No Mere Myth

True North - Part 11

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Chris Oswald

March 31, 2024
True North



We like to work through books of the Bible, studying one section after another until we reach the end. Over the past several months, we’ve been studying the books of 1st and 2nd Timothy. And today we conclude our time here by examining 2 Timothy 4:3-4 which reads…

3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

You might say, “Chris, that’s not an easter text.” Well hold on now. I can see at least one way that it is. Namely, when Paul says that people will leave Christianity and wander off into myths, he is implying that Christianity is not a myth. More than implying he nakedly states that Christianity is the truth.

Demonstrate that the basic claims of Christianity are true

Discuss why they are often doubted

Determine how they affect our lives

I want to show you three things this morning:

The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus are historical facts. There is far greater evidence supporting these events than many other historical events that we all take for granted.

Why then is there not universal agreement and acceptance of these facts? It is my contention that the basic facts of the gospel are like germ theory was in the 17 and 1800s. Facts, extremely consequential facts, that almost nobody believed. I think our text explains why

How these facts change people.

Firstly, Christianity is not a myth.

It is a religion built on historical events - the most crucial of which is the death and resurrection of Jesus.

I was watching a debate between atheist Richard Dawkins and a Christian mathematician named John Lennox. In that debate Lennox states:

Blind faith can be very dangerous. Especially if it is coupled with a blind obedience. Especially when its coupled with a blind obedience to an evil authority. And that I would like to emphasize is true whether the blind obedience is that of religious or secular people. But not all faith is blind faith because faith itself carries with it the ideas of belief, trust, commitment and is therefore only as robust as the evidence for it. I can’t speak authoritatively for other religions, but faith in the Christian sense is not blind. And indeed I do not know a serious Christian who thinks it is. Indeed as I read it, blind faith in idols and figments of the human imagination, in other words delusional gods, is roundly condemned in the Bible. My faith in God and Christ as the son of God is no delusion. It is rational and evidence based. Part of the evidence is objective, some of it comes from science, some comes from history, and some is subjective — coming from experience.

Lennox referenced historical evidence. So let’s talk about that for a moment.

How do we know anything in the past actually happened? You can’t use the scientific method to prove the existence of history. Not really. So how do we know anything in the past is true?

How do historians differentiate between fact and fiction? I’m going to compare two historical claims. The assassination of Caesar and the resurrection of Jesus.

Interval (Caesar)

One method historians use involves evaluating the interval between the date of the reported event and the earliest record reporting the event.

The earliest written report of Caesar’s assassination was written 160 years after the event.

Now in terms of ancient history, that’s not so bad. Remember, back then, recorded history was very slow and tedious. All things being equal 160 year gap would be seen as credible to most historians.

And what about the resurrection of Jesus?

The earliest written reports of the resurrection of Jesus occurred within 20 years of the event.

In comparison, the New Testament was written by eyewitnesses to the resurrection and their close associates. While Plutarch wrote 160 years after Caesar’s death, the New Testament authors wrote within the lifetimes of eyewitnesses who could confirm or deny two central claims: the empty tomb and the appearances of the risen Christ. — Bateman

Records (Christ)

Another method used by historians to separate fact from fiction has to do with how many manuscripts exist reporting the original event. When it comes to the assassination of Caesar, we have 10 manuscripts of original report.

And what about reports of the resurrection? We have 23,986 manuscripts containing various portions of the New Testament.

New Testament scholar Dan Wallace estimates that a stack of all existing New Testament manuscripts would be taller than four Empire State Buildings. In contrast, a stack of existing manuscripts of all classical Greek works would be four feet tall.

In conclusion, New Testament Scholar Daniel Bock writes,

“The Gospels compare favorably to the classics in terms of what the sources say about Jesus and Caesar. If such sourcing works for the classics and the study of Caesar, it should work for Jesus as well.”

Now remember what we’re investigating. We’re investigating the claim made by Paul that Christianity is not myth. Based on the agreed upon way in which we know any history is true, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is not mere myth. It really happened.

Additionally, we have something known as the minimal facts argument. Something I present pretty much every year.

This only take a moment. In a world of deep fakes, fake news, artificial intelligence, catfishing, etc… I just want to be certain you see the bedrock of the Christian faith is a set of facts…

Jesus was a real historical person
We have plenty of evidence that he was crucified.
We now understand that crucifixion leads to death 100% of the time.
Many people claimed to see and interact with Jesus after this death.
Some of those people were themselves skeptics of Christ’s messianic claims (Paul, James).
The message that Jesus was raised from the dead was taught immediately. It was not invented at some later date. We have plenty of evidence to verify this.
Since this was first preached in the same city where it happened, the empty tomb was imminently verifiable.
Paul was a real historical person who is considered, even by skeptics, to be a formidable intellect. His first letter to the Corinthians is believed, even by skeptics, to be authentic. Meaning he really wrote it.
He tells us that Jesus appeared to many witnesses (most of whom were still alive when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians) and that he even appeared to a group of 500 people.
The details of the resurrection, including the women finding him first, are not compatible with a conspiracy claim.

Secondly: Why then do so many treat these facts as something less than true?

The second issue I wanted to present takes the form of a question. Why then is there not universal agreement and acceptance of these facts? Why does everyone believe in the assassination of Caesar but only a relative few believe in the resurrection of Jesus?

Why doesn’t everyone believe in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus? As we have seen, it isn’t for lack of evidence. We have plenty of evidence — but here’s the rub — this is evidence that demands a verdict — a very personal and life changing verdict.

