"The Most Powerful Magnet in the World" John 12:32-33
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Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands of northern New Jersey - 70,000 people descending on the New York Giants football game with cars clogging every artery anywhere near the stadium - and sometimes I was one of those crazy people. And all across the New York area, countless others did that afternoon nothing but watch by television what's going on there in the Meadowlands. It's like that stadium has a giant magnet inside it, with the power to pull multitudes of people to focus on one place, and on one event.
I'm Ron Hutchcraft and I want to have A Word With You today about "The Most Powerful Magnet in the World."
For 2,000 years, there has been a magnet that has captured the hearts of millions of people, pulling people from every generation, every background, every corner of the world to one man. That man is Jesus Christ, and that magnet is an old rugged cross on a hill called Skull Hill, just outside the gates of Jerusalem. Even in our day, one of Hollywood's most powerful men, Mel Gibson, showed with his blockbuster movie, "The Passion of the Christ" a vivid portrayal of the death of Jesus - the power of that cross to move millions of people.
That should come as no surprise really. Jesus said it would happen before He ever died. In John 12:32-33, our word for today from the Word of God, Jesus said, "I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself." Then the Bible goes on to explain His meaning: "He said this to show the kind of death He was going to die." So, Jesus said, "If I am lifted up on a cross, I'll draw people to Myself."
And, sure enough, for twenty centuries, His love poured out on that tree, has melted the hardest hearts and it's brought hope to the most hopeless hearts. If many people aren't being drawn to Him, maybe it's because those of us who know Him have been lifting up something other than Jesus and His cross; like our church, our denomination, our politics, our programs, our causes - even ourselves.
Since that brutal day on Skull Hill, a lot has happened. Churches have been built in Jesus' Name, a religion bearing His name has spread across the world, rituals and creeds and ceremonies have grown up around His teachings. A lot of good, and too much that wasn't good, has been done in His name. But a trip back to that blood-stained cross strips away all the Christianity that has grown up around Christ over the centuries, and takes us back to what the central issue is for you and me.
It's you and it's me standing at the foot of that cross, looking into the face of the Son of God that has been beaten virtually beyond recognition. It's you or me watching the blood trickle down from a crown of thorns jammed into His forehead; the spikes in His hands and feet. Beyond all the religious things you've done in His name, beyond those Christians who may have hurt you or confused you, beyond all the facts about Jesus you have in your head - there's that man dying on that cross. And there's you, one of the people He's dying for, to pay for every wrong thing you have ever done. Your eternity won't be decided by what you do with Christianity. It will be decided by what you do with Christ.
This very day, I invite you to walk with me up Skull Hill, to stand there and say the two words that are the difference between heaven and hell, "for me." Maybe you've missed that decisive step of actually giving yourself to the man who died for you; of abandoning your trust in anything else to make it with God and to put all your trust in Jesus. Would you tell Him today, "Jesus, I'm Yours." And you won't just be believing in Jesus. You'll finally belong to Him. If that's what you want, I'd like to invite you to visit our website where I've got a brief and simple explanation of how to get started with Jesus Christ. You can listen to it or you can read it there. It's yoursforlife.net. Or I can send it to you in printed form in a booklet called Yours For Life if you'll just call and ask for it at 877-741-1200.
On the day you stand before God, there's only one thing He's going to ask you. "What did you do with My Son and His death for you on that cross?" You could settle that question today.
If you're not sure you belong to Jesus, and you would like to make sure today, Ron would like to send to you a free copy of the booklet, "Yours for Life: How to Have Life's Most Important Relationship." To read it online, click here: http://www.yoursforlife.net/
OR, to request your free copy of "Yours for Life," click here: http://rhm.gospelcom.net/yours/yflorder.html
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Given the renewed interest in Dan Brown's novel, The Da Vinci Code (just released in paperback editions), this commentary and review of the book is republished by request. It was originally published July 29, 2003.
