What Jesus Means To Me

 

Alan Marshall – Christmas 2008

 

 

Introduction

 

Having past the half-way point in my life, I have come to realise that I have yet to fully share with family and friends that which is most precious to me, that which above all else gives meaning to my life, and despite all my faults, gives me great hope for the future.

 

In these few pages I seek to explain how the truths of the gospel have taken root in my own heart. I am not presuming any great bible knowledge on the part of my readers, though I have provided bible references at the end for anyone who wishes to check that I am being fair-minded in my use of scripture.

 

I am aware that those who read this letter will have their own understandings of how to relate to God. Following Jesus’ advice I do not judge anyone [1], for judgement belongs to God alone [2]. Rather, I just wish to explain what Jesus means to me. I trust that if God uses these thoughts as I hope, each reader will find some encouragement or some food for thought.

 

Jesus Reveals the Creator to Us

 

Depending on how you define him, between 60% and 80% of Australians believe in God, and yet for most of us he seems remote, an invisible power that somehow gave rise to the world around us. We can debate when and how the universe came into being, and when and how life began, but there is really no need to look into the distant past to find God, for he made a personal appearance right in the centre of our written history.

 

The staggering claim at the centre of the Christian faith, is that God chose to become a man in order that we could understand our creator in concepts familiar to us. The bible teaches that just as we are not meant to be alone, so God himself is not alone. He has a mysterious internal relationship within himself. The gospels tell us that through a miraculous event, the eternal Son of God became one of us [3]. Historically, the church understands Jesus to be both fully human and fully God.

 

A Most Extraordinary Man

 

When I was in my early 20’s, I lead the youth fellowship through a series of bible studies in the gospels Matthew and John, which were written by two of Jesus’ disciples. Together with the accounts written by Paul’s followers, Mark and Luke, we have a full picture of the man to whom they devoted their lives. As with any good biography, when you read the gospels, you get to know the subject very well. You understand his character, his wisdom, his virtues (and perhaps vices), the people he was close to, the events in which he was involved, and his significance in history. You can read the biography of other religious leaders and have respect for them. You can read the biographers of reformers and admire them. But when it comes to Jesus, his stature is such that it takes your breath away. This is why I maintain he cannot be a fictional figure, or even a romanticised historical figure. No person who is the creation of the imagination could be so compelling or have the impact that Jesus does. I am persuaded that no-one else in history comes close to his commanding presence, his authority and wisdom, his profound teaching about love, his compassion and gentleness, the wonderful but sensitive way in which he used his extraordinary power, the bravery with which he faced opposition and the selflessness with which he faced death. I could go on, but this is something you need to judge for yourself. Choose one of the four gospels, and take a few hours one Sunday afternoon to read it. See if I am right!

 

Jesus’ Claims to Divinity

 

Those who followed Jesus and who witnessed his miracles understood that it was only God who could heal, raise the dead, and have such power over nature. Jesus challenged the sceptics to accept this evidence of his divinity [4].

 

I have no doubt that Jesus understood himself to be the Messiah, the long-promised deliverer of Israel. The gospel of Matthew, in particular, records the Messianic prophecies Jesus was seen to have fulfilled. The gospel of John, which gives a more intimate account of Jesus dialogue with his disciples, contains some profound statements by Jesus about his role. You probably know such statements as “I AM the light of the world” [5] and “I AM the way, the truth and the life” [6]. If you want to examine the full list, there is an article on my web site [7].

 

So central was Jesus’ claim to be God incarnate, that John says that believing this is the test of whether or not someone is a christian [8].

 

Understanding Our Dark Side

 

Since the end of World War II, most of us in the western world have lived relatively comfortable lives. For the most part we are law-abiding, and most of the time we feel safe. We are loved by our family and friends and we regard ourselves as decent people. We complacently assume God feels the same way about us.

