Jesus is your superhero (or is He?)

© The Very Rev. Curtis I. Crenshaw, Th.D., 2017

My wife and I were coming home last weekend (June 2017), and we detoured to Hot Springs, AR for a couple of nights. As we left the tourist-busy town, there was a church with these words on their sign:

“Jesus is your superhero, God is your superhero, you are a superhero.”

I just shook my head, and sighed to the Lord how long He will put up with this milkquetoast Christianity in the USA. Look at the words: there are three superheroes: Jesus, God, and you, and would not an unbeliever think all three were on the same level. We have presented a saccharin Christianity, sicky sweet and artificial.

And when we think of a superhero, do we not think of breaking and smashing things, much violence, killing everything in sight with bitter power, having difficulty overcoming, but Jesus was not like that. He could have been, and He did smash things but not in the way we would like to see. He certainly did those things under the old covenant (Old Testament). Yet, in the New Covenant (New Testament), though He healed and raised the deadHis miracles were done to overcome Satan and sin, not Roman armies. He restrained Himself in one sense, though He had resonating power to destroy anything He wanted anytime He wanted.

For example, when Pilate told Jesus that he had the power “to crucify [Him], and power to release [Him]” (John 19:10 NKJ), Jesus’ answer was very telling: “Jesus answered, ‘You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above.’” (John 19:11 NKJ) Recall what happened when the Roman soldiers went to arrest Him, who was in control?

“Now when He said to them, ‘I AM,’ they drew back and fell to the ground.” (John 18:6 NKJ)

Moreover, as the early fathers often reminded us, at the same time that Jesus was incarnate and healing, sleeping, getting hungry, He was “upholding all things by the word of His power” (Heb. 1:3 NKJ) Do not think for a moment that the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God, either gave up being God or gave up the use of His attributes. Either way, that would eclipse the Holy Trinity and destroy who God is. Can you image one person of the Trinity not being able to function as God. That would be incarnation by deicide!

No, the incarnation is by addition, not by subtraction. The Son of God added sinless humanity to Himself, and did not remove either the essence of deity or the functions of deity. For example, in John 1:1 we learn that in the beginning was the Word (eternal existence), the Word was with God (distinct from the Father), and the Word was God (one in essence with the Father). Then in John 1:14 we see that the Word “became flesh,” and there is not a hint of removing His attributes. Indeed, God’s attributes are not like pins in a pin cushion that any member of the Holy Trinity can remove and replace at will. Each attribute contains all the other attributes, for God is one. Remember John 10:30 where Jesus says, “I and the Father are one.” The Jews rightly understood His claim to deity because in the next verse they picked up stones to kill Him for blasphemy. In John 8:58 Jesus claimed to be the I AM, who does not and cannot change. Thus, the incarnation did not change Him, for “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8).

The Bible is now a popular psychological manual for self-improvement. Many preachers I hear on the radio approach the Bible as one big OUGHT, turning the IS of grace into the OUGHT of obedience for blessing. In other words, if I do the three things (or five things) the preacher says, I’ll be blessed; otherwise, I’ll be defeated. How many times do I hear, “It’s all up to you,” at which point I must be a superhero, or I’ll get nothing.

We want to see Jesus as superhero destroy all those bad people (not us, of course) with some supernatural event so we Christians can be vindicated. I was a defendant (one of 18) in a church-state trial, and as I sat in court for 4 ½ months, 4 to 5 days a week, listening to lies, how often I wanted to call down fire from heaven and yell at my lungs capacity, “Elijah is back!!” But God normally does not work that way.

We hear that the Triune God wants us to be happy all the time, time, time. We are told we are deprived but not depraved.  All of life, ALL of life, is for ME, and God exists to help ME find MY happiness.

What we need is old fashioned preaching where the wrath of God is boomed out, with impending judgment suspended over us like a guillotine held by one thread. Here are verses you rarely if ever hear:

“O let the evil of the wicked come to an end, but establish the righteous; For the righteous God tries the hearts and minds. God is a just judge, And God is angry with the wicked every day” (Ps. 7:9, 11 NKJ)

“The LORD tests the righteous, But the wicked and the one who loves violence His soul hates.” (Ps. 11:5 NKJ)

“He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36 NKJ) [And that wrath abides, now, as an ongoing matter. One never has a soul to sell, for it always belongs to God or to the devil. At judgment, all hope is gone, FOREVER.]

