What kind of reaction comes up in you at hearing or reading the name Jesus? This name is a dividing line. It is divisive for some. For others it is unifying. Inspiring. Healing. Or, for yet others, a curse word.
Two thousand years of widely differing experiences have created hugely different reactions to this person. In the name of Jesus the lives of millions have been bettered, healed, lifted up from depression, given worth and hope.
In his name more than 50 million people have been slaughtered. Inquisitions and pogroms have been initiated by religious people who thought they were protecting his name, protecting an organization, protecting the church.
In Jesus name priests, pastors and assorted leaders have dominated and controlled their "flocks," even fleeced them for profit. Yet at the same time, in this name his followers have sacrificed everything for the sake of others, giving away their riches and investing their lives for the sake of people whom God loves.
Who is Jesus, really? Does he deserve all this good press, or all the bad press?
How do we filter out all the noise and clutter that has grown up around his name over the past few thousand years? I want to know and walk in truth. Do you?
Then we need to get back to basics, back to the beginning. Jesus is not an institution. And the people who claim to follow him, his church are not supposed to be an institution either, regardless of how they usually act. And he is not a religion. He didn't come to establish a religion, at least not in the way we usually think of religion - with rituals, holy symbols, buildings, holy men and holy water.
Who is Jesus? Why did he come, and what was he meant to do?
The writer of Hebrews described him this way, "He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power." Paul said, "He is the image of the invisible God ... by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through him and for him."
John, an eyewitness and friend of Jesus said, "The Word became human and lived among us."
So by the words of those who knew him when he walked the earth, Jesus, or Yeshua as he was known then in Hebrew, his native language, was more than just a man, more than just a great teacher or philosopher. He is none other than the Creator himself, or at the very least, co-creator. Jesus himself was very aware of who He was. He put it this way: "Guys, how long have I been with you without you really knowing me? If you've seen me, you've seen the Father! So how can you say, show us the Father. Don't you realize that I am in the Father and the Father in me?" (John 14:9-10)
To put it in a nutshell, the God who the Bible reveals is a great-hearted Person who is so interested in his creation, so full of love for each and every human that he chose to come to earth himself. What the people of his time didn't realize, what they were incapable of conceiving of, was that as Jesus walked down the street, God himself had just walked by. As John said, the Word (creative Word, the creator) was made flesh, human, and lived among us.
Why would he do such a thing? One reason, I believe, is that he loves us so intensely that he wanted to share in our experience. He needed to draw so near to us that he could say, I understand you. I know what you are going through. I was there! I've done that!
Think about all that Jesus experienced, which so thoroughly characterizes the human experience:
Did you know that one of Jesus favorite ways of referring to himself was as the "son of man?" He took especial pleasure out of saying, "I'm one of you!"
Yet he also made it clear that he was more than just another man. He claimed authority over religious days, like the sabbath, which only God could do. He claimed to be able to forgive sins. He demonstrated mastery over nature by stilling storms, walking on water and healing all kinds of diseases.
Every major event of his life was announced hundreds of years in advance by multiple prophets of God. And he fulfilled all such prophecies which had to do with his first major task, his first coming. Many of these fulfilled prophecies were things he could have no control over, such as the circumstances of his birth.
But especially interesting is that he fulfilled the three things which were believed by the Jewish nation to be miracles that only the Messiah could do, and the things which he would do to announce himself when he came.
(The Messiah, as the Jews understood it then, was the long awaited Anointed One who would come to save the people of God from their enemies and rule them forever after in peace.)
Yet there is more to his coming than that he just wanted to be with us and experience what we do. In a way, that alone would be understandable. What kind of father doesn't want to know his children? What kind of lover doesn't want to really "know" and understand his beloved in every way? If he had not come he would have remained forever just GOD, eternal and omnipotent, but without the ability from his side to KNOW by experience what it is like to be an outcast, for example. And we would have been stripped of the comfort of knowing that God, through Jesus, absolutely knows by experience what pain, hunger and thirst feel like, what suffering loss is like, what temptation is.
What Jesus came to do was more than just to "walk a mile in our shoes." And it was more than just a humanitarian mission to help and to heal a few people. Jesus came to save us. That is what his name, Yeshua, in the original Hebrew means: he saves.
Well then, from what did he come to save people? Were they in danger? Are we in danger? Are you? Many don't see anything in their lives that they need to "be saved" from! After all, even if things aren't perfect, things may be going as well as can be expected. "I am as good as the next guy, maybe better," they reason. "I try to be good, to treat people fair. What more can God expect from me?"
But didn't Jesus come to save us from hell? I'll bet that's what you were expecting, right? That's what most Christians I know would say. It is true that Jesus warned of painful consequences of a life lived selfishly, with little regard for the devastation that they deal out to others. "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone fastened around his neck and to be thrown into the depths of the sea." Jesus warned of judgment coming for our actions, including punishment. But that is not the main emphasis of his teaching about salvation.
We naturally think about the eternal state of the soul after death, because it is part of western culture to divide reality into physical and spiritual, and to assume that only the spiritual, the state of the soul after death, is what matters. But it isn't the way God thinks, according to his Word, the Bible.
When the Bible talks about salvation, there are two words that become very important in helping us understand what it means. Rescue and restoration. That we automatically assume that salvation has to do with the soul getting to heaven comes from the fact that we are totally influenced in the western world by the ancient Greek philosophers. The Bible is untouched by this philosophy and, instead, is completely Hebrew in it's culture.
Remember our determination on the homepage, to try to find out what God's original intent was?