 

God’s perspective is however very different from our own. He sees a world that is broken. He sees a world in which a third are hungry, not because of Earth cannot produce the food that is required, but because we are basically selfish. He sees a world where men and nations are always fighting, for no good reason than to take (or keep) what justly belongs to others. He sees a world where men and women abandon their commitment to their partners, and where they lapse in their commitment to God himself.

 

The world that God desires is one in which every man and woman loves and worships him, a world in which everyone cares as much about others as they do for themselves, a world in which resources are shared and no-one is hungry, a world where people rely on God for their needs rather than taking from each other, a world in which all relationships are harmonious because they are modelled on God’s relationship with us.

 

Does this sound Utopian? Yes, it does. But, according to the bible, this Utopia is the ultimate reality, and our messed-up world is in fact a temporary anomaly, caused by the rebellion of mankind, which the bible calls “sin”, and rebellion in the spiritual world.

 

So if you are content with your life and don’t think you need God’s forgiveness, perhaps you should have a re-think. You might be a better person in relative terms than others. You may not have committed many of the offences I have listed above. But you are not part of the world as it is meant to be - you are part of this broken world. You are inevitably tainted by it, and you need God’s forgiveness, whether your sins are many or few.

 

Why Did Jesus Die?

 

If you still have any doubts that Jesus claimed to be God incarnate, understand that this is the reason the Pharisees wanted him killed [9]. If it were not for Jesus’ claims, like those I have listed above, the religious establishment would have tolerated him.

 

So if Jesus was indeed the Son of God, and if he performed miracles, then why did he die in the manner that he did? If God could whisk away the prophet Elijah to heaven in a fiery chariot, why did he allow Jesus to be crucified? It wasn’t necessary for our instruction. Jesus had already spoken at length about how we should love God and love our neighbour. The only credible reason why he should die is the reason that the Bible gives – that in fact it is we who deserve to die and that Jesus died in our place! As Isaiah prophesied 700 years before Jesus’ birth:

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
       he was crushed for our iniquities;
       the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
       and by his wounds we are healed.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
       each of us has turned to his own way;
       and the LORD has laid on him
       the iniquity of us all [10].

Jesus death conveys to us the reality of our dark side. It shows us the gravity with which a holy and perfect God regards the little sins that we daily ignore. If we accept Jesus’ death on our behalf with humility and gratitude, he bears the judgment of God on our behalf. If we reject or ignore Jesus, then judgement in some form awaits us at the end of time.

But Jesus’ death demonstrates more than the justice of God. More powerfully than any other event in the Bible, it demonstrates his love. As you surely know, the gospel of John tell us:

 

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life [11].

 

What Does His Resurrection Mean?

 

Of all Jesus claims to divinity, perhaps the most awe-inspiring are his words to Martha before restoring to life her brother Lazarus. Jesus said:

 

I AM the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die [12].

 

Within weeks of making this claim, Jesus himself would die. But remember that Jesus was both fully human and fully God, and it is not possible to kill off God. On Easter Sunday he was restored to life and walked from his tomb. His body was the same, yet different. It was physical, yet also spiritual. Unlike our bodies which wear out and decay, Jesus’ new body was immortal. In God’s plan to redeem a people for himself, Jesus is the first to receive immortality. He is the first of a great multitude, and it is through his resurrection that we are able to share in eternal life.

 

Jesus Will Return

 

Before departing to heaven, Jesus promised his disciples he would return to Earth to establish an everlasting kingdom. In the second last chapter of the bible, the end of this age is pictured with God descending from heaven to live forever with his people in a new and perfect world [13]. Those who believed in Jesus are raised to life and receive this world as their inheritance. Those who opposed Jesus are destroyed.

 

While this is our future hope, Jesus and his apostles taught that eternal life begins now [14]. We receive immortality as the spirit of the immortal God makes his home in our hearts [15]. While our physical bodies will still wear out and die, our spiritual self bursts into new life. Jesus described this burst of new life as like being “born again” [16]. Our spirit continues to grow in the knowledge and love of God, until, as we pass through death, we join Jesus at his return.

