Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

Why Follow Jesus?

At the end of what is called the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, the Bible says the people were amazed by the teaching of Jesus, not just because of what he taught, but also by the way he taught. He taught them with an authority unlike anything they had heard from other teachers of the word of God (Matt 7:28). Throughout the Gospels it is evident that Jesus speaks quite unlike any scribe or even any other prophet before him.

It was typical of teachers of the Bible to refer to other famous rabbis or the Bible itself as an authority; and it was typical of a prophet to speak with the authority of “Thus saith the Lord” wherein God Himself is the authority. Yet Jesus’ teaching was self-referential, meaning he referred to himself as the authority. Throughout the Sermon on the Mount he says things like, “You’ve heard it said but I say unto you …”  He never refers to any other human teacher as an authority and he never says “Thus saith the Lord” as was common among the Jewish prophets.  He spoke with a power and authority that most would think was only reserved for God.

In Mark 2, for instance, he claimed the authority to forgive sins to the alarm of the religious leaders who declared it, within the silence of their own hearts, to be blasphemy, for as they thought to themselves, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (v. 7). Although they never spoke a word with their lips, Jesus heard them loud and clear as if he was indeed the One to Whom all hearts are open (i.e. 1 Chronicles 28:9; Jeremiah 17:10); indeed, because He was and is (see Revelation 2:23). When He stills a storm on the sea His bewildered disciples ask, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (NRSV)  Who but the One Whom the Psalms declare is the one “who rules “the raging of the sea” and stills the rising waves (Psalm 89:9), the One who stills the storm and hushes the waves of the sea (Psalm 107:29). Who else could it be but the One who existed before Abraham as the great “I Am” (John 8:39-59)? Who else could command honor for Himself and faith in Himself along side of God Himself (John 5:19-29; 14:1), but the One Who was indeed God in flesh? (See John 1)

Jesus didn’t walk around with a T-shirt that said “I am God”, but He said and did many things that indicated that He thought he was.  The question is was he telling the truth?

Some people, those who don’t claim to be Christians and some who do, insist that Jesus was just a really good man, but a man only and nothing more. They assure us that they admire Him as a good moral teacher and even as a powerful prophet, but they can’t believe He really was God in the flesh. And even though Jesus Himself declares, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” and that “no one comes to the Father except through” Him, some insist that Jesus may be one way, but He certainly wasn’t and isn’t the only way to know God. C.S. Lewis reveals the folly of such sentiments.

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.  But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to” (from Mere Christianity, chapter 3).

Often, I have found, people end up following a Jesus of their own imagination rather than the Jesus revealed in the Bible. I know that was true for me (Click on the Blog title and scroll down to begin reading my testimony). Throughout history people have found themselves quite uncomfortable with the God revealed in the Bible, hence the ever present, persistent temptation to idolatry. From the very beginning, beginning with chapter 1 of Genesis, through to the very end, the Bible makes the bold, albeit often hard to believe claim that there is only one true God whom all people should follow and worship. The worship of other gods and idols is the problem for which the revelation of the God of the Bible is the solution.

If we have followed the story line of the Bible closely and carefully we shouldn’t be surprised by the very stark and exclusive claims of Jesus in John 14:6. As the manifestation of the world’s only rightful Lord in human form, we should not be surprised at all. He claimed not to be a way, but the way, and in the context of the Bible, which insists, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3) we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that He is the only way. In light of Isaiah 45:22, which declares, “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other”, neither should we be surprised when Peter declares that outside of the name of Jesus “there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Jesus made some bold claims such that He really only leaves us three options. Either he was insane, a devilish deceiver, or He was and is Who he claimed to be.  Why should we accept Him? Why should we trust him and follow him? Is there any good reason?

Path down the Mount of the Beatitudes to the Sea of Galilee

The short answer is yes; and it is spelled t-h-e r-e-s-u-r-r-e-c-t-i-o-n.

Some, including many very brilliant scholars, dismiss the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which Christians have always believed to have been a bodily event in time and space, simply because they assume it couldn’t have happened because of the improbability. But improbable doesn’t mean impossible, nevertheless many scholars work under the assumption that it does. Since the early days of the Enlightenment and the growing prevalence of a deistic and eventually an atheistic worldview much of the scholarship on the Bible has filtered out miracles and divine intervention. What many don’t realize is that this “modern” worldview was just an updated version of an ancient worldview called Epicureanism. This is a worldview with it own set of presuppositions which are not themselves beyond question. As hard as it may be to accept we live in a universe with many things beyond human reason and empirical investigation, and it is not close-minded to believe that.

Serious scholars of history and the Bible from the past and the present have declared the resurrection of Jesus Christ to be the best explanation for the history that transpired thereafter. There are historical realities which require adequate explanation. We must wonder why movements of other would-be Jewish messiahs who were executed or killed on either side of Jesus of Nazareth disbanded or found another would-be messiah to follow in all cases that we know of except for the followers of Jesus who not only continued to follow Him but clearly worshiped Him and honored him as Lord and God.

The reason Jesus’ actual disciples gave was that He was actually raised from the dead. Keep in mind, here again, we are not talking about a merely spiritual experience of a mere apparition. The earliest disciples of Jesus believed and insisted that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead. Hence Luke’s story of Jesus insisting he was no ghost and pointing to his very physical flesh and bones in their presence, after which he ate a piece of fish in their presence (Luke 24:36-42), and John’s depiction of Thomas actually touching Jesus’ wounds from the crucifixion.

