Thursday, September 29, 2011

Knowing Jesus

Detail from The Weimar Altarpiece by Lucas Cranach the Elder

“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him,’” (John 14: 6-7). 

What does it mean to know someone? According to the American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition, the word ‘know’ can be defined as follows:

To perceive directly with the senses or mind; to have a practical understanding of or though experience with; to be subjected to; experience.
To know a person and to “know of” a person are two completely separate things, though on the surface, they may seem similar. For example, no matter how much factual information one learned about George Washington, regardless of how intimate the details, one could hardly say that they “knew” George Washington. On the other hand, one may not know every aspect or secret detail of his best friend’s life, yet one would not hesitate to say, “I know so-and-so. He’s my best friend.” To know someone – not just merely “about” them – relational experience must take place between the two people. In other words, they must, as the definition says, experience and interact with each other.

How, then, can Jesus tell us in John 14: 6-7, that we could know him? I mean, while that would have been fine for the apostles and everyone else who were alive at the time of Jesus, how could it apply to us today? They could meet, see, touch, talk to, and experience him. How is this possible, though, for us living today? Are we not merely relegated to knowing, as Joe Friday would say, “Just the facts,” about Jesus? How can we have a personal relationship with a man who died over 2,000 years ago?

If Jesus of Nazareth were merely a man, his death on the cross on Good Friday would be the end of the story. Not only would it be pointless to try and “know” Jesus, it would be impossible. To us he would be nothing more than an historical figure, about which we could only memorize factual information. While Jesus did die on the cross on Good Friday, he did not stay in the grave, and it was far from the end of the story. Not only was Jesus 100% a human being, he was – and is – 100% God.

Because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden, sin entered God’s perfect creation and, as it says in Genesis chapter 3, “…their eyes were opened…” – our human nature was changed. Jesus Christ, in order to restore the relationship between God and man, voluntarily humbled himself by becoming a man. He endured temptation, just as all human beings must, but he lived a perfect life, kept all of God’s law, and died as the final perfect sacrifice for all the sins of mankind on Calvary’s cross. The author of the book of Hebrews says this:

Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death…For this reason He had to be made like His brothers in every way, in order that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that He might make atonement for the sins of the people (Hebrews 2: 14-15, 17).

Christ, our living Savior, calls out to us through the Holy Scriptures that we might know him and have eternal life. “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden,” He says, “and I will give your rest,” (Matthew 11:28). He speaks to us through the Gospels, and all of God’s holy Word. His Spirit comes to dwell in us through Baptism, and He comes to us, to strengthen and preserve us in the faith, in the Lord’s Supper. We can know Jesus – and through Jesus, God the Father – because He is alive, and we can experience and interact with Him.

Do you know Jesus Christ? He wants to have a relationship with you, because it was for you, me, and for all of mankind that he sacrificed himself. St. Paul tells us:

He [Jesus] died for all…God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s’ sins against them…God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5: 15, 19, 21).

Christ was our substitute. He took our place under god’s judgment against sin. By paying the penalty of our guilt, Christ made satisfaction for our sins. Isaiah the prophet foretold this:

Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53: 4-5).

Jesus rose from the dead. He showed himself alive to his disciples, and later, ascended bodily into heaven to prepare a place for us who trust in him. This is the Jesus who wants to interact with you, and give you the gift of redemption that he bought with his blood on the cross. Will you turn from Jesus of Nazareth – true God and true man – the Word made flesh (John 1:1-14).

Now is the day of salvation. Do not turn away from the gift he freely gives. If you do, there is nothing you can do to save yourself from sin and its consequence – eternal death.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2: 8-9).

Thanks be to God that we can know – through Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Scripture and the power of the Holy Spirit – Jesus Christ, the risen Savior of the world.