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Searching For The Authentic Jesus

“I have far more experience than many others that sought the office of Vice President in the country,” Dan Quayle claimed before a panel of debate moderators and a television audience of millions. “I have as much experience in the congress as Jack [John] Kennedy did when he sought the presidency.”

In 1988, George H.W. Bush was running for president of the United States against Michael Dukakis. His vice presidential candidate Dan Quayle was participating in a debate against Lloyd Bentsen, Dukakis’ running mate.

“Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy,” Bentsen replied. “Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy…”

As the crowd cheered, Quayle tried to regain his composure. “That was really uncalled for, Senator,” he complained.

Knowing he had just won the debate, Bentsen moved in to finish the kill. “You’re the one that was making the comparison, Senator, and I’m one who knew him well. And frankly, I think you’re so far, far, from the objectives you choose for your country that I did not think the comparison was well taken.”

That day in Omaha, Nebraska, October 5, 1988, Lloyd Bentsen cemented his name in the annals of great (vice) presidential debates.

That’s Not The Jesus I Know…

Many years earlier, the apostle Peter probably felt a little like Lloyd Bentsen.

Thirty years after Jesus rose from the grave and ascended to heaven, he noticed some troubling developments. Christianity had been growing like wildfire and spreading throughout the Roman Empire. But then the Empire struck back. Under the direction of Emperor Nero, Christian leaders were being killed. The people in their congregations were afraid.

Then teachers appeared—teachers who didn’t even know Jesus, who never heard Jesus teach. They began telling people things Jesus never said, twisting his words, saying Jesus wasn’t a man; he was more like a ghost. They taught that our daily behavior has no bearing on our souls. That Jesus was never going to return. They claimed Jesus told them these things.

I can imagine Peter thinking to himself, I walked with Jesus. I knew him better than anyone. I stood next to him when he healed the man who was born blind. I watched him walk on the water and calm the sea. 

One time he was speaking before a crowd of 5000 hungry people. I told him, “Jesus, you need to dismiss them because they’re really hungry.” But he looked at me and said, “You feed them.” Then a little boy with five loaves and two fishes said, “Here, take this.” I passed out the food and somehow, all 5000 people were fed.

Another time, I joined him on a hike up a mountain when suddenly he looked as if his clothes were on fire. Then Moses and Elijah appeared. But most amazing of all, I heard the voice of God thundering from the skies saying, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

And I did. Nearly everything he said over his three years in ministry, I was standing there right next to Jesus, listening to him. Finally, I watched him die on the cross and miraculously rise from the dead. 

He was a friend of mine—and still is. You’re referring to a different Jesus than the one I know.

If you knew that your days were numbered—Nero wanted you dead—what would you do?

You’d set the record straight—which is exactly what Peter did.

What Would Jesus Say?

Over the next few Fridays, we’re going to explore Peter’s response to a group of people who claimed to know Jesus, but didn’t. I think you’ll agree with me that his written response is very timely, both then and today. The document I’m referring to is his second epistle, which appears in the Bible as 2 Peter.

But I want to begin our discussion with this:

Every month or two it seems, a new documentary is released about the life of Jesus. The History Channel seems to spit them out right and left. They look at Jesus’ life from different angles, taking into account the cultural milieu, history, and other sociological elements. News websites like CNN.com offer “new” perspectives on the life of Jesus and what the Bible really says. When I watch them, something usually seems amiss. It doesn’t ring true with the Jesus I know. It doesn’t ring true with the people who knew him best.

If you want to get inside someone, but you can’t meet personally with him, you look to see what people who knew him said. People who were his closest friends.

We know that Peter, James, and John were Jesus’ closest friends. As I’ve already mentioned, Peter wrote two epistles, but you may not know that most theologians attribute the gospel of Mark to him as well. Papias, the earliest recorded church historian, wrote that the gospel of Mark is based on Peter’s preaching.

