Chapter 1: WHO IS JESUS?
This online book (published chapter by chapter on-line through web site BluesBibleden.com) is a compilation of messages about Jesus Christ given by the author over a period of some years at a variety of different churches and chapels. In the chapters that follow this introduction, the original sermon notes have been adapted to create a readable script that is intended to allow you, the reader, to engage with the ideas presented without struggling through a morass of bullet points, complex arguments and baffling terminology.
Despite aiming for simplicity rather than bewilderment, the content is scripturally based and deliberately challenging, by which I mean that assumptions are carefully examined, difficulties acknowledged and alternatives presented transparently.
Readers who hope for academically grounded arguments and carefully designed theological structures will be disappointed; I leave such matters to those with far deeper knowledge and expertise. Rather, the following pages will appeal to anyone who is sincerely interested in the life, work and witness of this extraordinary man, Jesus of Nazareth (as he was commonly known) and wish to draw closer to the one who, among his various other titles, is referred to as ‘the man of Calvary’ where he offered his life as a ransom for the sins of the world.
Chapter 1: WHO IS JESUS?
Key readings: John 1: 1-5, 14; 2 Corinthians 4: 3-7; Colossians 1:15-20
John 1: 1-5, 14 (NIVUK)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
(14) The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Colossians 1: 15-20 (NIVUK)
Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
2 Corinthians 4: 3-7 (New Living Translation)
If the Good News we preach is hidden behind a veil, it is hidden only from people who are perishing. Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.
You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts, so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure [‘like treasure in clay jars’]. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.
Who are you?
We have all had the experience of meeting or being greeted by someone who obviously knows us but, despite recognising the person’s face, we simply cannot recall his or her name or where we have previously met. Occasionally, we may not have the slightest idea who the person is, in which case we make stuttering attempts to find a clue through casual conversation that will help us discover the stranger’s identity. Highly embarrassing!
Over recent years, it has been quite fashionable to hold look-alike competitions in which the contestants have to dress up or change their appearance to resemble a celebrity or a member of the Royal Family or a political leader. Some of the disguises are very convincing and there are even a few people who can truly claim to possess a likeness to the individual concerned without altering their appearance unduly. The counterfeit person may not only look the part but also sound convincing; even so, we know in our hearts that it isn’t the real person but simply a caricature and admirable attempt at imitation. Once the pretender removes the make-up or reverts to his/her true appearance and behaviour, the facade is exposed and normality restored.
A well-known example of acting under false pretences is in the film Singing in the Rain in which talking pictures are replacing silent movies and an unknown singer/actress has to ‘dub’ for the real silent movies actress, who has a squeaky voice, so is wholly unsuitable for the ‘talkies’. The competent singer/actress remains out of sight to speak and sing, while the up-front performer merely mimes and receives the accolades that rightly belong to the young lady behind the scenes. As the plot unravels, we find that the audience, though initially taken in by the deceit, discovers the truth and justice is done for the genuine performer, who ultimately enjoys the acclaim. The pretender is subsequently dismissed in disgrace. Incidentally, it was not unusual in musical films made during the mid-20th century for the principal performers to have their voices ‘dubbed’ by professional singers who, at the time and for many years afterwards, remained totally anonymous, thereby allowing the ‘star’ of the film to receive the undeserved praise (and considerable financial rewards to go with it, no doubt).
It is undoubtedly true that everybody adjusts his/her behaviour under different social conditions: contrast, for instance, the merry conversation at a birthday party with the sobriety of giving evidence in a court of law. Allowing for such variation across different social spheres, however, it is a truism that people are not always whom they appear to be, based on their outward appearance and behaviour. Regrettably, even in church and Christian circles, a degree of ‘disguise’ is evident. Thus, the gracious and friendly person in church meetings can behave differently at home or when at work, while the unresponsive person in church bursts into life when situated in more comfortable and familiar surroundings.