Look back with me at vs. 3

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”

Broadly speaking, we see this text talking about a fundamental tension between the truths of Christianity and the passions of the flesh.

That’s what that phrase at the beginning of vs. 3 is talking about, “the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching.”

The word for sound means true, solid, built on facts.

Now look at that word “endure.” The time is coming when people won’t endure the sound teaching of Christianity. That's kind of an unusual statement.

There are plenty of facts that we don't have to endure. The truth of Caesar’s assassination requires no endurance on my part. It is what it is. I don’t have to endure the scientific principle of photosynthesis or thermodynamics. As far as I can see, these principles are fairly compatible with however I may choose to live my life.

But the resurrection of Jesus is a fact that demands something of us.

The main problem is our passions. See that in the text?

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. — 2 Timothy 4:3–4

What are we talking about when we talk about passions?

The greek word is used over 30 times in the New Testament and it usually refers to lusts, sinful desires, craving, etc…

Sometimes the passions are sexual in nature.

Sometimes they are materialistic. (Desire to be rich — 1 Timothy 6)

Sometimes the passions are related to power, or human approval.

All of these passions are directly challenged by the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The bible plainly teaches that we can either live for Christ or we can live for our passions — but we cannot do both.

And this is why we find such uneven belief in the resurrection. It isn’t for lack of evidence. Rather it is that the evidence — as convincing as it is — competes with our passions.

The famed American reporter Upton Sinclair once said, “'It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

We could rephrase it, “It is difficult to get a man to accept facts when his passions force him to deny them.”

Now look back at our text again:

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. — 2 Timothy 4:3–4

What does it mean, “having itching ears.” Well, there are two possibilities.

One is that people want to hear things that will satisfy their urges. You ever get an itch right in the center of your back that you simply cannot reach? So maybe what Paul is saying is that these people want to feel endorsed in their urges. And the simple gospel message isn’t doing that.

The other possibility is that it is actually the gospel that is causing their ears to itch. Some of the greek uses for the word there seem to imply their ears are being irritated. So they go somewhere else that isn’t as irritating.

So one way of putting it would be — the gospel message isn’t satisfying to our passions.
And the other way of saying it would be — the gospel message is irritating to our passions.

Basically potato tomato.

So the basic thrust of the text is something like this:

Christianity is based on a set of facts
Our various passions are competing with these facts.
We have to choose between our facts and our feelings.

The word passion has undergone quite a transformation over the last 2000 years. These days we use it to refer to anything we’re really excited about. Yoga is my passion.

Around the 14th century, the word was used to describe strong physical or emotional desires that competed with reason and logic.

But in the beginning, the word just meant “suffering.” And it was used primarily to describe the cross of Christ. That's why the film is called, “The Passion of Jesus Christ.” The ancient latin speaking church used the word passion (passio) — which to them meant suffering.

So in a sense, we are all forced to choose which definition of passion we will center our life around.
The passion of Christ or the passions of the flesh?

Hedonic Treadmill

In the worlds of neuroscience and clinical psychology a new term has emerged to describe the wide variety of dopamine seeking behaviors reeking havoc on the lives of men and women everywhere.

They talk about something called the hedonic treadmill.

Hedonic - hedonism - pleasure seeking.
Treadmill — a road to nowhere. Activity without accomplishment.

People stuck on the hedonic treadmill foolishly believe that true happiness lies just around the corner. The only problem is there are no corners, there is no horizon, there is no real progress.

The next time you’re at the gym, get on a treadmill next to a person and ask, “so where are you headed today?” And they’ll look at you’ve got a screw loose. A treadmill is a road to nowhere.

But ask someone stuck blindly on the hedonic treadmill where they are headed and they will confidently assert — toward happiness!

Friends, we cannot follow Jesus if we’re on the hedonic treadmill.

Thirdly: How this helps

This morning we have a wide variety of people, men and women, boys and girls, young adults, less young adults — and in spite of all this variance — we can safely divide everyone into one of two categories:

Those who are caught on the hedonic treadmill —
And those who were caught on the hedonic treadmill —

What accounts for the difference?

Those who were caught on the hedonic treadmill woke up.

They did not wake up because they were smarter than others, more spiritual than others, more sensitive than others — they woke up because the risen Christ woke them up.

He rescued them from their slavery to sin. They had traded God for pleasure and now they thank God for pleasure — and try to honor him with their appetites.

Titus 2:11-14
11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

If the evidence I’ve shared has yet to convince you, I could easily call on dozens of people in this room right now to testify that this was their personal experience. He woke them up, took them off the hedonic treadmill and placed their feet on solid ground.

And what about those still churning out the miles, caught in the delusion that satisfying their passions is the purpose of life? Still fooled into believing that happiness lies just around the non-existent corner?

A pleasure centered life is, to coin an old phrase, “a myth of progress” where there is no progression. But the Christ centered, joy-filled life is no myth.

Here’s what is true…

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. — 1 Corinthians 15:3–7

Christ died for our sins.
He was buried
He was raised on the third day

The bible has another name for the hedonic treadmill. Death — the state of uninterrupted degeneration.

Ephesians 2

2 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. — Ephesians 2:1–10.

Let’s Pray

Where are you? Are you standing on the solid ground of real history? Or are you still stuck on the treadmill? Jesus died to set you free and as surely as he has risen from the dead, so you can be taken out of the spiritual grave and raised with him to walk in abundant life.

Has the truth dawned on you? In 2 Corinthians 5:15 Paul says, “and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

In Acts 17, Paul addresses the intellectual pagans of Athens saying, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Are you ready to follow the risen Christ?

He is worthy of your worship. He is worthy of your life.

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