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Superman Can't Save You: The Dangers of Docetism; Jesus Was God in Disguise

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Have you ever thought why we as humans love the idea of superheroes so much?
Whether its their amazing super powers of flying, seeing through buildings, containing amazing strength, or even being immortal, we love the idea of these characters because they are people we wish we were but can never be.
Our love for superheroes is due to the reality that we know we need a savior to get us out of this messed up world we live in and defeat the evil we face in our present reality....because ultimately we know that we are incapable of completing this task ourselves.
If you have been coming to Westwood long enough, you have been told that Jesus is the only one who can save us…but many people have a difficult time swallowing this truth.
They know they need a savior, but they don’t want the Jesus of the Bible to be their savior because his views in the gospels are very unpopular today.
Therefore, throughout history, people have sought to shift and modify who Jesus is to fit their idea of the “perfect savior.”
The problem with this logic is that if we change who Jesus is as depicted in Scripture, we change all of the specific qualities necessary for Jesus to be our savior…therefore, these bad ideas about Jesus simply cannot save.
So, as we begin our study of Jesus and who he is, we will compare Jesus with a common superhero today who illustrates each bad idea that has been invented throughout the centuries.
We will see that each one of these superheroes, although very cool, are insufficient players to be our savior…which demonstrates a remarkable point…it tells us that Jesus is better than anything we could make up!
But before we dive into studying our first “heresy,” we need to know what the word “heresy” actually means.
Professor Todd Miles says “a heresy is any bad idea or false teaching that undercuts the gospel.” There are some bad ideas swirling around out there, but if they do not change or deviate from the gospel, we should not label them as heresy.
Just because we do not agree with someone does not mean we should call them a “heretic.”
Heresy is a strong word that should only be used when a teaching is not in step with the gospel.
So…now that we know what heresy is…let us look at the first one in our series…The Superman Heresy

Superman: Alien? Man? Both?

In the original Superman movie from 1978, Jor-El, Superman’s father, says, “Your name is Kal-El. you are the only survivor of the planet Krypton. Even though you’ve been raised as a human, you are not one of them. You have great powers...”
So, from the outset, Superman’s father makes clear that he is an alien from Krypton, he was raised a human because in the brink of his planet being destroyed, his father sent him to earth to save him, but Superman was not a human being.
However, Superman adapted and played the part of a human, as the comic book character disguised himself to the natural world as the man, Clark Kent.
As Clark Kent, Superman, appeared to be just like us...
He appeared to be a normal boy.
Appeared to be clumsy and have flaws
Appeared to be afraid, weak, grow hungry, and get tired just like us
He appeared to be scared in the face of danger, just like us..
However, this was all a facade, a costume, a persona that concealed Superman’s true identity.
The truth is, there was not human being named Clark Kent who existed…it was just a disguise.
People today have the same idea about Jesus...
They think that Jesus was just God in disguise..
He acted human like us...
He seemed to be hungry like us...
He seemed to get tired like us...
He seemed to need help like us..
But this was all an act, He was not really JUST LIKE US, but only seemed to be like us.
In the church, we are so quick to affirm Jesus’ deity that we neglect or downplay his humanity…but as we will see, Jesus’ full humanity is just as important if He is to be our savior as is his deity.

The Heresy

As I said in the introduction, this thought of Jesus only appearing to be human but not actually being fully human is referred to as the Superman heresy.
However, the proper name of the heresy that was propagated in the early church was a term known as “Docetism.”
Docetism comes from the Greek word dokein, which meant “to seem.” Again, Jesus only “seemed” or “appeared” to be human, but was just “God in disguise” similar to Clark Kent being a costume Superman put on to hide his true identity as an alien.
One of the biggest questions in the early church was how to understand how Jesus was both fully man and fully God. So, if one either removes the full humanity or full deity of Jesus, there is no more problem.
The idea of removing Jesus’ full humanity fit well in the first and second centuries due to the popularity of Greek and Roman philosophy in that time.
A popular teaching of the Greeks and Romans that was loosely based on Platonic dualism was the idea that there was a separation between the material and the spiritual.
Essentially, for the dualist, spiritual things were good and material things were evil. Since the human body is material, the human body is evil and the spirit inside is good.
The conclusion resulted in believing since Jesus was pure and holy, being God, he could not inhabit the evil and impure material world of a human body.
Docetists believed that Jesus only appeared to have flesh, but it was more like he was a ghost or phantom that concealed his spirit.
Another false teaching that was associated with docetism was gnosticism, which comes from the Greek word gnosis, which means “knowledge.”
Gnosticism believed that a secret knowledge was necessary for salvation and that God, who was spiritual could have no interaction with the evil material world.
The apostle Paul and the apostle John both denied and wrote against these false teachings.
John makes clear in his first epistle:
1 John 1:1-3 “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you...”
In this passage John makes clear that Jesus was really a human being…it is as if he is screaming it at us as he repeats how he has interacted with Jesus with all the physical senses of the human body, seen, heard, looked, touched, etc.
He says twice, Jesus was “made manifest,” which in the Greek means he “appeared physically where someone could see him.”
As we will see later, the Bible makes clear, Jesus was fully human, just like us in every way, yet without sin.
The idea of dualism that encompasses docetism and gnosticism is completely contrary to the teaching of the Bible.
God made a physical world that was very good.
He made man and woman in his image with physical bodies that were very good.
An essential part of our salvation is the resurrection of our physical bodies from the grave.
We that have trusted in Jesus for salvation will dwell with him in our physical bodies in the new heavens and new earth for all eternity.
Therefore, Jesus having a physical body and being fully human does not result in him being impure…because all that God made, both the spiritual and material realm…was originally VERY GOOD.