There may be, of course, a perfectly legitimate explanation for these variations in behaviour that do not involve wilful deceit. For instance, an apparently aloof and unfriendly person may be shy or lacking confidence; the person with a jolly demeanour may hide inner turmoil and unease; the reserved person may be desperate to enjoy social interaction but lack the necessary conversational skills to express her or his feelings. Nevertheless, being consistent (that is, behaving naturally) and avoiding craftiness or duplicity should be the hallmark of every follower of Jesus, who epitomises authenticity, as I explore below.
The real Jesus
When people are asked about the nature, character and relevance of Jesus Christ, the question elicits a variety of answers. However, unless the respondent has a particularly cynical view of life, it is unlikely that any of them would suggest that Jesus was a charlatan. The Jesus of the Bible was wholly transparent and, whatever a person’s view of Jesus’s teaching and ministry, his honesty and sincerity can never be doubted. Although the majority of people might be willing to accept Jesus’s genuineness and the absence of guile in his ministry, they may question whether he was the one that he claimed to be, namely, the Jews’ Messiah and the Saviour of the whole world, whose death on the cross would atone for each person’s sin and open up the possibility of eternal life (that is, everlasting life after the present earthly life has ceased).
Various suggestions about the nature of Jesus are likely to include that he was someone in the Bible, a baby in Bethlehem, a mythical figure, a good man or ‘not really sure who he was’. These sorts of answers not only reveal a confusion about the person of Jesus and the reason for his coming but also betray a serious lack of understanding about the seriousness of sin (broadly defined as living for ‘self’ and failing to put God first) and the extent to which God was prepared to go in order to save the human race from self-destruction. Jesus breath-taking claim after the resurrection that those who have seen him have, in fact, seen Father God must rank among the most astounding statements that have ever been uttered. Accepting the historical facts that Jesus lived as a man and did amazing and exceptional things during his lifetime falls far short of his role as sin-bearer, which eclipses all other relevant aspects of his life and ministry. The Bible account describes Jesus as ‘paying the price’ to reconcile (i.e. bring into close relationship) God and humankind that sin threatened to corrupt and destroy.
It is noteworthy that on at least one occasion, Jesus asked his close disciples (‘the twelve’): “Who do people say that I am?” (See Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 16) The disciples replied that the local population were offering a variety of suggestions, including claims that he was a reincarnated Elijah, Jeremiah or another of the prophets from what we now refer to as the Old Testament. Jesus listened to their answers but then asked the searching question as to who they believed him to be. Peter was quickest off the mark and affirmed that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah (Saviour) sent from (that is, on behalf of) God. Indeed, the fact that Jesus was given his name is significant because Joseph, his earthly guardian, would normally have called the first son after himself but was told by a heavenly messenger to call him Jesus (Joshua in the Old Testament) because he would save his people from their sins.
Jesus’s question to his disciples and the subsequent discourse was recorded in detail because the question about his true identity was and remains highly significant. It’s a question to which each person must make his or her own response. Silence on the matter is acceptable only for as long as it takes the individual time to give serious consideration to the issue; neutrality or indifference were not and are not options, as far as Jesus is concerned. Our reply to the questionis probably the most important answer we can give to any question because our eternal destiny almost certainly hinges on our belief about Jesus and the truth of the Gospel that he proclaimed: forgiveness of sin and freedom to live life as God intends. Importantly, we are invited to believe in Jesus (i.e. accepting and responding to his invitation to be his disciple) and not merely about him (i.e. accepting the historical evidence but remaining detached from personal commitment to him). Mere acquiescence about his identity and reason for his human form is not sufficient; even the devil knows about Jesus!
In chapter 1 of his gospel, the Apostle John begins to unravel the mystery of Jesus’s origin, status and role. Note that an Apostle (using a capital “A”) was originally the appellation given to the twelve disciples and also to Saul, usually referred to by his Roman name, Paul, all of whom had a first-hand ‘face to face’ encounter with Jesus. The term was later employed using a small case “a” —apostle— to describe someone who is a messenger of the gospel. The current description used for apostle is missionary or, more recently, mission worker.
