1. THE FIRST QUESTION AND A PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP
WHEN I WAS THIRTEEN YEARS OLD, I was given a book of questions and answers. With it came the suggestion that I not only read it, but memorize it. Since more than forty years have passed, I've forgotten most of the contents of the book (I never did commit the whole thing to memory.) But I still remember the first question:
What is the highest and
most important knowledge?
And I remember the answer:
The highest and most important knowledge
is to know God and his Son Jesus Christ. 1
Later, like millions of other people though out the ages, I was privileged to experience a personal relationship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. As I got to know Him better, I discovered that the question and answer above were based upon a prayer that Jesus prayed to His Father-This is eternal life: that men [and women and boys and girls] can know You, the only true God, and that they can know Jesus Christ whom You sent." 2
That's what this article is about---knowing God through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and finding eternal life in His name.
2. WHO IS JESUS CHRIST?
Most of us have read the familiar story of the birth of Jesus. I want to remind you of a small portion of it:
While Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem, the time came for her to have the baby. She gave birth to her first son. There were no rooms left in the inn. So she wrapped the baby with cloths and laid him in a box where animals are fed.3
Later that night, an exciting event took place on a nearby hill, where shepherds watched their sheep:
An angel of the Lord stood before them. The glory of the Lord was shining around them, and suddenly they became very frightened. The angel said to them, "Don't be afraid, because I am bringing you some good news. It will be a joy to all the people. Today your Savior is born in David's town. He is Christ the Lord. This is how you will know Him: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a feeding box." Then a very large group of angels from heaven joined the first angel and they all joined in praising God, saying: 'Give glory to God in heaven, and on earth let there be peace to the people who please God.' 4
Why such a spectacular heavenly production? The Savior of the world had come! Jesus Christ was born!
3. A MIRACULOUS BIRTH
A young Jewish girl named Mary had been chosen by God to give birth to the Lord Jesus Christ. To prepare her for her holy task, God's messenger angel spoke to her:
"The Lord has blessed you and is with you. You will become pregnant. You will give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus."
Surprised and shocked, Mary asked "How will this happen? I am a virgin!"
The angel said to Mary: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will cover you. The baby will be holy. He will be called the Son of God." 5
4. WHAT'S IN A NAME?
To understand what the Lord Jesus Christ is like, we begin with the Names that were given to Him.
Lord means "ruler." Jesus came to establish His rule in our hearts and, finally, in all the world.
Jesus means "savior." He came to save us from sin and all its consequences.
Christ means "chosen one." God chose Him to meet our needs.
DOZENS OF NAMES and titles are used in the Bible to describe Jesus Christ. Here are just a few:
Prince of Peace, Mighty God, Wonderful Counselor, Holy One, Lamb of God, King of Kings, Light of the World, the First and the Last . . .
These names describe wonderful things about Jesus and they tell us what He wants to be to each of us. The most important titles given to Jesus are ones He gave to himself, the renowned "I AMs" of the gospels:
"I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry. He who believes in me will never be thirsty." 6
"I am the light of the world. He who follows me will never walk in darkness. He will have the light that gives life." 7
"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep." 8
"I am the door. Whoever enters through me will be saved." 9
"I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will have life. He who lives and believes in me will never die." 10
"I am the vine, and you are the branches. If a person remains in me and I remain in him, then he produces much fruit. But without me he can do nothing."11
"I am the way. And I am the truth and the life. The only way to the Father is through me." 12
5. A TREMENDOUS RECOGNITION
Jesus once said to his followers, "I am the Son of Man." Then He asked, "Who do the people say I am?"
They answered, "Some people say You are John the Baptist. Others say You are Elijah. And others say that You are Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
Then Jesus asked, "And who do you say that I am?"
His disciple, Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
Jesus was delighted and said, "You are blessed, Simon, son of Jonah. No person taught you that. My Father in heaven showed you who I am. So I tell you, you are Peter. And I will build my church on this rock. And the power of death (hell) will not be able to defeat my church." 13
Even today, some see Jesus as just a prophet, healer, leader, or teacher. However, millions of people join Peter in proclaiming Jesus Christ to be the Son of God. What do you think about Jesus?
6. WAS HE A PROPHET?
A prophet is a person who speaks for God. Who ever spoke more courageously, perceptively, or truthfully than Jesus did? He personified truth, however unpopular or dangerous it might be for Him.
A prophet is also someone who predicts the future. The predictions that Jesus made came true. He had more than just ability to foresee the future, could determine the future. He had and still has the power to fulfill his prophecies. No other prophet has ever had that power.
Jesus told His disciples that he would suffer and die. Then He would rise again from the dead and ascend into heaven. From there He would return in the same manner that He went. Many prophecies concerning his second coming have already been fulfilled. Others are being fulfilled today with amazing accuracy.
