What About Jesus? 5 Questions from Our Youth Group

Did Jesus really exist? I’m not sure.

Did Jesus really come back to life? Or is it like a metaphor?

Is Jesus the only way to God?

What does it mean to have Jesus in your heart?

What does a relationship with Jesus look like and feel like in my everyday life?

These great classic questions from the youth in our church go back to the heart of what we believe.

Off the top of my head, the only other question that ranks with these is, Did Jesus ever claim to be God?

Spoiler alert.

He did. If you want to look more into that question, I suggest studying the seven “I am” statements of Jesus in John’s Gospel.

Let’s consider questions 1 and 2 and 4 and 5 together. It’s easiest to address them together as the answers to those questions bleed into each other.

Did Jesus really exist? I’m not sure. Did Jesus really come back to life? Or is it like a metaphor?

Before we address this, what level of evidence are you willing to accept? There are various levels of evidence in court: forensic—fingerprints, DNA, and the like. There’s eye-witness testimony, and then there’s circumstantial evidence. Each class has a different weight attached to it, forensic being the most and circumstantial being the least.

So what level of proof is enough for you to accept any answer I might give?

I’m going out on a limb to say there is no forensic evidence that will prove the existence of Jesus one way or the other. That leaves us with eye-witness testimony and circumstantial evidence.

We have a written record of Jesus’ existence and eye-witness reports. In about 100 AD, the apostle John wrote:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete” (1 John 1:1-4)

What John refers to as “the Word of life” is Jesus. It’s one of the ways that John refers to Jesus in his Gospel. John is saying that we saw him, heard him, and touched him. I always get thrilled when I read these words from 1 John. These are a direct translation of words written by the man that was probably Jesus’ closest friend. That’s one step away from Jesus himself—two if you count the translator. Wow!

The Gospels and the book of Acts are full of references to encounters with Jesus both before and after the resurrection. Jesus didn’t only appear privately to the disciples. In 1 Corinthians, Paul talks about Jesus appearing to over 500 people in Jerusalem after the resurrection.

But John and Paul might be considered to be biased witnesses. Anything in the Bible might be considered to fall into that category. What did Jesus’ enemies have to say about him?

As far as we know, the first author outside the church to mention Jesus is the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. He wrote a history of Judaism around AD 93, which has two references to Jesus. One of these is controversial because it is thought to be corrupted by Christian scribes (probably turning Josephus’s negative account into a more positive one). Still, the other is not suspicious—a reference to James, the brother of “Jesus, the so-called Christ.”

About 20 years after Josephus, the Roman politicians Pliny and Tacitus, who held some of the highest offices of state at the beginning of the second century AD, also spoke about Jesus. From Tacitus, we learn that Jesus was executed while Pontius Pilate was the Roman prefect in charge of Judaea.

There was never any debate about whether Jesus of Nazareth was a historical figure in the ancient world. The accounts mentioned were as far removed from Jesus’ date of death as we are from the deaths of JFK or C.S. Lewis, both of whom died on 22 November 1963.

In the earliest literature of the Jewish Rabbis, Jesus was denounced as the illegitimate child of Mary and a sorcerer. Among pagans, the satirist Lucian and philosopher Celsus dismissed Jesus as a scoundrel, but we know of no one in the ancient world who questioned whether Jesus lived.

So there are written accounts about him from within and outside the church. But it’s a little shaky.

For me, the most persuasive evidence that Jesus existed is circumstantial evidence. And not just that he existed, but that he was who he claimed to be, and the resurrection is real. Do you remember Peter’s unpleasant encounter with the Sanhedrin—the Jewish religious court (Acts 22:30—23:35)?

Gamaliel, one of the respected elders of the time, gave the Sanhedrin the very wise advice to “leave these men alone.” He referred the court to several other uprisings that had recently occurred in their history. He said, “If this isn’t real, let it go. It will die down on its own accord if you stop pouring oil on the fire, but if it IS from God, watch out.”

As a result, the Jewish leaders decide not to kill Peter and the other Apostles. Instead, they are flogged publicly and told not to speak anymore in the name of Jesus.