John explains that Jesus was present at the beginning of time—indeed, before the start of time, as we understand the concept. Jesus stated plainly: “Before Abraham was, I am”. In other words, Jesus pre-existed the life of Abraham, a man who was used by God to be the forerunner of faith-based believers throughout history, including followers of Jesus, originally referred to as ‘followers of the Way’ and later as ‘Christians’. There is a Bible time-line that leads from before the creation, through the times of the Patriarchs (Abraham and onward), the history of Israel (entering the Promised Land, self-destruction through idolatry, conquest, re-establishment of national identity) and through to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Details of these events and periods of history lie outside the scope of this chapter but the key elements are easy to follow, namely, the fall into sin, the requirement to worship the One God (Jehovah) and repent of sin against Him, and the prospect of a coming Saviour, who would die and rise again to reconcile (bring closely together) people and God.
It has been estimated that there are at least fifty descriptions of Jesus contained within the Bible. One of the most significant descriptions is Jesus being called ‘The Word’ (based on the Greek word logos), not only because his spoken words carry great authority but also because, astoundingly, he was the one who ‘spoke’ the world into existence. We read in John’s Gospel that all things were made through Him and nothing was made without him, so he was and continues to be, the manager and gatekeeper of creation. He is the one who ensures that the world in its present form (human beings, creatures, plant life and physical composition) is sustained. Put simply, the Son of God, who was given the name Jesus while on earth, keeps the world alive; without him, it would fall into decay (perish). The writer of the Book of Hebrews expresses this truth clearly: ‘The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command’ (Hebrews Chapter 1 verse 3).
It is sadly the case that places on earth where Jesus is rejected or disregarded are characterised by lawlessness, hatred and hopelessness. Jesus brings light and life to every situation and to each individual who turns to him in faith and repentance. In words from the title of a well loved song: There is power in the name of Jesus. It is little wonder that after the death of Jesus, frightening physical phenomena began to take place, including earthquakes, graves opening and representations of the dead seen in Jerusalem. It is reasonable to speculate that if Jesus had remained dead, the whole earth would have perished within a short period of time, deprived of his sustaining power.
Jesus also refers to himself as “The Light” (The Gospel according to John Chapter 8 verse 12) and went on to explain that if we follow him, we will not have to walk in spiritual darkness because we will have the light that leads to life in all its fullness; that is, life as God intended and offers to all believers. The light to which Jesus referred was not physical light that can be seen in numerous natural and artificial forms but the pure Spirit-generated light that dispels the world’s moral, social and relationship darkness and replaces it with hope, joy and confidence for the future.
The light of Jesus’s presence is seen to a greater or lesser extent in all of his followers, for they carry his flame of perfect love within them and reveal it though every expression of kindness, good deed and loving action. The testimony of all disciples of Jesus is that as they receive his light, they gradually understand more clearly the significance and meaning of life and are better able to distinguish between the thoughts, words and actions that please God and those that offend Him. Christians express this revelation in various ways but commonly refer to it using words such as those of a well-known chorus: ‘Once I was blind but now I see’ or by invoking a powerful image, such as ‘the scales fell from my eyes’. A major challenge for disciples of Jesus is that in addition to calling himself “the light”, he spoke of them in precisely the same way as he referred to himself: ‘You are the light of the world’. Such light is not a reflected one that relies on an external stimulus—its power is produced by the Holy Spirit’s presence that radiates from within to touch others and bring glory to God.
The use of the word ‘conscience’ is often employed as a shorthand way of expressing our unease when an action feels wrong; for the vast majority of people, guilt accompanies it or follows soon afterwards. (For further details about conscience, guilt and their implications for avoiding or addressing sinful behaviour, see the sequel to this account, Chapter 2: What has Jesus done for me?) However, the light of Jesus Christ revealed through the internal influence of the Holy Spirit is a more sensitive indicator of the appropriateness of a thought, word or action for it reveals dark corners of the mind that need submitting to the will and purpose of God. In addition, when Christians repent of their sinful behaviour, they receive immediate and total forgiveness and cleansing. Notice that these experiences are always individual; there isn’t any communal hysteria, brainwashing (so-called) or ‘following the herd’ mentality. Little wonder that Jesus told his followers that just as he is the light of the world, so they, too, are to be the light of the world. A glowing countenance and attitude to life should be a hallmark of every true disciple, reflecting the supreme love and radiance of Christ.
