Discovering The True Jesus (pt.8)- Who Needs Jesus?

So far in this series, we have talked about who Jesus is and what He accomplished during His time on earth. However, it struck me this morning that all of this is in vain if we do not understand our need for Jesus. There is no benefit in understanding who He is and what He did, if we don’t understand WHY we needed Him to do it. In other words: We can’t appreciate Jesus, or even trust Him, without understanding our true need for Him.

So, what do you think? Why do we need Jesus?

Our problem, and our subsequent need, is clearly perceived when we focus on God’s attributes. He is Holy, Just, Perfect, and completely Good. These are all great things, aren’t they? But let me ask you this: what does a Good, Holy, Perfect God do with those who aren’t good, holy, or perfect? Can He have fellowship with them? Can He just forgive their wrongdoings? Unfortunately, He cannot. God cannot maintain perfect holiness and goodness if He pardons evil and sin. Similarly, a state judge would not maintain status as a “good judge” if he pardoned every criminal that walked into the courtroom. Even in society, there are standards to live by, and if one breaks the standards, there are serious consequences.

In the same way, God has set up certain standards for us to live by. These are summed up in the Ten Commandments, which we all have broken many times. Jesus summed up the commandments up when He said, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,” and “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12). Any single breach of these commandments has a consequence: separation from God. Any act of selfishness, greed, worry, dishonesty, pride, envy, or idolatry all break God’s standards…And He can’t simply forgive us just by us asking; there must be a payment. And as often as we will break these commandments, there must be an everlasting payment that can cover all of them! Are starting to feel your need for someone to intervene on your behalf?

In my quiet time this morning, I read in Romans 3,

None is righteous, no, not one;
    no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”

Paul was writing to Jews and non-Jews, showing them their desperate need for Jesus. He squashes the assumption that some people are pretty good, and he leaves no room for the possibility that some people are good enough to have a relationship with God. Paul says that no one does good, not even one- they have become worthless. 

I have seen this countless times in evangelism. Most people that I talk to, even people who claim to be Christians, place their hope in heaven or in their relationship with God based on the fact that they are “pretty good,” or that God is “a forgiving God.” If that is the basis of your hope for salvation, I can promise you that you don’t understand Jesus. Paul also says in Romans 2 that it is foolish to presume upon God’s grace or mercy, assuming that He will just pardon us. Why? Because a Holy God cannot forgive and associate with unholiness beings. He has wrath for every unrighteous act that has ever been committed, and He will pour it out on all mankind, unless a holy, perfect sacrifice can appease His wrath, and pay for the sins of mankind.

Do you see our need for a Savior yet?

Jesus fulfills our need and takes us from our helpless state and reconciles us to God. Here’s how:

2 Corinthians 5:21 (with my italics added):

For our sake he (the Father) made him (Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him (Jesus) we might become the righteousness of God.

Jesus came to earth to take on our sin, and pay for it completely on the cross. The wrath (punishment) that must be poured out on mankind for every unrighteous act ever committed, would be poured out on Jesus on the cross. All of this happened so that “in Jesus,” through trusting in His sacrifice, we might become “the righteousness of God.” Meaning, we are made perfectly righteous in God’s eyes.

When we trust in Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins, an amazing exchange happens: Jesus takes our punishment, we are given His perfect record. From that moment on, when God looks on us, He sees the perfect obedience of Jesus. He no longer sees us as unworthy, unholy, imperfect people. He sees us as perfect, because “in Him we have become the righteousness of God.” That is why the Bible can say that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1) because there is no more record of our wrong doings! In fact, our entire record has been shredded! There is no more punishment for our sins, past, present or future, because Jesus paid for all of them when He experienced God’s wrath on the cross.

