At Gateway Church in Austin we began a new series asking the question: Is Jesus Fake News?
Many people, even those that don’t follow Him, concede that Jesus was one of the greatest teachers who ever lived. But what did Jesus teach? His claims were pretty audacious. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” but were those claims really “fake news” made up by His followers? If Jesus was telling the truth, if His claims were authentic, what does it mean to follow Him? What does it mean to apprentice under Him as the Way, the Truth, and the Life? Perhaps the key to understanding this is to get past any “fake news” about Jesus and begin to unpack His teachings.
Discussion questions for your life group or family dinner are here.
This includes creating a User Manual for yourself.
Audio of the Message I Shared at Gateway South:
Notes from the Message by John Burke:
We’re going to ask some important questions about Jesus these next three weeks—asking good questions is important.
What questions you ask matter. Asking and answering the right questions can be critical.
Jesus asked his closest followers a question: who do people say I am?
They replied, some think a great teacher, some say you’re a prophet, some say you’re Elijah, some the Messiah, the Son of God.
Jesus asked an even more critical question to his closest followers: who do you say I am?
Do you believe in Jesus? Teacher? Prophet? God? Myth? Hoax?
I want to ask you to ponder that question this series. Who do you say Jesus is?
I believe answering that question is critical. Not just for skeptics, but for Christians too—because if you say Jesus is Lord, does your life reflect apprenticing under him?
But there’s another very important question that I want to ask first – who is God? What’s God’s true identity?
The Blind Men and the Elephant
There is a parable that has become popular recently.
Four blind men came upon an elephant.
- One of them felt its trunk and said “an elephant is like a hose.”
- Another felt its side and said, “No, an elephant is like a wall.”
- The third blind man put his arms around its leg and said, “an elephant is like a tree.”
- Finally the fourth blind man grabbed its tail and said, “an elephant is like a snake.”
This parable, it is said, explains the many religions’ descriptions of God. That all of the world’s religions are grabbing hold of the same God (the Elephant), but in our limited ability to truly comprehend, we all describe God a little differently. I think there’s probably a lot of truth to this parable.
90% of humanity believes there is a God, gods, or some Higher Power, it’s in us, we know innately. And the religions of the world agree about this basic moral law that seems to be written into our consciences – Romans 2 talks about it
“even though they do not have the law [of Moses]. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts.” Romans 2:14-15
The World’s Religions show this–we’ve always known right and wrong – it comes out in similar moral codes cross-culturally. So in our search to explain our relationship to this unseen God, and to know how to best live this life according to this internal moral compass we all have, it makes sense we’d come up with different religious paths like blind men describing and elephant.
So it’s true, UNLESS this unseen God takes the initiative to reveal to us what he’s really like, how can we know other than a blind guess?
But there’s a question that I think is more important still: “Has God revealed Himself clearly so we CAN know what he’s really like? And if so what does he want?”
See the problem with the blind men is that they’re all blind. None of them is right – an elephant is not really like a hose, wall or tree. What we really need is someone who can see – someone who can see the whole elephant and describe clearly to us blind folks what an elephant is really like.
That’s what was on Jesus’ mind his last night on earth.
Jesus told his followers that he was going away, forecasting his crucifixion the next day. This bothered them. He said:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2 My Father’s house has plenty of room; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” – John 14:1-5
Jesus claimed he had come from God and was returning to God—and that they would be with him in that place, but not yet. He said that love was his motive, and that he would lay down his life to draw all willing people into loving relationship with the God who created them. In the meantime—things were about to get rough, trouble would come.
He’s about to be crucified by outwardly religious people, who inwardly were not open to God at all.
The truth is they wanted to be God — to have life go their way, to be in charge and call all the shots, and if God didn’t do as they wanted or expected, they quickly became frustrated and angry, and even willing to just make God go away.
Ever felt that way?
I remember those feelings. Many who claim to follow Jesus put him in our cultural Jesus box, and when he doesn’t fit or do as we want, we get angry.
Jesus confronted the religious leaders, saying:
“You are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word. I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence.”