The summer publishing season seems always to include a thriller that leaps to the top of the best-seller charts and stays there until the fall--when readers get serious and return to school and work. The Da Vinci Code is this year's winner, sitting at the top of the Amazon.com ratings this week and listed at second place in the New York Times hardcover fiction list. The book was on the top of that list last week, and it has made the list for 18 straight weeks. Not bad for a book with a seemingly unmanageable mix of plot structure, conspiracy theories, and mountains of detail about Catholic orders, renaissance art, theological heresy, and theoretical mathematics. Hooked yet?
I was forewarned about the heresy in the book, and so I started reading with a determination to force my way through an unpleasant read. It wasn't hard. As a matter of fact, the plot was so engaging, and the content of the book was so rich, that I had a hard time putting it down. Dan Brown may or may not actually believe what he writes, but he writes so well in this genre that the average reader will not even care. That is the problem.
Devotees of suspense novels read for the sheer pleasure of the intellectual engagement--not so much with big ideas, but with the conspiratorial mind. Brown took a big risk in this novel, betting his narrative on a conspiracy involving virtually everyone even remotely connected with Christianity throughout the last 2,000 years. The forces arrayed in this conspiracy include the Knights Templar, the Masons, the Roman Catholic Church, Interpol, and a secret society known as the Priory of Sion, which is claimed to have included as Grand Masters no less than Sandro Boticelli, Isaac Newton, and,of course, Leonardo Da Vinci.
Sorting all this out for the reader are characters ranging from Robert Langdon, a Harvard art historian, to an albino monk/assassin, who is sent by Opus Dei, a Catholic order close to the papacy. The murdered director of the Louvre has a mostly silent part, speaking primarily through secret codes and ciphers left written in his own blood as he died. A cast of other characters is necessary for the narrative to work and the plot to unfold.
But the human characters take a back seat to the grand conspiracy that gives the book its plot, and in that conspiracy is the heresy. The Da Vinci Code's driving claim is nothing less than that Christianity is based upon a Big Lie (the deity of Christ) used by patriarchal oppressors to deny the true worship of the Divine Feminine. Still hanging in there? If you thought The Last Temptation of Christ was explosive, The Da Vinci Code is thermonuclear. The book claims that Jesus Christ was married to Mary Magdalene, that a child was born of this marriage, and that Mary and her child fled after the crucifixion to Gaul, where they established the Merovingian line of European royalty.
Art historians may quibble with Dan Brown's details, and mathematicians may take issue with his summary of the Fibonacci Sequence, but as a theologian, my problem is the author's toying with such an easily dismissed heresy. Brown has crossed the line between a suspense novel and a book promoting a barely hidden agenda, to attack the Christian church and the Gospel.
In order to deliver on his conspiratorial plot, Brown has to lay the groundwork by having his main characters deny the inspiration and authority of the biblical text and replace Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John with the gnostic gospels found just after World War II at Nag Hammadi. The gnostic texts are called the "unaltered gospels," and the New Testament texts are dismissed as propaganda for the goddess-bashers. One character (hint--watch him carefully) explains that all this is "the greatest cover-up in human history." Jesus ("the original feminist") had intended for Mary Magdalene to lead the church after His death, but "Peter had a problem with that." So, Mary Magdalene hit the apostolic "glass ceiling" and was sent off to Gaul, taking with her, not only her child, but--you guessed it--the Holy Grail.
Heard this all before? The main contours of this plot have been found in many books published in the occultic literature. Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Henry Lincoln, and Richard Leigh (1983) made the same claims, but in what claimed to be a non-fiction expose--not a suspense novel. Holy Blood, Holy Grail sold by the thousands. The Da Vinci Code will likely reach millions. Never underestimate the commercial potential of a heretical conspiracy packaged in a seductive novel. Brown will take his millions to the bank.
I said that the book's [hereafter TDC] heresies are easily dismissed, and they are--at least to anyone with a real interest in the identity of Jesus and the history of the church. Calling the Nag Hammadi texts "unaltered" gospels is like reading the official Soviet histories as objective fact--complete with leading figures airbrushed out of the photos. TDC claims that the New Testament is simply the result of a male-dominated church leadership inventing Christianity in order to control the Roman empire and subsequent world history and then to oppress women and repress goddess-worship.
