I want to tell you a story of a man who was crucified.
He was crucified some time in the first century A.D. He was probably in his late twenty’s when he died. He was most likely a convicted political agitator: he was somebody Rome saw as a threat and so they crucified him for it.
For those of us who live in the 21st century, I guess that’s just an interesting historical fact. But I want you to understand what crucifixion was and what it meant back then. By the first century A.D. Rome had perfected crucifixion as a means of political punishment. It was a means of public humiliation meant to deter anyone who might dare to contradict the Roman system.
To perform a crucifixion, Roman soldiers would take nails and they would drive them, not through the palm of the hand as is frequently depicted, but through the wrist. There’s a very good reason for this: the weight of a man’s body cannot be held by just the flesh and tendons in a man’s hand. The weight requires a bone structure to support it on the nail. The executioners would pound spikes through the condemned’s wrist and into a horizontal beam. They would lift that beam, with the criminal nailed to it, and set it on top of a vertical post set in the ground. Then they would nail the victim’s feet, through the ankles, to that post. And then they would wait.
Although in excruciating pain because of the nails through their wrists and through their feet, a crucifixion victim usually didn’t die quickly. That’s because it wasn’t blood loss or shock from the nails that usually killed them but the excruciatingly slow process of gradual suffocation. With their arms stretched out by the nails, the condemned couldn’t take full breaths without pulling up on the nails or pushing up with their feet. Each breath required amplifying the pain they were in. Over the course of a day, the physical, mental, and emotional effort required to make the movement would take its toll and eventually they wouldn’t be able to muster a breath at all.
It was a horrible, vicious, cruel manner of death.
But back to my story. What’s interesting about the guy I started telling you about is they actually found his bones in an ossuary in his family tomb. His name was Yehohanan. When they opened his ossuary, they found his heel bone still had a Roman spike through it.
It’s the only such bone found out of the thousands of crucifixions we know that Rome performed. But I’d be willing to guess that you still hadn’t heard the story or Yehohanan’s name before this.
There was another guy crucified in the first century as well. They’ve never found his bones, but I bet you know his name: Jesus.
Have you ever asked why that is? Why, of the thousands crucified, is Jesus’ name still known and revered throughout the world while so many others have been forgotten? There’s something about Jesus.
For one thing, Jesus is central to Christianity. As Christianity has endured, Jesus’ name has endured. But beyond the merely religious consideration, there’s the fact of who Jesus is: the Son of God, the Resurrected King, the Mighty Savior. We remember Jesus because he is not dead: he is alive.
Getting Jesus Right
But simply remembering Jesus isn’t enough.
We need to get Jesus right.
And in order to get Jesus right, it’s essential that we turn to the Word of God. And, thankfully, in 2 John, we’re given five marks to help us see whether or not we’re getting Jesus right.
If I am getting Jesus right then…
1. I am fully committed to truth of who Christ is (2 John 4)
The first way I can know I’ve got Jesus right is if I’m fully committed to the truth of who he actually is. For example, in John’s day, people were saying that Jesus couldn’t be human because he was God. So they said he only appeared to be human. But that contradicts the truth of the Word. The Bible is clear that Jesus was actually human, actual flesh and blood. If the Bible says Jesus is human, I’ve got to believe that regardless of how I feel about it.
But the flip side of that coin is when people say that Jesus is human, he’s just not God. They take this approach because it’s hard to deal with Jesus as God in our modern era. But Scripture is just as clear that Jesus is God as it is that he is human. Jesus himself claims the divine name in John’s Gospel. Others testify to his divinity throughout the pages of the New Testament. The record is clear.
And it goes beyond questions of his nature. I need to land inside the biblical lines on his atonement, his kingdom, his purpose for his followers, etc. Getting Jesus right isn’t a choose-your-own-adventure story. Either I am fully committed to understanding the truth of who he is or I’m settling for a false Jesus I’ve manufactured according to my own whims, traditions, or feelings.
Ask: Is my faith resting on my feelings or on the truth of who Jesus is, as revealed in the Bible?
2. I have a deep, practical love for fellow believers (2 John 5)
Getting Jesus right also results in a very real and a very deep practical love for my fellow believers. John considers this essential. John understands, and wants me to understand, that if I truly understand Jesus’ nature and the nature of his work, I will be free to quit living my life as a means advancing myself. I don’t have to do good things for my neighbor; I get to do good things for my neighbor. When I see a brother or sister in need I can meet that need and I don’t have to advertise it. Because of who Jesus is, I no longer have to pretend like I can impress God.
