Houston, We have Another Problem

It looks like Jesus is alive and well in Houston, TX. At least that’s what I heard in an ABC News special this last week. Correspondent Jim Avila did a story on Jose de Jesus, a man who claims to the second coming of Christ and counts followers in more than 30 countries. Those who believe in him get the number “666” tattooed on their bodies. Ironically, these folks don’t consider themselves followers of the Devil but rather Jesus Christ. And they believe that he lives in a suburb outside Houston.

This Jesus is a 60-year old Puerto Rican who has eight felony charges, been married twice, and enjoys smoking and drinking in public. He claims that the same spirit that was in Jesus of Nazereth “integrated with my person in 1973.” According to Jose de Jesus, there is no such thing as sin, Satan, hell, or any eternal damnation of any type. There are no rules in de Jesus’ church, and evidently this message resonates with many who are looking for something to believe in. He has big followings in Venezuela, Columbia, and Cuba, and is looking to establish a foothold in America. Yes, this “Jesus of Suburbia” is for real and intends to get his message across.

I’m not sure what surprises me more, hearing that people believe this 60-year old is the Christ or that the media covers him. Either way, I find myself reminded that there are people out there who will believe literally anything. De Jesus quotes just enough Scripture to sound good, but apparently doesn’t buy into the other, hard sayings of the Bible. Reggie McNeal, author of The Present Future, refutes the notion that knowing Bible verses leads to authentic conversion. He states: “We have believed that if people get enough Bible information, it will automatically transform their lives. Wrong! The devil knows more Bible than most church members in North America and can sign off on our doctrinal statements, but this knowledge has not transformed him.”

This ABC story comes at a convenient time, during the Lenton season leading up to Easter. After all, Jesus is an extremely popular figure this time of year, and the media knows this. James Cameron got a lot of publicity by presenting a documentary claiming to have located the bones of Jesus, his mother Mary, Mary Magdelene, and Joseph his earthly father. I got a kick out of Headlines News’ caption “Cameron’s Claim may Shatter Christianity” which appeared as they were showing clips of the documentary. This isn’t a marketing technique, is it?

If there is a positive thing about the De Jesus story and even what Cameron has done it would be that it has jumpstarted a dialogue about who Jesus was and who he claimed to be. We shouldn’t be afraid to talk about what we believe, especially as we approach Easter Sunday. Hearing these absurd claims shouldn’t shock us all that much, but make us realize the importance of getting our own message out there. Of course, it isn’t our message, but one that has been around for more than 2000 years. This isn’t the first time counterfeit Christs have come on the scene, and one wonders whether this guy is in the same mold as Jim Jones. His movement has the markings of a cult, regardless of whether his followers drink the poison Kool-Aid or not. What saddens me even more is the number of children who are being taught that De Jesus really is the second coming of Christ.

There have always been and will continue to be alternatives to the biblical witness. There is a danger of making God into our own image and creating a Savior to our own liking. I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of discipleship here lately, and the Jesus I believe in was not one to mince words about the cost of following him. He said, “If anyone should come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). You don’t hear a lot about a cross of any kind from the Jesus of Suburbia. And this shouldn’t surprise us, because the cross causes many people to stumble. Yet, without the cross, there is no death, and if there is no death, there can be no resurrection.

The Bible makes it clear that there will be false prophets, those who claim to be Christ. It’s important that we tell our people about that. But, we must also proclaim and live out a faith that requires costly commitment to the One who died for our sins. And we’re not going to find him living in Houston.

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