A friend of mine wore a T-shirt one day with a big Buddha on the back.
“Why Buddha?” I asked.
“I love Buddha. Don’t you like Buddha?”
“Hmmm. I love Jesus.”
“I love Jesus–and Buddha,” he replied jovially.
There is an inclination today to place people in one of two buckets: religious or not. After that the specific flavor of religion seems unimportant, a matter of cultural exposure, family tradition or personal preference.
Yet, as I’ve spent time in the Bible, especially as I’ve focused on Jesus’ own words, I’ve been surprised by how explicitly and deliberately He sets Himself apart from other “great teachers.”
The Choice is Yours
A thoughtful reading of the red-letter Bible (versions in which red is used to denote the words Jesus spoke) points to only two possible conclusions:
- Jesus was an insane heretic, deluded by an epic god complex
- He is who He says He is: God in human form.
…No room for Mr. Nice Guy. Jesus consistently says that everything He did was through God’s power, to glorify His Name, and He calls God His Father. If His source turns out to be untrue, then it calls into question the trustworthiness of all that He said and did. Just imagine how we would react to someone other than Jesus who made a claim like the following:
“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father living in me who is doing His work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.” (John 14: 9-11)
A Life-Changing Decision
This is a life-changing, but deeply personal decision. Some folks, like Philip, make it immediately upon encountering Jesus. Philip was so affected by Jesus that he went directly to Nathanael, a scholar and Jewish leader, and boldly declared:
“We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” (John 1:48-49)
Nathanael, on the other hand, didn’t believe Jesus until he experienced His omniscience in a profoundly personal way. Jesus spoke cryptically of seeing Nathanael under the fig tree before Philip even came to him. While it’s not a meaningful observation to the reader, it clearly moves Nathanael at his core. We don’t hear from him again until the final chapter of John. He’s there with the apostles when the resurrected Jesus appears on the shore, filling their nets for a symbolic final meal together. Nathanael’s decision to act on the truth lead him deeper into relationship, allowing him to experience an even greater revelation of Jesus’ divine nature and purpose.
We also see people in the Bible who make a different decision. Judas Iscariot is the most infamous example. A member of Jesus’ inner circle throughout His three-year earthly ministry, Judas witnessed His miracles, heard His teachings, enjoyed the physical nearness of His presence, yet ultimately rejected Jesus as the Christ.
Another interesting example is Pilate, whose words belie his inner struggle:
“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
“What is truth?” retorted Pilate. (John 18: 37-38)
Unfortunately for Pilate he doesn’t stick around for the answer. Later, when the Jewish leaders inform Pilate of Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God, he becomes fearful and approaches Jesus once more, asking where He came from, but this time Jesus gives him no answer. (John 19: 9)
When we fail to act on the truth we’ve been given, we move away from relationship and receive less truth.
Throughout the New Testament we see Jesus call people–from His closest companions to those He has just met–to decide for themselves:
- To the man blind from birth: “Do you believe in the Son of Man…You have now seen Him; in fact, He is the one speaking with you.” (John 9:35-41)
- To the Samaritan woman at the well: She said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am He.” (John 4: 25-26)
- To His closest friends: “But what about you?” [Jesus] asked. “Who do you say I am?”Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” (Mark 8: 29)
- To those in Doubt: Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you really know Me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him.” (John 14: 5-6)
Jesus also invites you and me to “come and see.” He calls us to make that same radical, life-changing decision about who He is. Our very lives depend on our response, not because what He taught is “better than” what other great teachers had to offer, but because what He did is greater than what any other human being could do, since we all are sinful by nature. He took our place–condemned to die–so that we might live.
The truth of Jesus is as simple as that…and as divinely complex and mysteriously beautiful:
If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
Whether you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior as a youth or are just now getting to know Him, it is good–and important–to know what Jesus says about who He is:
“I, the one speaking to you—I am He,’ the promised Messiah, the Christ.” (John 4:26)
“I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins.” (John 8: 23-24)
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8: 12)
“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in Me will never die.” (John 11:25-26)
“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to Me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in Me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in Me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be My disciples.” (John 15: 5-8)
The Promised One, The Son of God
[The Son of Man] is the one speaking with you. (John 9: 35-37)
Do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, “You are blaspheming,” because I said, “I am the Son of God? If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me and I in Him.” (John 10:36-38)
“My Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (John 6: 40)
“Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; He can do only what he sees His Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (John 5:19)
On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them. (John 14: 15-21)
These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. (John 14:24)
Still Not Sure? Take Heart.
If you’re not sure what you think of Jesus, that’s okay; just commit to take action to do something about it. Find a church (or a new one if need be). Join a Bible study. Start a Bible study with some friends who are further along in their walks. And pray for God to open your heart and mind, and draw you near to Him.
He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)