7. WAS HE A HEALER?
Jesus was always compassionate toward the sick. The Bible reports,
"He took our suffering upon him. And he felt our pain for us." 14
But Jesus did more than feel for the sick,
He went around doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil." 15 "Great crowds came to Jesus. They brought their sick with them: the lame, the blind, the crippled, the dumb, and many others. They put them at Jesus' feet and He healed them. The crowd was amazed when they saw that people who were unable to speak were able to speak again. Those who could not walk were able to walk again. The blind were able to see again. And they praised the God of Israel for this. 16
Jesus may not have healed every sick person he saw, but he never refused to heal a person who sought his healing touch. He was and remains the Great Physician who heals the sick of body and of soul.
8. WAS HE A LEADER?
The ultimate test of leadership is the ability to gather and guide followers into purposeful action. Jesus always had followers. Thousands gathered to hear him speak. But his goal was not popularity, nor was that the proof of his leadership. His goal was to do his Father's will and, from among His followers, to select and prepare a team to continue his work after He was gone. He knew that some who followed him were not true and would not be loyal to Him, but He gave them many opportunities to prove faithful.
His priorities were: 1) to communicate with His Father, 2) to train His followers, and 3) to reach the people with His message and his miracles. His disciples would then become the leaders of the church, taking His message to the world. He trained them to live, and minister, and die as He did. His daily, informal, "hands-on" leadership is recognized and imitated around the world. His success is evident in the lives of his followers who became inflamed with His message and took it to the world of their day. They were fearless and invincible.
9. WAS HE A TEACHER?
Jesus had the ability to state profound truths in simple ways that humble people could understand. His commitment to truth is seen not only by the unpopular denunciations He made, but by the fact that He called himself "The Way, the Truth and the Life." 17
His words were never arbitrary or superficial. He always went to the root of the matter. While contemporary teachers concerned themselves with laws and behavior, Jesus showed greater concern for the condition of people's hearts. He knew that if their hearts were right, their lives would be right too.
"You have heard, 'You must not murder.' I tell you if you are angry, you will be judged." 18
"You have heard, 'You must not be guilty of adultery.' I tell you that if you look at a woman and want to sin with her, then you have already sinned with the woman in your mind." 19
"You have heard, 'Don't break an oath.' I tell you, Don't make an oath. Say 'yes' if you mean 'yes' and say 'no' if you mean 'no'." 20
"You have heard, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemies.' I tell you, love your enemies." 21
Jesus not only showed us what to do, he showed us what to be and he showed us how to become what we need to be. Jesus taught that we can be changed from the inside out, not from the outside in. Jesus brought teaching to change our hearts.
"The people were amazed at his teaching. Jesus did not teach like their teachers of the law. He taught like a person who had authority." 22
10. WAS HE THE SON OF GOD?
Jesus could be a prophet, healer, leader and teacher without being the Son of God. But when Peter affirmed, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God," Jesus could not respond as He did unless He were one of three things: 1) a deceiver, 2) a maladjusted man deceived about his identity, or 3) the true Christ and the true Son of God.
If He were just a prophet, He would have to say, "No, Peter. You've gone too far." If He were only a healer, He would be required to answer, "No, I pray, but God heals." If He were nothing more than a leader, He would answer, "No. You follow Me, but, together, We follow God." A teacher would surely reply, "No, you're wrong. You'll have to take that test again."
But how did Jesus respond? The world's greatest and most highly respected prophet, healer, leader and teacher answered, "No person taught you that. My Father in heaven showed you who I am." 23
So Jesus, who began this Bible passage by calling himself "The Son of Man," accepts and agrees with Peter's affirmation that He is also "The Son of God."
A familiar creed of the Church declares:
I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified dead and buried. He descended into hell, ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from whence he shall come to judge the living and the dead . . .24
11. WHAT DO BIBLE WRITERS SAY ABOUT JESUS?
John, His beloved disciple, wrote,
"For God loved the world so much that He gave his only Son so that whoever believes in Him may not be lost, but have eternal life." 25
Paul, who lived and died for Jesus, wrote,
"All things were made through Christ and for Christ... God was pleased for all of himself to live in Christ... In all things, Jesus is most important..." 26
Peter, His most outspoken disciple, said,
"God has great mercy. He gave us a living hope because Jesus Christ rose from death." 27
Thomas, another disciple, doubted the news of the resurrection, but when he saw the wounds on Jesus' hands and side he proclaimed,
"My Lord and my God." 28
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews said,
"God has chosen His Son to own all things. And He made the world through the Son. The Son reflects the glory of God. He is an exact copy of God's nature." 29
12. WHAT MAKES JESUS UNIQUE IN HISTORY?
Modern calendars divide history into two major periods-before Christ and after Christ. There has never been another person like Him. His life, death, and resurrection are the most important events the created world has ever known. Here's how a modern writer summed up the life of Jesus:
The Incomparable Christ
"More than nineteen hundred years ago there was a Man born contrary to the laws of life. This man lived in poverty and was reared in obscurity. He did not travel extensively. Only once did He cross the boundary of the country in which He lived; that was during His exile in childhood.
