Taking Jesus Seriously

March/April 2010
Volume 45, Number 2

Jesus. We call Him Master and Lord. And so He is. Yet there seems to be what could be called a “practical atheism” among many Christians when it comes to believing Him for who He is and what He says. In other words, we say we believe in Him, yet our attitudes and actions reflect an essential worldliness that ignores the reality of Jesus in daily living.

The Apostle James reflects on this in James 4:13-16, when he condemns our presumption, and our leaving the Lord out of our planning and living from day-to-day. He says, “Now you boast in your arrogance” (James 4:16)—the arrogance of relying on ourselves and our own minds to accomplish the work of Christian living.

For example, in the Winter, 2010 issue of The Volunteer (the newsletter of Brethren Volunteer Service), the name of Christ is only mentioned twice, once as an adjective, and once in a small quote from another (Roman Catholic) source. The writer of the cover article quotes a Hindu philosopher on what real love is about, and ignores the teaching of Jesus on that vital subject; while others tell their stories with hardly even a mention of God, let alone Jesus! And this in a paper of a denomination that says it “continues the work of Jesus”! Most of the accounts are about what these individuals do from day-to-day, and there is nothing about what Jesus Christ is doing in them or through them. It is questionable that people who are interested in Jesus would not refer to Him in an active manner.

Then again, we find people who do refer to Jesus frequently, yet the “Jesus” they mention is not the New Testament Jesus. In fact, when people say that they are following Jesus, a question I often ask is, “Which Jesus are they following?” This other “Jesus” is a combination of children’s Sunday School stories, wishful thinking, and sentimentality. It is often a Jesus that bears no relation to the God-Man of New Testament writers. The real Jesus lived a real and full life, taught as no other being in history
taught, performed miracles that no one else ever did, and then died, not in tragedy, but in full knowledge and careful planning that came about before the world was created. He then rose again bodily from the grave, and continues on in that same body in the presence of the Heavenly Father, until He returns in power and glory one day soon.

The New Testament is full of references to Jesus. The Gospels tell a four-fold account of His life and ministry, climaxing in His death to atone for our sins. Then the rest of the New Testament goes on to explain the importance of what Jesus did. It is clear that the writers of the New Testament took Jesus seriously. Most of them gave their lives for Christ, and all of them endured great suffering and reproach for Him. They did not hold a sentimental view of Jesus, but understood Him as the Son of God sent to intervene on mankind’s behalf. That was the Jesus who moved them beyond Galilee and Jerusalem, and into all the world.

Years ago, J.B. Phillips wrote a little book called, Your God is Too Small. That book challenged Christians to see God as He really is, and to abandon the idolatries of their small views of God. It could be said, that for many Brethren, Your Jesus is too small. We too, may hold an idolatrous view of Jesus that keeps Him safe, confined to church, and from causing us too much inconvenience. Yet, the truth is, Christ is not convenient! Our lives for Him are not convenient. If we say “Jesus is Lord,” then we are saying that He directs our plans, our steps, and our lives. It is no a matter of whether He fits into our lives, but how we fit into His service.

Brother Harold Martin explains how taking Jesus seriously means we will actually listen to what He says about many things, particularly how He accepted the authority of Scripture (which after all, includes the words of Jesus), and His unique position as Saviour to all who trust Him alone for salvation and our home in Heaven. We invite readers to take the real Jesus seriously.

—Craig Alan Myers

Taking Jesus Seriously

By Harold S. Martin

The theme for the 2010 Annual Conference is “Taking Jesus Seriously.” The theme chosen by the moderator is an excellent choice. To take Jesus seriously should be one of the major goals for every Christian. Many times in the New Testament we are admonished to imitate the Lord Jesus—that is, to view His attitudes and to take His words very seriously.

Jesus frequently spoke of “following” Him. He said to a man who wanted first to bury his father, “Follow Me” (Matthew 8:22). Jesus called upon the fishermen from Galilee to follow Him (Mark 1:17). To the tax collector, Levi, Jesus said, “Follow Me” (Matthew 9:9). The word “follow” means “to take as a guide”—and so when Jesus said, “Follow Me,” He was saying, Accept Me as your guide! Those things that I count important, you should find important. Taking Jesus seriously means thinking His thoughts, loving what He loves, and hating what He hates. Those seeking to follow Jesus will eagerly try to follow in His footsteps.