Who Commits the Superman Heresy Today?

Very few people may admit that they don’t believe Jesus was fully human.
However, we believe this heresy every time we believe that when Jesus was confronted with a difficult situation, he overcame the obstacle through the virtue of his deity.
For example:
Jesus used his divine nature to overcome temptation against satan and not sin.
However, if we look at the biblical narrative, we see that Jesus simply used ordinary means and tools that are accessible for us today to overcome temptation as believers…the word of God and the Holy Spirit.
Dr. Keathley/WWJD
“But Dad, He’s Jesus.”
“I can’t do any of those things, because I am not the Son of God.”
So we know the heresy and we see how we are guilty of believing and living it out today…lets now see what the Bible says about the humanity of Jesus...

What The Bible Says

Jesus Was Predicted by the Prophets
2 Samuel 7:12-13 prophesies that David would have a son who would eventually assume his throne and reign forever...This would be a human boy.
Later, we see the prophet Isaiah in chapter 7 say, “a virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel…which means God with us.
This is a promise that the Messiah would be God with us, but he would also be a human boy and although he would be the Mighty God, he would also not be anything less than human.
Other prophecies in Micah, Isaiah, and Daniel also confirm the Messiah would be human.
Jesus Was Born and Grew Up Like a Normal Human
Even though his conception was miraculous, and the events surrounding his birth were marvelous, Jesus’ birth was just like ours.
Contrary to “away in a manger,” Jesus, as a baby, cried like us when he was hungry and was awakened from his sleep…because that is what babies do, and Jesus was a real human baby.
Jesus also grew up like a normal ordinary boy. We can see this is the case due to the fact that none of the gospel writers even wrote about his adolescence. Besides a short account in Luke that says Jesus grew in wisdom, stature, and favor with God and man.
Jesus Demonstrated Normal Human Limitations
Jesus, as a human, had normal limitations just like we do.
He was hungry (Matthew 4:2)
He was tired (Matthew 8:21-27)
He was thirsty and worn out from the journey (John 4)
He faced temptation, yet without sin.
He wept (John 11).
Hebrews 2:17 says, “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”
Jesus Died
The gospels make clear that Jesus physically died on the cross.
Only humans die, and although Jesus is God, and his divine nature did not die, his human nature died on the cross. Therefore Jesus’ death makes clear that Jesus was fully human.

Why Is This Important?

If Jesus was not fully human, he could not be our savior.
Walk through the gospel...
Sin is a human problem and requires a human solution.
A human must completely fulfill God’s law for us.
A human must pay the penalty of our sin on the cross.
A human must save us…but we as humans are completely incapable of doing so…God must step in…but how?
Sacrificial system
Sheep and goats were never enough to cleanse us of our sin…how can sheep and goats atone for human sin…it must be a human...
This happens through the incarnation…Jesus is Immanuel…God with us....but he is also the Son of David…a human like us.
If Jesus was not fully human and only appeared to be, he could not be our savior, he could not atone for our sins, he could not live the perfect life for us, he could not be our mediator…if Jesus is just “God in disguise,” like Superman, we all stand hopelessly condemned.
Superman cannot save us…but Jesus, because he was fully human and is our perfect substitute, can.
What about you? Is Jesus your savior?
Have you tried too shift and modify a version of Jesus to fit your idea of the “perfect savior?”
Know that if you have changed Jesus from any other way the gospels present him as…you are not trusting in the biblical Jesus who is the only one who can save you.
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