"He possessed neither wealth nor influence. His relatives were inconspicuous, and had neither training nor formal education. In infancy He startled a king; in childhood He puzzled doctors; in manhood He ruled the course of nature, walked upon the billows as if pavements, and hushed the sea to sleep. He healed the multitudes without medicine and made no charge for His service.
"He never wrote a book, and yet all the libraries of the country could not hold the books that have been written about Him. He never wrote a song, and yet He has furnished the theme for more songs than all the songwriters combined.
"He never founded a college, but all the schools put together cannot boast of having as many students.
"He never marshaled an army, nor drafted a soldier, nor fired a gun; and yet no leader ever had more volunteers who have, under His orders, made more rebels stack arms and surrender without a shot fired.
"He never practiced psychiatry, and yet He has healed more broken hearts than all the doctors far and near. Once each week the wheels of commerce cease their turning and multitudes wend their way to worshiping assemblies to pay homage and respect to Him.
"The names of the past proud statesmen of Greece and Rome have come and gone. The names of the past scientists, philosophers, and theologians have come and gone; but the name of this Man abounds more and more. Though time has spread nineteen hundred years between the people of this generation and the scene of His crucifixion, yet, He still lives. Herod could not destroy Him, and the grave could not hold Him.
"He stands forth upon the highest pinnacle of heavenly glory, proclaimed of God, acknowledged by angels, adored by saints, and feared by devils, as the living, personal Christ, our Lord and Savior."
13. HIS DEATH
Not only was Christ's birth the most proclaimed and wonderful of all, His death on Calvary's cross was both the most terrible and the most important event of history. Although other men have been crucified for their crimes, and some for crimes of which they were innocent, Jesus was crucified for all the crimes that were ever committed. He was crucified for you and me. Scripture records:
"Jesus and the two criminals were taken to a place called the Skull. There the soldiers nailed Jesus to the cross. They also nailed the criminals to their crosses, one beside Jesus on the right and the other beside Jesus on the left. Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them. They don't know what they are doing.'"30
"FORGIVE THEM," were Jesus' words. While men were crucifying Jesus, He prayed for their forgiveness. But we should know that when He prayed, "Forgive them," He was praying also for you and me. That was the purpose of His death on Calvary, to provide forgiveness for a lost and dying humanity.
Sins cannot be forgiven through penitence, prayers to saints, the practice of religion, sacrifices, charitable acts, or devotion to Mary. Sins can only be forgiven through Christ's atoning sacrifice on Calvary's cross. "Christ carried our sins in His body on the cross. He did this so we would stop living for what is wrong and start living for what is right. And we are healed because of His wounds." 31
14. HIS RESURRECTION
What sets Jesus apart from all other religious leaders is the fact that he rose from the dead and is alive forever. He said that he would die, and rise again. Faithful witnesses confirm that this actually happened.
The Apostle Paul wrote,
"I passed on to you what I received. And this was the most important: that Christ died for our sins as the Scriptures say; that He was buried and was raised to life on the third day as the Scriptures say; and that He showed himself to Peter, and then to the twelve apostles. After that Jesus showed himself to more than 500 of the believers at the same time... Last of all He showed himself to me." 32
Those who saw Him die also saw him alive again and gave their lives to declare the truth of His gospel. Would these eye-witnesses do that if they did not truly believe?
15. WHAT KEEPS US FROM JESUS?
Though we don't like to admit it, the unpopular little word "sin" is a part of our lives that puts us all in need of forgiveness and a change of heart. Sin separates us from God. 32
What is sin?
Sin is disobedience. "When a person sins, he breaks God's law." 33 The Ten Commandments reveal God's moral standards and the parameters in which we must live to happily fulfill his purpose for our lives:
- You must not have any gods except Me.
- You must not make, worship or serve idols.
- You must not use the name of the Lord your God thoughtlessly.
- Remember to keep the Sabbath day holy.
- Honor your father and your mother.
- You must not murder anyone.
- You must not be guilty of adultery.
- You must not steal.
- You must not tell lies against your neighbor.
- You must not want to take anything that belongs to your neighbor. 34
We all have disobeyed God's commands. We need forgiveness for our transgressions.