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18 NKJ)

“Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.” (Rom. 5:9 NKJ)

“Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” (Rom. 9:13 NKJ)

“The wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” (Eph. 5:6 NKJ)

Picture Noah’s ark floating on the turbulent waters with rain coming down in torrents. People are swimming in water, pounding on the doors of the ark to get in. It is too late. God’s judgment has come. On the side of the ark is a large smiley face that says, “Smile, God loves you.” That is where we are today. Too many weak preachers are holding people’s hands saying “There,” “There” while their parishioners go to hell.

So, is Jesus your superhero? No! He is the Lord God omnipotent, and His power and authority go way beyond all things imaginable. He upholds all things by His omnipotent power. He is in all places at the same time (Matt. 28:18-20). He has all knowledge. He can cause destruction and misery in any part of His world at any time, and there is absolutely nothing anyone can do about it. OR, He can cause a good election, or bring people back to the Gospel, or transform a nation to love righteousness and hate iniquity. He is Lord!

Jesus is way beyond superhero status, for He is creator of all that is (John 1:1-3; Heb. 1:1-4; Col. 1:16), the sustainer of all there is (Heb. 1:3; Col. 1:17), and the redeemer of His people.

He is to be worshiped, not slapped on the back as some kind of hero.

AMEN.

The Church Is for Sinners

(The Rev. Dr. Curtis Crenshaw, Th.D., 2005)

And I am sure of this,

that he who began a good work in you

will bring it to completion

at the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6 ESV).

In my first pastorate, a man said to me that he would not go to church because there were too many hypocrites there. I had enough rapport with the man to say: “You’re right so join us—we need another one.” We often have the idea that Church is just for those who have no problems, for those whose life is always rosy, who never have rebellious children, whose spouses are models of virtue, whose bosses love everything they do, who never have an impure thought. If that is who you think you are, you don’t need the Church; but then, you don’t need the Triune God either, or so you think.

And we Christians should be willing to admit that we have a long way to go in our growth in holiness. Pretending is hypocrisy, though we should not tell everyone all our problems. Yes, we have been forgiven by God through the merits of the death and resurrection of Christ, but we are still growing, still being forgiven. We have been adopted into God’s family, but like legal adoption today, that does not automatically make the child instantly and perfectly like his new father. It does make the child an heir to the father’s estate, and if we parents are rich so is the child. But it takes a lifetime to train a child and for the child to grow into the kind of person we as parents desire him/her to be. Likewise, the Father adopts us into His family based on the legal attorney Jesus Christ, who puts up the bond, the surety, who is Himself our pledge, our guarantee of the completed adoption. This gives us a change of legal status, but inwardly we are the same as before the adoption. But the Father and the Son gave us the Holy Spirit to make us better over time—but that is the key word, TIME.

Consider that our heavenly Father is seeking to “rear” us in the faith all our lives, that he brings about problems so that we can learn to be mature, to respond in faith and love to one another and to love His providence, that His priorities are not money, farms, cars, bank accounts, though there is nothing wrong with those in themselves.

And this heavenly Father has adopted us into His family, in His Church, the bride of His Son, so that we can care for one another. We are our brother’s keeper. And consider further that our sibling Jesus has already been through all the trials we have and knows what they are like, but also as God He gives us the grace we need to grow. We are in a family that is supposed to love its own as the badge of our relationship with God: “By this shall all will know that you are My disciples if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). What do we do when our loved ones are sick? You care for them.

We are called to live by a different set of priorities from the world, to consider the Triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) to be the highest priority and our church family second. (Church and family actually go together.) Have you seen the bumper sticker that reads: “He who dies with the most toys wins”? That is the philosophy of the world, but our riches belong to another family—the Church. Our estate and inheritance are from Christ, not in pursuing ever more schemes to make money. Our security is in the Lord, not in our bank accounts that can quickly evaporate. We have an inheritance that is infallible:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Who

according to His abundant mercy

has begotten us again

             TO a living hope

                                                                                                    through the resurrection of Jesus Christ

                                                                                         from the dead,

               4 TO an inheritance

                        Incorruptible

                     and undefiled

                                                 and that does not fade away,

                                             reserved in heaven for you,

        5 who are kept by the power of

through faith

TO salvation

ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5 NKJ)

The world does not expect Christians to be perfect, but it does expect us to be genuine, which means we must be willing to confess mistakes when we make them and then seek to make things right. Remember the case of the televangelist caught with a prostitute? At first he was contrite, submitted to the discipline of his brethren, and agreed to the time suspension from the ministry that they placed on him. This was a good start, but then he rebelled, rejecting their authority, and put himself back in the ministry under a new church. It was a great testimony to the world to see the Christian Church at work, helping a fellow brother to grow in grace, exercising the authority of Christ, saying to everyone: “Yes, we are sinners, but we are willing to forgive when a brother repents.” Who could have faulted that? But the preacher rebelled and neutralized the great testimony.