Instead, I am able to focus on others. Life in the truth of Christ means I am no longer living life for me. I am free to live to serve others, just like Christ demonstrated in his own life. I cannot have the truth of who Christ is without the love that it brings for those around me.
Ask: is my faith producing self-centeredness or is it producing selfless service for others?
3. I find joy in obedience (2 John 6)
Another key to helping me determine whether I have Jesus right or not is to determine why I obey God. John says that obeying God is the natural outworking of the truth of who Christ is and loving those around me. So, do I obey him because I desperately want to be seen as being righteous? Or do I obey because I love Jesus? If I get Jesus wrong, it will be very difficult for me to obey him for the pure joy of it. No one but the biblical Jesus is sufficient to inspire me to go the extra mile, turn the other cheek, and seek holiness.
Because that’s what obedience should spring from: a deep love for Jesus. When I understand that Jesus is all I need and all that God needs from me, I no longer have to obey out of fear. Instead, getting Jesus right means that I can obey God from the sheer joy of knowing his love in Christ. I can’t add to my salvation, I can’t improve on Jesus’ record. Obedience becomes not my best attempt to forge a ticket to heaven but the all-expenses-paid trip I get to go on. I no longer have to wear obedience as clothes to impress those around me but as my most comfortable pair of pajamas to luxuriate in. If I find joy in obedience not for what it does for me but for the joy it brings God, I can know that I am getting Jesus right.
Ask: Do I obey God because I need to look righteous or do I obey God because I love Jesus?
4. I live in Christ’s teaching (2 John 9)
One thing that getting Jesus right doesn’t mean is being about to pass an essay exam on the hypostatic union of Jesus. Following Jesus can’t be reduced to a theology seminar. That being said, however, there are certain things that God reveals in Christ that I need to learn, I need to know, and I need to believe. Call it the basics, call it catechism, call it whatever, I’ll call it what John calls it: the teaching of Christ. Jesus taught us things. He was called “Teacher.” There is an intellectual element to faith.
However, it is important that I not insist on going beyond the teaching of Christ. It is possible to get bored with the gospel and to go beyond it, to look for more teaching, more revelation, a new prophet to speak to me. But Scripture’s clear: Jesus is God’s ultimate revelation (Hebrews 1:1-2). It is possible to go beyond the teaching of Christ by demanding a continual supply of new truth and not being content with what God has revealed.
This happens in individuals, in churches, in entire religions: they are not content with Christ’s teaching but must add to it to fulfill their own desire. But I need to be content. I need to recognize that while the gospel is as simple as “I’m a sinner, Christ died in my place, now I can have peace with God,” it is also remarkably deep. There are so many implications of the gospel that I could spend 200 lifetimes considering them and never exhaust the variety. I should be content with the gospel because it is enough for me to chew on forever.
Ask: Am I demanding more revelation from God or am I content with Christ?
5. I have true fellowship with God (2 John 9)
The final mark of getting Jesus right is probably the hardest one to evaluate. I want to be right. I want to assume that I am on the right path. But I can deceive myself. If I get Jesus right, I have true fellowship or communion with God. But I can fake that relationship with God. I can fool myself and I can fool others.
But I can’t fool God.
I can have an incredible prayer life, read my Bible every day, go to church three times a week – I can look really good for others and in my own eyes.
But if I don’t get Jesus right, it won’t matter in the end.
There is only one way to fellowship with God: confess the real Jesus as Lord and believe in my heart God raised him from the dead. If my “fellowship” with him is based on any other confession, hope, or idea, I will lose everything when it matters the most.
Ask: Am I in fellowship with God and heading towards him or will I lose everything in the end?
In the end, the ultimate question, then, is, “am I getting Jesus right?” That’s the question for me and it’s the question for you.
Here’s my challenge to you: don’t take my word for it.
Go read the Gospel of John. Read 2 John. Read the New Testament. Read the Word of God.
And seek Christ. Seek to get him right, not based on what I say, not based on what anybody else says, but based on who he has revealed himself to be in the Bible.
Seek Christ because everything hinges on getting Jesus right.