 

How I Like to Give Thanks

 

The best and simplest definition of what it means to be a christian was given to me by a former catholic who became a Pentecostal pastor. He told us “a christian is someone who loves God” [17]. The apostle John tells us that “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him[18]”. He also tells us the reason we love God, and we love others, is because God first loved us[19]. In other words, love flows out of our thankfulness to Jesus for living, dying and rising from death to enable us to receive what we in ourselves do not deserve, the gift of eternal life. Love is the emotional expression of believing in Jesus.

 

We show our love for Jesus every day by seeking to live a life that pleases him [20]. However, there is special way I like to give him thanks each week. The night before he died, Jesus took the bread of the Passover meal, and said:

 

This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me. [21]

 

There are other good reasons for attending church, but for me, this is the key. Each week I have the opportunity to reflect on where I would be if it were not for Jesus. I ask him to show me any way in which I have displeased him, and I commit myself to working with him to effect any changes that need to be made. Then the communion service provides the chance to publicly honour Jesus for what he has done, and to draw comfort from the fact that his death for me means forgiveness, love, and a place in the family of God.

 

What It Means to Follow Him

 

Those who follow Jesus seek to live happy normal lives, but they don’t limit their attention to family, career and enjoying themselves. Following Jesus’ example, and the two commandments he emphasised, they seek to be God-centred and to be other-centred. Jesus taught:

 

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” [22]

 

Loving God is both an emotional response and a decision of the will. The emotional response flows from faith, from a deep appreciation of who God is and what he has done for us. It is not something we need to conjure up, because it is the work of God’s spirit in our hearts [23]. The decision of the will is a giving of oneself to him, just as a man and women give themselves completely to each other in marriage. Becoming a Christian therefore is not just assenting to a set of beliefs. It is a commitment every bit as life-changing as the decision to marry. It means not just following the teaching of a historic Jesus, but allowing the living Jesus to direct our lives. For this reason the first Christians called Jesus their “Lord”.

 

The idea of submitting your life to someone else, even if that person is Jesus, is a common reason for rejecting Christianity. Yet when I look at the emptiness of the lives of so many in our society, I am so glad that I count Jesus as my Lord. It gives me a great sense of purpose that is more satisfying than just focussing on my own entertainment. When I come the end of my life, I want to know that through God’s direction, it has made a difference.

 

Experiencing God

 

Those who don’t accept the Christian faith may be sceptical of Christians when they talk about having personal experience of God in their lives. Of course, among hundreds of millions of Christians worldwide, there will be some who are mistaken, or even deluded, about their experiences. It was like that even in Jesus’ time.

 

That doesn’t change the fact that the God of the bible is a personal God. He is spirit and is not physical, but if we believe that man is not just a physical being, but has a soul or spirit, then we ought to expect the spirit of man to be able to interact with the spirit who created him.

 

At the resurrection at the end of the age, we will see God face to face. Yet for those who believe in Jesus, eternal life begins now. That means Christians have a sense that the spirit of God is active in their lives – that he comforts, teaches, motivates, and sometimes confronts. They have some understanding of what God is doing in themselves, their families and in the world around them. It also means that those who believe in Jesus have access to God through prayer. (God is aware of the prayers of all mankind, but as God is Holy and we are sinful, it is only through Jesus that are prayers are guaranteed to be acted upon). When I pray, I prefer to do so audibly, as they did in Jesus’ time. This helps me to later recall what I have said. It is a mistake to think that prayer is one-way communication. God does respond, but not audibly. He speaks into our minds and hearts. Sometimes he speaks into our dreams. He responds through circumstances. He responds through the love and wisdom of others.