– John 8:37-38
Don’t miss this. Jesus is claiming he’s seen the elephant. That he has come to explain to us blind seekers, what the unseen God is really like. But because he didn’t fit their preconceived ideas, they were closed minded and even hostile.
So Jesus tells his friends that night, trust is what matters most—trusting God and trusting in him– because trust is the currency of relationship.
Relationship with open-hearted people is what God wants most.
They’re a little confused, and Thomas, who would soon get the name doubting Thomas, true to nature doubts—“we don’t know where you’re going. So how can we know the way?
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
– John 14:6-7
This is a pretty audacious claim right?
Jesus is claiming that he is the way to God, and in fact, no one comes to God except through him.
Is this arrogance, or narrow-minded, and intolerant?
Not if Jesus was who he claimed to be– the physical representation of the unseen God.
But is this fake news? And when people hear this today, they assume it can’t be true because that would make God unfair—so they say.
When Jesus says no one comes to the father except through me — of course, if he’s telling the truth and truly revealing God, then this is not a limiting claim, it’s simply the truth.
This is what Jesus is claiming – the unseen God has revealed himself in a form you can understand and know relationally.
As you scan the horizon of human history and spiritual writing, asking the all-important question “Who is God? Has God revealed himself to us blind seekers?”
Not all claims are the same:
- Buddha claimed to know the way to end suffering but he never claimed to know God and wasn’t sure if there was a God.
- Mohammad claimed to be a prophet of God.
- Confucious claimed to know the best way to live in a society.
- Lao-Tzu of Taoism claimed to know how to live in harmony with the way of nature.
- Hinduism claims many gods. And without a doubt, all of them taught great truths out of the moral law God has put in our hearts.
- But only one man has ever made a claim to be God’s self-revelation and done anything by which history would even consider its viability: Jesus.
And even if you doubt his claim of Divinity, Jesus is still the most remarkable and fascinating person in history.
- He has inspired more hope, shown more compassion, and demonstrated more love than any other person of history.
- Our calendar begins on his birth (B.C. before Christ).
- He is the central character of the best-selling, most widely translated book of history – the Bible.
- More hospitals have been founded, more charitable acts demonstrated, more kindness done in the name of Jesus than any other name
- (and yes, religious people like those who crucified Jesus have used and abused in his name as well).
- But everywhere his name goes, lives are changed by the power of his love. But why?
He claimed things only crazy people tend to claim–to be the Messiah, the Son of God, the Savior of the world — to have power over life and death and then claim to raise from the dead to prove it.
Crazy claims if they weren’t true — right?
Some have tried to suggest that Jesus was not a historical figure.
Paul Maier, professor of ancient history, Western Michigan University explains how ridiculous it is deny Jesus ever lived. He points out that Jesus’ crucifixion is written about in the Talmud, the records of the Religious Leaders who executed him:
“On the eve of Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, ‘He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy.’” Sanhedrin 43a
- This is the official archives of Jesus’ arch enemies—confirming he was hanged for sorcery.
- The N.T. writers say the Pharisees said “You’re demon possessed, that’s how you do these miraculous healings.” Professor Maier also points out that non-biblical historian Josephus (who also mentioned Jesus miracles as “surprising works”
- And the Roman governor Tacitus from the first century confirms Jesus was crucified by Pontius Pilate
- And his followers claimed he was resurrected from the dead.
But most people don’t take the time to check out His claims, they just go with what they’ve heard.
Most don’t know much more about Jesus than what they hear on TV or on the streets—that’s not smart considering what He claimed.
People hear Jesus’ claims and say, “Oh, now why’d you have to go and say that. We were doing just fine with your good teachings, Neilson ratings were going up and to the right. We all applaud your sermon on the mount, and your “love God, love people” thing-high marks on the popularity polls, why’d you have to go discredit yourself like that? What are the options? That’s a good question.
- Was Jesus lying or deluded?
- Or was he grossly misrepresented by those who wrote the Scriptures?
- Or was he the Messiah, God’s self-revelation?
Let’s ask those questions and you answer, who do you say he is? But don’t fall into the trap of those who crucified him, be open-minded and open-hearted.
