How Do You Know If Jesus Is Who He Said He Is? by John Burke

Today we continued a series called “How Do You Know?” John Burke shared insights in response to the question: “How do you know Jesus Is Who He Said He Is?” Here is some of what he shared:

“I’ve traveled around the world and visited with Buddhist Monks in Mongolia, Atheists in Russia, Muslims in Kahsakstan and the Middle East, Jews in Jerusalem, Animists in Haiti, Hindus from India and what I find most interesting is that we’re all pretty much the same. When you get people quiet and alone and honest, most people think there must be some greater purpose, some greater Being. Cambridge reports that about 90% of the 6 billion people on the planet believe in God or some Higher Power. We don’t all believe the same things about God, but doesn’t that seem to indicate something!?

Word on the street says all religions basically say the same thing. I have read large parts of the sacred texts of the World’s Great Religions, I’ve studied comparative religion, I think that’s partially right. And I find Christians often misunderstand this claim even though it is revealed in the Bible. The Bible tells us traces of God’s truth can be found everywhere. Even when Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, instinctively follow what the law says, they show that in their hearts they know right from wrong. They demonstrate that God’s law is written within them.”  Romans 2:14-15  In all of the major world religions, we see evidence of this similar moral law that God has written in our hearts.  In fact, here’s a summary of the moral law you find common in the world’s religious texts:  

  1. Don’t do harm to another human by what you do or say (the Golden Rule)
  2. Honor your father and mother
  3. Be kind toward brothers and sisters, children, and the elderly
  4. Do not have sex with someone other than your spouse
  5. Be honest in all your dealings (don’t steal)
  6. Do not lie
  7. Care for those weaker or less fortunate
  8. Dying to self is the path to life

–adapted from C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

All religions pretty much agree on these 8.  In just about every culture and major world religion since the beginning of recorded history, we have known what’s right and wrong—God’s written it on our hearts.

There’s been no shortage of self-improvement plans, paths, or pundits. So how have we done? Have we evolved morally—has it been working? As you look out across your lifetime, have we mostly eradicated harming one another? Have we stopped most wars, divorce, and division? Has the book Dare to Discipline gone out of print because children obey their parents consistently? Have people finally evolved into honest, integrity-filled people?

If we’re honest, we know this is not a true picture of humanity in general. It’s not even true of me personally. I have harmed others, even with my best intentions. That’s my honest confession. How about you?

So what do the world’s religions teach all of us? We have a real serious problem humanly speaking. We all know the right things to do, they’ve been in all cultures for all times, they’re in our hearts!  Even still, the history of humanity is that we fall short!  We can’t live up to what we know to be right. We all know what God wants us to do, we just don’t seem to have the power to do it, but we keep making excuses. As recovery people say, ‘You know you’ve hit rock bottom when bad things happen faster than you can lower your standards.’

So what’s the real problem?  The real problem is that we need God, but instead we try to play God. We need God’s forgiveness, but instead we’d rather pretend everyone else is at fault. We need God’s power in our daily lives to change us from the inside out, but we settle for the latest self-improvement plan or religious rituals.

If we’re open minded to it, God claims to have provided a solution to the problem. It’s just not quite as simple as Christians sometimes make it out to be.

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, God claimed to have created a people for the express purpose of recording His words, His history, and His plan to restore all willing people from all the nations on earth. If you didn’t hear that message, I’d encourage you to listen online because I demonstrated how God proved historically what He was doing through the Jewish Nation in order to bless all nations. God doesn’t play favorites. The message of the Bible is that He’s always had all nations in mind.

The central theme, written about by numerous prophets over 1000 year period, was the time when God himself would enter our history to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves. Our real need is not another religious treadmill or self-improvement plan. Our real need is to be reconnected to the very Source of Life, Love, and Goodness daily. The Prophets of Old told of a Messiah to come—one who would reveal God’s loving character and make reconnection possible.  The New Testament claims that Jesus was this long foretold Messiah.

When I was a skeptic, what used to drive me crazy is I’d ask Christians, How do you know Jesus was the Son of God? They’d say, “Cause He said he was and did miraculous things and raised from the dead.” I’d say, How do you know it’s true? “Cause the Bible says it.” Yeah, but how do you know the Bible’s true?” Cause it’s God’s Word!”  How do you know it’s God’s Word? “Cause the Bible says it.” I’d get dizzy going around like that.

If you’re a Christian who can’t explain how you can know then listen up because I discovered that you can know. Many very smart people who were agnostics or atheists found faith when they looked with an open mind at all the evidence (examples include: C.S. Lewis, Mortimer Adler, Francis Collins, Simon Greenleaf, Sir Norman Anderson, Sir Lionel Luckhoo, Lee Strobel, and so on).

What was it they found about Jesus that was so convincing? Two weeks ago, I showed you the very date of Jesus’ coming was foretold. Let me give you a few more strands of evidence that prophets foretold about this Messiah, how history validates it, and more importantly, what difference it makes for any of us.

The Old Testament prophets said that the Messiah would be rejected by people and killed by kings:  ‘Who has believed our message and to whom has the Arm of the LORD been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot…He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.”  Isaiah 53:1-3, 680 B.C.

Isaiah tells us that the problem of humanity will be revealed when God shows up. Our natural prideful tendency is to reject God – to live for ourselves primarily, rather than seeking the will of the One who created us.

David, 1000 years prior to Jesus, said that’s why we would reject and crucify Him.: ‘Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain?  The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One… The One enthroned in heaven laughs… “I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill… You are my Son; today I have become your Father.  Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.’”  Psalm 2:1-8, 1000 B.C.

