If you have been a believer in God and His Son Jesus Christ for any reasonable length of time, you have been encouraged to read The Bible.
My history of Bible reading has been circuitous at best; maybe a better word is haphazard.
That is not unique.
Many Christians have a strange relationship with God’s Word. We claim it as “our Book” and in many homes there is a Bible, but it winds up being a token, an ornament, a revered object that is never touched.
I have always enjoyed reading and as a young person I felt that The Bible was a “foundation” book, something you build your life around but I never really made much effort to read it, much less study it. That foundation stuff was all talk.
I had the usual excuses: “It is too long,” “It does not have much relevance for today’s world,” “I just can’t understand it”…
Then something happened.
I had a turning point in my life and I found that I needed answers. My old ways were not working anymore. I knew I needed something new, a better way. For the first time in my life, I knew I needed to make choices that were more God centered, more spouse-centered, more family-centered, more church-centered. I knew I needed to find a way to be a better man.
I found that my initial answers were in the Gospels.
I remember it like it was yesterday but it was twenty-three years ago. I had just returned from an Emmaus Walk.* I had a deep spiritual experience on that walk. I learned a lot, and when I came home, I had an overwhelming desire to learn more. I tore into the Gospels.
I went from someone with minimal exposure and minimal interest in The Bible to someone who literally hungered for The Word. I read The Book like it was a very engaging novel, turning page after page, feeling like it was written for me, speaking to me. As I read, I remember saying to myself: “Why has it taken so long for me to read God’s book!”
Reading The Bible like that was a unique event and I don’t know that I will even have that experience again, but I have continued reading God’s Word over the years and each time I have encounter The it I have learned more.
John Stott’s book Basic Christianity was a book I read to supplement my hunger for Christ and his book touched my heart as well. As a born-again believer, of course I knew about Jesus but did I really know Him? Some would say the Bible is all you need, but I needed additional information to fill in some of my blanks. In Chapter Three of Basic , Stott introduces the character of Christ to the new believer. He thinks that in order to know Him you need to look at what He thought about Himself, what His friends thought of Him, what His enemies thought about Him and finally what we can see as we look in the Gospels. Stott writes “we do not need to rely only on the testimony of others; we can make our own estimate” [42-43]. In fact he states that the writings of the evangelists are so good that “the picture of Jesus…is a comprehensive one.”
If we read these writers, what kind of man do we see?
For the most part, the writings cover the three years of Jesus’ adult ministry; there are only small glimpses of his boyhood years. Luke describes the child Jesus as “developing naturally in body, mind and spirt, growing in favor with God and man.”
The adult Jesus must be described as a fully developed “God-Man.” John Stott’s words about Jesus as revealed in the Gospels are like poetry and my summary will not “do them justice”, but Stott says of Jesus that this special Man is indeed “beyond our reach.” He believed His own teachings but He was not a fanatic. His doctrine was not popular but He was not an eccentric. Make no mistake, He was a man: He got tired, He slept, He ate and drank like other men. He felt love and anger, sorrow and joy. He was fully human, yet He is not “mere Man.”
He was confronted with numerous trials and tribulations. Some worshipped Him like a hero and wanted to make Him King. Some feared Him and wanted to take Him by force and shut Him up. He upset the power structure of His society; the Pharisees and Sadducees were constantly trying to trick Him into committing blasphemy. Despite the temptations to be self-centered and self-serving, He never was “pompous.” “There was no touch of self-importance about Jesus. He was humble.”
He preached self-sacrifice and He lived it. He knew He was Lord of all, yet He showed the world how to be a servant. He knew He was going to judge the world, but He stooped to wash the feet of His disciples.
He had almost no possessions, none of the comforts of His time. He had no home. Although He could have spent His time with the wealthy and powerful, He spent his time with fishermen and tax collectors. He touched the outcasts of His society like lepers and harlots. He gave more than He received; healing, helping, teaching and preaching. He preached love for others and showed that love meant putting yourself last. Why was this His message? He knew that He represented God; He was God in the flesh. As a role model He epitomized selflessness and love because God is love.
Again Jesus knew He was Lord of all, yet He allowed Himself to be despised and rejected by His own people. He was misunderstood and misrepresented and became a victim of man’s tendency to be prejudiced. He played into the vested interests of the power structures of the day. He did not have to suffer the death that He did but that was His Father’s plan and He knew it. He had to give Himself up for man so our sins could be forgiven through His sacrifice. “He gave His back to be flogged, His face to be spat upon, His head to be crowned with thorns, His hands and feet to be nailed to a common Roman gallows. And as the cruel spikes were driven home, He kept praying for His tormentors, ‘Father forgive them; for they know not what they do’” [Stott, 44].
He could have retaliated against His detractors and taken total control of His destiny. He was God in human flesh. He had complete mastery which allowed Him not to grow resentful or irritated. He had self-control beyond a mere human mortal. He was on a mission to fulfill the will of God. He did not seek His own will or His own glory. He was not living on this earth for His own pleasure.
When I turned to the Gospels for answers to my questions about life, I was hoping to get solutions to my problems, inspiration for my life and guidance for how to behave. What I got was a glimpse into the life of a special Man, a God-Man, the Son of the Living God, Jesus Christ. As Stott writes, the Gospels give us an ample opportunity to form our own judgement about Jesus, indeed “we can make our own estimate.”
Over the years as I have continued to read and study the Bible I have marveled at the Man–Jesus Christ. Where I have failed, He succeeded without blemish.
Truly “such a man is altogether beyond our reach.”
* The Walk to Emmaus (also known as the Emmaus Walk) is a three-day retreat where pilgrims are given a basic course in Christianity. It includes singing, learning, praying, and small-group discussion focused on fifteen themes shared by Emmaus leaders.