The Way To Know God
Jesus claimed to be The Way to Know God. Some of his closest followers struggle to grasp what he was claiming in the upper room that last night.
Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” 9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.
– John 14:8-11
Jesus says, listen to my words.
Look at the works I do.
If you’re having a hard time believing what I say — that I am the clearest picture of the unseen God you’ll ever find. [Not all there is to the infinite, unseen God, but the most tangible, relatable representation you’ll ever find].
If you don’t believe this, consider what I’ve said and the miraculous works I’ve done.
Have you ever read the teachings of Jesus?
They’re incredibly raw and earthy, yet give profound insight into our everyday lives and struggles. This is not someone disconnected from reality. And yet he taught the highest moral and ethical code of living, and claimed to be the very power source we need in order to live this way. Cause we all know right and wrong in every culture, and yet, what our religious pursuits have proven is that we keep breaking our own moral laws consistently — we need God’s help, God’s power.
A few years ago there was a young man coming to Gateway South who grew up muslim. He had been exploring faith here at Gateway for a year so when he explained: “I have read the Koran, I have read the Bible—they are basically saying the same thing about morality—but there’s one difference, Grace! Jesus taught about God’s Grace—that he freely forgives our sins and shortcomings, and is willing to enter into life with us to help us—that’s the difference.”
All the world’s religions reveal the common moral law, yet none of us can keep it—no one perfectly keeps the 10 commandments, 5 pillars, 8 fold path—they all are like tutors pointing us to our need for God’s forgiveness and Grace—his help to change us from the inside out. That understanding led Orhan to faith in Jesus.
Researcher George Barna surveyed a wide variety of non church-going people and asked them two things.
First, he asked them to describe Jesus. The people used words like wise, compassionate, accepting, courageous, loving, sacrificial, good, generous, powerful …
Then he asked these same people to describe Christians. They used words like judgemental, stingy, joyless, fearful, critical, mean, argumentative, weak, close-minded …
Reflecting on this survey, Barna wondered, “How can those who call themselves the followers and disciples of Jesus be so unlike the one they call their Lord?”
I would say that the reason the discrepancy exists between what people say they believe and how they actually live is many Christians who believe in Jesus do not apprentice under Jesus. They believe Jesus is the Way to eternal life, but they don’t truly believe Jesus is The Way to be Human. Jesus claimed to be a one of a kind mystery—100% human, yet 100% God revealed.
The Way To Be Human
Maybe that’s why Christians have a bad image. In a Simpson’s episode Homer was peering over the fence talking to Marge Flanders, his Christian neighbor, when he asked “Hey Marge, haven’t seen you in a while, where you been?” “Oh, we were away at Bible Camp, learning to be more judgmental.”
I would say that the reason the discrepancy exists is because most Christians do not study the life and teachings of Jesus to truly apprentice under him.
Read eyewitnesses Matt, Mark, Luke, John—start there, not in Genesis
Read with this mindset—what do I learn about God’s character and will for my life?
Then do it.
Jesus is not just the Way to eternal life, Jesus is the Way to be Human. Do you realize that following Him 100% will really be in your best interest—do you believe that? Jesus claimed not only to be the Way to Know God, but the Way to Be the Humans we long to be.
Jesus claimed to be a one of a kind mystery—100% human, yet 100% God revealed. I can only understand this by analogy. If I created a 2 dimensional world, I could reveal myself in a 2 dimensional slice they could understand. I’m still One, 3 dimensional Being, but they see only a representation of me as a 2 dimensional slice. Jesus was the perfect representation of God.
“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” Hebrews 1:3
Yet fully human—so we can follow Him as the Way to be the best version of ourselves:
17 For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. Hebrews 2:17-18
Jesus is the Way to know God personally, but He is also the Way to be fully Human—He is the wisest person who has ever lived—He knows the Way to become the best version of ourselves—what we’ve all longed to be. Jesus shows you that God understands—he knows what you’re going through, he cares, and He wants to help you through it—not just to survive but to thrive. To become fully alive, and fully human—the best version of you you can imagine. But you have to apprentice under Him to get there.
What is an Apprentice—I’m not talking Arnold Schwarzenegger or The Donald Apprentice.