What do the Apostles do as a result? What would you do if you knew it was all a lie? That Jesus had never existed or had not risen from the dead—do you see how this all feeds into the second question? What would you do in the Apostles’ place if you knew that Jesus hadn’t risen from the dead? Would you have continued to speak in his name at the risk of another beating? I know I wouldn’t.

But what do the Apostles do?

The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah (Acts 5:41-42).

The book of Acts describes how the Apostles spent their lives, and early church writings confirm that they lived lives that would not have made sense if they knew they were living a lie. You just don’t do those things if you weren’t 110% convinced of the truth of Jesus’ life and resurrection.

At the end of 2 Corinthians, St. Paul colourfully lists the things that he endured for the Gospel:

I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).

In 1972, the Watergate scandal shook the American establishment to the core resulting in the resignation of President Nixon. One of the aides involved in the illegal activities was Charles Colson. Colson was convicted of his crimes and sentenced to 7 months in prison. He says this about the resurrection of Jesus:

I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world—and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible. (To hear or read more, click the link: 12 Men Can’t Keep A Lie for Long)

There is one more question we need to look at, and here’s where the forensic evidence does come in. For Jesus to have come back to life, one crucial thing needs to have occurred—he needs to have died. Historically, people haven’t challenged the post-crucifixion existence of Jesus because of the overwhelming evidence, so instead, they go to the cross for a natural explanation of an event that is anything but natural. “Jesus didn’t really die,” they say, “he just fainted and came round again in the cool tomb.”

Let’s read John’s account of the crucifixion in John 19:31-35:

Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe.

2,000 years ago, John would not have had any idea how important this account is. First-century medical knowledge wasn’t that advanced. What scientists now know is that one of the things that happen at death is that the blood clots, and the red blood cells, and clear blood serum separate. When the soldier stabbed Jesus with the spear, blood and water came out. The only clinical explanation for this is that Jesus was dead on the cross.

Based on this evidence, I am convinced that Jesus historically existed, died on the cross, and rose to life again. Have I left you with any questions?

Is Jesus the only way to God?

Before we can answer this question, let’s back up a bit.

The first question we need to look at, once we’ve made the assumption that God exists, is, what are the qualifications for us gaining access to him? Are there any?

The Bible clarifies that God has standards, starting in Genesis, chapter 2, and going through to Revelations. People wonder what the purpose of the Old Testament is given the Gospel story. Why go to all the length of explaining a system which becomes redundant at the cross? The answer is, that it is context. If we don’t understand what sin is and what its consequences are, we can’t appreciate what Jesus has done for us. If we don’t understand what sin is, we can’t understand the need for a Saviour.

So what is God’s standard? Is it enough just to be a good person? What’s God actually looking for in us?

You may say, “I follow most of the ten commandments. Isn’t that enough?”

Do you, though? Really?

-No using the name of God, your God, in curses or silly banter.

-Observe the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to God, your God. Don’t do any work.

-Honor your father and mother.

-No murder.

-No adultery.

-No stealing.

-No lies about your neighbor.

-No lusting after your neighbor’s house—or wife or servant.

It’s not as easy as it sounds.

If we can’t make the Ten Commandments, what about the two? Surely that’s going to be a bit easier? You’ve heard of Jesus’ summary of the Ten, haven’t you?

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Mark 12:30-31)

Paul has it right. There is no one righteous, not even one (Romans 3:10).

So if we fall short of God’s standards, how can we find our way back to him? By being extra good? Doing something great?

Well, that’s what he expects from us in the first place. It’s as though righteousness is a pile of money. We have € 1,000 worth, and we spend some—we let God down in some way. But God is the only source of new money, so how can we get our balance back up to € 1,000 to be able to afford the ticket?

There are two sorts of God-followers in the Bible, those who think they’re good enough for God and those who know they’re not.

Generally, the first set lives by a strict set of laws and looks down on those who don’t. Which sort of person do you want to be? Which group do you want to belong to? Those who maintain that they’re good enough, or those who are ready to accept that they’re not?