If we accept the truth as revealed in the Bible, Jesus Christ possessed wholly unique characteristics that set him apart from any earthly creature that has lived. He is supremely positioned above and beyond the synthetic ‘gods’ of mythology, folklore and even the most famous and adored celebrities. All the so-called ‘superheroes’ of fictional fame cannot heal the sick, grant sight to the blind or raise the dead! The Jesus of the Bible was God in human form; he was fully ‘in the image of God’, sinless and without equal. In his letter to the Christians at Colossae, the Apostle Paul was explicit in his description of Jesus, thus: ‘Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation’ (Colossians Chapter 1 verse 15).
After his ascension (a physical manifestation of his earthly departure and return to his former place with God the Father) an angel (‘messenger from God’) told the awestruck disciples that ‘this same Jesus’ would return in the same way that they had seen him go. In other words, the Jesus who ascended and the Jesus who will one day return to establish a new heaven and earth is one and the same. An essential difference between the Jesus who trod the earth and died upon the cross at Calvary and the Jesus who will one day return to this world is that his second coming will be as Judge of the whole earth. He will no longer be the ‘stranger of Galilee’, as the old spiritual describes him, but the King of kings and Lord of lords. When the Apostle Paul wrote to a young pastor, Timothy, he referred to Christ Jesus as the one who will someday judge the living and the dead when he comes to establish his Kingdom (Second letter to Timothy Chapter 4 verse 1).
Whether or not the angel meant that Jesus would return to exactly the same geographical location is unclear, though it seems unlikely. What is stated emphatically by the Apostle John in Revelation Chapter 1 verse 7 is that every eye will see him, including the people who were responsible for his death on the Cross of Calvary, which means that the return of Jesus Christ will be a supernatural event affecting people across the whole earth, past and present. The angel’s declaration also negates any suggestion that Jesus was merely a man, who was used as God’s supreme agent, for it is impossible for a ‘mere man’ to return to earth and be seen by everyone throughout the whole world. It is a cause for deep concern that the Revelation given to John (Chapter 6 verse 16) also speaks of those who have rejected Jesus being so fearful that wish they could escape from him and hide beneath rocks and mountains, emphasising the point that calculated rejection of Jesus Christ is a serious matter with profound consequences.
Disputing who Jesus is
Whenever a significant claim is made about an individual’s superior and unrivalled status, there will always be opposition, scepticism and a range of derisory comments plus, it must be hoped, thoughtful probing by genuine seekers after the truth, whose aim is to verify or dismiss the assertion. Some cults and religions dispute Jesus’s status as God. They argue that although His disciples accepted his divine nature, Jesus never said anything specific about being God. Serious heretical beliefs arose in the early church, sponsored by a group (referred to as ‘Gnostics’) who, amongst other beliefs, believed that they possessed superior knowledge and insight, arguing that Jesus was divine but not fully human. Other distortions of the truth were promoted by a group that argued Jesus was human but only in the time between his baptism and his death; after his death, he was resurrected as divine. There were a number of variations on this distortion of the truth by false teachers. The Apostle John was particularly determined to combat these false doctrines and wrote three letters to church leaders, warning them of the need for vigilance in combating the Gnostics and similar groups. His strong advice was that the best antidote to false teaching was to adhere closely to the truth about Jesus as God made flesh from conception until the time that he was raised from the dead.
There is abundant evidence from the biblical account, not only to refute such scepticism about Jesus’s status as ‘fully God and fully human’ but also to demonstrate that Jesus taught and demonstrated the fact and his followers (eventually) accepted and believed it to be true. The following sections offer a selection of evidence to support this claim:
Jesus’s role in the Godhead
Adherents to other monotheistic religions (i.e. having a belief in one God as supreme ruler) understandably express unease about the concept of God having a son, as the idea of father/son would negate the ‘oneness’ of God and, so to speak, divide Him into two or more parts and even infer bizarrely that God has been sexually active to procreate an offspring. Putting to one side for a moment the fact that God is spirit and not flesh, it’s important to stress that we are dealing with a role relationship between God the Father and God the Son, and not a birth relationship. This role relationship relies on God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (commonly referred to as ‘The Trinity’) having different emphases in their respective roles. The place of the Holy Spirit in the Trinity adds further complexity but is not the subject of the present discussion.
