Who is Jesus
Jesus is the most remarkable man who ever lived. He is the centrepiece of our civilisation. After all, we call what happened before him ‘BC’ and what happened after him ‘AD’.
Jesus was and is the Son of God. Some people think he is just a ‘good religious teacher’. However, that suggestion does not fit with the facts.
Jesus claimed to be the unique Son of God – on an equal footing with God. He assumed the authority to forgive sins. He said that one day he would judge the world and that what would matter then would be how we had responded to him in this life.
C.S. Lewis pointed out that:
‘A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.’ He would either be insane of else he would be ‘the Devil of Hell.’ ‘You must make your choice,’ he writes. Either Jesus was, and is, the Son of God or else he was insane or evil but, C.S. Lewis goes on, ‘let is not come up with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.’
Many people who do not profess to be Christians regard Jesus as the supreme example of a selfless life. Dostoevsky, himself a Christian, said, ‘I believe there is no one lovelier, deeper, more sympathetic and more perfect than Jesus. I say to myself, with jealous love, that not only is there no one else like him but here could never be anyone like him.’
As far as his teaching is concerned, there seems to be general agreement that it is the purest and best ever to have fallen from human lips.
To C.S. Lewis it seemed clear that he could neither have been insane or evil and this he concludes ‘however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem I have to accept the view that he was and is God.’
His conquest of death
The evidence for the physical resurrection is very strong indeed. When the disciples went to the tomb they found that the grave clothes had collapsed and that Jesus’ body was absent.
In the next six weeks he was seen by over 500 people. The disciples’ lives were transformed and the Christian Church was born, and then grew at a dynamic rate.
A former Lord Chief Justice of England, Lord Darling, said of the resurrection: ‘In its favour as living truth there exists such overwhelming evidence, positive and negative, factual and circumstantial, that no intelligent jury in the world could fail to bring in a verdict that the resurrection story is true.’ The only satisfactory explanation for these facts is that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead and thus confirms that he was, and is, the Son of God.
Why did he come?
Jesus is the only man who has ever chosen to be born and he is one of the few who has chosen to die. He said that the entire reason for his coming was to die for us. He came ‘to give his life a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45)
From what we know of crucifixion, it was one of the cruellest forms of execution. Cicero described it as ‘the most cruel and hideous of tortures’. Jesus would have been flogged with a whip of several strands of leather weighted down with pieces of metal and bones. According to Eusebius, a third century historian, ‘The sufferer’s veins were laid bare, and the very muscles, sinews and bowels of the victim were opened to exposure.’
Jesus was then forced to carry a six – foot cross beam until he collapsed. When he reached the site of execution, six inch nails were hammered through his wrists and feet as he was nailed to the cross. He was left to hang for hours in excruciating pain.
Yet the New Testament makes it clear that there was something worse for Jesus than the physical and emotional pain; this was the spiritual anguish of being separated from God as he carried all our sins.
Why did he die?
Jesus said he died ‘for’ us. The word ‘for’ means ‘instead of’. He did it because he loved us and did not want us to have to pay the penalty for all the things that we had done wrong. On the cross he was effectively saying, ‘I will take all those things on myself.’ He did it for you and he did it for me. If you or I had been the only person in the world he would have done it for us. St Paul wrote of ‘the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20). It was out of love for us that he gave his life as a ransom.
The word ‘ransom’ comes from the slave market. A kind person might buy a slave to set him free – but first the ransom price had to be paid. Jesus paid, by his blood on the cross, the ransom price to set us free.
Freedom from what?
a) Freedom from guilt Whether we feel guilty or not, we are all guilty before God because of the many times we have broken his laws in thought, word and deed.
Just as when someone commits a crime there is a penalty to be paid, in the same way there is a penalty for breaking God’s law. ‘The wages of sin is death’ (Romans 6:23)
The result of the things we do wrong is being cut off to spiritual death – being cut off from God eternally. We all deserve to suffer that penalty. On the cross Jesus took the penalty on our place so that we could be totally forgiven and our guilt could be taken away.
b) Freedom from addiction Jesus said that ‘everyone who sins is a slave to sin’ (John 8:34). Jesus died to set us free from that slavery. On the cross, the power of this addiction was broken. Although we may still fall from time to time, the power of this addiction is broken when Jesus sets us free. That is why Jesus went on to say that ‘if the Son sets you free you will be free indeed’ (John8:36)
c) Freedom from fear Jesus came so that ‘by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil- and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death’ (Hebrews2:14-15). We need no longer fear death.
Death is not the end for those whom Jesus has set free. Rather it is the gateway to heaven, where we will be free from even the presence of sin. When Jesus set us free from the fear of death, he also set us free from all other fears.
Freedom for what?
Jesus is no longer physically on earth but he has not left us alone. He has sent his Holy Spirit to be with us. When his Spirit comes to live within us, he gives us a new freedom.
a) Freedom to know God The things which we do wrong cause a barrier between us and God: ‘your iniquities have separated you from your God’ (Isaiah 59:2). When Jesus died on the cross he removed the barrier that existed between us and God. As a result he has made it possible for us to have a relationship with our Creator. We become his sons and daughters. The Spirit assures us of this relationship and he helps us to get to get to know God better. He helps us to pray and to understand God’s word (the Bible).
b) Freedom to love ‘We love because he first loved us’ (1 John 4:19). As we look at the cross we understand God’s love us. When the Spirit of God comes to live within us we experience that love. As we do so we receive a new love for God and for other people. We are set free to live a life of love – a life centred around loving and serving Jesus and loving and serving other people rather than a life centred around ourselves.
c) Freedom to change People sometimes say, ‘You are what you are. You can’t change’. The good news is that with the help of the Spirit we can change. The Holy Spirit gives us the freedom to live the sort of lives that deep down we have always wanted to live. St Paul tells us that the fruit of the Spirit is ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control’ (Galatians 5:22-23). When we ask the Spirit of God to come and live within us, these wonderful characteristics begin to grow in our lives.
Extract from Why Jesus by Nicky Gumbel, published by Alpha International, 1997. Used by kind permission of Alpha International.