What about the other religions? How do they solve this dilemma? All other ways involve being good enough or making some sort of sacrifice—giving up something valuable to us to get us back in God’s good graces. In Christianity, God gives up something valuable to him, his own Son, to get us back into his good grace.

It’s not that God has set us up to fail. It’s that holiness and love have to be absolute; otherwise, they will crumble and become corrupted by power with time. If God is holy, the only way that we can come into his presence is if we, too, are holy. Otherwise, we will simply be burned up and consumed in his presence. The way to God is to be holy. The only problem is that I’m profoundly not holy. So God, in his infinite love, made it possible to lend us some of Jesus’ holiness, but that could only work if Jesus died.

So the bottom line is, that there are two ways to God, to be perfectly good and not need forgiveness or to be anything less than perfectly good and need salvation. It sounds horrendous until we realise that God has made provision for us in Jesus. All we have to do is ask, and God extends that invitation to everyone, no questions asked.

Sean McDowell, in his article, 3 Ways the Resurrection Can Transform Your Life, writes:

Guilt is a universal human experience. Naturalists try to explain it away as a vestige of Darwinian evolution. It is a trick, some claim, to get us to live in peaceful relationship for the sake of propagating the species. But the Christian has a different perspective: we feel guilty because we are guilty. Guilt is not illusory. We have wronged God, and we have wronged other human beings. The solution is not to deny the reality of guilt, or to rely upon human effort, but to embrace the forgiveness only Jesus offers.“

What does Jesus have to say about this now that we’ve established that he existed?

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Jesus the Way to the Father

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 14:1-7)

What does it mean to have Jesus in your heart? What does a relationship with Jesus look like and feel like in my everyday life?

Let’s start with what it means to have Jesus in your heart and proceed to what a daily relationship with Jesus feels like. A lot of this is going to be my subjective experience. Bearing in mind that I’m going to be talking about my personal walk with God, your mileage may differ, and some things might be more important to you.

Starting on the objective level, though, Bible scholars have worked out that there are about 200 things that happen to us when we become a Christian—we become part of God’s family, we’re forgiven, we’re sealed with the Holy Spirit, we develop an appetite for God and want to please him.

One of the things that I was afraid of as a 19-year-old first-year student when I was at university when I was considering whether or not I wanted to really become a Christian was that, if I did, I was going to become a boring do-gooder. It didn’t match the image I had of myself. Mind you, the image didn’t reflect the reality either. I was probably already a lot more boring than I thought!

But I knew some of the most pressing things that were important to me at the time, if I’m honest, mostly involving girls, were going to have to give way to other priorities. You see, I knew inherently that if I was going to become a Christian, I was no longer going to be able to live according to my priorities, but that I’d have to live according to God’s. What I hadn’t appreciated is how much more satisfying his priorities are.

And there’s this pervasive thought, isn’t there, that being a Christian and going to heaven are boring things? We lead our nice, proper lives, and then when it comes to it, we die, go to heaven, and then what? Playing our harps for eternity sitting on clouds? You may laugh, but that’s the popular cultural understanding of heaven, isn’t it?

How can that beat a good meal with friends, standing on top of Mont Blanc, capturing images of the Milky Way in the dead of night, driving at 100 mph on the Autobahn, or a great rock concert? (Yes, I have done all of these!)

I don’t know what heaven’s going to look like. What I am completely convinced of is that God didn’t send his Son to earth to give up his glory and die on a cross for us—to bore us for eternity! In John, chapter 10, Jesus told his disciples that he had come to bring them abundant life, full life. I’ve talked before about Jesus allowing us to be the best possible versions of ourselves. Whatever we think is great and thrilling here in this life will pale into insignificance compared to what is to come. I don’t know how and I don’t know what it will look like, but it’s going to be worth it.

But what does that look like in the here and now?

Your experience of Jesus will depend on the areas of your life where you most need him—acceptance, forgiveness, love, accountability, and freedom from something that’s holding you back.

I grew up feeling like a perpetual outsider. Our family moved around a lot when we were young, I changed primary school halfway through, and then I changed secondary school after my first year. I was just beginning to feel settled and that I’d found my peer group when that rug was pulled out from under my feet, and I had to start from scratch in a new school in a very rural area of southern England. I’m a nerdy, non-sporty introvert and never felt that I belonged. I was teased, made fun of, and ostracised by most of my school class. I was always one of the last to be chosen for sides in sports and rarely included in social events.

