven preached a different gospel, he would be accursed (Gal. 1:8).  It is interesting because much of the gospel of the Mormon Church came through an angel named Moroni.  Similarly, it was an angel that visited Mohammad to deliver to him the Koran.

  2. The Church at Corinth was also in danger of being led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ (2 Cor. 11:3-4).  Paul warned, For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully.  Paul called these preachers of another Jesus “false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.  And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.  Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness…” (2 Cor. 11:13-15).  This should make us all sit up and take notice.  The people who preach another Jesus look like servants of righteousness, they look like apostles of Christ!  We must be alert!

  3. The apostle John appears to have been battling an early form of Gnosticism in his first epistle.  This form of Gnosticism is called docetism and denies the true humanity of Jesus.  They maintained that Jesus only appeared to be human, but was not actually human.  When he walked across the sand, he left no footprint.  Why?  Because anything spiritual was good but anything material was necessarily evil.  Therefore, Jesus’ humanity—his material self—had to be only an illusion.  John countered this heresy by emphasizing that he and other apostles had “seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled,” (1 Jn. 1:1).  “By this you know the Spirit of God:  every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God;” (1 Jn. 4:3).  Though Gnosticism was still in its infancy, the basic principles of separation between spirit and material, and a so-called higher knowledge available to only a select few had already taken root.

II.       Old Lies / New Guise

A. The Old Testament clearly maintained monotheism.  God is One (Deut. 6:4).   People did not have a category to think about Jesus.  As the unique God-man, He just did not fit into existing language, existing thought.  New categories had to be formed and articulated to explain Him and His exclusively unique relationship to the Father.  We have the benefit of centuries of thought and reflection, but the early church was just formulating a framework to answer Jesus’ question, Who do you say I am?  There really is nothing new under the sun (Ecc. 1:9).  The heresies of the past are repackaged and resold under new names.  The outcome is still perilous—a false salvation with eternal consequences.  It was not long after the birth of the Church that different heresies began to spring up, answering Jesus’ question with distorted versions of the person, nature and work of Jesus Christ.

B.     Old Lies/New Guise #1: Gnosticism and the Cult of Christian Science

  1. In the first and second centuries AD, Gnosticism took hold and flourished.  Gnosticism has two basic tenets:  separation of the spiritual and the material; and a higher knowledge for the enlightened few.  The Gnostic Jesus was only thought to be crucified.
  2. The “new guise” of Gnosticism shows up today in the cult of Christian Science.  Following in the steps of Gnosticism, the Jesus of the Christian Science cult was not really human at all.  He was spiritual but not material.  Its 19th century founder was Mary Baker Eddy who wrote, “The spiritual Christ was infallible; Jesus, as material manhood, was not Christ.”[1]  Adherents to Christian Science actually deny that any of us are flesh and blood.  The material world is an illusion.

C.    Old Lies/New Guise #2:  Arianism and the cult of the Jehovah’s Witnesses

  1. Where Gnosticism erred in denying Jesus’ humanity, Arianism taught that Jesus was the first creation of God the Father.  It denied the eternality of Jesus, declaring that “there was a time when Christ was not.”  Neither the Son nor the Spirit were of the same nature as God, but had “similar natures.”  The Arian Jesus was not God, but he was a semi-divine god.
  2. The Jesus of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is very similar to the Arian heresy. Charles Russell Taze founded the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the late 19th century.  He described Jesus as formerly the Archangel Michael who separated himself of his angelic nature and appeared in the world as a perfect man.  He is a god, but not equal to, or of the same nature as, God the Father.  “In other words, he was the first and direct creation of Jehovah God (The Kingdom Is at Hand, 46-47, 49).[2]  They deny the full deity of Jesus Christ, and therefore deny the Holy Trinity.  “The plain truth is that this is another of Satan’s attempts to keep God-fearing person from learning the truth…No, there is no trinity.”[3] They are commonly known for their evangelistic door-to-door efforts passing out their literature from the Watchtower Society.  Although they affirm the Bible alone as their only source of scripture, they maintain that classical Christianity has been seriously tainted with paganism.  They use their own translation of the Bible called “The New World Translation.”  They are frontally antagonistic about the Trinity and, with the shallow understanding of many Christians about the central tenants of the Faith, Jehovah’s Witnesses deceive shaky Christians.  The Jesus of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is definitely what Paul would call “another Jesus.”

