Get to Know Jesus
The point of "church"
A lot of people have experienced "church" negatively: people who call themselves 'Christians' lack compassion, scandals show that the church and its people and leaders are far from perfect, and some churches seem more about themselves and their budgets and programs than about doing God's work outside their four walls. Christians ought to be honest and humble about these failures. Christians aren't saviors, they're sinners, too.
But when Christians are honest, all of us are reminded about what is most important: Jesus. Church is a community where people can know Jesus better. He's the only hope that sinners, whether Christian or not, have.
So the key question is not about who church people are, but who Jesus is.
Who is Jesus?
People who are Christians and those who aren't acknowledge the likelihood that a man named Jesus, who came from a backwater town called Nazareth in the Roman Imperial province of Palestine, existed about 2000 years ago. But from there, the answers diverge. Was Jesus a moral teacher, like Confucius? Was Jesus a prophet, someone appointed by a supreme being with a specific message for human beings? Was He more than a prophet? Or maybe Jesus was a lunatic who had just enough charisma to gather followers?
Here's what is strange about the history, though. There were plenty of lunatics, teachers, and self-proclaimed prophets in that area of the world at that time. There were even multiple people who said that they were "The Messiah," a rescuer and leader that the Jewish people were expecting, based on their own religious history and writings. But none of the other people who attracted groups of disciples (students) or got people excited about a spiritual and possibly global revolution managed to do anything but have a few years of fame or notoriety and then fade into history. How did Jesus' story turn out differently?
Crazy or true?
Toward the end of His life, Jesus was headed for a direct conflict with local leaders, both Roman and Jewish. He claimed that what He taught was the truth. And He accepted it when people would call Him a king or "lord." The first was threat to local kings, and the second was a term used for the Roman Emperor. You can understand why this would create tension.
But then Jesus went one step further. He claimed He was God. Not just a human teacher, not just a prophet, but actually the supreme being. That is reflected in John 18 (passage at left), in which Jesus says, "I am he." Sounds unimportant, but because of who He was with, there was no doubt about what He meant. For the Jews, "I am" was how God gave His own sacred name to Moses, way back in Exodus 3. That Jesus would apply that title to Himself was outrageous and possibly outright crazy. It's one of the big reasons Jesus was executed by crucifixion. Lunatics aren't really a threat, but the real presence of God might be very disturbing for people who'd prefer to ignore God.
So Jesus was killed. But then something even stranger happened. His best friends, his family members, and his students started saying Jesus hadn't stayed dead, but had been raised back to life. Even his half-brother said so. Plus, they said that this event meant that what Jesus had said about Himself had been true all along. Why, after all, would God allow an impostor to be raised from the dead? And, morever, what would it take for you to believe your half-brother was God?
Those people who had been with Jesus the whole time were so sure of what they said that they repeatedly risked their lives to tell others what they believed was true. Many of them were killed. Few of us would suffer and die to defend a hoax, some of might to honor the truth.
It's those eyewitnesses who wrote the New Testament (the second part of the Bible). And they wrote it because they were absolutely certain about who Jesus really was. He was the Messiah, the rescuer that all humanity actually needs. He was the one person who could love human beings and humanity itself enough to make them want to stop doing evil and start living God's good way. And because He was God, He could legitimately promise that He would set all the broken things of the world right.
That, too, is an outrageous claim. Either Christians are crazy or they've been gripped by the truth. Jesus is a hope worth believing.