I became a Christian during my first year of university. My conversion story is fairly conventional. One moment I will share with you is as I gave my life to Jesus, I had a brief vision of me walking down some stairs into a crowded room with Jesus at the centre, engaged in conversation with the immediate group around me. As I walked down the steps into the room, Jesus noticed me and gave me a nod of acceptance. That was it. I wasn’t catapulted to the middle of the room to engage with him. The thing I fundamentally needed in my life at that point was to be accepted, and I found that in Jesus.

Your experience of Jesus will not be the same as mine. He will meet you in your own area of greatest need. And notice I say need and not want. God knows you better than you know yourself, and he knows what’s good for us and what isn’t.

Yes, we all need forgiveness. That’s our greatest need. We all need to be forgiven before we can be accepted. Before we’re accepted by God into his family, we need to be forgiven because we’ve done things that disqualify us from his kingdom. To get in, those things need to be addressed.

So what does a relationship with Jesus look like?

It’s living at peace with God despite everything within me and outside of me. It’s knowing that as important as this life is, this isn’t all there is, and the best is yet to come.

It’s reassurance that this isn’t the end. In earlier times, people were a lot more enthusiastic about heaven when life was terrible. We’ve lost that perspective a bit because life in the here and now with our abundance of material possessions is so good.

A relationship with Jesus is:

-coming to an understanding that I’m accepted by God for who I am.

-understanding that I don’t actually have to change fundamentally—at least, not my character. Not only does God accept us where we are, but he also has a plan for someone with our unique perspective on life, our character, our group of friends, and life experience. He doesn’t choose us by accident but with a purpose. Just as there’s a God-shaped hole in everyone’s heart, there’s a you-shaped ministry hole in the world that God knew in advance that only you could fill.

-is the removal of guilt. Or, more accurately, it’s understanding that we were wrong and being able to accept forgiveness. There’s a difference between pretending that I did nothing wrong and understanding that I was wrong, admitting it, and being forgiven. One’s a lie, the other is truth.

-understanding because we’re forgiven, living with Jesus in my heart is the freedom to apologise, to genuinely say I’m sorry and that I’ll try to get it right next time. God believes in giving us a second chance. Why do we find it so difficult to believe that of others?

-a willingness to forgive because I’ve been forgiven. Nobody has ever treated me worse than I’ve treated God. If God can forgive me, I can forgive them. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it is easier.

-an awareness that I’m God’s representative and not wanting to let him down. We’re his ambassadors. Like it or not, if we publicly claim to be Christians, we are living, breathing appetisers for God. If we’re mean-spirited, judgmental, impatient, hypocritical, or selfish, we’re demonstrating to our friends, classmates, and colleagues that is what God is like because that is the association people will make. As soon as we nail our colours to the mast, we become an example of what people think God is like. I have to watch myself, not to give a good impression, it’s not about facades, it’s not about pretending to be something we’re not, it’s about being and about representing. I want to be wholesome, honest, accepting, caring, and forgiving because that’s how I experience God, and I want those around me to perceive him through me.

-knowing that the buck doesn’t stop with me and I don’t have to carry all the responsibility on my shoulders. That God is only ever a prayer away in any circumstance.

-accepting that, ultimately, I have no power to do anything of lasting value, that the real power is God’s, but that he lets me do things that He inhabits. Actually, standing and preaching is the best example of that. I can be as eloquent and persuasive as I want, but unless God applies what I’m saying to your hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit, you’ll have forgotten my words by tea-time. But if I don’t speak, then that power will have nothing to inhabit. Does that make sense?

So what does it ultimately mean, having Jesus in my heart, living in a relationship with God in my everyday life? It means satisfaction with life, contentment with my circumstances, and the understanding that even though I’m a speck of sand in the desert on the grand scale of things, God deliberately pursued a relationship with me. Thanks be to God for his love, grace, and peace.

Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness (2 Peter 1-3).

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