Many people have never lived a day without knowing the name of Jesus. They grew up with the hymns and knowing the gospels. Others have taken their knowledge of the Savior further through intensive study, Bible school, or even seminary.
Although many years of knowing Christ often carry with them the danger of familiarity—i.e. complacency—not everyone falls prey to the threat. There is, in fact, another danger.
All of Jesus’ disciples grew up knowing their Bibles. They lived in anticipation of the Messiah. And finally, they had found Him.
- By the time Jesus brought His disciples to Bethsaida that day, they had followed Him for more than two years.
- They carried with them the admiration of the crowds.
- They were leaders, promised by Christ to reign with Him.
What else was there to gain? They had gone as high as they could. Many of us might slip into the same error of thinking.
For the faithful follower of Jesus, there is another danger beyond complacency.
Of all the questions leveled against Christianity, few others cause such heated controversy: “Is Jesus the Only Way to God?” For many people, Jesus’ words equate exclusivity with arrogance:
I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me. —John 14:6
The exclusivity of those words is unmistakable. Millions question: “How can Jesus be the only way to God? That’s not fair. It leaves out too many people.”
But if you think about it, the real question isn’t, “Is Jesus the Only Way to God?” but rather we should ask, “Is God holy”?
Here’s why that’s the real issue.
One of the biggest surprises to Christian pilgrims in Jerusalem occurs when they step inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The site of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection falls short of the expectations of many Christians accustomed to Western worship.
Gold drips from icons. Chanting fills the spaces. Incense rises between cold stone walls. Six sects of Christendom betray jealous rivalries over the goings-on within. Territorial fistfights even occur on occasion.
Without proper mental preparation, a Christian pilgrim may see only the distracting depravity of religion that has affixed itself to this site like barnacles on sunken treasure.
But if we look past today’s traditionalism to history’s tradition, we find an unbroken connection to the central event of all time—the redemption of the universe.
For in this place, Jesus Christ died for your sins and rose again.
Close one eye and look closely at a marble. It seems massive. In fact, the marble is all you see. It dwarfs everything else. But its size is an illusion.
A basketball is bigger. The planet earth is even bigger. Come to think of it, God is infinitely bigger than your marble. Your problems are like that.
(Photo by Sarah Charlesworth, CC-BY-SA-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
Life is filled with marbles. When you fixate on your marbles, you can’t see the reality that they are small in comparison to God’s power.
Sure, they’re real. Of course they hurt. But your life is more than your problems, just as the world is more than your marbles. Or it can be. You can stop staring at your marbles. You only need to sit up, blink a few times, and look around.
God is much bigger than your marbles.
In light of the world’s ugliness, it’s tempting to hole up on some mountain and just wait for God to come get us. It was no different in Jesus’ day.
Jesus brought three of His disciples up on the slopes of a “high mountain,” probably Mount Hermon. Six days after the prediction of His death in Jerusalem, Jesus gave affirmation of His glory, divine nature, and coming Kingdom. Jesus was “transfigured” on the mountain—revealing His true glory.
In light of such an awesome revelation, Peter had an odd request.
Suddenly, Moses and Elijah also appeared in glorious cameo appearances. They spoke of Jesus’ “departure” at Jerusalem, the very event Jesus had just revealed to His disciples in Caesarea Philippi (Luke 9:31). Peter blurted:
Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah. —Matt. 17:4
What was Peter suggesting with these tabernacles?
He was asking Jesus for the same thing you and I ask Him for.
Most of us Christians have experienced those incredible moments of intimacy with God when we have no yearning for any earthly joy, much less for sin. Christ becomes our entire desire.
In those times, we make impassioned commitments of absolute dedication. We really believe we have turned a corner in our spiritual lives. But for some reason . . . it doesn’t last.
In those deflating moments, our spirituality exits like air from a balloon:
- Driving away from church, our family fights over where to eat.
- After our quiet time, our bickering children rapidly rob us of joy.
- On the way to work, a hurried driver cuts us off and waves with only a fraction of his hand.
All of a sudden, commitment wanes. And these are just the little things.
What about real life crises? What about those times when success is demanded but a lack of success seems all we get?
Jesus spoke words of encouragement for moments just like these.
No Christian pilgrim who visits Jerusalem misses the Garden of Gethsemane. The small section tourists get to see represents just a portion from the large groves of olive trees that still grace the slopes.
These olive trees crouch behind the rock walls of the Church of All Nations. Beautifully manicured pathways accent about a dozen ancient trees. These grow behind black handrails to protect the branches from souvenir-snatching visitors.
Today, crowds of Christians shuffle through the tiny garden like cattle through the Fort Worth Stockyards. But centuries ago on the early morning of April 3, AD 33, no Christian would have wanted to be there.
In fact, the few believers who were there scattered like frightened rabbits.
I’ve noticed an unsettling habit in my life. Whenever I find myself with a free moment, I feel compelled to fill it with something productive.
Because I hate to waste time, I fill it with activity and justify it as productivity. But I’m learning that constant movement doesn’t represent efficiency.
It could, moreover, represent just the opposite.
As with every other part of the human experience, Jesus remains our model of efficiency. But His life—even before the cross—was no easy walk:
- The demands on Him were constant.
- The needs He faced were overwhelming.
- The expectations He encountered were unrealistic.
No person was ever more qualified to do it all, and yet Jesus took life in the fast lane in stride.
What was His secret?
Sometimes it seems no one understands what we’re going through. When people fail us, or forget us, or occasionally even forsake us, we’re left alone in the ashes of a reality we never expected—and we certainly never wanted.
In those intense moments of loneliness, confusion, and pain, we ask God for one thing more than anything else. Relief.
(Photo by Alexander Shustov via ooomf)
But when relief is denied, we begin the difficult journey of resisting the notion that God is a cruel sovereign who toys with our lives. After all, He could stop it all in moment.
After everything else but God gets stripped away from our lives, we begin realize that the Lord may want to give us something more—and much greater—than relief.
In those moments, God becomes more real to us than we ever would have known any other way.
Not many people can say they grew up on a hill that overlooked the battlefields of history. But Jesus could.
Jesus’ hometown sat off the beaten path and high on a ridge that overlooked the International Highway and the prominent Jezreel Valley.
The gospels tell us Nazareth rested on a hill with a formidable precipice (Luke 4:29). From here Jesus cold see the battles of Israel’s history.
The city’s name likely comes from the Hebrew term netzer, meaning “branch” or “shoot.” Some scholars believe this represents the faith of those Jews who returned from exile. Their hope focused on the coming Messiah, the “righteous Branch” of David, promised by the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15).
But when He did finally show up, they tried to throw Him over the cliff.