In the early 1970s, Ruth and I were living in Dallas while I attended seminary. W. A. Criswell was a great Baptist preacher in Dallas, TX, who loved the Lord, preached great Gospel sermons, and had a large congregation in downtown Dallas. He was highly respected in the community. Dr Criswell was interviewed on a local TV station. The interviewer was very caustic, and assuming all the self-righteousness she could muster, she forcefully demanded to know why it had only been in the recent past that his church had opened their doors to African American Christians. I’ll never forget Criswell’s answer, for it stopped her cold, and she stuttered for a comeback. His answer was something like this: “We sinned, and we’ve asked the Lord to forgive us. Now we are glad to have our black brothers and sisters worship with us.” That was genuineness! The interviewer changed the subject! We are not perfect but sinners, so let us recognize that! But let us be confessing sinners, not arrogant or rebellious ones. Pride will destroy us, but humility will lift us up in great favor with God and man. AMEN

God’s Persevering Grace

(© The Rev. Dr. Curtis Crenshaw, Th.D., 2005)

About a year ago I had a discussion with someone who was ready to give up on the Christian life, saying it was too difficult, that it seemed that the Triune God did not care.  In our hustle and bustle of life, we sometimes forget that God is persevering with us more than we are with Him.  God finishes what He begins, unlike us.  If He did not, we would never make it to heaven.  As humans, you and I are always beginning things that we never seem to find time to finish.  But consider God’s matchless grace in Philippians 1:6, that what He begins He finishes: “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it at the day of Jesus Christ.

Look at the butterfly wing—was it begun and not finished?  Look at the woodpecker—was its specialized bill not finished?  Look at the atom—was it a partial work?  Look at the moon—is it a work abandoned?  Look at yourself, the apex of God’s creation—will you be thrown away after the work was begun?  God works by a plan.  He begins a work of grace in us, not as an experiment to see if we and He can make it together, but that He may complete His design in and for us.  Can you imagine an architect who begins a project without plans, just going along to see how things work out?

If the Triune God began a work in us but did not finish it, who would lose more, God or us?  It would definitely be God, for then He would be known as a failure.  Others could say that God just could not handle it, that He gave it His best effort but finally gave up on us, that we were just too much for Him.

Moreover, according to Paul here in Phil 1:6, who initiated the work in you, you or God?  God!  And if God did, will He decide against it later?  As one man expressed it in a hymn:

I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew

He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me;

It was not I that found [Thee], O Savior true;

No, I was found [by] Thee.

And is it not true that we love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).  His love and grace are initial and ours responsive, for it was He who began the work in us, not we in Him!

And how do we know that God has begun a work in us?  We can tell by our obedience, by the love we have for God, for mankind, for God’s Bible, by our faithful attendance at worship on the Lord’s Day, reading His word, the Bible, praying, and so on.  Faith, hope, and love will be the hallmarks of our lives.

Let me give you a good example.  Years ago I led a man to Christ who was only 18 years old.  He mouthed some words, good words, but I wondered how committed he was to them.  He was very much in love with a young lady, but she was not a Christian.  When I told him and showed him from the Bible that God did not allow a believer to marry an unbeliever, he paused for a long time and said with tears in his eyes: “If that’s what God says, that’s what I’ll do.”  His life has revealed the same commitment all these 48 years.  More than anything else, one’s obedience to God reveals whether there has been true conversion or not, but our obedience does not merit our acceptance with God.

3 Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him (1 John 2:3-4).

And do you know why it is God who first seeks us, and why we are responsive to Him, why it is that He saves us in this way?  It is so that we cannot boast (see Eph 2:8-10).  We’ll never be able to say that God did 99%, but if it were not for the 1% I did, I would never have made it to heaven.

Let us rejoice that for all those who trust in the death and righteousness of Christ for forgiveness of sins, our Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has taken charge of our salvation, that our sins are forgiven, that His Name and reputation are on the line, and that by His persevering grace, we shall make it home!  AMEN.