And this wasn’t just a coincidence: it had been planned before the foundation of the world! Jesus wasn’t just conveniently killed by Roman soldiers and God said, “alright, that’ll work!” No. You see, God has been passionately pursuing us since we committed our first sin. He has been on a mission since day one to show us how much He loves us through a relationship with us. And He knew that He could only do this through giving up His own Son to be crucified and abandoned. Isaiah 53 says,  “it was the Lord’s will to crush Him (Jesus).” It was planned by God to send His Son to pay for our sins. Out of His great love for us, He planned to send His Son to die for us. And out of His great love for us, Jesus came down to save us.

THIS is why we need Jesus: Because now, in Him, God can show us His love and care in a relationship with us without violating His attributes, because we are now righteous in His eyes, and because all of His wrath toward us, was poured out on Jesus. The payment for our sin was paid in full.

Do you see your need for Jesus?

Then look to Him! Trust Him as the perfect sacrifice for your sin! Trust Him as the bridge between you and a holy God! Trust that He did all of this- because He loves you and wants a relationship with you! Jesus is the ONLY way to have forgiveness; He is the only way to have a relationship with the very God that created you.

Do you trust Him?

If you have any questions about what I have said above, please email me at jrfletch@uga.edu.

Discovering The True Jesus (pt. 7) – The Perfect Sacrifice (pt.1)

Have you ever wondered why Jesus dying on the cross somehow saves people from their sins if they trust in Him? Or why people can be in a relationship with God because Jesus was murdered? Yes, we know that we can be “saved” through believing in Jesus, but why? What did He do that gives us the ability to be “saved?”

To help explain this point, I want to examine Jesus’ perfection. I believe that what most people don’t understand about Jesus is that He is the perfect sacrifice for mankind’s sins. He is the perfect sacrifice for many reasons; let’s look at a few.

Jesus never sinned. In Hebrews chapter 4 the author says about Jesus: He “was tempted in every point like we are, yet without sin.” Did you catch that? Not one inappropriate word ever came out of His mouth, not one unacceptable thought ever crossed His mind. Every thought, word, action, message, and decision was perfectly holy and perfectly in obedience to God’s law. Why is this important? Because God has always required a perfect sacrifice to pay for sin. Before Jesus came, people had to either sacrifice an unblemished lamb, a perfect dove, a spotless bull, or many other types of “perfect” offerings to pay for their sins and receive forgiveness from God. If the offerings weren’t perfect, then they would not be accepted by God, and there would be no forgiveness.

This is essential to understanding Jesus. A normal human being could not be a perfect sacrifice, because we are naturally born with a sin nature. Jesus wasn’t! This is also one of the reasons He had to be born of a virgin, so He wasn’t a child of sinful man (lineages were traced through the men). But as He grew up and lived His life, not only did He resist the temptation to sin, but He perfectly obeyed His Father in every situation. Jesus says in John 8:29, “I always do what pleases him.” He was perfect.

This is where we encounter the necessity for a sacrifice: God is Holy. Because He is Holy, He cannot have relationships with wicked, evil beings (which we all are). God has wrath stored up for people’s rebellion against Him, which was temporarily satisfied by the sacrifice of animals. However, animals could never pay for His entire wrath, but Jesus could. Jesus was His only Son. He was the only one able to bear such a horrific judgment (experiencing billion’s of people’s eternal separation from God). Jesus came and lived an obedient life, which no human has ever done, and experienced God’s wrath when He was sacrificed on the Roman cross. God validated Jesus’ sacrifice by raising Him from the dead. In raising Jesus, God basically says, “His sacrifice is enough. All who believe in Him will be forgiven. There will be no more wrath, no more condemnation for them.”

Jesus’ perfect obedience is what saves us, but is also what keeps us in a right relationship with God. When we believe in Jesus, we are given His righteousness. He took the punishment for our sins (wrath) and He gives us His perfect obedience. Now, when God looks on those who have trusted Jesus, He doesn’t hold them accountable for their sin. When He looks on them, He sees the righteousness of His Son. You and I can have the perfect record of Jesus, simply through believing in Him. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.”( Rom. 8:1) Why? Because HE was perfect.

