The message is right there in plain sight for all to see. God laid it all out there in the life of His Son Jesus Christ. The Gospel of John states it rightly: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” The living Word, God in flesh, was about to be revealed as the true nature and character of the creator of the universe.
It was a grand theater of sorts with seats filled to capacity and all heaven watching intently as God unveiled Himself to a naive and unsuspecting world. How would this God be seen, how would he be understood, what legacy would He leave behind in the minds of millions upon millions who would go on to later hear and know His name?
Would Jesus portray God as a tyrant, an angry punisher of man’s sin? Or would He reveal to us a God who was only loving, kind and compassionate? Or might we possibly be seen as a combination of both?
However He portrayed God during His thirty three years on Earth, we have to accept the fact that He would absolutely demonstrate the full truth of who God was, not a shadow, not a reflection, but God Himself! Jesus did not show up on the scenes of humanity to offer an opinion of God, a religious concept or a belief about God. What he did can’t even come close to or be compared to what Confucius, Mohammad, Buddha or any other religion teacher represented.
They all proclaimed a thought, idea and philosophy; Jesus was God Himself on the Earth! John the Baptist looked upon Jesus that eventful day when he was to baptize the Savior and said, “Behold, the lamb who takes away the sins of the world.” He saw something others did not see, he saw God’s perfect provision for humanity, a ready lamb upon whom the sins of the world were to be laid.
If you want to get a good look at God, take long look at Jesus. Jesus unashamedly proclaimed “I am the way, the truth and the life”. He did not say “This is the way, follow me.” or point to the truth and command us to walk in it, and he certainly did not point up to the heavens elsewhere and say “There is life.” What He did say was that He was the personification, the living testimony, of the way, the truth and life - God Himself!
We do know that there was a definite reaction everywhere he went. The crowds loved and followed Him, the religious hated Him. Those who withstood Him were not the crowds but those who had strongly held beliefs steeped in religion.
The religious leaders were not interested in real truth that would set the people of their day free. They were only interested in upholding the religious institutions that allowed them to continue their control and manipulation of the people. The Religious leaders of that day did not have the interest of the people at heart. The law that they preached only served as a means to an end. It was to and about these who would pollute God’s true image (who God really was) on the Earth that Jesus spoke most harshly.
We all view and understand our world through the lenses of our own lives. Our world view is constrained and jaded by the things to which we have become accustomed. It isn’t until we are challenged in our beliefs that we grow uncomfortable and wary. This is what was happening when the religious leaders heard and saw the truth in the life of Jesus.
Jesus held the Law of Moses up and used it as a mirror to convict and show how man’s futile efforts could never measure up. He showed us the ineffectiveness of living a life independent of God and based on our own ability. This stood in complete opposition to everything the Pharisees and Sadducees believed.
New information always challenges the old established mindsets with which we have become comfortable.
Jesus told His disciples that as they came into the truth it had the power to set them free. Their immediate reaction was, “Hey, what are you talking about? We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone!” Like the disciples, the knee jerk reaction to strongly held beliefs can stop us from experiencing the freedom that comes from truth. This was certainly true with the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ day and it is certainly true with us in our day.
It is important to realize the full context of what Jesus meant when he said, “I am the way, the truth and the life;” because in that passage He also went on to tell his listeners that “No one comes to the Father except through me.” He was not just telling them that he was a doorway to God; He was saying to them that if you want to see, hear, comprehend and understand God you will need to see, hear comprehend and understand Jesus!
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me...” “When you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” John 14:6-9
It is interesting to note how easy it is for us in today’s society to recognize God but not to recognize Jesus. It is acceptable to thank God for achievements in sports or when receiving an award, but it is not politically correct to thank Jesus in a public forum. This is because mentioning only God is considered a “safe zone” that will not offend people. People really don’t want an up close and personal God because they wrongly believe that they will be condemned by Him.
An Up Close and Personal God
The children of Israel didn’t want an up close and personal God either. In the book of Exodus you will read the story of what happened when they found themselves at the foot of Mt. Sinai when the Ten Commandments were given. It says that all the people were there at the mountain witnessing thundering and lightning and smoke, and the sound of a trumpet sounded long, becoming loud and louder! It must have been a wondrous sight to behold from the bottom of that mountain.
Moses told the people not to fear. But nevertheless, they told Moses that they would rather Moses talk to God directly and then speak to them and tell them what God said. God must have seemed frightening to them, and instead of seeking to know God’s ways and true character they chose to instead know or judge God only through His deeds. (Ps. 103:7) Moses in this passage did not even have a hint of fear; he knew God was for them and not against them.