D.  Old Lies/New Guise #3Polytheism and the cult of Mormonism (Latter-Day Saints):

  1. After studying The Story like we have, one thing should be very clear—many peoples have worshiped many gods.  Polytheism means many (poly) gods (theism).  The pagan cultures of Egypt, Canaan, Moab and other nations mentioned in the Old Testament assure us that a whole pantheon of gods have attracted the worship of men.  The plagues brought upon Egypt under the leadership of Moses were designed specifically to repudiate the many gods they worshiped.  The Baals of the Moabites and Canaanites were destructive to God’s people and to the nations themselves.  Elijah’s demonstration of YHWH’s power over the Baals’ power proved again that there is only One God.
  2. The Mormon view of god the father and Jesus is complex, but nevertheless, polytheistic.  Their God the Father is himself an exalted man, created by a sexual union of his divine heavenly mother and father.  Jesus was the firstborn son of God the Father, through a sexual union with Mary.  They view Jesus as the spiritual brother of Lucifer and of all mankind.  Jesus, like all of us, was pre-existent before birth, though not eternal.  He earned his godhood through perfection, which all men can attain to.  Mormons deny the Oneness of the Trinitarian Godhead, but would affirm a tritheistic, 3-gods with a single purpose model.  In addition to the King James Bible, they build their doctrines upon additional writings including the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, and the book of Doctrine and Covenants.  These “revelations” came from various sources including the angels Moroni and Nephi.  Does this sound like the warning of “another gospel” from “even an angel” that Paul gave to the Galatians (1:6)? 

E. These are just a few of the various views of Jesus.  Sound the alarm!  Souls are in peril!  It is not enough to believe in a form of Jesus.  We must believe that He is who He said He is—the great I AM.  Necessarily, if He is God, then all He said is utterly and completely true making Him worthy of worship, faith and humble obedience.

Old Lies

New Guise

Another Jesus

Gnosticism / docetism

Christian Science

Separated Jesus from Christ;

Man (flesh) was not infallible because material is evil

Arianism

Jehovah’s Witnesses

A created demi-god

Polytheism

Mormonism (Latter-Day Saints)

A created son of God and exalted man


[1] Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults, (Bloomington, MI:  Bethany House, 1997 ed.),  435-436.

[2] Ibid., 436.

[3] Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, “Let God Be True,” (rev. ed. Brooklyn:  Watchtower and Bible Tract Society, 1952) 111.

III.      Future Tries

How do we talk to cultists or others who have a distorted view of Jesus?

A. The content of our faith is founded upon the person, the nature and the work of Jesus Christ.  As a person, He is one of three persons who together are One God.  He alone is God the Son whose nature is equal in every way with God the Father, yet His human nature is as fully human as is yours and mine.  He is no less God than the Father, and no less man than are we, except without sin.  As a sinless man, His work on the cross secured the redemption of all who put their faith in Him as fully God and fully man.  This atonement for sin is sufficient for salvation by His imputed righteousness by grace through faith.  Yet His saving work was also sufficient for all those who do not yet believe.  He died for them too!  It is incumbent upon believers, as ambassadors of Christ, to be prepared to converse with cultists.  1 Pet. 3:15 exhorts us to “be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” 

B. Ron Rhodes, founder of Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries, suggests the following principles for dealing with cultist.  In your future encounters, you will feel more skilled and less defensive if you are prepared for them.

  1. Don’t neglect your people skills.  Notice Paul said, “with gentleness and reverence.”  How do you open the door when a Mormon or JW knocks?  Do you meet them with anger and venom, or with compassion and kindness?  Be nice.  Be respectful.  Be Christlike.  It is right thing to do, for one thing; and secondly, it lowers their defenses so that they might become receptive to you and the true gospel.
  2. Don’t assume all members of a group believe the same thing.  Like Christians, there are various levels of their understanding of their own religion.  They may adhere to parts and reject other parts.
  3. Always define your termsWho do you say that I am?  Many people defined Jesus as John the Baptist resurrected, as Elijah and the Pharisees even accused Him of being under the control of Satan himself.  How Christians define terms like Jesus, God, and salvation is very different from how cultists use the same terms.
  4. Don’t get flustered.  They are trained to have an answer to your objections.  They practice weekly, so don’t get flustered.  Bring the conversation back to Scripture.
  5. Check the Scripture references.  What they do use is often taken completely out of context.
  6. Share your testimony.  While you may not be an expert in countering cultists and their theologies, you are an expert in what knowing Christ has done for you personally.  A few weeks ago, we talked about the power of personal testimony. If you have had time to think about your own testimony, now is the time to use it.

