The Grammy Awards Ceremony occurred the week that I began writing this column. Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars, Justin Bieber, Ed Sheeran – these were a few of the happy musicians who basked in the limelight of 2016. We human beings love to give and receive awards.
As generations come and go and heroes rise and fall, there’s one name that stays at the top of the list for many. That name is Jesus. How popular is He? Over 2 billion people call themselves “Christians” and many additional folks, who don’t claim to be Christians, still profess admiration for Him and find inspiration in His life. One man even started an organization called “Atheists for Jesus” (Ken Schei).
So lots of people like Jesus. And why wouldn’t they? One has only to read the four gospels; Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, to see that Jesus was an astounding, one of a kind individual; a scintillating combination of genius, charisma, fearlessness, and profound love. Even some temple guards, sent to arrest Jesus, admitted to those who sent them: “No one ever spoke the way this man does. . .”(John 7:46).
Almost everyone likes Jesus. Yet, we must also admit at this point, that if we were to ask people to describe the Jesus they like, we would get wildly varying descriptions – everything ranging from “cool guy” to “God the Son.” Obviously, these versions can’t all be true since, at various points, they contradict one another. To my mind, the best description of Jesus is the one we get in the Bible. This is the original version, written down by multiple witnesses, some of whom were actually close personal friends of Jesus. Their accounts show a large amount of agreement in what’s remembered about Jesus, especially regarding the main details of His life. Let me share with you a summary of what they say.
· Jesus was a real, historical man.
Less than two thousand years ago, if you and I had lived in a small Middle-Eastern country not that far from here, we could have seen Jesus walking down the street. He was an ordinary-looking, halo-free man, not especially handsome (Isaiah 53:2) – a carpenter who sweated, got dirty, and needed to use the bathroom. You and I could have walked, talked, or eaten with him. Many people did.
· Jesus’ birth came under highly unusual circumstances
A number of Old Testament prophecies had predicted the coming of someone like Jesus many years earlier (Isaiah 7:14, Micah 5:2 . . .). The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her that, although she was a virgin she would conceive a child without a human husband and that the Holy Spirit would makes this happen. That child would be the Son of God and reign as Messiah on David’s throne (Luke 1:26-38). Mary conceived in the way predicted and gave birth to a son. Angels announced his birth to shepherds in a field (Luke 2:8-20). Wisemen travelled from afar to see him (Matt. 2:1-12).
· Jesus’ ministry, begun at about the age of 30, was accompanied by miraculous signs
The Bible tells us that Jesus healed the sick without medicine (Mt. 4:23), gave sight to the blind (Mk 10:46-52), and even raised the dead (Luke 7:11-15). He fed a crowd of at least fifteen or twenty thousand with the lunch of one small boy (Jn. 6:1-13). He walked on the water (John 6:16-21). He easily cast out demons (Luke 8:26-33). He calmed a violent storm by commanding it to stop (Mark 4:35-41)
· Jesus was a fearless, forceful man who spoke the truth without catering to anyone
Jesus is often perceived as a sort of soft, ingratiating, politically correct, hugs-for-everyone sort of guy. Now, Jesus certainly loved people deeply and spent his life serving them, but his love also led Him, at times, to speak uncomfortable, but needed truths. He called the religious leaders “hypocrites” and “whitewashed tombs” (Matt. 23:27), told common people that they were “evil” (Matt. 7:11), and even compared his disciple Peter to Satan on one occasion (Mark 8:33). Jesus so enraged his own hometown that they attempted to throw him off of a cliff (Luke 4:28-30). Christ could certainly be gentle, but He wasn’t in any way tame. If he was here today be assured that he would step on our toes too when it needed to be done.
· Jesus made extraordinary claims for himself
When people say, “Jesus was just a great man” I wonder if they’ve taken time to read everything Jesus said about himself. Jesus claimed divinity, saying: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30)” and “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9b). Jesus also asserted that he was the exclusive source of salvation, saying: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). He claimed to have existed before Abraham, who had lived 2000 years earlier (John 8:58). He claimed that one day he would return “on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:30b). As C.S. Lewis has pointed out, the claims of Jesus, if they were not true, mean that he was not a great man, but rather a liar or a lunatic.
· Jesus wasn’t “tolerant” in our modern sense
Modern tolerance says, “We have no right to criticize anyone else’s beliefs or lifestyle”. Jesus, as I’ve mentioned, rebuked lots of people. Modern tolerance says, “We have no right to say that our spiritual beliefs are the only correct ones. Jesus said that he was the only way to the Father (John 14:6). Modern tolerance is horrified at the idea that God would punish sin, especially in an eternal way. Jesus, however, spoke often and unapologetically of hell and warned people to avoid it by seeking God’s salvation (Luke 12:4, 5).
· Jesus came intending to die for our sins and that’s what he did
Christ’s death was not an unforeseen, unfortunate accident. It had been predicted in the Old Testament (Isaiah 53), and planned before creation (1 Peter. 1:18-20). Jesus himself spoke numerous times of his impending crucifixion (Matt. 26:1,2). His purpose was to die in our place so that we might be saved from our sins (Matt. 20:28).
· Jesus was raised from the dead after three days in the tomb
This was the plan all along. Jesus had predicted it himself (Mark 9:9,10), as had the Old Testament prophet Isaiah (Is. 53:8-11). Jesus appeared to his disciples (Luke 24:36-49), and, on one occasion to more than 500 followers (1 Corinthians 15:4-6). His reappearance revived the traumatized disciples who went on to give many more years to proclaiming the good news of salvation in Jesus (read the book of Acts).
· Jesus ascended bodily to heaven with the promise to return
With his disciples watching Jesus rose into the sky and disappeared. Angels told the watching disciples that Jesus would return one day (Acts 1:10-12). When he returns he will heal our world, creating a new heavens and earth (Rev. 21).
This is a very brief version of what the Bible teaches us about Jesus. How does it match the picture you’ve had of him? Why does this matter? It matters because, if the Bible’s version is true, then it turns our world upside down. If it’s true, then Jesus becomes the most important friend we can ever have. He alone is able to fix our spiritual brokenness. He alone is able to restore our connection to God. To connect with him is 100% gain. To ignore him is 100% loss. There’s no neutral ground. Have you seriously considered the Jesus of the Bible and what he offers you?