I continued our Leaving Left Behind Behind sermon series this Mother’s Day weekend by examining the antichrist. Perfect timing huh?
The text was 1 John 4.1-12. You can listen to the sermon below or in the sidebar to the right. You can also download it in iTunes or, better yet, download the free mobile app.
“By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus has come in the flesh is not from God…this is the spirit of the antichrist.”
Some churches today will pass out corsages to all the Mothers in the house.
Other churches today will read from a scripture like Proverbs 6: ‘Children do not forsake your mother’s teaching.’
Some preachers will use today as an occasion to preach about the holy vocation of parenting and motherhood.
But not this church, not this preacher.
Today, for Mother’s Day, you get to hear about the antichrist.
I know I’ve been accused of being cynical before, but- let’s be honest- doesn’t this seem like a no-brainer bible verse for Mother’s Day?
I mean, when thinking about their mother who doesn’t have a word like antichrist come to mind?
Who doesn’t free associate a mental picture of their momma with the mark of the beast or the 7-headed Leviathan from the sea?
My mother and I, we don’t have a perfect relationship, but I don’t really think of my mom as the antichrist- at least most of the time.
And I’m sure none of you think of your mother as the antichrist either.
Nobody thinks of their mother that way.
Of course, many of us have mother-in-laws…that’s a different story.
I haven’t spoken to my mother-in-law in 18 months because I don’t like to interrupt her.
Most husbands complain about their mother-in-laws, but not me. Mine is different. Mine even lets me call her ‘Mrs Keller.’
And the love between us is mutual.
My mother-in-law, she likes to say that having me for a son-in-law is liking having the little boy that she…already had, the little boy whose juvenile bathroom humor she already endured 20 years ago.
My wife and I started dating when we were 15 years old. I’ve known my mother-in-law over half my life. I’ve grown up with her as a part of my life.
Thanks to her I was never in any danger of going through life thinking I had no faults.
As you might know, I grew up in a broken home. I didn’t know what a healthy marriage looked like. I got to learn that first-hand by watching my mother-in-law’s marriage to my father-in-law.
Without my mother-in-law, Ali and I wouldn’t have discovered early on what was the source of conflict in our marriage. It’s me.
And it was my mother-in-law who gave me the best marriage advice of anyone.
She said: ‘Never go to bed mad. Stay up and fight.’
I love my mother-in-law and I’m grateful for her in ways that I’m too cool and emotionally guarded to share. She is a mother to me.
I don’t think my mother-in-law is the antichrist.
But she could be.
She could be.
And so could yours.
And so could yours.
And so could you.
You might be an antichrist. No more jokes, all kidding aside- you might be an antichrist.
You might be.
If we take St. John seriously, then it’s easier to be an antichrist than Kirk Cameron has led you to believe.
Identifying the antichrist doesn’t require reading the signs of the times or breaking any biblical codes. It doesn’t even require you to ever turn over to the Book of Revelation.
It just requires a little self-reflection.
Because, take it from St John, you might be an antichrist.
You might be an antichrist if…
If you think Christianity is about ‘spiritual’ things- or timeless ‘truths,’ then you might be antichrist.
If you think that salvation is what happens to us after we die, if you believe that our soul leave our bodies and go off to heaven when we die, if you think the goal of Christianity is to go to heaven when you die, then you might be an antichrist.
If you have ever sat next to a bedside or a graveside and said something like: ‘Her body, his body, that’s not really him, that’s not really her. It’s just a shell’ then you might be an antichrist.
If you ever used that poem for a funeral, the one that goes:
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on the snow.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.
If you ever used that poem at a funeral, then chances are your undertaker was an antichrist.
If you believe that Christianity teaches the evacuation from creation (ie, the rapture) instead of the redemption of all creation (New Creation) then I hate to be the one to break it to you but you might be an antichrist.
If you think God does not care about the Earth or that the physical, material things in your life are not good gifts from God thus means of grace to God and from God then your belief is what St. John calls antichrist.
If you know someone who insists that they ‘can worship God better in nature’ (ie, play golf) then the next time that someone says that just calmly but convincingly call them the antichrist.
Because you could never find something as counter-intuitive as Jesus in nature and God, the fullness of God, didn’t take spirit. It took flesh. And God dwelt not in the mountains or the trees but in Jesus. So don’t be shy call them as you see them, call that someone an antichrist.