To “take Jesus seriously” means that we will accept what He says about the authority of Scripture, about the way of salvation (through Jesus alone), about separation from the world, about forgiving those who trespass against us, and about the nature of the hereafter.

1. The Authority of the Scriptures

To take Jesus seriously means that we will accept His views about the Scriptures. One of the most convincing aspects of the Bible’s trustworthiness is found in the testimony of Jesus. The Sadducees (Matthew 22:23-32) tried to trap Jesus and referred to Deuteronomy 25:5. They did not believe in the resurrection, and they made up a hypothetical story about a widow who had seven husbands. All seven of the men died, and so they asked whose wife she will be in the resurrection? (Matthew 22:28). Jesus quoted Exodus 3:6, where Scripture says, “I am the God…of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,” and said that those words were “spoken to you by God” (Matthew 22:31b).

Furthermore, Jesus spoke about the creation of Adam and Eve (Matthew 19:4), the Flood that destroyed the world in Noah’s time (Luke 17:27), and the miracles performed by Elijah (Luke 4:25)—and gave no hint that those events may not have been true happenings. Jesus referred to the fish that swallowed Jonah (Matthew 12:40), the life of David (Matthew 12:3), the glory of Solomon (Matthew 6:29), the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Luke 17: 28-30), and the provision of manna from Heaven in the wilderness (John 6:31)—and in all this record of Jesus’ words there is not even the slightest hint (at any time) that the Scriptures may be inaccurate at any point.

Also, Jesus pre-authenticated the New Testament. In John 16:12, Jesus expressly declared that He was letting many things unrevealed, but in the next verse He promised that this revelation would be completed after the Spirit came. It is true that the apostles might forget what Jesus had said, but Jesus assured them that they would not be left to their own fallible memories, but that the Holy Spirit would bring to mind all that He had said to them (John 14:26).

The attitude of Jesus toward the Scriptures was that they were without error. And when we discover what Jesus thought about the Scriptures—that is what we are to think about them. There are many convincing lines of proof for the absolute accuracy of the Bible, but the crowning proof of all the evidences, is the testimony of Jesus himSelf.

To Jesus Christ, the Scriptures were the infallible Word of God, of which not one word could be broken (John 10:35)–and thus the Bible is the final court beyond which there is no appeal. To lake Jesus seriously is to believe in the absolute accuracy of the Bible, and to use the Scriptures as a weapon when meeting the temptations of the devil (Matthew 4:1-11).

2. The Way of Salvation through Jesus Alone

Another concept related to “taking Jesus seriously” centers on our concept of salvation. Jesus said to Zacchaeus, “Today salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:9), and by those words, He implied that Zacchaeus was a sinner in deep need of being rescued. The word “salvation” refers to the entire work by which God delivers us from our sinful state, and transforms us into new creatures with new goals in life.
One of the most widely rejected teachings of the Bible relates to the total depravity of every human being (Mark 7:21-23). Jesus declares that from within, out of the heart of each human being—proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, deceit, covetousness, wickedness, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, and foolishness. All these evil things come from within the human heart.

There are loathsome things within the unregenerate human heart, all deeply ingrained on the inside, ever since the Fall in Genesis 3. In spite of all the twenty-first-century statements about the goodness of mankind–the fact is, that we have all been born with a bias toward sin, which was transmitted from our parents at conception (Psalm 51:5). And because sin is universal (Romans 3:23), salvation is the supreme need of every human soul. Nothing but genuine repentance and faith in Jesus Christ is the solution.

Many people react negatively to the words of Acts 4:12 where the apostles said that there is no other name than that of Jesus to call upon for salvation. Yet that is the specific teaching of Jesus himself, when He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). There are some ethical values in the great world religions. We admire the Muslim’s faithfulness in prayer, the Hindu’s dedication to meditation, and the Jew’s strictness in keeping the Sabbath—but none of these ethical standards has any saving value, because all promote salvation through human self-effort.

No other religious teacher could atone for the sins of the whole human race, for no other teacher lived a perfect life, and died and arose from the dead, and then returned to God to prepare a heavenly home for his followers. God offered Jesus as the only channel by which we can have an eternal relationship with him. To “take Jesus seriously” is to believe that receiving Him into the human heart is the only way of salvation.