John, the second man in Jesus’ inner circle, wrote the gospel of John, as well as three epistles—1, 2, and 3 John.

James, the third man in Jesus’ inner circle, didn’t have enough time to write anything because he was martyred by King Herod about 10 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection (see Acts 12:2).

Interestingly enough, you could call the gospel of Luke “Mary’s gospel.” Luke, ever the thorough historian, likely relied on Jesus’ mother Mary for details in his account. Twice in his gospel he says that “Mary treasured theses things in her heart” (Luke 2:19,51). Why did she “treasure” them? To ensure that people knew the real Jesus.

Finally, a man by the name of “James” wrote an epistle about Jesus. While he wasn’t a member of Jesus’ inner circle, most historians believe he was the oldest of Jesus’ younger brothers (he is listed first in the order of his siblings in Matthew 13:15). He later became the leader of the Jerusalem council (see Acts 15).

Why is all of this important? Because if you want to know the real Jesus, the authentic Jesus, you need to know what his closest friends said about him.

Even in the early church, false teachers were offering a “different gospel” than what Jesus proclaimed (2 Corinthians 11:4). Jesus’ family and closest friends sought to correct it.

“I knew Jesus when he was here on earth—and that’s not the Jesus I know.”

At a time when “Christian” leaders are attempting tot contemporize Jesus and his teachings, this study is very timely for all of us.

I looked forward to exploring the book of 2 Peter with you in the coming weeks.

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. Since 1999, he has worked on over 30 study Bibles as a contributing writer or theological reviewer.


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Bad News For Atheists

by Michael J. Klassen

Two days ago I drove to a Barnes and Noble bookstore to meet a friend at a Starbucks coffee shop. Because I arrived a little early, I decided to walk through the store—a rare treat because I buy most of my books online.

Browsing through the place, I couldn’t help noticing the many volumes on display attacking religion. Authors like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens claim that humanity suffers from a “God delusion,” and that “God is not great.”

Is it just me, or does it seem like atheism is on the rise?

Interestingly enough, a few years ago I ran across a study indicating that the number of atheists in America has remained the same for quite some time. However, in recent years, they’ve garnered a little more air time. In my opinion, the more publicity they receive, the more adherents they’ll win.

Are we in trouble?

Recently, Oxford University released the findings of a three-year mega-study on the prevalence of religion around the world. The nonsectarian project incorporated 40 different studies conducted by dozens of researchers. People surveyed hailed from countries around the world—China to Poland to America to Micronesia and beyond.

Perusing CNN.com, I ran across an online article reporting on the study:

“We tend to see purpose in the world,” Oxford University professor Roger Trigg commented on Thursday. “We see agency. We think that something is there even if you can’t see it. … All this tends to build up to a religious way of thinking.”

Around the globe, regardless of race or location, people instinctively believe in a creator who governs world affairs and gives purpose to our everyday lives. This is a universal phenomenon.

“Children in particular found it very easy to think in religious ways” Trigg reported in the CNN article. Nevertheless, the study discovered that adults also jumped first for explanations that implied an unseen agent at work in the world.

I won’t go into detail about proving God’s existence, but suffice it to say, long ago Anselm of Canterbury theorized that because people can envision a God, he must really exist. Looks like Anselm’s theory might actually be fact.

“There is quite a drive to think that religion is private,” Tripp said, arguing that such a belief is wrong. “It isn’t just a quirky interest of a few, it’s basic human nature. This shows that it’s much more universal, prevalent, and deep-rooted. It’s got to be reckoned with. You can’t just pretend it isn’t there.”

If you fear for the future of Christianity, don’t.

To quote Mark Twain: “The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

Michael serves as co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.


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Lady Gaga, The Church, And You

Yesterday, a snippet of  Larry King’s interview with pop singer Lady Gaga was posted on CNN.com. King asked the singer (whose real name is Stefani Germanotta), “You were raised a Catholic. What are your feelings toward church and religion in general?”