An Apprentice in Jesus day was called a disciple—it could be translated “learner or follower” – it was someone who followed around a master artisan or master craftsman in order to be like that person and do what they did.
We all apprentice under someone—have you realized that? We all watch, observe, study, pattern, follow others—many times subconsciously—and that is exactly why we are who we are today.
The question is—will you apprentice under Jesus?
What he is claiming is that He is the Way to know God, and the way to the life we’re after, but you’ll never know for sure unless you apprentice under him.
Jesus claimed “I am the way” to know the God you can’t otherwise know. Jesus claimed to be the Way to truly know God. Not just believing what some person says, but by seeing God’s character and heart pressed into human flesh.
- So do you make it a point to know God by really learning and studying the life and teachings of Jesus?
- How can you say you believe Jesus is Lord, yet not really seek to learn from Him—not even reading about Him or wanting to really know God’s heart, character and will?
- When we do not seek to really know God, we often end up misrepresenting God to people.
Jesus said, No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:27-30
He won’t force himself on you, he won’t force you to love him or trust him or apprentice under him. But if you will get serious not only about reading, studying, knowing God from what He revealed in the Bible, but also get serious about letting Him guide your life to grow spiritually, emotionally, relationally—to do what he says and become like the Master in the art of being Fully Alive and Fully Free—just like Jesus.
Who are you apprenticing under right now?
You may say “No one but myself” but you’re not being honest with yourself. You have habits, patterns, struggles, thoughts that stress you, plague you, maybe torment you—where did those come from?
You’ve been someone’s apprentice without realizing it, but have you ever seriously considered apprenticing under the one everyone says is at least the greatest teacher, lover, inspirer of humanity that ever lived—the one who also claimed to reveal God in a relatable way?
The One who claimed to be the Way to become Human fully. The One who claimed to love you more than anyone else in this world—and paid the ultimate Human price to get you back. Will you be His apprentice?
Jesus also said, if you don’t believe me—look at what I do. What did he do?
- He healed the sick.
- He fed the hungry.
- He gave sight to the blind.
- He touched the outcast leper that no one would touch.
- He offered hope for healing to the woman living with her boyfriend who’d been divorced five times.
- He forgave the woman caught in adultery.
- He forgave the tax collector who had been robbing people blind and they followed him and were changed.
- He didn’t lead a political revolution.
- He didn’t rally a violent overthrow.
- He didn’t spread his following with armies.
- He subverted evil by restoring good into the hearts of those willing to follow him.
Though he claimed to have the power to calm the storms, he didn’t use his power to serve himself, everything he did was to serve others. What he claimed to be doing was showing you and me what God is like, so we would know God, and trust him, and let him lead our lives into a deeply fulfilling, eternal quality of life—that starts now and lasts forever.
If Jesus was not God, I sure hope God is a lot like Jesus—don’t you?
But some of you don’t really know what He’s like because you’ve not decided to truly become His apprentice.
When I first became a Christ follower, I started reading bits and pieces of scripture. Before long, I found I was just too busy. And I had come to a confidence that this is God’s word revealed, yet I had no real plan to read or study or try to know God through the Bible.
I remember hearing someone speak about how this is God’s love letter to you—He’s conveying his heart, his desire to do life with you. Imagine if you sent someone you loved a letter, revealing your heart your thoughts and feelings—the relationship you hoped for, and the person never even took the time to read it.
That kind of got to me, but I thought, “I’m so busy and I have so much else to read.”
Then the guy said, we constantly want God to guide us—yet how willing are we really to learn what he’s already given us?
- I imagined one day standing before God, saying I just didn’t have time to read or consider your words. “Well, didn’t you read 100’s of college Textbooks?” well, yeah.
- Didn’t you read 1000’s of pages of Newspaper and magazines about corruption and gossip and sports? I guess! Didn’t you read lots of novels to entertain yourself? A few.
- Didn’t you read 100s of books about business, and real estate, stocks and investments, time management books, leadership, self-help books?
We will all realize one day—we really did have time, we just didn’t prioritize apprenticing under Jesus—we were busy apprenticing under everyone else.