Jesus is the perfect sacrifice for our sins. THIS is the good news of the gospel!

Discovering the True Jesus (pt. 6)- God’s Radical Pursuit of Mankind

I was able to preach this Sunday at Living Hope Church, so instead of writing a post this week, I decided to post a video of a sermon clip from this week’s sermon. This clip is about how Jesus came to earth as a result of God’s radical pursuit of mankind that has been going on ever since we broke relationship with Him in the Garden of Eden. I hope you enjoy.

Discovering The True Jesus (pt. 5)- The Dirty God

As I was driving to school in my truck this morning, I was thinking about what intrigues me the most about Jesus. What necessarily draws me to Him, what makes His character so different from any other religious leader or teacher? I came to one conclusion, and instead of diving into another biblical story this post, I simply want to share with you why Jesus is so attractive to me:

Jesus gets His hands dirty.

Does that sound odd to you? Jesus was NEVER afraid to get His hands dirty. He not only left heaven to come to earth, but He was born in a dirty feeding trough. He not only taught, He also healed. Not only did He preach, but He raised people from the dead. Not only did He teach His disciples, but He cast out demons in front of them. Not only did He eat with sinners, but He fasted and prayed for 40 days. Not only did He live a perfect life, but He gave Himself to be brutally beaten, humiliated, and nailed to a cross. Jesus got dirty.

One of my favorite examples of this is the story of Jesus healing a man with leprosy in Mark 1:40-42. Now to gain an understanding of what Jesus does here, we need a little background information. Leprosy is a disease that causes flesh to rot and flake off, eventually leading to one’s death. Eyes rot, limbs deteriorate, and bones usually begin to show. In the religious laws of Jesus’ time, one would become “unclean” just by being near a leper- and have to go “wash” to be spiritually cleansed- from just being in the leper’s presence! Also, people with leprosy were cast out of society, left to die and rot on their own. Families disowned them, and whenever they were seen, shouts of “unclean!” would often resound. Here is a photo of an Indian man with a case of leprosy:

ICII-brings-joy-to-the-poorest-people-of-new-LifeThis is the type of person that comes up and talks to Jesus, the teacher who is growing in popularity and who has enormous demands to teach, preach, and heal. What does Jesus do? He gets dirty. Mark 1:40-42 reads,

And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” 42 And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.

The thing that amazes me about this story is what Jesus does to the man. Do you notice it? We covered earlier that even to be in the presence of a leper would make one “unclean.” To touch one would be downright abominable. But Jesus, “moved with pity,” reaches out and touches the man. Notice Jesus touches him before He cleanses Him. This man most likely did not have physical contact with a human for years, and the first person that touches him is….Jesus. Can you imagine how this must have made the man feel? Jesus does not only heal him, but he touches him. He goes a great length to show the man love and compassion, almost as to say, “You’re not too dirty for me,” and He does that for you and me, too. No one is too dirty for Him to cleanse. But to clean us, He had to get really dirty.

The Bible describes our hearts as leprous- dying, rotting, and unclean. Yet Jesus gave himself over to a bloody death on a cross and took on God’s wrath that was meant for us, so that we might be cleansed forever, and have our leprous hearts made new. If we ask Him to heal our hearts, His response is a warm, “I will, be clean,” and He will reach and touch us, too, as He makes us a part of His family.

This is one of the many reasons why Jesus is so attractive and amazing to me. What other faith or belief system in the world has a God who comes to save His creation through serving them and getting dirty? There are none. Jesus stands out from all of the rest. He alone is the only one who can save.

And I hope you will place your trust in Him, because He is the ONLY one who can make you new. Will you trust Him?

Jesus got dirty…for You.

Discovering The True Jesus (pt.4)- Jesus’ Saves a Party

When you hear “Jesus,” what do you think of? Do you think of an old person in a suit barking out what you should and shouldn’t do? Do you think that’s how Jesus really was? Do you think He was a kill-joy?