3. The Concept of Separation from the World

The New Testament speaks of Jesus as an eternal high priest who is “separate from sinners” (Hebrews 7:26). Jesus walked a path of separation from the world. He passed through the world and lived in the world, but He did not partake of its illicit affairs. Jesus associated with sinful people for the purpose of reaching them and winning them for the kingdom of God, but He did not partake of their evil ways. And Jesus prayed for us, when He prayed, “The world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (John 17:14).

The doctrine of separation from the world is scoffed at in many churches today, but the Bible from beginning to end stresses the importance of “coming out from” the world system. See Romans 12:2, 2 Corinthians 6:17, and James 4:4. From beginning to end every writer seems to strike the same note. Jesus and the apostles all say essentially the same thing. We are to be separate, and not to conform to the greed, pride, vanity, immodesty, and self-centeredness of those who follow the world’s human-centered way of life.

The “world” from which we are to separate—is the whole value-system which dominates society and is contrary to the ways of God. The world which we are not to love basically ignores God and operates by ungodly standards. As the hymn writer implies—”This vile world” is not a “friend to grace, to help us on to God.” It seeks to dominate our personalities, and to mold our thoughts, and to get us to try and find happiness apart from God.

The lives of many professing Christians are not very, much different from the world about us. We hang around church buildings a little more. We abstain from a few things. But many simply are not that different! One of the reasons we tend to be ineffective in winning others to Christ, is that we are so much like the people around us that we have very little to which we can call them! Most churches would have to admit that what they have is not that much different from what outsiders already have.

Believers must refuse to be guided by the world’s standards of right and wrong. It is not our task to swim with the tide, or to follow the crowd. Our model is Jesus—who is holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.

4. The Necessity of Forgiveness

The word “forgive” means to dismiss, to acquit, and to loose another from a debt or an injustice. Forgiveness also implies giving up a feeling of resentment and anger—and restoring a feeling of favor and affection.

Jesus insists (in Matthew 6:14-15; Luke 6:37) that the human being who will not forgive his fellowman—will not be forgiven of God! In essence, Jesus says, “How dare you ask God to forgive your sins, when you refuse forgiveness to a brother who may have offended you?” We owe God a debt of gratitude for the forgiveness of our sins, and thus we must show great Mercy to those who sin against us. Jesus laid great stress on the importance of forgiveness.

In Matthew 18, Jesus gives instructions about the steps to be taken in securing reconciliation when personal injuries occur. It begins with a private session to talk things over; it is to be followed by taking one or two others along if reconciliation could not be accomplished in the private session; if the matter still cannot be settled, then it is to be shared with the church (with the local body). In the prayer which Jesus taught His disciples, we pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” We ask God to forgive us only to the extent that we are willing to forgive others. A man once said to John Wesley, “You know, Mr. Wesley, I never forgive.” To which Mr. Wesley said, “Then, sir, I hope that you never sin.”

Some will say, “But no one knows how much I have been wronged and how deeply I have been hurt.” But has anyone wronged us more than we have wronged God? Just as there is no limit to God’s forgiveness of our sins, so there should be no limit to our willingness to forgive those who have wronged us. And just as God blots out our sins like a thick cloud (Isaiah 44:22), so, when we have accepted the apology of another, and have said “I forgive you”—then the matter should be laid aside, and must not be brought up again. Forgiveness should be extended to those who hurt us even if they don’t ask forgiveness. Jesus set the example in Luke 23:34.

Christians who seek to “take Jesus seriously” will be quick to forgive, and slow to get offended toward those who trespass against them.

5. The Need to Treat Others Fairly

One genuine mark of Christian concern is to be aware that the gospel of Christ crosses social barriers. When the “woman of Samaria” (John 4:9) approached Jesus when He was sitting at Jacob’s Well—and He asked her for a drink of water—she was greatly surprised. She said in essence, “I thought Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.” The Jews considered the . Samaritans to be heathen and unclean. They did not want to defile themselves by even touching the soil of their country. But in this case, riot only did the Samaritan woman’s nationality pose a problem; her gender did as well!

The Jewish custom forbade a rabbi to greet a woman in public, but Jesus had no such prejudices. He was not a respector of persons. He knows what is in the hearts of people—and He knew that the woman at the well was an immoral person. Yet Jesus treated the woman with respect and compassion, but He did not support her false ideas. She had a multiple number of “husbands” in hr life—and as a Samaritan, she idolized the place where the people worshiped.