Getting back to the original, Hebrew flavored thinking of the Bible will help us to uncover a more accurate picture of God and reality. In Hebrew thinking, the salvation is not limited to the soul. It touches the whole person: body, soul and spirit. The salvation that our God, Y'HoVaH, desires for all people is more than just a ticket to heaven. It is the rescue operation from that which destroys and enslaves us, and from that which is the worst of all, being cut off from relationship with our heavenly Father, our Creator.
You see, salvation is relationship oriented. Through our faith in - and love for - Jesus, we are brought back into a restored relationship. Forgiveness for our sin, for our selfishness, for all of the things which have separated us from our Creator since Adam took his first bite of forbidden fruit were bought for us by one act of supreme unselfishness and supreme love when Jesus willingly took our place on that cross. In that moment he became the bodily cure for all of the evil of mankind. Then he sealed his deal with us by rising from the dead, proving that his act had the power to affect even us, since the power of death and destruction had been broken.
Jesus willingly went to his death on the cross, one of the most cruel and painful ways to die that perverted men ever thought up. His reason? Pure love for you, for me, and for each person who ever took their first wailing breath as an infant in this world.
Have you ever looked at a newborn in its purity and innocence and then later looked at a wizened alcoholic, or a hardened criminal, or a used-up prostitute, or, for that matter, a bitter, old woman whose only joy is gossiping about other people's problems, and wondered how such a beautiful, angelic infant could ever grow up into such bitter, angry and debauched individuals? This is life as we know it: hard blows, bitter setbacks and especially selfish, destructive choices which we all make that are counter to the ways of God. Each deforms each of us to some degree. None of us escape it. That is why we need rescue.
The rescue Jesus offers, Mr. He-Saves, is a rescue that not only removes us from danger, but begins the process of undoing all of the harm of those evil circumstances and choices. He restores us to wholeness. And this is our second significant word, restoration.
Can you believe the greatness and goodness of God? Not only does he let us off the hook and forgive us for our mess, he goes on to fix it too! The nature of God is to bring us back to wholeness and healing. "It was for this very reason that the Son of God appeared, to destroy these doings of the Adversary." (1 John 3:8)
Why does the Creator allow things to go so wrong? Especially if he knew he would just have to go back and fix it later?
It's all about relationship. It's because it is necessary for us to have true freedom of choice. Freedom to choose is a great gift. Freedom to do what we want to, to go where we want, to act according to our convictions and desires is a great privilege. Don't you cherish the freedoms you have? Yet it is your freedom to choose which has hurt and damaged people that you may have lashed out at in anger, or done something to just because you were looking out for number one! Freedom is a dangerous thing. It makes people unpredictable and uncontrollable.
But do you realize that God needs you to walk in freedom of choice? There is a choice you can make that only has value if it is completely free and unforced. It is your freedom to acknowledge and love Him. For you or for me to choose to love this invisible, yet very present God is a gift that he cherishes. And because he loves you, and just because it is the way he is, he has set plans in motion to undo all of the hurt, pain, destruction and evil that have been done in the name of freedom (and selfishness).
Jesus went to his death in order to restore you to relationship with Father. He went to the cross to undo the works of the devil. He rose again so that you might have the chance to be healed and restored back to a way of life that is wholesome and healthy. Healing of soul, of spirit and of body is what he came to make possible for us. In the end all will be restored, even the earth will be healed of all the pollution and ravages of human greed. Its just the kind of person that he is!
Salvation is something that you enter into. It's not just that someone comes and rescues you or heals you and then you go on as before. That is because it all has to do with relationship.
Our "rescue" comes about when we turn to Jesus and lay it all on the line with him. What I mean is, when you can say, Jesus, I choose to believe that you came to get me out of this mess I've made of me. I know you gave everything for me, even to the point of dying for me that I might have real life. I chose to trust you and to give you my life. I don't want to live it by myself anymore, I want you to take the wheel and drive with me. I want to walk every day in relationship with you, knowing you, and caring more about your opinion than my own. You are the boss!
In the moment that you open this door to Jesus, he promised in the Bible to respond to you. As Jesus himself said, "whoever comes to me I will certainly not turn away." What is more, you enter into friendship with God himself. He wants to fellowship with you. He longs for you to know him, to talk with him, to hear him respond back to you.
You may have heard Christians talk about "being saved." This describes the condition you find yourself in when you choose Jesus and become a child of your Father in heaven, a friend of God and intimately connected to Jesus.
It is the purpose of this "salvation" that you know God himself. Ask him to reveal himself to you. Tell him you want to know him. Put yourself out a little - make an effort - and let him know you mean business. The benefits of doing this are, quite literally, out of this world!
This is who Jesus is. He is the manifestation of God who comes near. The God who became one of us. The God who wants to know you and be near for all your days. He is the one who saves you.
If this is what you truly desire to do in your heart, but you can't seem to find the words to start things rolling, maybe you might want to pray something like this: (though actually it is always better to just say what you feel and what you yourself think. God isn't interested in nice religious prayers, just in what is truly in you.)
"Father in heaven, I want to know you as you really are. I am not as good as I like to think I am. I have messed up. I've sinned and done things that you hate. But I ask you to forgive me. Thank you Jesus that you died for me to set me free from sin and you rose from the dead that I might have a brand new life with you. I choose to trust you and to give my life right now. My life is now bound to yours for time and eternity. Come into my life and be my Lord and my God."
If this was your prayer I would really love to hear from you. Please take the time to send me a little note with the form below and let me know what happened. Perhaps I can help you with some tips that will help you along on your journey to know God.