In TDC the heretics are the heroes and the apostles are unindicted co-conspirators. The Great Satan is Emperor Constantine, who, it is claimed, never even became a Christian, but knew a good marketing plan when he saw it. Constantine supposedly called the Council of Nicaea in 325 in order to invent the idea of Christ's divinity (and celibacy) and then turn out the heretics, thus burying the real story of Jesus (and Mary Magdalene) forever. "It's all about power," one character explains. That's why Constantine "upgraded Jesus' status."
And the Council of Nicaea? There, TDC reveals, the Emperor led the bishops to declare Jesus as the Son of God by a vote. "A relatively close vote at that," the text elaborates.
The real Council of Nicaea adopted a creed in order to reject the heretical teachings of one Arius, who taught that Jesus was not of the same substance as the Father. Brown weaves fact and fiction with such recklessness that the average reader will assume all these claims to be factual.
The Council of Nicaea did not "invent" the divinity of Jesus. This was already the declaration of the Church, claimed by Jesus himself and proclaimed by the apostles. The council boldly claimed this as the faith of the Church and named Arianism as a heresy and Arians as heretics. A close vote? Only two out of more than 300 bishops failed to sign the creed. Not exactly a cliff-hanger.
The Nag Hammadi texts as the real gospels? Not on your life. The texts are easily identifiable as gnostic literature peripheral to the Church. The early Church did not establish the canon (official set of New Testament writings) at Nicaea, though a general consensus was already evident at that gathering. The New Testament writings were recognized and set apart because of their authorship by one of the apostles and by their clearly orthodox content--in harmony with the other New Testament writings as recognized by the churches spread throughout the Greco-Roman world.
Much more could be considered, but the main issue is this: How plausible is such a conspiracy? The threshold of credibility for this conspiracy requires us to believe that the entire structure of Christian theology is a sinister plot to fool the masses. Further, we must believe that the leaders of this conspiracy knew that Jesus was not the Son of God, but were willing to die for this cause by the millions. As C. S. Lewis once argued, people might be willing to be martyrs for a lie if they are innocently deceived, but very few will die for what they know to be a lie.
Credibility for this conspiracy requires belief in the claim that the truth, known by millions, has been kept secret from the world until now. Specifically, until the release of The Da Vinci Code.
What about the atheists--the rationalist opponents of Christianity? What about the liberal theologians who dismiss the deity of Christ as mythological baggage? They must be greeting The Da Vinci Code with excitement, right? Not hardly. The strange and unsustainable logic of this conspiracy theory has not impressed the skeptics. Shirley MacLaine might take the argument seriously, but not Richard Dawkins.
The book's thesis requires the reader to believe that virtually every major work of western art includes an embedded code, and that this code is evident all around us if we will just see it. Of course, to pull this off Brown has to see symbols (especially phallic symbols) everywhere. Freud was a rank amateur.
A late night conversation with a close friend reminds me of the attraction of a conspiracy theory--with or without evidence. This brilliant friend, holding a Harvard doctorate, told me that he was absolutely certain that President John F. Kennedy was the victim of a great international conspiracy including world communist leaders, the Mafia, J. Edgar Hoover, and various Hollywood celebrities. After laughing out loud, I realized my friend's utter seriousness. My rational faculties were in full outrage despite the lateness of the hour, so I simply asked my friend what evidence would be required to prove or to disprove his thesis. He looked me straight in the eye and told me that the evidence was so hidden that the truth would never be known in our lifetimes. So--hold onto your theory without the evidence and be unmoved, regardless of the facts.
Those who want to believe the heresies of The Da Vinci Code will hold to them tenaciously--whatever the evidence. Clearly, the book attacks the Gospel, but the truth is unshaken.
The Da Vinci Code will soon fall from the best-seller lists, be remaindered to the outlet malls, show up in paperback, and may even interest Hollywood. The faith of the Church remains intact.
G. K. Chesterton reminded us that orthodoxy is not only true; it is infinitely more interesting than heresy. It is alive and compelling and life-changing. Heresies come and go by fashion. The truth is unchanged and unchangeable. Caveat Emptor.