The relationship of the Son to the Father may be likened to (say) a construction company in which the Father supervises the building work; the Son deals with contract arrangements and the Holy Spirit (in this imperfect analogy) liaises with clients. All three are involved in the running and smooth functioning of the company.Using another analogy, just as an egg consists of ashell, albumen and yolk, in which all three elements can be described as ‘egg’ but at the same time have a distinct purpose, so Father, Son and Holy Spirit are separate Persons, yet inter-dependent. Yet another way of picturing the relationship is when the waters of different rivers (tributaries), though separate in their flow, combine to create a united and amalgamated single, unified river. None of these descriptions are entirely satisfactory and, perhaps, raise more questions than they solve, but they go some way towards identifying the intimate relationship within the Godhead and their ‘oneness’. Jesus went to some lengths to explain to the disciples that seeing him was equivalent to seeing God the Father because he was ‘in the Father’ and God the Father was ‘in him’. The symbiosis that exists between Father and Son certainly lies beyond complete human understanding but should not be dismissed because the concept happens to be difficult to grasp. To use the Apostle Paul’s striking phrase, there are some divine mysteries that presently we only ‘see through a glass darkly but then face to face’ or expressed in a more modern version: ‘Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity’ (First letter to the church in Corinth, Chapter 13 verse 12).
Thus, in all the efforts to explain the relationship between the three ‘Persons’ of the Godhead, it must be admitted that it defies simple explanation or formulation. Indeed, the concept of God being ‘Persons’ is itself mysterious. Jesus stressed that he was ‘under instruction’ from God, who was ‘greater than’ him but also that he and the Father were ‘one’; that is, they were indistinguishable. The apparent contradiction in the two statements is easily explained: the eternal Son of God is part of the Godhead (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and therefore ‘one’ with the Father; however, the Father is greater than the earthly Jesus because he (that is, Jesus) humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross by submitting himself to the Father’s will.
In determining the claim that Jesus was an integral part of the Godhead, it is significant to note that after he appeared to his disciples following the resurrection, the startled Thomas exclaimed: ‘My Lord and my God’. In response, Jesus not only accepted the title and commended Thomas as a result but also stated that those in future generations who believed the same about him, though never having met him, would be even more greatly blessed (see John Chapter 20). Jesus was certainly not being polite to avoid injuring Thomas’s feelings when he did not refute Thomas’s cry of adulation! We read of numerous occasions when Jesus corrected inaccurate, flattering or false statements without fear or favour; on this occasion, however, he received Thomas’s acclamation of praise and wonderment as a correct interpretation of his status, namely, as Lord and God. In addition, it should be noted that none of those present contradicted Thomas or tried to correct him, as would certainly have been the case if they had disagreed with the statement.
Jesus’s eternal presence
Further evidence to refute the challenge to Jesus’s status as both God and Man is found in his promise to the followers that he would be with them always ‘even to the end of the age’, as whom but God can make such a claim? It is scarcely credible to argue that Jesus was only speaking hypothetically, as in the ubiquitous “see you later” that has become common parlance in recent years. No, the gospels painstakingly portray Jesus as one whose word is his bond. If Jesus said that he will be with his followers to the end of the age, that’s precisely what he meant!No human being could possibly achieve such a miraculous feat, as accompanying all people through their lives is obviously impossible for mortal mankind. Little wonder that in the Book of Revelation (the last book in the Bible), Jesus is referred to as the ‘Alpha and Omega’, denoting the ‘beginning and end’, which is the very title and description of God Himself. As noted earlier, the Son of God was therefore present before the start of time and will be equally present and majestic when the existing heaven and earth is dissolved and replaced by a new heaven and earth. Such is the confident hope that all of his followers may enjoy, regardless of personal, national or worldwide circumstances.
