I try to watch what I eat these days, and I gained a word of knowledge from it: Everything smells like french fries, but nothing tastes like them.
What do I mean, and what do french fries have to do with the anti-Christ?
Well, obviously, eating healthier means leaving out the french fries, which creates a problem in a lot of restaurants that serve them, because they smell good. But even though I smell french fries, I know I’m eating lettuce or something else good for me, and the twain ne’er shall meet when it comes to taste. The atmosphere may give the impression I’ve got the real thing in front of me, but my tongue knows I don’t. So do my arteries, though, which is probably a good thing.
In this passage, Jesus warns his listeners to beware of people who proclaim they are a Messiah. He knows that after he returns to the Father, people will claim to be him, with a new message or a change in the old one. They will try to create a following of their own by claiming to be Jesus or to be his messengers, but they will actually lead people astray.
Now, we don’t face this problem today in the same way the disciples did. Think about it: Our first response if we run into someone who claims to be Jesus is to call the hospital and try to get the poor guy some help. Two thousand years of Christian history give us perspective the earliest church did not have, since many of them believed Jesus would return very soon.
But we still face it. Our false saviors today usually don’t take the name of Christ, but they still make claims on our lives that only Christ can make. They may not promise salvation by name, but they still promise salvation’s ultimate goal. They promise to make us whole where we are broken.
Remember, salvation in Christ means we are reconciled to God. Christ heals the relationship between God and humanity, broken by our sin. The Holy Spirit begins to renew and repair the damaged and disfigured image of God within each of us. We were broken, but now we are healed and being made whole.
A false savior will promise us this kind of healing and renewal. And they’re all over the place, big and small. Other religions offer different gods. We know if we follow them, we can’t follow Christ – at least, we know it if we understand the differences between the different faiths.
But we don’t notice the smaller false saviors so much, and here’s what I mean. Watch commercials sometimes – I’m not singling them out, but they illustrate my point pretty well. Commercials are little parables about how you and I – the viewers – are somehow less than whole people. Our breath is bad, our home is dirty, our car is old, our brand of soap does not attract supermodels, and so on. Because of these shortcomings, we are supposed to be miserable. Or at least unhappy.
So the advertised product swoops in to the rescue! Our breath is minty fresh, transplant surgery could be done on our kitchen floor, the police pull us over to admire our new wheels, and we actually have to hide from all the supermodels who seem to have less than honorable intentions towards our well-soaped persons.
All the commercial lacks is an actual “Hallelujah!” to be just like a religious experience of salvation.
Now, few of us really believe the commercial’s claim to salvation. We know that we’re really just buying a truck, for example, and we don’t really become as tough as the Ford ads make Toby Keith look. So what’s the problem? We don’t buy the message, we just buy the product.
As long as we do just buy the product, then we have no problem. And the idea of deodorant as savior is so ridiculous it presents few people with a real anti-Christ they might follow. But the real anti-Christs offer the same “substitute savior,” and in much less ridiculous form.
How many people do we know who invest themselves in another person so thoroughly that person becomes their savior – the one who makes them whole? Or others who look to a cause or an idea for their meaning?
People, causes and ideas are all important, but they are only people, causes and ideas. God may call us to them. God may call us to champion justice or to proclaim dignity and freedom for all people – I know he does, in fact. But those things do not save us, and they do not save others. Only God does that, through the life, death and resurrection of his son. That, and that alone is the message of salvation.
Anything else – well, it may smell like the good news, but it doesn’t taste like it.