Lecture series: “Who was Jesus, and what does that mean for me?”

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Jesus is a historical (despite the protests of some) and spiritual figure who has divided people for centuries since his brief period of public ministry. It seems safe to say that no one has ever impacted the world in such a short time. No one could, except for one who came as the son of God.

We sometimes take for granted that Jesus is the anchor of our faith, the source of our salvation, the reason that we have hope in this life. Growing up in what I would consider conservative churches of Christ, I think we’ve had a tendency to take this side of our faith for granted. We talk a lot about obedience, about following God, about morality, and those are things we ought to talk about. But sometimes we have a tendency to lose site of why it is that we assemble every Lord’s Day in the first place. It’s vital that as followers of Christ, we keep our eyes focused on the one we’re following!

I had the opportunity to visit the Vegas Drive church of Christ in April and deliver a weekend series of lessons on the topic of Jesus, and I thoroughly enjoyed being with my friends and spiritual family again. I had preached there on a part-time basis for about five years before moving on, and it was a blessing to be back. But the greater blessing was spending time talking about various aspects of our Lord.

I’ve included links below to the audio and also the presentations I used, and I hope you find the contents useful and encouraging – and maybe informative!

Lesson 1:

Was there really a Jesus?

Without opening a Bible, we have strong reason to believe that there was a literal living man named Jesus who went around the region of Judea teaching about the coming kingdom of God. The record of his existence, teachings and life as passed down through the early church, coupled with historical finds from that time period and the undeniable explosion of Christianity after his death are compelling reasons to ask the question: how did this insignificant man in this remote part of the world manage to change human history forever?

View slides: Was there really a Jesus?

Lesson 2:

The ultimate stumbling block: The empty tomb

There is no way to have an honest discussion about who Jesus really was without dealing with the question of the empty tomb. Despite a wide range of speculation and various theories put forth, there has been no explanation given for how a man could predict his own death, successfully stage that death at the hands of a disinterested government, and then make people believe he had risen from the dead. There is even less reason to believe that his disciples later contrived the resurrection account, submitting themselves to torture and death for a cause they knew to be untrue, and somehow managed to convince thousands of people who were all present during the time when the events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection took place.

View slides: The empty tomb

Lesson 3

Was Jesus the son of God?

This question goes hand-in-hand with the question of the resurrection. Without a resurrection, the claims of Jesus as God would be empty. Without Jesus being God, his resurrection would have been impossible. Skeptics who deny one must also deny the other. But the growing list of writers who argue Jesus never made the claim to be God’s son are based on a dishonest and selective view of the scriptures. We find overwhelming evidence in all four gospels as well as the epistles and the early church writers that not only did his followers worship him as God, but that Jesus accepted and approved that conclusion.

View slides: Was Jesus the son of God?

Lesson 4

Understanding the thief on the cross

Once we arrive at the conclusion that Jesus was in fact the son of God, sent to live among men, die on a cross, and rise from the dead as the chosen Messiah, we have to start asking what all this means to us? We see Jesus sending out his apostles to all the world to “preach the gospel to every creature.” It is a message of hope and joy, calling men and women of every nation to repent of sin and worldliness, and turn their lives over to the Lord. The story of the thief on the cross in Luke 23 gives a remarkable vision of the grace of God and the saving faith that is required of us today. This is a story that’s often misused, but the central message is that if we believe Jesus’ message despite all the obstacles placed in our way, that Jesus will save us – but it’s his grace, his prerogative, and he decides the conditions of our salvation. Not us!

View slides: Understanding the thief on the cross

Lesson 5

Am I a Christian or a disciple of Christ?

The term “Christian” has become so common and so easily used in our culture, that in many instances it seems to have lost its meaning. Anyone can claim to be a Christian, and we often set the requirements as low as “someone whose family went to a church at some point.” More and more, our culture distances itself from what Jesus truly commanded: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” Can we truly call ourselves Christians if we’re not disciples of Christ? What does it really mean to be a disciple? The Bible tells us it means much more than simply acknowledging that Jesus was a real person, or that we agree with his teachings, or even that his claims about himself are true. It means giving our lives to him, conforming ourselves to his image every day.

View slides: Am I a Christian or a disciple?