“So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was.”
Is it possible that the reason people keep God at a distance and choose not to “draw near” to Jesus is because we have not “understood” the ways of God just as the Children of Israel did not understand Him at Mt. Sinai? Have you ever noticed how easy it is to misjudge someone if you really don’t know the heart of that person? Truly knowing and understanding God and His ways will only be accomplished in the act of knowing Jesus Christ on an intimate level.
Let me ask you a question. What do you believe about the character of God? Seriously, if your understanding of God is not based solely upon New Covenant truths and realities, you will experience conflict in your relationship with God. There will be no peace in that relationship because you will wrongly feel that God is angry with you.
Grant it, it was easy for the Children of Israel to jump to some wrong conclusions about God. After all, the separation they felt and experienced was real, and as a result they could only interpret God’s intentions toward them from afar off.
Their viewpoint of God was a distorted one because humanity had long before declared themselves independent of their creator.
Before Jesus, Israel related to God through the Mosaic Covenant, which was based upon the keeping of the Law. The law served only one purpose, it brought condemnation and guilt. The Law represented a list of 613 laws that were impossible to live out. It served to remind Israel and now us, that a life lived based on strict adherence to obedience was impossible.
You see, this was the basis of Eve’s temptation in the Garden… to become independent, to be like God. The tree of life represented all that God had to offer, the tree of knowledge of good and evil represented a life separate from Gods provision. The law served to expose man’s heart to the utter nonsense that he could ever live effectively on his own without his creator. The law condemned men because they continually missed the mark (sin).
The Pharisees preached rules and regulation and presented God as harsh and judgmental. They never understood the true heart and character of God and wrongly thought that man could be perfected through the keeping of the law. They falsely thought that God was an enemy to man. It is interesting to note that whenever the New Testament writers spoke of the wrath of God, the hostility is represented not as on the part of God, but of man. It was man who sinned in the Garden and chose to be separated from God and it was man who chose to suffer the consequences of his actions.
Jesus demonstrated a different message than the religious leaders of His time; he spoke and demonstrated ultimate love to the world. He loved all equally without judgment or preference. He looked upon what we would consider unlovable and repulsive and had compassion. His message was clear and simple; For God so loved the world! It was God in Jesus reconciling the world back to Himself. The Bible tells us that He stepped into human history and balanced the books on our behalf. He took the sin and results of that sin (all pain and suffering) which belonged to us and placed them upon Himself. The very death sentence that you and I had upon us was removed and in its place God gave us His own righteousness and now calls us Holy!
This was God’s gift to the world, He demonstrated that love to us in that while we were yet sinners He died for us in the person of Christ! He took away all shame, all guilt and all condemnation. This is the good news message that Jesus brought to all who would hear Him. Not a message of guilt and condemnation, but a message that says that peace has been made for you on your behalf.
For God did not send the Son into the world in order to judge (to reject, to condemn, to pass sentence on) the world, but that the world might find salvation and be made safe and sound through Him.
John 3:17 (Amp)
Alright, so here is the question; two thousand years have come and gone and the question remains the same. It is the same question that Jesus asked His disciples, do you remember it? He asked them, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?”
The questions remain the same: What message have you heard, what do you believe about Jesus and how has your belief affected your understanding of God’s character?
Who Do You Say That Jesus Is?
Many years ago, while ministering in the Philippines, I heard the story of one young missionary who, after traveling from church to church preaching with his interpreter, became discouraged because he wasn’t having any results. It seemed that the people just weren’t getting the message. He would have altar calls for those who wanted to receive Christ as Savior and no one would respond. He would preach on God’s willingness to heal the sick, and pray, but no one came forward for prayer. It seemed that no one was hearing anything he had to say.
As time went on, a seasoned missionary who had served in the mission field for many years came and sat in on the service. Because of his years of service on the field he had come to know the local dialect and understood every word that was being spoken by the interpreter. After the service, he took the young minister aside and spoke to him privately. “Did you know that everything you preach was contradicted by your interpreter?” As it turned out, the interpreter was not in agreement with anything that was being preached. Instead, he took it upon himself to distort everything he had heard preached. When the young missionary told the people that was God was loving and merciful and that is why he sent his son Jesus he instead told people that God was an angry and would punish them for their evil ways. When the interpreter was to tell the people that it was God’s will to heal, set free and deliver them. He instead would tell them calamity, sickness and poverty was God’s way of testing them.
