Jesus made such an impression on people in the three years of his ministry that for the last two thousand years whenever anyone would think about Jesus, they’d think about God, and when they’d think about God, they’d think about Jesus. This is true even for those who do not believe that Jesus is God. This Gospel of Jesus Christ has so filled the world, that the name of Jesus and the thought of God are forever linked together for everyone.
There have been other great men and women. Martin Luther, Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., and C. S. Lewis are a few of my favorites. When I think of them, I call to mind some of the great things that they said or did, but I’d never think of any of them as God.
But when we think about Jesus, the very first thing we think about is God. Paul wrote in II Corinthians 5:19, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself.” Reconciling, making right, the whole world, unto Himself– and that’s a lot to make right. The old Christmas carol describes this when it says, “The hopes and fears of all the years, are met in Thee tonight.” All those hopes would be fulfilled, and all those fears would be calmed, by Jesus. That covers a lot of ground. But those who knew Jesus and saw Jesus and lived with Jesus, believed that it was so. They believed that God was in this Jesus, and in him and through him, God would make everything right again. And they were so inspired by his presence, that they went into all the world to proclaim it as true. So filled were they with the spirit and the truth of Jesus, that within a generation the Gospel message of eternal salvation in Christ Jesus was well on its way around the world. The message was that God brought reconciliation, God brought healing and hope to the world, God brought to a world condemned to death the promise of eternal life; and God did all that by God Himself becoming a human being in Jesus of Nazareth. If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus, and what Jesus says, and what Jesus does.
And if you want to know what it means to be a human, again, look at Jesus. Even those who do not believe in Jesus as divine often see in his life the most noble life ever lived. If you want to know about the possibilities of human life, again, look to Jesus. On our own, our prospects are rather dim. We may do all right for a while, but only a short while– usually seven or eight decades at the most. If you are a teenager, that can look like plenty of time. But if you are nearing the end of it, you begin to wonder how it could have all gone by so fast. But no matter how the time seems to be passing for you, fast or slow, there is not much you can do about it when that gift of time comes to an end.
There are those that say Jesus was only a great moral teacher. There are those who believe that God is far above and beyond us, an unmovable force, an unknowable being. But those beliefs are not Christianity, even though they might acknowledge the existence of God, and even though they may have some nice things to say about Jesus. Christianity says that God is not just far away, but that God was here on earth, in person, in Jesus Christ who was a man, and a great moral teacher, but was also infinitely more.
C. S. Lewis was a brilliant professor at Cambridge and Oxford Universities. He was an atheist until he was in his middle thirties. His area of expertise was literature, so he knew all the great books of the world’s religions and literature. After he became a Christian, he talked about this business of God becoming a man and visiting the earth. He said that you will find a lot of that in the old stories of many of the world’s cultures and religions. But he said the thing he came to realize about the Christian story was that it was true. All the other stories were great literature, but the story of Jesus was literal and historical truth.
The people in the countryside where Jesus began his ministry were not university professors, but they knew a few things. They knew that sick people didn’t just get well all of a sudden because somebody put their hand on them; but they saw Jesus heal like that. They knew that a storm at sea had to run its course, and would not stop just because you get up in the boat and shout “Peace, Be still;” but they saw Jesus end a storm that way. And they knew that dead was dead, and that the dead did not come out of their tombs just because someone said “Come on out;” but they saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead with just that simple command. They weren’t university professors, but they could see that Jesus was not just a human being. So when Jesus started saying things like, “I and the Heavenly Father are One,” they were ready to believe him. When he said that he was around even before their ancient ancestor Abraham, they were ready to agree to that. And when Jesus told them that by believing in him they could live forever, they were ready to trust in Him.
Those first eyewitnesses knew that Jesus– who they saw crucified, dead, and buried– was alive again, and would change everything.
Matthew 3:17 — And lo, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
II Corinthians 5:19a — God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself…
Revelation 21:5a — He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a poor sinner.
–The ancient Jesus prayer