In order to debunk false perceptions of Jesus, lets take a look at His first miracle, where He saved a party by providing the wine!

If you have not read this portion of the Bible, please read John 2:1-12 now so that we you know what I’m talking about as I analyze this passage! This miracle of Jesus packs a deep meaning that radically sets the stage for the rest of his life, ministry, and purpose.

First, its important to know the setting for where He performed his first miracle. We see that he performs it at a wedding feast (John 2:1), one of the most treasured celebrations in 1st century Jerusalem. He is attending with his mother and a few of his disciples, and it is brought to his attention that there is no more wine to be served. To us, this doesn’t seem like a big issue, but the point of all Jesus’ miracles is to demonstrate spiritual truth, and what a amazing truth he reveals through this miracle!

Key Point: Jesus uses the ceremonial cleansing jars to create the wine. (John 2:6)

We need to note what Jesus used to turn the water into wine. He used ceremonial cleaning jars, which probably already had a decent amount of old water sitting in them. The Jews would use these water jars to purify themselves: to wash themselves, and make themselves “clean” before God. By using these jars, Jesus is giving us a sneak peek of what is to come. Jesus is showing us that the cleansing of His blood (as we know, in the Bible, the blood of Christ is represented by wine -Matt 26:28) is far greater than any ritual washings – and the transformation of this very water into wine symbolizes the transformation of Judaism.
The fact that Jesus changed the ceremonial washing water into wine proves that he will do away with the rituals of Judaism, and that we will be made clean before God through his blood. Jesus filled the containers to the brim (John 2:7) to show that no space is left for ritual washings after his sacrifice.

Jesus instructs the servants to take a pitcher of this water to the master, and so they did. We don’t actually know when the water turns to wine, but when the master of the feasts takes a sip, he says, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now” (John 2:10). Is this recorded just to show us that Jesus should start a new career as a wine-maker? Certainly not. The Spirit is showing us something here:

The statement made by the master of the feast implies this: That typically, the best wine is served first, so that the people “get their fill” (get drunk) and can’t tell when a cheaper wine is introduced. In the same way, The Jews had been “drinking wine” (aka. performing their ritual washings) for so long that they weren’t able to recognize when something better came along (Jesus)!

Jesus conveys this truth again in the same chapter when he drives out the temple. He exclaims, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). Jesus was talking about his own body, and it was through the “destroying of it” and his rising from the dead that was able to accomplish this new system, where his blood covers our sin, not our ritual washings or other works.

Jesus came to make everything new, and he clearly demonstrated that by turning old water used for bathing into brand new wine. He also came to make the heart new. Jesus isn’t a kill-joy, He was the LIFE of the party! And He showed at that party….that He came to give us new LIFE!

Discovering The True Jesus (pt.3)- The Birth of a Savior

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”   Luke 2:11-12

The virgin birth. In America, most of us hear this story every year during the Christmas season, so much so that I believe we have become calloused to the extraordinary way that Jesus entered into our world. The Bible teaches that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in a virgin named Mary. The angel Gabriel tells Mary, “behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.”

Often times, we think of Jesus starting His whole life as an infant, but the Bible also teaches that He existed with the Father for all of eternity past. In the book of John, the author describes Jesus as the “Word,” stating that He was with God the Father in the beginning, and that God created all things through Him (John 1:1-3). God says before He creates man, “Let us make man in our image” (Gen 1:26). So, lets think briefly about the transition from Jesus’ life in heaven to His “birth” on earth….what do you think it was like?

Hard to think about, isn’t it? Thankfully, in Philippians, the author lays out for us what Jesus did when He chose to come to earth:”Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil 2:5-7). Jesus completely humbled himself in leaving his heavenly throne to come live as one of us….to ultimately die for us and save us. He was born in the likeness of men, so that He could be the perfect sacrifice for men.