Some people think that to be free from prejudice, means that we must accept all points of view as being valid. We note that Jesus did not affirm the woman’s wrong ideas about her style of living, and her concepts of worship. Jesus flatly says that the Jews were right and the Samaritans were wrong! Jesus said to the woman, You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22).

It is easy to hold prejudices, almost without being aware of it One does not have to spend much time around a school playground until he hears names like “fatty,” or “slowpoke”–or name-calling that is much more caustic than that. Using derogatory names about Jews, blacks, homosexuals, Muslims, or Italians, etc. —is altogether unacceptable for God’s people. Yet, like Jesus, believers must be careful not to affirm the sinful conduct of liars, extortioners, adulterers, homosexuals, wife-beaters, idolaters, child-molesters, et cetera.

Like Jesus, Christians need to be willing to accept people from backgrounds other than their own, and to do so with kindness and genuine humility. We should ask the Lord to help us substitute love and compassion, for what may have been suspicion and pride in our hearts. Jesus has the power to transform our lives, and break down barriers of prejudice—if we will submit to doing His bidding.

6. The Nature of the Hereafter

Jesus believed in existence beyond this life, both for believers and unbelievers. He spoke of the blessedness of the redeemed, and of the unhappy fate of those who die in a lost condition.

Some believe that death will “end it all.” They don’t care to investigate options about life hereafter. But Jesus says that an hour is coming when all in their graves will hear his voice and come forth—some to the resurrection of life, and others to the resurrection of condemnation (John 5:28-29).

Some people have wondered whether Heaven and Hell should be thought of as literal places. The various descriptions of Hell (a lake of fire, outer darkness, a garbage dump) suggest to some minds that these are figures of something unpleasant, but are not necessarily descriptions of a real place. There are several descriptions of Heaven which lead some to believe that Heaven is not a literal place. Yet Jesus spoke of Heaven as a “place.” He said, “I go and prepare a place for you” (John 14:2-3). He also spoke of Hell as a “place.” He told about the man in Hell who wanted his brothers warned “lest they also come into this place of torment” (Luke 16:28).

Jesus had a lot to say about Heaven. To those who suffer on earth for righteousness sake, He said, “Your reward is great in heaven” (Luke 6:23). Whatever else is true about Heaven, it is a place where God’s people will be immensely rewarded. When Jesus said that He is going to prepare a place for us, He promised to come back and take us with Him “that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3).

Jesus also taught much about the grim reality of Hell. He described it as a place of fire. At the end of the age, angels will “separate the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire; there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:49-50).

Jesus also described Hell as a place of darkness. There will be those who will be bound hand and foot and cast into “the outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”(Matthew 22:13).

Jesus also spoke of Hell as a loathsome place. Jesus said it would be better for us to enter life crippled (without a hand or an eye), than to be thrown into Hell where the “worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:44). These sayings of Jesus do not require any comment. Those are fearful words.

Even if Jesus was using figurative language in these passages—still the description of Hell as a place where the fire never goes out needs a great deal of serious reflection. To believe in Jesus as our sin-bearing Substitute—is the only way to be saved for eternity. But Jesus is not only our Redeemer and Savior. He is also our Model in life and our Pattern for daily living. The instruction in 1 John 2:6 is very clear: “He who says he abides in Him, ought himself also to walk just as He walked.”

The girl who operated the telephone switchboard in an office building, occasionally got a call from a man who asked her what time it was. She answered and he quickly hung up.

This went on for a number of months, and finally the girl asked the man who he was, and why he called so often to ask for the correct time. He said that he was the man responsible to blow the whistle at the nearby factory, and he wanted to sound the whistle at the correct time. It’s a funny thing,” the girl said, “I always set my clock by your whistle.”

That is what happens many times among Christians. We set our standards by what we see in the lives of other people, or by what seems reasonable to the human mind—and it gradually leads us farther away from God’s perfect standard. We need to “set our lives” by the example which Jesus set—and make Him our model for daily conduct. We must accept His truth, and walk in His way. The theme, “Taking Jesus seriously,” should challenge all believers to demonstrate the same attitudes that Jesus manifested when He walked here on earth.

We should pray like the brother in one of our African churches: “Dear Lord, you be the needle and I’ll be the thread. You go first and I’ll follow wherever you lead!” That’s the kind of commitment the Lord Jesus is looking for.