“Well I struggle about my feelings about the church in particular,” she confessed. “But I guess it’s, quite honestly, completely separate isn’t it? Religion and the church? They’re completely separate things.” Later she explained that while she believes in Jesus, she is reluctant to endorse anything organized.

How relevant is the church today? Do we even need it? Continuing the discussion, yesterday CNN also offered another article entitled, Are there dangers in being “spiritual but not religious”?

Please join me as we explore these pertinent questions.


2 Samuel 22:1-23:23
Acts 2:1-47
Psalm 122:1-9
Proverbs 16:19-20


2 Samuel 22:1-23:23. The words in the psalm David wrote in chapter 22 is more or less found in Psalm 18. Although it appears at the end of 2 Samuel, it was written earlier in David’s reign. The psalm in chapter 22 expresses David‘s experience with God.

The psalm in chapter 23 emphasizes the covenant God had made with David and pays less attention to his enemies.

We’re coming to the end of David’s life. Even today, Israel considers him their greatest leader and, with his son Solomon, his reign resulted in Israel’s greatest influence and affluence.

But think about David’s many struggles. He spent his young adult years on the run from Saul and in his latter years he found himself on the run from his son. The feeling of peace and “settledness” seemed elusive to David throughout his life.

Acts 2:1-47. Acts is the second installment of a two-part series authored by Luke. Reading the first chapter of both Acts and the Gospel of Luke, you’ll noticed that a man named Theophilus is addressed. He was likely a member of the Roman aristocracy whom Luke might have sought to influence on behalf of the gospel.

Psalm 122:1-9. The people sang this psalm as they walked “up” to Jerusalem. It’s a “song of ascents” because of the hike in elevation going up to the royal city.

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The second chapter of Acts has been called the birthday of the church. Although Jesus’ followers assembled and prayed together after his ascension to heaven, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (which not-so-ironically occurred during the Pentecost religious holiday) certainly mobilized and empowered the people into unit.

In both the Greek and Hebrew languages, the word for “wind” and “Spirit” are the same. The symbolism of wind blowing when the Spirit was given in Acts 2 cannot be ignored. In Genesis 1, we read that the “Spirit of God” or “wind of God” was hovering over the waters during creation. In the same way, Pentecost was symbolic of a new creation for the whole world.

Simon Chan explores this in his fascinating book Liturgical Theology,

The church precedes creation in that it is what God has in view from all eternity and creation is the means by which God fulfills his eternal purpose in time. The church does not exist to fix a broken creation; rather creation exists to realize the church…God made the world in order to make the church, not vice versa. Scripture itself testifies to the logical priority of the church over creation by referring to the church as chosen in Christ before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), or to Christ who was slain before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8).

If Simon Chan is correct in his assertions, and if Acts 2 is symbolic of a new creation, then the importance of the church cannot be ignored.

Iranaeus, the ancient church father who lived a generation after the apostle John, reportedly said, “You cannot have God for your father if you do not have the church for your mother.” While I’m reluctant to equate salvation with membership in a church, I cannot ignore the importance of the church in the early days of the Christian faith.

People may debate the validity of the church and excuse themselves from it because they see it as irrelevant, but that seems to approach the subject from the wrong end. It’s kind of like the tail wagging the dog. Trendy beliefs based on the ever-changing winds of whatever is considered “relevant” seem a bit shallow, in my estimation. Beliefs should be based in truth, but experience is so subjective that it serves as a shaky foundation for anything.

My point in all of this? Two thousand years ago God sent his only Son Jesus to save us. Then he sent the church—not individual disparate followers of Jesus—into the world to continue what he started. It assuredly isn’t perfect, but the church is God’s primary means of rescuing the world from itself. Not because of the people, but because of Jesus’ work through those imperfect people.


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. If you were to write a psalm about your life-long experience with God, what would it look like?
  3. Reading through Acts 2, what is God’s intent?

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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.

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