Sin is also an attitude of the heart. When God gave His commandments, He also said, "I wish their hearts would always respect me. I wish they would always obey my commands. Then things would go well for them and their children forever."35 But God knows that our hearts are not disposed to obey. "Man's heart is deceitful and terribly wicked. Who can know it?" 36
Jesus restated this fact with specific details:
"From inside, from a person's heart, come the evil ideas that lead him into immoral things, to rob, kill, commit adultery, be greedy, and do all sorts of evil things: deceit, indecency, jealousy, slander, pride, and folly---all these things come from inside a person and make him unclean." 37
Sinful attitudes produce sinful acts. The worse our attitude, the more we practice sin. The more we sin, the more our hearts become enslaved. We need to be delivered from sin's power. We need a change of heart. That takes us to an important question:
What is a Christian?
We often talk about what a Christian may do or not do, but we seldom define what a Christian is. Let me suggest a biblical definition of what a Christian is:
A Christian is a person in whose heart
the Lord Jesus Christ lives.
If that is true, two more questions should arise:
- What do we mean by heart?
- How can Christ come into my heart?
Let's take these questions one at a time:
What do we mean by heart?
Here are two meanings for the word heart: 1) a muscular organ that circulates blood through the body; 2) the center of the personality. We're talking about the second meaning. Sometimes it's called spirit. It's the part of us that relates to God and will live forever-either united to God in Christ, or separated from God by our neglect or rejection of Christ.
Blaise Pascal called our heart a "God shaped vacuum." It was made by God and for God. Only God can fill it. It remains empty until Christ comes in. Christ wants to fill that space. He said, "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat (have friendship) with him. And he will eat with Me."
How can Christ come into my heart?
The Bible describes our hearts as sinful and deceitful. And it tells us how to prepare our hearts for His entrance.
We repent of our sins. Repentance is a change of mind about the way we are living. It is turning from selfish attitudes and evil deeds. It is yielding control of our own life to Jesus. It means that when we have a choice between right and wrong, we choose to do right. When we have a choice between Jesus and something else, we choose Jesus.
We must believe the gospel. Only Jesus can forgive our sins and release us from sin's grip. He does this as we place our faith in Him. Having faith is knowing that we cannot atone for our sins and trusting in Christ's death for our sins. Faith is giving up our own efforts to achieve salvation and taking the death of Jesus as the only way to eternal life. Faith is accepting, yielding, believing, depending, and giving our life to Jesus.
We must receive Jesus as Savior and Lord. "Jesus came to the world that was His own. But His own people did not accept Him. Some did accept Him. They believed in Him. To them He gave the right to become the children of God."39 We receive Jesus by asking Him into our life, embracing His teaching and allowing Him to govern our life.
We must confess Him publicly. "If you use your mouth to say, 'Jesus is Lord,' and if you believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved."40 Tell your friends what happened to you. Show them by the example of your changed life and by the word of your witness what Christ means to you.
Why not do it now? We cannot save ourselves through religion or self-effort. The only way we can be forgiven is to trust in the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross to atone for our sins. There is no other way and no better time than the present. Don't make the mistake of thinking, "I can't invite Him into my heart because I haven't cleaned it up yet." If we try to clean it up without Him, we will never get it clean enough. If we could clean it by ourselves we wouldn't need Him. He wants us to admit that our heart is unclean, and He wants us to ask Him to come in and clean it for us. Then, when He begins does, we obey. Would you like to invite Him in now?
A prayer of commitment
Jesus, please help me. I can't make it on my own. I put my trust in You. Come into my life and forgive my sins. Please change my heart. I choose to stop living to please myself and start living to please You. I receive You into my heart and confess You as my Lord and Savior. I accept Your sacrifice for my sins and thank You from the depths of my heart for saving me from sin, self, and the devil. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
1. Luther's Small Catechism;
3. Luke 2:6,7;
4. Luke 2:9-14;
5. Luke 1:28,34,35;
6. John 6:35;
7. John 8:12;
8. John 10:11;
9. John 10:9;
10. John 11:25;
11. John 15:5;
12. John 14:6;
13. Matthew 16:13-18;
14. Matthew 8:17;
15. Acts 10:38;
16. Matthew 15:30,31;
17. John 14:5;
18. Matthew 5:22;
19. Matthew 5:27;
20. Matthew 5:33,34;
21. Matthew 5:43;
22. Matthew 7:28;
23. Matthew 16:17;
24. The Apostle's Creed;
25. John 3:16;
26. Colossians 1:16,18;
27. 1 Peter 1:3;
28. John 20:28;
29. Hebrews 1:2,3;
30. Luke 23:33,34;
31. 1 Corinthians 14:3-8;
32. Isaiah 59:1;
33. I John 3:4;
34. Exodus 20:3-17;
35. Deuteronomy 5:29;
36. Jeremiah 17:9;
37. Mark 7:21-23;
38. Revelation 3:20;
39. John 1:12;
40. Revelation 3:20;
41. Romans 10:8-10.