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Discovering (and Doing) what God Really Said

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In Faith Church’s current sermon series, “Did Jesus Say…?”, we are looking at some well-known phrases to see whether or not they were actually said by Jesus. In light of this, I started thinking that we often attribute sayings or ideas that we like to influential and respected people, and sometimes even twist and adjust things to make authoritative sources agree with what we think. I have seen how this happens as people have studied the person of Jesus (one who is widely respected and thus, people want to support their ideas) and dates all the way back to the Garden of Eden.

The Quest for the Historical Jesus and Having Him Say What We Want

Over the past few hundred years, there have often been scholars who have gone on a “quest” to discover what the “historical” Jesus said and did. At the root of this quest is the idea that the writers of the gospels had an agenda, and thus did not present historically accurate information. Therefore, one must dig behind the text to discover what actually went back to Jesus of Nazareth and what might have later been attributed to him by the church leaders. I have written on in some blog posts (here and here) spoken before (found here, starting at 43:15) why I believe that the gospels are historically accurate and reliable. If the New Testament gospels are not reliable, then we would actually have no way of knowing who Jesus is from a historical record. The gospels are the best sources we have (and we need to remember that every historian – modern and ancient – writes with some sort of purpose; this does not discount the possibility of history being recorded accurately). 

Much more could be said about the scholarly quest for the historical Jesus, but one thing worth noting is that people began to recognize that the various new portraits of what Jesus was really like or really taught often reflected the same agendas and biases of the scholars themselves; it was almost as if they were looking into a mirror and having Jesus echo their pre-existing ideas. We like to think thatJesus spoke about things we agree with, but if there are sayings that might challenge yes, we seek to exclude them. Many people don’t do this intentionally, but this happens to everyday Christians by simply ignoring particular sayings of Jesus or dismissing them  quickly. There are many phrases people claim were said by Jesus, but we need to make sure of it. Jesus’s life and ministry was consistent and had a unified message, so it is important to quote not only an isolated saying, but to examine his whole life and teaching. Thus people will welcome all people but also challenge them to follow Him with all of their lives – we need to remember both aspects. 

The Garden of Eden and “Did God REALLY Say…?”

This tendency to change or alter what Jesus said to support what we would like is really the same tool that Satan has used from the beginning. When we go back to Genesis 3, we see that Satan plants seeds of doubt and questions about what God said and twists it and challenges it. In Genesis 3:1, the serpent says, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” God did not tell Adam and Eve not to eat from any tree, but rather that they could eat from any tree but one. Satan reframes it to make it seem like God is focusing on what is forbidden as opposed to His gifts (they could eat from all the trees except one!). Small tweaks to a saying can make a huge difference in the meaning! Eve frames what God said more correctly (3:2-3), but then the serpent goes a step further and tells her that they will not die if they eat of that tree and that God lied about that because He did not want them to become like God (3:4). This drew Eve and then Adam into sin. Ever since then, the devil has been seeking to turn us away from God by misconstruing what was said, and if that does not work, simply denying it. In the case of Eve, and all too often in our lives, we fall into this temptation. We change what God says to our liking, or we believe that we know better than what God has taught.

The Way Forward – Check God’s Word, Not Adding or Taking Away From It

How do we resist this sinful tendency that is found in our fallen nature? We need to study God’s Word and continually check what we are hearing against it, making sure that we are hearing and learning what it says and not what we think or would like for it to say. In the Book of Acts, the people of Berea are praised for checking the teaching of Paul against the Bible (Acts 17:11). I think it is no coincidence that the last Book of the Bible (Revelation) ends with a warning not to add to or take away from the words of the prophecy (Revelation 22:18). This is a fitting reminder of how we should approach the entire Bible. Knowing the story of how humans fell into sin comes from Satan trying to alter God’s commands and plant doubts means that we need to be vigilant and dialogue. When we hear something attributed to God or Jesus, let us make sure that it is true, and let us not dismiss things that we don’t like. Finally, let us follow God’s commands  as we are not called just to know His Word, but to live it out. Don’t believe me…let’s look back to these words of Jesus: 

46 “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? 47 Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: 48 he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built.[c] 49 But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.” Luke 6:46-49

The church leader James – the brother of Jesus – echoes these words as well:

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. James 1:22-24

Let’s know what Jesus said and then let’s do it!

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