No wonder this missionary did not get any results, the people hearing him preach were not hearing the truth but instead were hearing a distortion of the truth. As a result, their perception of God was completely based on a distortion.
Recently, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington DC, the Muslim community held what they called a day of Islamic unity. As several hundred Muslims gathered, others who claimed to be Christians gathered too. Instead of a speaking peace and showing acts of kindness they gathered for the purpose of protesting.
A man stood across the street with bull horn in hand blasting word of hate. "Muslims are going to hell" and "Muhammad was a pedophile”. Other "Christians" wore t-shirts with slogans that were just as damaging, while other people preached "fire and brimstone" on the street corners. Even on the website where the event was to be made available, the chat section was filled with “Christians” attacking the Muslim community with words of hate. E-mails were sent out and passed on by the thousands prior to the event, alarming Christians out of fear that the Muslims were taking over. This is really incredible when you stop to think about it, I know that this is not the thinking of the majority of Christians. The truth of the matter is that communicating a distorted Gospel like this will have an effect upon many believers, to say nothing of those who are not yet Christians.
You might be asking, “Isn’t it important to pray about the changes and threats we see in our culture?” The answer is, of course we should, but our overt response and the way we treat those around us should come from our perception of who God is. Obviously someone has lied and misinterpreted the good news Gospel to these dear Christians who were interpreting God through a wrong belief system of fear and judgment. They have believed a lie that is based upon the Old Covenant and are acting out of that understanding. The sad truth is that not only did they believe a lie but they were themselves misinterpreting and corrupting the message of God’s goodness to the world.
Jesus Acted Out of His Identity
Jesus was the personification of God Himself, which means that when you saw and heard Jesus you also saw and heard the heart of his father. Jesus was the full expression of God in the Earth.
John the Apostle wrote in John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
The message is that the war is over. The conflict and wall of separation that stood between God and man has been completely annihilated. In the literal sense, the words we sing each Christmas, “Peace on Earth,” take on a deeper meaning. It goes beyond the conflicts of wars between nations, people or families that we experience. It is a declaration from God Himself that there are no requirements placed on man in order for him to be at peace with God. Really, the only requirement is to simply believe and in faith receive God’s free gift.
“And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.”
It was this grace and truth that a man named Saul fought against so vehemently. Saul, later to be renamed Paul the Apostle, was considered a devout religious man. But, when he was challenged with this new message of God’s grace and peace he became a zealot and fought against the message. The good news is that, while traveling to the next city where he planned to persecute and hopefully stop these Christians who claimed Jesus as the Messiah, Saul had a direct encounter with the Christ Himself.
Up until this moment, all he knew and understood about God was that God was a list of dos and don’ts. He knew God as the children of Israel did in the wilderness but did not understand His ways, and as a result Saul thought that to be considered righteous he had to work and earn it. When you think about it, it is easy to understand why Saul became so angry. After all the years of preparation and striving to keep the law perfectly, these “Christians,” like their teacher Jesus, simply walk in and think that they can partake of the goodness of God effortlessly. I mean, wouldn’t it make you upset if you worked all your life for something and then had someone else who didn’t deserve it get what you had strived, studied and worked so hard for?
This sounds much like the parable Jesus told the Pharisees and scribes about the prodigal son and the elder brother. In the parable, the elder brother became very angry because his brother was extended grace, mercy and favor that he felt belonged only to him.
The message of the early church was one that was based upon a loving personal experience with the Lord Jesus Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit. Sadly, it didn’t take long before this vibrant life-giving relationship was turned back into control and legalism. Paul knew the damage that comes from religious zealotry because of having once been a religious zealot himself. He himself claimed that he at one time had been a “Pharisee of Pharisees.”
Paul knew firsthand and understood this more than anyone; he knew just how destructive the message of “works righteousness” was. Time and time again Paul spoke out against the legalists’ efforts to distort the truth of who Jesus was. The legalist believes that righteousness can be earned and must be maintained by our continual works. Paul taught that it was by faith that we receive the free gift of righteousness.
Paul claimed that he had a special responsibility of extending the message of grace. He believed, as we should, that it was to be the center point of everything he taught.
Throughout the next few chapters you will be confronted with common lies that people wrongly believe about God, His Son and His message. We will make a close examination of scripture from truths that are based upon the New Covenant realities of the finished work of Jesus, Grace, Peace, Faith Righteousness, and Unconditional love.