Lesson 6

The church that Jesus built

The religious world increasingly claims that you can talk about Jesus without talking about the church. But scripture clearly shows us that the church is the body of Christ – the two are inseparable! But what is the church? How does the Bible define it, and is it even still in existence today? If it is, then should I join it – or it is even something I can join at all?

View slides: The church that Jesus built

Knowing Jesus Lesson 13: Jesus got discouraged

Knowing Jesus: Jesus got discouraged

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In the sixth chapter of John, the apostles describes what I think was a turning point in the work of Jesus on this earth. He was possibly at his height of popularity, working in around the Sea of Galilee, having just demonstrated his power in amazing fashion, feeding 5,000 men with only five loaves and two fish. Including women and children, that must have made the crowd well in excess of 10,000 people.

The crowds were so enamored with Jesus, his teaching and his power that they were ready to crown him king — whether he wanted it or not. Jesus further impresses his disciples by walking through stormy waters out to their boat.

And then, the difficulty of teaching spiritual things to materially minded people came crashing down.

So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'” — John 6:24-31

When “miraculous” isn’t good enough

Can you imagine doing a sign of that magnitude, only to be told “that’s not enough?” The people believed in Jesus enough to follow him around, listen to his speeches and eat the food that he had provided. But when it came to truly embracing him as the Messiah, it must have seemed like nothing was ever good enough.

After a heated exchange with some of the people, even some of his disciples began to question Jesus. “This is a hard saying,” they said. “Who can listen to it?”

That statement didn’t come from the Jews who had followed him from town to town after being fed. That was his disciples — people who had chosen to follow Jesus and actively work in his ministry. Jesus observed that some of them still didn’t believe, after all they’d seen. And they turned and left.

One can only imagine the tone in Jesus face as he turned to his disciples, and asked, “Do you want to go away as well?”

For all his faults, Peter had just the right response: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

I can only imagine how much Jesus needed to hear that.

Jesus dealt with daily discouragement

The reality of Jesus’ mission must have weighed on him heavily. he is described in Isaiah prophetically as “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” Jesus was the messenger trying to get 12 men to focus on spiritual matters and a deeper understanding of the kingdom of Heaven, only to constantly be dragged back into arguments about “who will be the greatest,” or “why didn’t we bring any bread with us?”

How disheartening must it have been to face your most difficult trial, praying in anguish in the middle of the night for the strength to do what needs to be done. Then to return and find your closest friends sleeping.

Maybe they were simply exhausted. Maybe after all the times you had warned them about your upcoming betrayal and death, they still didn’t really share the same urgency.

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” — Mat 26:36-41

When you’re trying to warn a close friend about a danger in their life, and they just don’t see it no matter how clearly and kindly you communicate, at some point, isn’t it tempting to simply stop trying? Or when you’re talking to a friend about something that’s causing you real pain and sorrow, and the friend just shrugs and says “it’ll all work out,” how does that affect us? How many times must Jesus have been tempted to throw his hands up in the air and say “that’s enough?”

And yet he didn’t.

Why didn’t Jesus give in and give up?

Jesus made a remarkable statement to Peter before his betrayal:

Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” — Luke 22:31-32

Jesus knew that Peter was going to fail, despite all his protests. But that didn’t matter; what mattered was how Peter would respond to that failure, and Jesus believed it would ultimately make him stronger and drive him to be a great servant of God.

How did Jesus overcome discouragement? Ultimately, he had faith in the men he chose. He knew the disciples weren’t perfect, but he also saw what they could be, and he never game up a real hope for them to realize that potential. Jesus overcame discouragement through faith in his disciples.

If Jesus could overcome, so can we!

As we read the gospel accounts, we continually see Jesus’ example of patience in the face of continued disappointments, and we see the determination he had to continue to love and encourage those around him, even when it didn’t seem like it was working. And we have confidence that he shows that same patience with you and me, even when we don’t always get it right in our own lives (Hebrews 10:22-23).

His ultimate patience in the face of his audience’s inability to understand or accept his teachings, his willingness to continue correcting his disciples who continued displaying spiritual immaturity right up until the night he was arrested – those are the ways in which we see how Jesus is patient with us every day when we stumble.

Does that motivate us to keep trying? It should!