C. Who do you say I am?  It is the question that every individual must answer.

Martha-Busy Believer: Luke 10:38—42; John 11:1—44

This is the portion of our study that we turn our attention to the reading and opening up of God’s Word. We have a familiar story that we can often times find ourselves commiserating with one woman or another. We are talking about Mary and Martha story. Two different women with two different personalities, finding their own ways to serve their master, Jesus.

We read about several events during the third year of Jesus’ ministry in chapter 25 of THE STORY. At this time Jesus was still popular with the people, but his enemies went from opposing Jesus to planning how to stop him.  Meanwhile, Jesus had openly declared who he was and had openly taught the disciples about his soon coming suffering and death.  After an intense period of travel, teaching, and healings, Jesus arrived at the home of his friends, Martha and Mary for some R&R.  There, the two women served Jesus in their own way.  However Martha discovered what kind of “help” that was not helpful.

I.  Martha served Jesus.  Luke 10:38-40

If we want to see a Martha, most of us need only to look in a mirror.  Even though we have deep belief, sometimes we try to hide a controlling spirit with a breathtaking busyness that takes away our peace and joy.  Not only that, we get irritated when others choose a different path.

1.  Who “opened her home”?

2.  Who else was present?

3. Use the following chart to contrast the attitudes and actions of the two women from Luke 10:39-40.

  Mary Martha
Actions
Attitudes
Words
Effect of actions, attitudes and words.

4.  Considering Jesus’ activities of the preceding days, describe what might have been Jesus’ needs?

5.  Write a one word description of the way Martha reacted to her situation.

6.  Write a one word description of the way Jesus reacted to his situation.

II. Jesus ministered to Martha.  Luke 10:41, 42

Jesus was surrounded by people who did not understand him, and sometimes their efforts at serving him were off-track.  His mother and brother tried to ‘rescue’ him when they thought he was delirious or misguided in his teachings.  His disciples wanted to protect him from clingy mothers and children.  Martha thought that a hearty meal at her table was what would serve him best.  Each of these assumptions might have been correct from an earthly perspective, but Jesus had a different perspective.  That is what he tried to help Martha understand.

1.  What showed that Jesus was thoughtful of Martha in his response?

2.  What do you think was the “one thing” that was needed?  (Was it something he needed or something she needed?)

3.  What had Mary chosen?

4.  How would that have helped Jesus?

5.  How would that have helped Martha?

6.  As Jesus took the opportunity to make something clear about Mary, what did he teach Martha? (42)

III. Martha believed without understanding.  John 11:

Believing God doesn’t always mean that we understand His ways.  Until we see Him work in our lives, it’s impossible to even begin to see things through His eyes.  Though we will never have perfect knowledge in this life, as we walk with Him we build a bank of experiences upon which to base our understanding of His work in our present circumstances.  Jesus helped his disciples, Martha, and us to understand how to believe Jesus.

1.  Why did Jesus delay his response to the sisters’ plea for help for Lazarus? (11:14)

2.  Who was the first of the sisters to meet Jesus as he approached?  (11:20)

3.  What did Martha say that she believed about Jesus?  (11:21-22)

4.  In the next interchange Jesus pressed Martha.  What was the disconnect between what Jesus said and what Martha said? (11:23-27)

5.  When Jesus called for the stone to be removed what did Martha’s comment reveal? (11:39)

6.  Here was another teaching moment between Jesus and Martha.  What was Jesus’ reminder to this friend? (11:40)

7.  Why was the raising of Lazarus an experience for the disciples to put in their ‘spiritual bank account’?

IV. What is admirable?

Right answers and a hectic schedule of ministry will not help our belief any more than Martha’s frazzled way of serving helped Jesus that day in Bethany.  Martha used her service as a cover for her desire to control those around her.  Mary was not the only one who had to do things her way; she even expected Jesus to see things her way. While service is admirable, another thing is more admirable.  We release the control of our lives when we have allowed Jesus to possess our hearts, minds, and our schedules.  This is admirable.  Then we can begin to understand and truly believe.

1.  As human beings it is impossible for us to fully understand God’s ways.  How are God’s ways described in the following verses?

Psalm 145:17

Isaiah 55:9

Romans 11:33-36

2.   When did the disciples finally understand? (Luke 24:44, 45)

3.  List the ways that God provides help to understand His ways?

2 Timothy 3:15-17

Romans 8

James 1:5

Key Question: What are you trying to control with busyness that hinders your ability to understand and believe?

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