Speaking of Jesus’ humbling himself, look at where He was born! In our first text in Luke, we saw that it was said that Jesus would be found lying in a manger. A manger is a feeding trough used to feed farm animals. It was in the center of the holding houses and likely the dirtiest part of the barn. When animals eat…they often relieve themselves in the same spot. This is likely what the scene actually looked like:

manger

Jesus, the Son of God, came into the earth and spent His first few minutes on earth in one of the dirtiest environments. Why? Humility. Jesus humbled Himself, remember? Is this the way for an earthly King to enter the world? Certainly not. But we will learn of Jesus throughout our study, that He does nothing like an earthly king would do. “My kingdom is not of this world” Jesus says in John 18:36. But I also believe that this was God’s way of showing that Jesus was the real deal. Jesus was humble and a servant from the get-go. He was willing to do whatever it takes to complete His purpose, and in this case-that meant being born in a dirty manger.

The last piece of this story that I want to unfold is: why was it necessary for Jesus to be born of a virgin?

All throughout the Bible, God required a perfect sacrifice to be made before Him to pay for sin committed. In the Old Testament, God’s law required His people to sacrifice “unblemished” lambs, bulls, and goats. If the sacrifice wasn’t perfect before God, it was unacceptable. In the same way, for Jesus to be the perfect and final sacrifice, He must be perfect and unblemished before God. Ever since Adam sinned in the garden, every human being has been born into sin, and the Bible depicts sin nature passing down from generation to generation through the father (Romans 5:12,17,19). It was critical Jesus not to be “born in sin” so that He could fulfill His role as the perfect sacrifice. This is why the Holy Spirit conceived Jesus in Mary’s womb, so that Jesus could circumvented the transmission of the sin nature and become a perfect man.

This little story has more depth than you thought, didn’t it? Its read every year at Christmas, but certainly worth celebrating the entire year. It marks the beginning of Jesus’ life on earth, and is absolutely crucial to the fulfillment of the rest of His mission. Jesus wasn’t only born in a dirty manger, but He would die on a bloody cross.

Tune in next week for part 4 of this series.

Discovering The True Jesus (pt. 2)

12_jesusintheot_main

In Part 1 of this series, we took a look at the historical perception of Jesus among theologians, scholars, and historians alike. We did this in order gain a holistic view of the basic knowledge that most people have about Jesus. We learned that He was a man who lived 2,000 years ago, who claimed to be divine and changed the world through His followers after His death. But who was He, really? What did He teach? What did He do?

We said that in order to answer these questions, we must take a look at the eyewitness accounts of those who knew Him best- His closest friends. Thankfully these documents have been faithfully recorded, handed down, and translated through many generations, producing an English text that is 99.9% accurate when compared to the original documents.

But, we will dive into those accounts in the next post. For now, I want to take a look at what was written about Jesus before the New Testament…what was written about Him even before He was born!

These writings about Jesus before His birth are called “prophecies,” and they are recorded in the Old Testament. In biblical times, if a “prophet” was truly sent of God, then what He said would come true. Many of these prophets (most writing about 600-1200 years before Jesus birth) spoke about a coming Messiah (a savior) that would save their nation, Israel. In fact there are over 353 of them!

Here are 13 of them: (Remember, all of these were written hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth!)

  1. The Messiah would be born of a virgin woman in Bethlehem
  2. The Messiah would come from the line of Abraham
  3. The Messiah would have His hands and feet pierced
  4. The Messiah would be crucified with criminals
  5. The Messiah would be forsaken by God
  6. The Messiah would be betrayed and falsely accused
  7. The Messiah would be mocked a ridiculed
  8. The Messiah would pray for His enemies
  9. The Messiah would resurrect from the dead
  10. The Messiah would ascend into Heaven
  11. The Messiah’s throne would be anointed and eternal
  12. The Messiah would be called King
  13. The Messiah would sit at the right hand of God
  14. The Messiah would be declared the Son of God
  15. The Messiah would be a sacrifice for sin

All of the above were written about in the Old Testament, and then fulfilled by Jesus life (and then recorded in the New Testament). This is one of the biggest proofs that Jesus was who He said He was…He fulfilled all 353 of these prophecies. The “chance” of Him doing this could be equated to covering all of Texas in 3 feet deep in silver quarters, with only ONE red quarter, and then going to somewhere in Texas blindfolded and trying to select the red one with only one attempt. It simply cannot be by chance! Jesus was the foretold Messiah!

