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Jesus Christ Explained in Layman's Terms For Everyone
An Introduction & Invitation
This short article was inspired by a brief discussion with a pastor I know and the arrival of the tract below. God prods us in innovative ways (but that's another story). The pastor stated he'd received a challenge from an interested person outside Christianity to explain Christ to someone who hasn't met Jesus. The pastor passed that challenge on to me as well. Now I'll attempt to do something others far more talented than I have tried, to speak of my personal Lord and Savior without jargon (difficult as you can see from this sentence).
First, a definition based on Scripture: Jesus, the Son of God, is human and divine (of God). To radically oversimplify one could say Jesus is God come to Earth to show us all the way back to God. Viewed as a historical figure, for believers Jesus is seen as the best pastor, the Good Shepherd (one who carefully cares for a flock, in this case all of us) who healed the sick, was compassionate to sinners, and preached good news to the poor. He demonstrated unswerving faith in God and God's plan for all humanity, in God's ability and desire to meet human need. Jesus' compassion was boundless and he had deep insight into human nature. Viewed as the Christ or Messiah (savior of all) of faith, Jesus is a personal savior for believers and may be turned to for divine care and support in difficult times and for salvation from both sin and death, bringing us into life in God's eternal presence. (The details of this definition originate with the Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling, Rodnew J. Hunter general editor [Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1990], page 599.)
Now that we have a working definition, let's clear the decks. Many have had the statement by Jesus, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life ..." used as a judgment and a threat rather than a promise regarding salvation and eternal life. Basically, some Christians will state "believe as I believe (not just in Christianity but in MY brand of Christianity) or you are doomed forever." Let's wipe that away and start over shall we? Jesus Christ as defined above came for everyone. Jesus came to break down barriers, to knock down divisions, and to show all who would listen that God deeply, passionately desires a closer relationship with all of us. Jesus, through his teachings, his actions, his healings, and his death and resurrection (we'll touch on that in a bit), opened the way for us all to live better lives, lives in loving community with God and with each other. God's plans for us are far larger than our own plans and God will do far more with and through each of us if we will allow God to do so.
Jesus was born into poverty and worked with the poor and the outcast, teaching and showing them God's love for them and offering them a new way of life, a life lived differently from the life of the surrounding society, a life based on love for one another and for God rather than success at any cost. He gathered his followers from those who we would deem today as least likely to succeed and gave them the job of helping him spread the word of what God was offering them through Jesus far and wide. It was a dangerous job as there were forces around them that saw what Jesus was saying and doing as threatening to their way of life. Violence followed. And still, the message presented was so sweet and desirable that despite all opposition, followers of Christ grew in numbers and today are found around the world.
So what's this business of dying for our sins that you've heard about? Let's define sin first as that's one bit of religious language I can't get around. Sin, simply put, is anything we do or think that drives us away from the God who loves us. It is what we do to build up a wall between God and us, to say "I don't need your plan for my life, I can do it all myself, thank you very much!" To ground it in modern day reality, sins are those actions you'd take and things you'd say that would drive your friends or your wife or your loved ones away from you. I won't give you a list. I'm sure you can think up any number of things that would do this. Jesus came to break down the huge wall humanity had created between all of us and God and to draw us back into a closer relationship with God, to show us the way home you might say, to act as a trailblazer for us all and show us the path to follow to live better lives.
This course threatened many in power and they conspired to have Jesus killed. There had been those who claimed to be messiahs (a fancy word for a savior) before and an old fashioned crucifixion had always been able to end the problem and scatter the followers before, never to be heard from again. So, Jesus was crucified. God said even this, this barbaric act, was not going to stop God from loving humanity and to prove this and to prove that all Jesus had said was true, God raised Jesus from the dead, showing us nothing we can do, no matter how barbarous, would stop God from wanting us to be in loving and proper relationship with him. Skeptical? Of course you are. We are children of the Enlightenment and we are raised to be skeptical. But, chew on this. Every time before when a so-called messiah was crucified, those individuals followers scattered and the movement ended. Not so this time. If you take a look at the end of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, you'll see that this started to happen among the disciples, the old pattern was beginning to assert itself, and then something happened. Check out Acts and you'll see what happened after that. It was a new thing in the world.
Now, I'm not for a minute going to believe that I can bring you to Christianity through what I've said. Only God can do that. But I'll tell you this. Who is Jesus? For me Jesus is my trailblazer, my guide through life, he's the one who reminds me that life is going to be hard but that working for other people and working to live out the life that God would have me live rather than the one that society tells me I must live (and we've seen where the common wisdom has taken society today) has given me a much better life. I have learned more about love while working for others rather than for myself than I ever could have without Jesus or God. Things have happened that have assured me God and Jesus are active in my life, despite all my Enlightenment skepticism (I'm a trained archaeologist so I'm steeped in Enlightenment thinking by the way). I have done more in life than I ever expected I would be able to do. For me Jesus is God come to Earth to show us all the way and offer us all a better life. I'd say more, but I'd have to employ complex jargon and concepts I promised to leave alone. I'll say this, Jesus is the personification of love and an example worth following for me. I've benefitted from the relationship immensely. Jesus is a friend who will never leave and a trustworthy advisor who will never lead me astray. That's Jesus to me.
If you're curious and wonder if this life could be for you as well, try the following. Read the gospels or listen to them on CD. In fact listening might be best as that is how most people throughout much of history received the Bible. You might try Eugene Peterson's modern translation first as it is very easy to read and simplifies certain thorny, confusing concepts. Talk with other Christians while you do this and see what they have to say about what Jesus means to them. Ask them to drop the jargon and tell you stories from their lives. Attend a few church services in various denominations. And most of all experiment. Take a look at a few of the recommended patterns of life Jesus establishes in the gospels and try to live them out. See for yourself if living out a life for others, offering others who need it a helping hand, doesn't feel better than pursuing your own goals and aims based on what Western society tells you that you should be doing. See if a life lived for others and a life walking closer to God, a life steeped in a little mystery and faith, isn't more to your liking. When you do, when you reach out to this loving God, see if God doesn't do more than meet you halfway. See if God doesn't soon sweep you up and eagerly show you a plan God has for you and the rest of your life.
Do you think it's too late for you? Do you think perhaps you're too old? BAH. Know this. God doesn't have a retirement plan and Jesus saved a criminal crucified with him in the very last moment of that criminal's life based on that man's belief in Jesus and who Jesus is. It's never too late. And Jesus is very creative in all the ways he brings people to God. As C.S. Lewis states, Jesus came to throw open the prison doors to all the cells that keep all of us away from God and a full life. It's up to each prisoner to decide to walk out of that cell and into the light and life. How about you? Will you try?
Let me know if you want to know more and I'll write more. God bless you all.