Don’t be shy about calling them an antichrist because you might be one too.
If you dismiss Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (love thy enemy, turn the other cheek, bless those who curse you) as naive or hopeless ideals rather than imperatives from the incarnate God, to-do’s straight from the lips of the eternal God, if you dismiss Jesus’ be-attitudes as unrealistic for your life then you might be an antichrist.
If you think religious people are all basically the same because ‘we all believe in the same God after all’ you might be an antichrist. Because that generalized God took very particular flesh and became a very specific first century Jewish carpenter from Nazareth who taught some very peculiar things.
You see, Kirk Cameron with his vacant Growing Pains cuteness has us all fooled. It’s not that hard to be an antichrist.
I mean, if you think Christmas, when we celebrate the immaterial becoming material, the eternal becoming mortal, the infinite becoming finite, the omnipresent taking up residence in Mary’s womb- if you think Christmas is less important than the Cross you might be an antichrist.
If you believe that the ‘Gospel’ is about Jesus’ death and that Jesus’ life- his words and wisdom and welcome of sinners- is somehow extra or unessential to the ‘good news’ then you might be an antichrist.
No, no ‘might be.’
You are. You are an antichrist.
And you are too if you’re uncomfortable with the idea that God ever burped, farted or hit puberty. I know it might sound silly but you don’t really believe that God became fully human if you don’t believe he was at least as human as you or me.
And that way of thinking- John calls that antichrist.
If you spend more time standing up for Jesus in the culture wars than you spend time sticking up for the kinds of people that Jesus stood up for, then I’m sure it will come as a surprise, a shock even, but you might be an antichrist.
Likewise, if you spend more time arguing for the literal, physical resurrection of Jesus than you do actually trying to live a redeemed, risen life then take this as a warning: you might be an antichrist.
Ditto if you think you got right with God because you once came down during the altar call, invited Jesus into your and got born again and now it matters not that in your life you resemble Jesus not at all, then you are an antichrist.
You’ve taken the incarnation and turned into an idea.
You’ve made the incarnation a belief in your head rather than a blueprint for your life.
You see: the more you pick at it, the more you pull on the thread, the more you see that St John is right. The spirit of the antichrist is everywhere.
You don’t have to read Dan Brown, go looking for black helicopters or study the headlines in the Middle East.
You don’t have to listen to any street corner evangelists or cable TV preachers.
You just have to ask yourself:
Do I think Christianity is about beliefs instead of discipleship, do I think ideas are more important than character, do I think the right doctrines in my head are more important than the cruciform shape of my life?
Because if so…antichrist.
You don’t have to predict any dates for armageddon. You just have to ask yourself:
Do I believe that God is like Jesus, that has always been like Jesus and God will always be like Jesus?
Or do I believe that the God of the Old Testament is different from the God of the New, do I believe the former is angry and vengeful and the latter?
Because the only way to hold the two testaments together is to believe the God of the first took flesh in the Christ of the second.
And if you don’t believe that then you are an antichrist.
But don’t beat yourself up. It’s not your fault. Our culture conditions us to be antichrists.
I mean just think: if St John is right then our caring more about our ‘faith-based’ values or political principles than we care for a brother or sister in Christ who disagrees with us- that makes us antichrists. And practically all of us are like that.
Our culture dupes us into following antichrists all the time.
Just think: If you spend more time bemoaning the decay of American culture than you do pursuing the 21st century equivalent of ‘eating and drinking with sinners’ then you are, by definition, an antichrist.
You’re going against the grain of God’s incarnate life.
If you think the letter of scripture or your political platform deputizes you for ugly, un- Jesusy, Pharsaic behavior towards another (‘Love the sinner, hate the sin’) then you are an antichrist.
You’ve removed the mode of Jesus’ earthly, fleshly life from your message about Jesus.
And, look, pot- meet kettle. I’m guilty too.
Because honestly, it’ll come as no surprise, I spend more time polishing my theological ideas than I do in prayer. I spend more time preaching the Gospel than I do practicing it. I’m amazed that God is gracious to a sinner like me, but I’m annoyed whenever God does the same for a sinner worse than me.
And with Christ, in Christ’s life, it all worked the other way round.
Which means my way goes against the grain.
Which makes me- you guessed it- an antichrist.
You might be one too. And my mother-in-law? Maybe.
Maybe yours too.
And that surprises us.
