Here are a few things to ponder as you go through this Lenten season. It’s a brief collection of studies of Bible scholars and teachers I’ve encountered through the years. For a more thorough study, I would like to direct you to Lee Strobel’s The Case For The Real Jesus and The Apologetics Study Bible.
1. Jesus’ existence was well documented. His friends were not the only ones who wrote about Him (the New Testament writers). Even His opponents wrote of Him. Jewish historians who rejected Him acknowledged that Jesus did exist. His family tree (genealogy) is even published in the gospels for reference. It’s quite hard to refute that 2,000 years ago, there was a man who lived in Israel named Jesus, who was given a criminal’s death despite his innocence. It is just up to us to decide who He would be in our lives.
2. The Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) were all written during the lifetime of their authors, making them reliable references about Jesus and the early church. The gospel of Mark by Peter was the earliest account of Jesus written before 69 AD. Other gospels that were not written early enough and had inconsistencies in them were excluded by the early Church fathers.
3. Dozens of ancient Jewish prophecies were fulfilled by the life and death of Jesus. These prophecies were recorded thousands of years before He was born. One such hair-raising prophecy is found in Psalm 22:14-18. John the Baptist, considered as one of the greatest prophets of Jesus’ time, pointed to Jesus as the promised Messiah.
4. The Bible was not written altogether at one time like what some skeptics think. The Old Testament is the book that Jesus grew up with while The New Testament are the books written by Jesus’ first followers. The whole Bible is composed of 66 books written by different authors across a wide expanse of time. It is based on ancient scrolls written and rewritten by Scribes and it’s also based on Jewish oral tradition, all with a very strict code of honesty and excellence. Multiple copies were made for each book. So even if some official manuscripts had holes in it, other copies can be referred to to check for missing words. If there are lost words in Scripture, they’re so minor that their absence don’t deduct anything from the saving message of the Bible. Modern scholarly Bibles today have footnotes telling the reader about missing texts and cross references to other ancient manuscripts and even to oral Jewish traditions.
5. Jesus was not the Messiah that the Jews were hoping for. They were hoping for a mighty and glamorous king like David or Solomon who would crush the Romans. Instead they had to deal with Jesus who was born under humble circumstances, rode a donkey instead of a war horse, was meek instead of combative and wore a crown of thorns instead of a crown of jewels. To this day, many Jews reject Jesus as Messiah and are still waiting for The One despite of the Jewish prophecies fulfilled by Jesus. And so, as Jesus’ parables pointed out, this great gift were given to the Gentiles instead (that’s us) .
6. Jesus knew His mission from the very beginning. He didn’t make up His story along the way. He lived deliberately for us. His mission was greater than what most were thinking during His time (the overthrow of the Roman Empire and the rebuilding of the Jewish temple). When His followers numbered thousands, He didn’t prepare them for a political revolution even if he easily could have. His influence was way off the charts. Think about it. Here’s a charismatic man that even kids loved, who could feed 5,000 if He wanted to, who could command nature, who could heal, who could shut the arrogant priests up and even had the respect of some Jewish leaders and Roman Soldiers. Jesus’ influence was quite powerful. But instead of using the crowds to create a rebellion, He sifted the thousands of His followers to a few. Instead of crying out for the public to arm themselves, He chose to be silent in front of the courts. Hanging on the cross, He asked for no rescue but for forgiveness for His tormentors. He knew His purpose: He was to die for us.
7. Jesus never said that He was only a human prophet like Isaiah and Jeremiah. He did refer to God the Father as a higher being and Himself a servant compared to the Father. But He didn’t downgrade Himself to being just a simple prophet. He did call Himself the Son of God and the Son of Man, hinting on His unique nature. And He did say that He and the Father are one and that no one else can come to the Father except through Him. Comparing Himself to God the Father, Jesus would always humble himself. But when He refers to salvation of souls, Jesus was also clear: it’s Him or nothing. Although He was in human form, Jesus also made it certain that He had a role that no ordinary human can fill in.
8. Jesus loved us intensely. It’s sad that some Christians still see things the way the Pharisees did. Some believers readily preach hell but reluctantly teach love. Although the Bible does speak of judgement and Jesus did too, He always had hope and love for all. Jesus was going to make a way. This ultimate solution was the good news. And He kept His promise. God knew it’s hard for us to be holy and no one can make it if only The Law and good works were to be the sole basis for salvation. So God made a solution, someone special had to fulfill The Law for everyone – once and for all. And Jesus chose to be that person. Yes, there is a place of eternal destruction. But no one has to go there. A way out has been provided.
9. Jesus makes the Christian movement so special. No other religion can say that they recieved instructions straight from God Himself. Others only recieved theirs from an angel, a human prophet or a messenger that no one else saw or interacted with. No other religion has a central figure who came, interacted with thousands, died, rose from the dead, got the job done and ascended back to heaven – all that well-documented by Scribes and sealed by the sufferings of marytrs. No other faith, too, offers a way to heaven apart from human efforts (good works, meditation, good behaviour, etc… ). Only Christianity has the story of a God who gave up His only Son to save them from an impossible situation.
10. To this day, Jesus changes lives. He changes them so powerfully that some have offered their lives for the faith. Jesus’ followers are unique because they offer their lives without recieving any lucrative incentives apart from Christ. While some religions acquire martyrs as they promote warfare, terrorism or suicide – Christians are the only ones who have had brothers and sister martyred just for telling the story of Jesus.
As you rethink Jesus this Holy Week, I hope these few thoughts help. He may not be here, currently, but He’s molding events as we speak. Even our own calendar speaks of Him (the year 2015 means it’s been approximately 2,015 years since Jesus’ death). There may have been people who did terrible, shameful things in His name, but Jesus’ story and name remain powerful. In the middle of cults and false Christs, it’s quite important to revisit the real Jesus in the Bible to keep in mind what Christianity is all about.
Let’s remember that many had given up their status, their future, their lives, faced torture, ridicule and death for Christ through the years and even this very minute. Why? So that the gospel would reach you and me, dear reader, even in this century. At the right time, He will return for His people. May we see each other in the New Heaven and New Earth when Jesus comes.
Grace be to you…