Jesus’s earthly miracles
We must also add to the above affirmations about Jesus’s divine nature the fact that he performed an amazing number of miracles (probably in excess of forty) that included healing physical and mental illness (e.g. the insane Gadarene man), supernaturally influencing nature (e.g. the disciples casting their nets over the other side of their boat and hauling in a miraculous catch of fish), passing through a lynch mob untouched as they picked up rocks to stone him, feeding thousands of people on two separate occasions (referred to as ‘feeding of the 5000’ and ‘feeding of the 4000’) from food intended for one person, stilling a storm that threatened to swamp the disciples’ fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee (also known as Lake Tiberias) by speaking to it, restoring a man’s hand after it had withered away and a servant’s ear after it had been severed by Simon Peter at the time of Jesus’s arrest, walking on water and raising at least three people from the dead. And these are just the recorded incidents! John enthused there were many more similar events, such that if everything that Jesus said and did were included, the whole world could not contain all the books written. While John may have used a degree of hyperbole to emphasise the extent of Jesus’s ministry, he nevertheless made the point forcefully that Jesus’s life and works were beyond normal human achievement or description.
Opposition and contrary arguments
Sceptics might claim that the miracles were fictional—the result of a fertile imagination—or that people were hallucinating or in a hypnotic state or simply so desperate to find evidence to confirm their fantasies that they convinced themselves and attempted to convince others about whom they claimed Jesus to be. It has even been suggested that the Gospel writers colluded to create a new religion based on the life of a man who was certainly exceptional but just one of many such outstanding figures from world history. Other doubters might accept that Jesus did amazing things but point out that Moses, Elijah and Elisha were all used by a Divine Being (God) to perform miracles. Some revered founders of various other religions and movements are also credited with miraculous powers, though the alleged evidence is contained within imaginative tales that are clearly fables or concoctions and difficult to take seriously. It has even been suggested that if Jesus were to come back to earth today, he would be astounded and horrified with the way in which he is venerated and adored, seeing himself as a mere man, though specially chosen by God.
Despite these attempts to discredit or diminish the written evidence about Jesus, an open minded reading of the Gospel accounts, which are presented in an unadulterated fashion and without a hint of fabrication or exaggeration, instantly establishes their veracity. It is not unreasonable to insist that the works of Old Testament prophets and every other senior religious figure throughout world history are dwarfed by comparison with the words, works and miracles attributed to Jesus over a mere two or three years of ministry. In truth, it is more reasonable to accept the truth about Jesus as ‘God made flesh’ than to argue desperately that Jesus’s claims about himself and those made by the New Testament writers were at best, fanciful, and at worst, fictional and delusory. Let each reader decide!
Superseding all of the above evidence, the greatest miracle exclusive to Jesus the Christ (Messiah, Saviour) is when He rose from the dead and appeared to the disciples and to hundreds of other people. Without the resurrection, Jesus’s life and subsequent death on a Roman cross would be a mere footnote in human history. Jesus’s rising from the dead and ascension (returning to God the Father’s side) ushered in a totally new and unique dimension to the salvation story, for it provides each one of us with a hope that is, to use a phrase from Wendy Churchill’s much loved hymn, ‘Jesus is King’, both steadfast and certain.
It is a powerful confirmation of Jesus’s supernatural powers that people from every generation who have acknowledged and accepted Jesus Christ as Saviour testify to the remarkable transformation that takes place when they do so. While it is undeniably the case that many people in a variety of situations experience a life-changing episode when circumstances or a crisis provides the impetus for them to follow a new path or behave differently or accept priorities that were hitherto regarded as insignificant or irrelevant, the act of being ‘born anew/born again’ (as Jesus described the new life to be found in him) is supremely powerful. Surviving a near-death experience or recovering from a near fatal disease or being wholly convinced by a powerful argument can all be life-changing events. However profound these experiences may be, the transformation wrought by the Holy Spirit in convicting of sin and receiving the righteousness of Christ is far greater, involving an acceptance of the truth of the Gospel message about Jesus’s sacrificial death on the cross, necessitating repentance (turning away from a previous wrong direction and following God’s plan for life) and henceforth determining to walk in step with him, as his Spirit guides and leads. Once established on this Holy Spirit directed ‘path of righteousness’, new believers testify that the meaning and purpose of their existence becomes much clearer and life has a purpose, hope and joy that was previously absent.
