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How To Know The Real Jesus

[PART ONE]

During the nineteenth century, liberal theologians began a search to rediscover the historical Jesus. They were intent on determining the true personality of a Jesus who existed two thousands years earlier. Leading this pursuit was Dr. Albert Schweitzer, the Nobel Peace Prize-wining philosopher, theologian and medical missionary. The fruit of his work was disclosed in his highly acclaimed book, The Quest of the Historical Jesus, which was released in 1906—the same year the Azusa Street revival lit the world on fire.

After exhaustive research, Schweitzer concluded that Jesus was a mysterious, power-hungry ruler who arrogantly considered Himself the Son of Man. Titles like Messiah, Son of Man and Son of God were merely “historical parables.” In other words, Jesus’ claims of divinity were not based in reality. Schweitzer concluded, “We can find no designation that expresses what He is for us.” 1

In Schweitzer’s opinion, Jesus was a mysterious man who had nothing in common with contemporary society, but could be known in some way through individual experience. For Schweitzer that meant running a hospital in Africa. Although he helped a great deal of people and was truly sincere—this misguided pioneer was sincerely wrong.

Schweitzer sought the Jesus of two thousand years ago rather than the Jesus of today. The tools of his research were human intellect, the scientific method and subjective experience rather than Scripture, prayer and meditation.

How important is it to rediscover the Jesus of the Bible? I venture to say it means everything. However, revelation—which doesn’t come from human intellect or the scientific method—is at the core of who Jesus is. Revelation is the process God uses to show the beauty and power of Jesus in your life through the Word of God.

Nearly thirty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Paul wrote, “I want to know Christ and power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings” (Phil. 3:10). When you know the Jesus of the Bible, you daily fall more and more in love with Him.

Jesus doesn’t want you following Him out of cold, rigid, legalistic obedience as if He were an impersonal taskmaster or an exacting judge. He desires to relate to you not as some distant, mysterious Supreme Being, but in the warm context of a Bridegroom with His bride. He wants you “running the race” right beside Him, on His team. And He wants you to obey Him because you love Him and delight in pleasing Him!

Yes, He is a monarch and righteous ruler, but He is foremost a loving Lord who laid down His life for you and continues to pray for you every day before the Father (Heb. 7:25).

Jesus wants you captivated, fascinated and exhilarated by a true revelation of Him instead of old, stale religion (which rarely attracts anyone).

The only definition in the Bible for eternal life is found in the high-priestly prayer of our Lord Jesus prior to His crucifixion. He prayed, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

The concept behind “knowing” in Scripture is not academic acceptance of facts but rather intimate, experiential relationship. Albert Schweitzer sought to know the historical Jesus through human experience. Pioneers, on the other hand, seek to know the biblical Jesus in the human experience.

The classic Westminster Catechism put it this way: “The chief end of man is to know God and enjoy Him forever.” You know and enjoy God through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

In the closing hours of her life, Eileen Wallis (wife of one of England’s premier pioneers and prophets, Arthur Wallis) gave me this counsel: “Enjoy Jesus, Larry. Take time to simply enjoy being with Him.” The reason for studying God (theology) is not primarily for information, but rather for revelation (knowing Him for who He really is) and transformation (becoming more like Him). We must keep the main thing the main thing—knowing God accurately and enjoy Him personally.

You Can Only Know Jesus Through the Bible

Both Albert Schweitzer and I experienced misguided attempts at knowing Jesus. I sought to know Jesus in the present solely through a past revelation of Him. Schweitzer simply sought to know the historical Jesus of the past. Either way, our searches were for the person of Jesus. But only through a biblical revelation of the person of Jesus in the present can you truly know Him.

To know Jesus, you must first begin with the Bible. Jesus said, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you posses eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39). On the road to Emmaus after Jesus rose from the dead, it is recorded: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).

The Bible was written to introduce you to a Person—Jesus. And by wholeheartedly believing in Him, you can share eternity with Him. In the closing words of his Gospel, John wrote, “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

C.S. Lewis said it best: “We come to Scripture not to learn a subject but to steep ourselves in a Person.”

For many Christians believing in Jesus the Son of God is much easier than believing in Jesus the Son of Man—a real, live person. Without forfeiting any of His divinity, Jesus came to earth and clothed Himself with human skin. Philippians 2 describes Jesus as “being made in human likeness” and having the “appearance as a man” (vv. 7-8).

But after His resurrection, Jesus didn’t stop being a man. The apostle Paul wrote, “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5 emphasis added). The man Christ Jesus was your mediator two thousand years ago when He died for your sins, and He is your mediator right now.

Jesus did not temporarily become a man (the incarnation) for a season and then return to heaven, dissolve His humanity and “go back to being only God.” The eternal, uncreated, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent second Person of the Trinity became a man and will remain a man forever!

Relating to a personal God who is a literal person is so much easier than relating to some “beatific vision” or “ethereal presence” or, pardon the expression, to simply “let the Force be with you.” Unfortunately, a great deal of religious training not only distorts the personality of Jesus but also ignores His humanity in attempting to emphasize His divinity. We need both!

The tendency among Christians is to overemphasize Jesus’ divinity. Among non-Christians, the tendency is to overemphasize Jesus’ humanity (for obvious reasons). But by building a friendship with the man Christ Jesus, you build a relationship with Jesus, the Son of God.

During the 1870s two unbelievers sat on a railroad train discussing the life of Christ. Both were skeptical attorneys, one a writer, one a famous agnostic. “I think an interesting romance could be written about Him,” the writer commented.

His friend replied, “And you are just the man to write it. Tear down the prevailing sentiment about His divinity and paint Him as a man.”

The writer, formal Civil War general Lewis Wallace, accepted his friend’s challenge. Yet the challenge didn’t come from an unknown agnostic attorney. It came from a noted opponent of Christianity, Robert Ingersoll, who scurrilous attacks on biblical belief commanded up to $3,500 for one lecture (a hefty sum in those days).

In the process of constructing the history of Christ, Wallace found himself facing the greatest life ever lived on earth. The more he studied the Bible, the more he was convinced. He fell in love with the compassionate Savior. His heart was captured until, one day, he felt compelled to cry, “Truly this was the Son of God.”

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He finished the book, too. It eventually became the all-time classic Ben Hur.

Meet the Real Jesus

The apostle Paul knew the real Jesus, and his ardent desire was to share his passion for Jesus with others. He wrote:

“I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3: 17-19).

God wants you to know the love of Christ, which surpasses knowledge. He wants you to drink deeply of His love and discover the beauty, the reality of His only begotten Son who is “beautiful beyond description.” The real Jesus is full of life and joy, and He loves you extravagantly. In fact, Scripture says He not only saves you, but He also sings over you!

“On that day they will say to Jerusalem, ‘Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing’” (Zephaniah 3:16-17).

God is more than an impersonal Being who is angry at you, or who merely tolerates you or views you primarily as a struggling sinner. The Bible says that God loves you and delights in you so much that in spite of your shortcoming and sins He bursts forth in heartfelt song! If you are a Christian, the wrath of God is no longer upon you …He not mad at you anymore…He’s on your side!

Believe it or not, God enjoys you. He not only loves you, but He likes you too, and He wants to spend time with you, sharing His secrets with you on your pilgrimage. He wants you to follow Him out of sheer delight, captivated by the compelling personality and character of His one and only Son.

1 Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, eds. Joel G. Green, Scot McKnight, I. Howard Marshall (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998, 1992), s.v. Historical Jesus, Quest of.

[Reprinted with permission from Reckless Abandon, available from Charisma House.]

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