All of these prophecies pointed to Him as the Messiah, as someone that would save Israel by being a sacrifice for their sins. In order to be “right” with God, Israel had to continually sacrifice lambs, goats, bulls, doves, food, and other things to cleanse themselves of their sins and receive forgiveness from God. But now, Jesus would become the true and final sacrifice, available to all who would accept Him.

Now we are a little farther in our understanding of the true Jesus- the Messiah foretold by the Old Testament prophets. In the next post, we will examine His entrance into the world, the starting point to His life here on earth.

**For all of the scripture references to the prophecies, their place in the OT, and their fulfillment in the NT, please email me at jrfletch@uga.edu

Discovering The True Jesus (pt.1)

For one of my Marketing classes this fall, I am required to write ten different blogs about anything that I am passionate about to practice gaining a presence on the web and to better “market” myself to employers/network associates/etc. So…I had to choose what to write on that would have a consistent theme throughout the semester. After much thought, I decided to write about….Jesus. Instead of marketing myself, why not market Him? Most of what I do in my life is based off of who He is and what He did- so why not share that with my peers and fellow students?

In order to do this, I plan on analyzing ten major events, stories from, or teachings about Jesus from the Bible, so that I can paint an overall picture of who the true Jesus is, and what He came to accomplish on earth. I hope that you will join me regularly on this journey, and comment and interact with me as I seek to unveil the truth about the most influential human being that ever walked the earth!

So, for my first post, I will simply introduce Jesus from a historical perspective, and how He is viewed by the world. Most credible historians agree that a man named Jesus did live 2000 years ago, and quickly gained a following that changed the course of the future forever. Josephus and Tacitus are some of the main secular historians who wrote about Jesus as they recorded events in Jerusalem and Rome near Jesus’ lifetime. However, there are countless hundreds of individuals who wrote about Jesus’ life, relaying information that they heard from eyewitnesses, within 100-200 years after His death. Any argument that Jesus never existed is not very credible, and goes against the grain of many leading (even secular) scholars. So then, if Jesus existed, what do people believe that He actually did? Who was He?

People of Jewish descent believe that Jesus was a man who claimed to be a messiah (a savior for the nation of Israel) but that He was a false messiah. Muslims believe that Jesus was just another prophet in a line of prophets before Muhammad. Secular historians believe that Jesus was just another religious individual who gained popularity after His death and started a new world religion. Christians believe that He is the Savior of the world, the Son of God who ransoms mankind. But most would refer to Jesus simply as a “good teacher” or a man with many helpful and wise teachings.

However, if Jesus is only a “good teacher,” what must we do with the fact that He claimed to be God’s Son? That He said He was the Messiah? That He said He would raise from the dead? Would “good teachers” say these things about themselves? I think not! Jesus, then, must either be a liar, a lunatic, or who He said He was. He cannot be just a good teacher, or even a prophet (because good teachers or prophets would not make false, incorrect claims about their identities and still be considered “good”). He is either intentionally lying (trying to deceive others), or He is crazy (He thinks He’s God’s Son!) or He is who He said He was (He was telling the truth!). These are the only three options for who Jesus can actually be.

So….who is He? What evidence is their to back up some of the world’s major views of Him? Is He who He claimed to be? Or was He disiluusioned? To learn about anyone’s life, we must go to the people that knew them best: their family members, their friends, their colleagues. Thankfully, Jesus’ closest friends wrote about His life in four distinct books called the Gospels. We will take a look at one story in the next blog and try to come a little farther in answering the question, “Who is the REAL Jesus?”