“That’s not my Jesus,” she said to me after my sermon. I had just finished preaching on the Canaanite (or Syrophoenician) woman from Matthew 15. Do you remember that account? Where a Gentile woman comes to Jesus, begging for help for her daughter. But Jesus refuses to help this woman, telling her, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” My dear friend appreciated the end of the text, where Jesus showed her mercy. But she did not approve of the Lord’s initial treatment of the woman who needed help. “My Jesus wouldn’t talk like that,” she said.
I have seen this sentiment more and more on social media, this language about “my” Jesus. Many people, from the left and the right, conservative and liberal, present Jesus in one way or another. They all have their verses, and they all have their reasons. When Jesus is presented in a way one side or the other doesn’t like, the response is often the same, “That’s not my Jesus.”
Everyone, it seems, gets to have their own Jesus. Jesus has become a mascot of sorts. He is a representative of causes. A wax nose to fit any face. Boston University Professor of Religion Stephen Prothero captures our society’s proclivity towards making Jesus in our image when he writes, “The American Jesus has been something of a chameleon. Christians have depicted him as black and white, male and female, straight and gay, a socialist and a capitalist, a pacifist and a warrior, a Ku Klux Klansman and a civil rights agitator… This American Jesus has not been solely a Christian concern…he has become an athlete and an aesthete, a polygamist and a celibate, an advertising man and a mountaineer, Hindu deity and a Buddha to be” (p. 8-9).
Everyone gets to have their own personal Jesus (nod to Depeche Mode). But why? Enlisting Jesus is a power move. An effort in self-justification. If you get Jesus on your side, you win. Or, at least, you can use Jesus to prove that the other side loses. We use Jesus to make ourselves winners and turn “them” into losers. There is power in the name of Jesus, and we love to manipulate power for our own ends.
Using the name of Jesus to win friends and influence people is nothing new. Jesus (the real one) warned us that this would happen. “Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray” (Matt. 24:5). It is as though Jesus is warning us that many would come using his name, quoting his words, and using them for their own ends.
False Jesuses have been preached since the time of our Lord’s ascension. So how are we to discern who the true Jesus is? How do we know which teachers of Jesus we should listen to? Who will give us the real Jesus? Pastor Matthew Richards captures our frustrations in the title of his wonderful book, “Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?”
Into this morass of “Jesus-deceptions” and false teachers walks St. John with his first epistle. Many scholars suggest that 1 John is a general epistle, that is, a letter written to be read and shared in a number of congregations. These congregations are filled with saints who are dear to him but who are being attacked by false teachers. As we will learn through our series in this letter, these false teachers have arrived with new and exciting teachings from “Jesus.” They have ways of knowing God that go beyond the Jesus preached by the apostles. Their Jesus offers special access to God to the spiritual elite. None of this earthy, fleshy, bloody Jesus. A spiritual Jesus that frees you from suffering and dirt.
The catch, of course, with this new Jesus is that you cannot access him while in the midst of a church that sticks to the words of the apostles. You need to move beyond their preaching, and their writings. Separate from those carnal Christians and join the elite spiritual force!
The beloved apostle will have none of it! He begins his letter (which is really more of a sermon), going directly at the “Jesus” of the false teachers by reminding the churches of why his preaching of the true Jesus is trustworthy. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us…” (1 John 1:1-2).
In other words, John is saying, “They have their Jesus whom they have encountered in secret, quiet places. But he is a false Jesus. We apostles preach to you the God in the flesh who, after walking out of a grave, appeared to us. We touched his wounds. We saw his scars. We heard his words. He cooked us breakfast. Then, he sent us to preach his salvation to you! It is public knowledge. He is a proclaimed, physical Jesus who reveals himself to you through our preaching. Any other Jesus is no Jesus. And, the preachers of no-Jesus are frauds and anti-Christ.”
If you want to know Jesus, the best people to ask are those who knew him during his earthly ministry. The good news is that he has sent them to write for us what we need to know for life and salvation! To know this Jesus, you only need the word. To go beyond what is written is to go search for a new and false Jesus (cf. 1 Cor 4:6). The writings of the apostles are among the greatest treasures that the Holy Spirit has bestowed upon the church. They are written by those eye-witnesses of the true Jesus of Nazareth, Mary’s Son. They followed him during his ministry, were immersed in his teachings, saw/heard/touched him after his resurrection, and then recorded all of it for us so that we might know the true Jesus.
What is more, these words are written to take away “my” Jesus. “My” Jesus, or any Jesus that is presented apart from what we are given in the Scriptures and would take us away from the true Jesus and the fellowship of believers. John and the other authors of the New Testament write so that “you too may have fellowship with us, and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things as that our joy may be complete” (1 John 1:3-4).
There are countless Jesuses out there. But, there is only one true Jesus who can save you. Only one Jesus put on your flesh, suffered and died as a sacrifice for your sins, rose from the grave for your justification, and is coming again to raise you from the dead and bring you into his new creation. This may not be “my” Jesus. But he is the only Jesus who is for you!