Look at what’s going on here—how could this have been fulfilled by chance?  1000 years before Jesus comes, David and Isaiah inspired by God, write that the Messiah will be rejected by people, and that different nations, kings and rulers, will conspire together to against the Anointed One (Messiah—the Son of God).  Yet God laughs because their very conspiracy of evil was what God used to bring people from the ends of the earth back to God. (Remember, we know these prophecies were not doctored up after the fact, because we have copies of these books from the Dead Sea Scrolls pre-dating Jesus).

Now, here’s how this was fulfilled in History—amazingly, sworn enemies cooperated to have Jesus put to death just as foretold:  The religious rulers and the Roman Governor they hated, Pontius Pilate, along with Herod, a rival ruler, whom Pilate hated all cooperated.  Matthew, who walked with Jesus says Caiaphas, the Jewish Ruler said to Jesus, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64“Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” 65Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses?”  Matthew 26:64-65   Jesus was not killed for any wrongdoing, but for blasphemy—claiming equality with God.  The religious ruler’s pride and hunger for power kept them from seeing who Jesus was.

Non-Biblical history confirms this is what happened.  The Jewish Historian Josephus says:  “Now there arose about this time a source of further trouble in one Jesus, a wise man who performed surprising works, a teacher of men who gladly welcome strange things.  He led away many Jews, and also many of the Gentiles.  He was the so-called Christ.  When Pilate, acting on information supplied by the chief [rulers] among us, condemned him to the cross….”  Josephus, Antiquities A.D. 93

How do you explain that?  God did what he said he would do, and he was more specific about how this would solve our problem.

Nailed to a Cross for Our Wrongs: In an amazing statement Zechariah in 520 B.C. said “the Word of the Lord came to me saying”  “Then I will pour out a spirit of grace and prayer on the family of David and on all the people of Jerusalem. They will look on me whom they have pierced and mourn for him as for an only son.”  Zechariah 12:10, 520 B.C.  Isaiah foretells what Jesus death would accomplish: 5 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. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”  Isaiah 53:5-6, 680 B.C.

But it was not only foretold, but both biblical history and non-biblical history confirm it really happened.

Justin Martyr writing to the Emperor of Rome trying to convince him that Jesus deserves His faith, says, “[Jesus] performed miracles you may easily satisfy yourself from the “Acts” of Pontius Pilate… but the words, ‘They pierced my hands and feet,’ refer to the nails which were fixed in Jesus’ hands and feet on the cross; and after he was crucified, his executioners cast lots for his garments, and divided them among themselves.  That these things happened you may learn from the “Acts” which were recorded under Pontius Pilate.”  Justin Martyr, A.D. 150  This really happened, but what’s more important is “why” it happened.

Why did Jesus have to die? All of us have gone astray, turned our own way. Because the problem is not that humans need a little improvement, the problem is we are self-centered rebels who have to lay down our arms and surrender. We must die to self at the center, and learn to let God be the center. This is where selfless love starts—a Divine love that can heal our marriages, solidify our integrity, give us a confidence that doesn’t need people’s approval. It comes not with us trying harder, with us giving up playing God and humbly letting God lead us. Jesus made a way that anyone, anywhere can turn and trust God, and he will forgive and enter life to help us as we trust Him more and more.

Turning back to God and trusting is all God requires (Bible calls it repenting, turning 180 and trusting God’s way), but this is not easy. It’s not just praying a prayer or eating humble pie, it’s the beginning of a life-long process of unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will we’ve been teaching one another for 1000’s of years. It means killing part of yourself—undergoing a kind of death to self will. Many who claim to be Christians never signed up for that, so they don’t look much like Jesus. They signed up for forgiveness. But God wants to do much more than forgive us, He wants to lead us into a life of radical, sacrificial love that changes everything.

Here’s the problem—only a bad person needs to repent and change, but only a good person can do it.  The only person who can do it perfectly is a perfect person—and he would not need it.  And the truth is, we cannot turn back to God without God’s help.  It’s like a child learning to write—you have to first hold her hand and write for her until she learns to do it herself.  We love and reason our way back to God because God is holding our hand to do it. But here’s the catch. We need God’s help with something that is not in God’s nature at all. God has no need to surrender, submit, humble himself, or die. Nothing in God’s nature corresponds to this process. So here’s why Jesus had to do it. If God became one of us, co-joined his perfect nature with human nature, he could then be tempted, overcome sin, surrender His will, suffer and die because He was human; and do it perfectly because He is God.  Then He could help us do the same if we are simply willing. This is why he had to suffer for us and pay a debt we could not pay.

This was the most central event in all of history! Jesus really was the Son of God who died for the sins of the world, who was raised from the dead as David also foretold 1000 years before:  For you will not leave my soul among the dead or allow your godly one to rot in the grave.” Psalm 16:10, 1000 B.C.  Jesus not only died to pay for your sins and wrongs against God, but he also rose from the grave, proving He has power over life and death and he can give you life with God, now and forever more—even beyond the grave. You can’t earn it, and you don’t have to work for it because he paid the price himself because you and I cannot. It’s by His grace, something we don’t deserve which is why humility and trust is all He requires.  The simple humble faith of a child opening our hearts saying: “I want what Jesus did to count for me…because I need your forgiveness and I need you at the Center leading my life.”

He did it all because He loves you more than you can imagine. There is no greater love.

Are you trusting and fully following Jesus? Have you read about his life and teachings? Are you learning from Him? Are you trying to willingly follow him? If not, what’s holding you back? He loved you and I enough to put signposts throughout history among the nations and then entered and experienced all the temptation, suffering, and evils of a broken world and then even laid down his life – all because He thinks we are worth it”.

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