 

This brings me to discuss the importance of Christian community. Christians are minority in this world, and they need to come together to fully experience God. The gathering does not have to be large – Jesus said:

 

For where two or three have gathered together in my name, I am there in their midst. [24]

 

When Christians gather, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. When Christians gather, and together seek God’s purposes, they have the power to change the world. [25]

 

The bible contains many other promises to those who trust in God - promises of protection, provision, and in certain circumstances, even physical healing. More important still are the promises we have in the spiritual realm - forgiveness of sin, personal transformation, deliverance from evil, assurance of God’s love.

 

These promises are often accompanied by invitations. Though they take various forms, they have a common theme – that God is willing to bless us, but simply wants to be invited. He doesn’t force himself on us but wants us to acknowledge our own inadequacy and our need of his help. If you are interested, I have provided a list of these invitations [26] in the end notes. One invitation that to my mind sums up all the others, is this one from James, the brother of Jesus:

 

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. [27]

 

The security that the bible promises those who trust in Jesus is a source of great peace. In every time and every culture, men have sort solutions to their fear of death. I believe Jesus alone provides the only real solution, and that sort of peace is more precious than anything that this world can offer.

 

Spiritual Growth

 

Jesus describes a new Christian as one who is “born again”. God’s work in us may or may not have a dramatic beginning, and it usually takes time to mature. Just as a child takes time to learn the language and concepts of a culture, to learn from his or her mistakes, and gather the wisdom that comes only through experience, so new Christians take time to understand their relationship with God, and to cultivate the work of his spirit within them. The principle source of spiritual knowledge is the Bible, but the Christian life is not a relationship with a book – it is a relationship with the living God.

 

When a person commits themself to Jesus, they embark upon a journey that continues throughout life. Of course there are periods in life which we can look back on later and see where we could have done better. I have my fair share of those. But the Christian does not dwell in the past. Christianity is all about redemption of individual lives and redemption of our community. As children of God we seek to grow into his purposes for us. We seek to finish our lives well.

 

Telling Others

 

In God’s plan to fully reveal himself to mankind, and to reconcile mankind to himself, there is a part that God plays, and there is a part that he has given us to play. We have looked at how the creator entered his creation at a point in our history. In fact, we measure our years from that event, and we celebrate the anniversary at Christmas.

 

The part that the creator has delegated to us is to pass on an account of Jesus’ words and deeds down the generations, and take his message to the four corners of the globe. Jesus commissioned his followers to do this with these words:

 

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. [28]

 

In these pages I have shared with you what I believe is the most precious truth known to man. I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to express what Jesus means to me. For some who read this essay, many of the concepts will be familiar. For others, some of this may be new. In any case, I hope I have inspired you to think more about what Jesus means to you.



[1] Luke 6:37

[2] Romans 12:9

[3] John 1:1-14, Luke 1:26-38

[4] John 10:37-38, 14:11

[5] John 8:12

[6] John 14:6

[7] Alan Marshall, “The Revelation in Jesus of the One God I AM”, available at www.jesusisreal.org/I_AM.htm

[8] 1 John 4:2-3

[9] Matthew 26:64-66; John 5:17-18, 8:56-59

[10] Isaiah 53:5-6

[11] John 3:16

[12] John 11:25

[13] Revelation 21:1-4

[14] John 5:24

[15] John 14:16

[16] John 3:3-5

[17] Pastor Richard Green, Christian City Church Ryde

[18] 1 John 4:16

[19] 1 John 4:19

[20] John 14:15

[21] Luke 22:19

[22] Matthew 22:37-38

[23] Ephesians 2:8-10

[24] Matthew 18:20

[25] Matthew 18:19

[26] Psalm 34:8, Proverbs 3:5-6, Matthew 11:28-30, John 1:12, John 3:15-16, John 6:35-37, John 7:38, John 11:25-26, Acts 2:38-39, Revelation 3:20, Revelation 2:17

[27] James 4:8

[28] Matthew 28:19-20

 

 

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