The transformed life that Jesus offers cannot be dismissed as a whim, a short-lived burst of religious fervour or an act of fearful submission; rather, it is a process that begins by acknowledging that we fall well short of God’s perfect standard and can only be truly free from the burden and consequences of sin by trusting in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross as the only means of escape from God’s fateful judgement. The conversion process continues as we learn more of God through reading the Bible and praying and listening to the Scriptures being faithfully presented and explained, empowered by the Holy Spirit. Many Christians have described their conversion in terms of ‘seeing the light’ or similar metaphors to indicate how they were once ‘blind’ to spiritual truth but now can see (i.e. understand and embrace the truth). The way in which this revelation is brought about can be debated; what cannot be denied is that countless millions have been liberated by its positive impact on their lives. Importantly, as noted earlier, the convert’s experience of believing about Jesus must always be accompanied by believing in him. That is, not only accepting intellectually that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures but also claiming for ourselves the liberating truth that he died for “me” as an individual sinner. In doing so, we inherit the righteousness of Christ, such that God no longer looks upon our sinful lives but upon the perfect life of His Son.
In his first letter to the churches of Asia Minor, as the region was then called (largely situated in modern day Turkey), the Apostle John summarised the position succinctly: ‘But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin’ (first letter of John, Chapter 1 verse 7). It may be noted that the first requirement is to live in God’s light (i.e. living His way and not following our own desires and preferences), which results in two outcomes: (1) We have fellowship with other believers; that is, we receive from God the grace to love others in the same way that Christ loved us. (2) We are cleansed from sin by the blood of Jesus: just as animal sacrifices were made in the past, Jesus’s blood has been shed once and for all time on the Cross. Hallelujah!
In this account, I have attempted to represent the ‘real Jesus’ as someone who can be taken at his word and receive the acclaim and worship that is his by right. In my quest to reveal the truth about Jesus, I have incorporated a selection of descriptions of him, both from his own lips and those who were eyewitnesses to his life and actions while on earth. Even so, I am conscious that there is much more that might have been included: I leave it to other contributors and you, dear reader, to fill those gaps through carefully reading the New Testament account.
Exploring the person of Jesus Christ is a daunting task, not only because he was a unique character in history but also because we rely on written testimonies in the New Testament of the Bible for almost all of the information about his life, conduct, mission and status. Interpreting the evidence about the life and person of Jesus raises many questions and considerable debate; the key to discovering the truth is to accept the biblical account as plain and trustworthy. Any attempt to over-ride the revealed truth of the New Testament using intellectual argument or textual analysis is doomed to failure and creates confusion and obfuscation rather than enlightenment and revelation. Jesus promised that God the Holy Spirit will reveal all truth to us, so when unsure or ‘limping between two opinions’ (as Joshua in the Old Testament once expressed the unsatisfactory nature of being lukewarm; see also God’s angry response to those who are half-hearted in their commitment to Him in Revelation, Chapter 3 verse 16) we should turn to the One who knows all things, rather than swinging from one earthly narrative to another in our search for reality. Factual knowledge is good; heavenly wisdom and Holy Spirit inspired discernment is far better and will reveal to us the glory of the ‘One and Only Son’.
In essence, I present Jesus Christ as fully human from conception to the resurrection, yet fully God from before the beginning of time throughout eternity. While the Bible is unequivocal in its claim that Jesus is the sin-bearer sent from God, it must be acknowledged that there are other genuinely challenging issues that defy easy interpretation and will have to remain a mystery until the day that everything is made clear. In the meantime, we can rejoice that because of God’s redeeming grace in and through Jesus Christ, the names of all those who accept him as Saviour and Lord are written in heaven.
Denis Hayes April 2020