It surprises us because Kirk Cameron, with his vapid Huey Lewis-like expression, has convinced us all that the antichrist is an auspicious figure marked out by the number 666, a fantastical, future political leader who will lure people’s loyalty away from God before ushering in a time of terrible tribulation which itself will usher in the Rapture, the Last Judgment and the ultimate- very unJesusy- destruction of God’s creation by God himself.
He seemed so innocent on Growing Pains that we’ve let Kirk Cameron convince us that the antichrist is the one who will wreak all that scary stuff near the end of your bibles.
And it’s true-
The prophetic book of Revelation does foresee a ruler who will persecute God’s People, a prophecy which the Emperor Nero fulfilled a just generation after Jesus.
But what Kirk Cameron and Nick Cage don’t tell you, what the street corner evangelists and the cable TV preachers don’t tell you, what the whole end-times, Left Behind industry doesn’t tell you is that the word ‘antichrist’ does not occur anywhere- anywhere– in the Book of Revelation.
The word ‘antichrist’ (which is the complicated Greek word αντί Χριστός, ‘anti-Christos’) occurs nowhere in scripture, nowhere in the Bible except here in St. John’s first 2 letters.
The word ‘antichrist’ occurs just 5 times in bible in only 4 verses in no more than these 2 letters from John.
And in these letters from John the word ‘antichrist’ is not a title, it’s not a proper name, it’s not a specific individual person who portends tribulation.
In John the word ‘antichrist’ refers to those people, any people, who deny that God had a real blood and bones body, that God took flesh in Jesus, that God became fully human.
You see, it’s not nearly as fantastical as Kirk Cameron would have you believe but it is more damning: the word ‘antichrist’ refers to people who deny the incarnation.
Who John had in mind specifically were the Gnostics, an ancient heresy that still pops up all over the place today in both pews and popular culture.
The gnostics believed that the physical, material world was corruptible and thus inherently imperfect. They believed that what was eternal was the spiritual.
And therefore the gnostics believed that ‘salvation’ was about your spiritual soul escaping your physical body, escaping this physical world for the spiritual one, for heaven.
Not surprisingly, then, the gnostics took a dim view towards the God of the Old Testament, the God who not only made this physical world and our embodied selves but declared it all ‘very good.’
Even less surprising, the gnostics refused to believe that ‘God’ would ever leave the perfect, spiritual world and take up residence, take flesh in Jesus.
And so the gnostics were left two alternatives, the two alternatives that are still with us everywhere.
You could believe that Jesus was human, as human as you or me, but just human, just another teacher, a teacher you can follow as far as you want but dismiss whenever you want.
Or, if you were a gnostic, you could believe that Jesus wasn’t just another teacher but neither was he just another human. Because he wasn’t fully human like you or me because God would never debase himself to become like you or me.
John pulls no punches. He warns us away. He calls all that ‘antichrist.’
And it is.
To deny that God became fully human is antichrist because it leads us to stop seeing the world as Jesus saw it, to stop living in the world as Jesus lived in it, to stop heeding the words that the Word made flesh spoke into it.
To deny that God became fully human is antichrist because it leads us in no time to live our lives against the grain of the way he lived his.
The bad news this Mothers’ Day is that Kirk Cameron couldn’t be more wrong.
The bad news this Mothers’ Day is that my mother-in-law just might actually be the antichrist. Who knows?
But you might be too.
I know on any given day I’m in danger.
The bad news today is that it’s actually pretty easy to be an antichrist.
But the good news?
The good news is that the remedies for being an antichrist are many and they’re just as easy.
Pour a glass of good wine, roast a chicken, hold a baby or have sex. Because the sacred became physical in Jesus Christ and therefore all physical things are sacred.
The remedies for being an antichrist are easy.
Find a sinner- trust me, they’re not hard to find. Find a sinner, preferably someone who’s wronged you, and say to them:
‘I do not condemn you.’
‘I forgive you you know not what you do.’
‘Even though you curse, I will bless you.’
And when they ask you why you’re doing this or who told you to do this, just say: ‘God himself told me…in the flesh.’
You might be an antichrist, but trust me the remedies are so easy and every day.
Just hold someone’s hand or embrace them even or try thanking your mother-in-law for everything she’s meant to you, every kindness and genuine curiosity, because we believe that God fully human and therefore the people in your lives are not only gifts from God they are sacraments that connect you to him.