The earliest false teaching – or heresy – that would arise within the Christian tradition was a strain of Gnosticism. Actually, several strains of it. Gnosticism is a belief that there is secret knowledge out there that can and should be known solely by a select and elite group. Jesus the Messiah countered this, as my Intro to Philosophy instructor noted, when he said that his listeners should, “let everything that is whispered in your ear be shouted from the rooftops.”
The strains of Gnosticism that snaked their ways through the small churches in first century A.D. pax romana concerned a belief that Jesus either wasn’t fully man or fully God. And, believe it or not, this same belief system has existed through history and infects us even these days, even in the Evangelical Protestant churches.
I have here, to my left, a study Bible by a popular publisher of the Evangelical tradition. This morning, as I was making some notes to study for tonight on Luke 2:40 and 52 (“And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.” “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”) I noticed that this study Bible had no studying on this topic. The little line that was included on the first verse quoted here basically says, “And that’s the last of all there is about Jesus as an infant.” But it will go on and on about claims to Jesus’ divinity. As it should.
Yet, it’s like we’re scared of God being a man in concrete terms. Meaning that, as a man, he poo-pooed, he farted. I used to always imagine Jesus was more like Superman. They never show Superman taking a dump. He barely eats. He never needs to shave. In all reality, Superman is a Super Being who doesn’t need to do all of these mundane things because of his god-like body composition. Heck, he doesn’t need to work out to retain that figure. How does he do it? It’s like, if we say that Superman had a form of emotions – like unrequited love for Lois Lane, a controlled anger towards Lex Luthor or the Joker or annoyance at Bizzarro Superman – than these emotions can be elevated, they can be Superman-like, they can be God-like.
But if Superman were to utilize the public restrooms in their intended purposes, then that would degrade Superman.
Now exchange Jesus for Superman and you have an idea of how the Western church has regarded Jesus bar-Joseph of Nazareth.
Other ‘gods’ or god-like figures (‘Demon’ comes from an old Greek term meaning ‘divine power’) have tried to make themselves larger and bigger (Note not only the fall of Lucifer or even the fall of Adam and Eve [proto-humans], but also the Greek gods themselves, human-like beings who constantly squabbled for more power.) But our God – our unnamable Supreme ‘I Am’ who proved himself the greatest of the greats in creating the universe out of nil at the drop of a syllable and then would drown the whole world save the inhabitants of a small cruise ship made of tar and wood and lacking rudders or sails – decided to shrink in scope. First, he decides to hinge his legacy on the offspring of a childless and barren couple. Which grows into a small ethnic group. In slavery to a once-mighty nation. After about 500 years of relative freedom, this people group, already torn in two and not living up to its legacy status, is thrown into captivity again. Two tribes out of an already obscure – and weird – nation of twelve survive and return to rebuild their walls, their temple, and their legacy. And then there’s another four hundred years of silence from God. In which time they are again and again besieged until they fall under submission to the military might of the Roman Empire.
The mighty Jehovah has gone small. But his faithful followers are clinging to a hope – a promised Deliverer who will free them from captivity – literally, captivity. They aren’t looking for someone to save their souls, but to save their society. They aren’t looking for a Kingdom of Heaven, but a Kingdom of Jerusalem, a Kingdom of Here and Now, or epic Davidic and Solomonic proportions. They are looking for an obvious Priest, Prophet and King. Someone who looks like a Priest, a Prophet and a King.Into this atmosphere, God’s gone small again.