So how do we overcome discouragement in our own lives and service to God? We do it by placing faith in one who is faithful – the one who anticipated us long before we ever came into this life, by saying “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

He is the Faithful Witness (Revelation 1:5). And he believed enough in us to die for us. Let’s not let discouragement keep us from the work he has given us to accomplish.

Knowing Jesus: Jesus was compassionate

Knowing Jesus: Jesus was compassionate

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Jesus’ mission on this earth was of a spiritual nature. He came to establish a kingdom that would bring Jew and Gentile together in one body — his own. He lived his life with a singular focus matched by few, if any.

As we’ve already discussed, he came to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). It’s certainly true that the prophets pointed to him as one who would heal the sick, give sight to the blind, cure the lame and bring hope to an oppressed people. However, passages like Isaiah 35 indicate that those miracles weren’t an end to themselves, but rather a sign of the true purpose of Jesus: to build a highway, a “way of Holiness” (v. 8), by which sinful people could return to God.

Jesus had three years to mold a group of imperfect men into apostles, correct a flawed understanding of God’s law, and prepare himself as a sacrificial offering for the sins of all the world. His focus on teaching the lost sometimes seemed to border on obsession (John 4:34, Mark 3:21).

And yet, faced with a mission that transcended any temporary, physical need that might present itself, Jesus still found time to help people.

Going about doing good

When Peter met the Roman centurion Cornelius, this is how he summed up Jesus’ life:

You yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. — Act 10:37-38

The significance of this, to me, is that no one was in a better place than Jesus to understand how seemingly insignificant a single act of kindness could be. What is even a lifetime of suffering when compared with an eternal glorified body in the presence of God?

He had himself taught that it was better to enter life maimed or blind than to be healthy and suffer eternal condemnation (Matthew 5:29-30). How many people did Jesus heal, knowing full well that they had missed the true significance of his appearance in their lives (Luke 17:11-18)?

Is doing good ever futile?

People would continue to die, and yet Jesus raised people from the dead. People would continue to get sick, and yet Jesus healed them. Do you think Jesus ever looked out at the vast array of pain and suffering that he saw every day and asked “Why should I bother helping this person, when a hundred more will still be suffering?”

If Jesus was truly tempted in all points as we are (Hebrews 4:15), it’s impossible to believe he didn’t.

Who can walk down a busy street in New York City or some other major metropolitan area, hear the request of a beggar, and not think “if I help this person, what about the person after him? Or after him? I can’t help all of them!”

Jesus was the only man who ever lived who had a hope of ending disease, hunger and pain. And he didn’t do it. And yet, Jesus never let the “big picture” or thoughts of futility keep him from doing good.

Jesus’ life was driven by compassion

How many of Jesus’ recorded miracles appear to be situations where Jesus was engaged in other business, and yet he saw someone in need and had compassion?

Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. — Luke 7:11-15

Jesus, knowing people’s hearts, understood more than anyone else how important a small act of kindness could be — even if it didn’t do anything more than lighten someone’s load for a few moments.

He calls his disciples to view life the same way. It’s worth noting that in his parable of the judgment scene, he describes those who will enter into life this way:

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ — Matthew 25:34-40

If we truly want to follow Jesus, we need to be people of compassion — even when it doesn’t seem like it will make a difference. Jesus didn’t help those in need because he thought it would fix the world’s problems or end suffering for more than a few moments. He did it because he was compassionate toward people who needed help.

May God help us to be that kind of people, too.

Knowing Jesus: Jesus was religious

Knowing Jesus: Jesus was religious

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There is a trend among progressive Christianity to decry religion as a general concept, and religious people specifically. In most cases, I’m not convinced that the aim is to promote the abandonment of organized faiths or to condone hedonistic and worldly lifestyles. But on the other hand, disavowing religion (and whatever the hearer might associate with it) makes it a lot easier to talk to people without being seen as “one of those horrible religious nuts.”

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Were you insulted on social media today? Deal with it

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You may feel that your side has been unfairly singled out. Everyone’s blaming you and “people like you” for all this trouble. You see both sides of the aisle acting like spoiled children, and you don’t understand why all the self-appointed parents seem to be pointing their finger at you, and not at the brother or sister that clearly started this whole mess.

You and I need to get over it.

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