Doubtless there are countless questions that still arise and still plenty of mystery, but make no mistake the earliest disciples insisted that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead. As N.T. Wright has explained there would really be no other type of resurrection other than a bodily one in the ancient world (See “The Resurrection of the Son of God”), and then as well as now the possibility of resurrection was very hard to believe as the stories on the Gospels actually indicate. Yet Jesus’ followers came to believe in it wholeheartedly.  They took this to mean that Jesus really was Who he claimed to be; therefore they continued to follow Him as the Messiah of Israel and the hope of the world.

Even some of the most skeptical scholars know this to be a historical fact; that is that Jesus’ earliest followers really believed that he was raised from the dead, not that Jesus really was raised from the dead. It is a highly probable fact of history that the earliest followers of Jesus really believed He was raised from the dead to never die again. For Paul it was definitely the essential linchpin to the Christian faith and Christian proclamation (1 Corinthians 15) and an essential belief for salvation (Romans 10:9). It’s not so much a question of whether the earliest disciples of Jesus really believed He was bodily raised from the dead, they certainly did. The question is why? This is a historical question that needs to be answered.

Hence skeptics, those who rule out the possibility of resurrection on philosophical grounds, put forth alternative explanations. They put forth explanations because something has to be explained, namely the rise and expansion of the Church. None of them, however, have the explanatory power of the simplest – as paradoxical as that may sound to some – explanation. Jesus earliest followers believed that He was raised from the dead and continued to follow Him and to proclaim Him to be the world’s rightful Lord and its final Judge because He really was raised from the dead.  And because they believed this they risked, and many lost, their own lives to proclaim it.

Many will die for what they believe to be true when they are not in a position to know for sure whether it really is true, but the earliest followers of Jesus were willing to die for a claim that they were in a position to know for sure whether or not it was true. If Jesus were still really dead His followers would not have had any incentive at all to risk their lives for claiming He was bodily raised from the dead. If Jesus was not raised from the dead, like all the other followers of would-be messiahs, they would have disbanded or jumped on someone else’s bandwagon. As Paul said, if Christ wasn’t raised from the dead “why are we putting ourselves in danger every hour?” (1 Cor. 15:30).

This get’s to the heart of the matter and what we believe about this is a matter of the heart. I believe Jesus was raised from the dead? Do you? I confess Jesus Christ as Lord, and follow him accordingly, do you?  If so, then, praise God!, according to Romans 10:9-10 you are saved. Next time I’ll discuss why it is so important to believe in the resurrection and the difference it makes in our lives.

“Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” Romans 10:9-10 ESV

Maybe you’re thinking you could believe if you could see. But it is also true that if you can believe then you could see. You can believe! And there are plenty of reasons to believe in Jesus Christ and to confess him as Lord. Believe and you will see; trust and you will know; you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.

 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:29 ESV

About Me Part 2: A Wall at the Crossroads: Which Way?

Sitting on a five gallon bucket in the midst of the old rusty appliances scattered in front of the huge two bay garage that adjoined my parent’s country store, I had declared to my longtime friend, whom I had known since we played Pee Wee football together for the King Dolphins, that something told me that Christianity was true; and I was going to find out.  This knock on the door of my two bedroom apartment, which I shared with a friend whom I had meet in the seventh grade, could it be the answer I was looking for come looking for me?  Well, we’d have to answer the door to find out.

(Read Part 1 Here)

My father, Marcus Wall, (front) with friend.
My father, Marcus Wall, (front) with friend.

Actually, the first knock we heard was on the door not of my own apartment but the one beside mine.  One of my drinking buddies from the night before -really one of my best friends ever – decided to be funny.  As a well dressed middle-aged man and woman, whom he could see as he peered through my door scope, knocked on my neighbors door my friend knocked on mine from the inside as he snickered and chuckled along with me and our other friend.  I think we had all watched too much “Beavis and Butt-head” on MTV!

Soon though the snickering turned to alarm as the knocking moved directly to my door.  My friend scurried off to my bedroom like a feral cat from a back porch.  A bit embarrassed, I opened the door.

After apologizing for my buddies foolishness – I wasn’t going to take the blame – I asked, “what can I do for you?”

They explained that they were in the area with several others telling people about a wonderful class that the ministry they were affiliated with offered.  It was a class that would explain the Bible and answer life’s most important questions.  Before I could really say too much they began to ask me a few questions themselves.  One was if I knew how to be saved.  I rambled on a bit about growing up in church and trying to be a good person.  Unsatisfied by my response, the man pulled out a King James Bible and turned to Romans 10:9-10, which he insisted was all their was to it – to being saved that is.  He asked me if I believed what those two verses said.  Hesitantly I said I think I believe that.  They emphasized how easy is really is to be saved, and how so many people who go to church just don’t realize what “the Word” (the Bible) really says.

They also began to share some of the other benefits of this class they were promoting such as learning the keys to prosperity, overcoming fear, and how to pray effectually, among other things.  The conversation wasn’t all that long, and they mentioned that they really didn’t live in the area, but they said the local branch of their ministry would be offering a further explanation of the class in the near future.  They asked for my name and number so someone could followup with me about that.  Reluctantly, yet deep down, longingly, I gave them my information.

It wasn’t long before I did receive a phone call inviting me to a public explanation of the class they were talking about.  It was held in a room in the basement of the student center  at ECU.  Reluctantly, but expectantly I went.

As I entered the room, still early in the spring semester, I was greeted enthusiastically and very warmly.  Everyone seemed to be incredibly nice and cheerful.  There was a TV set up playing a band singing a brand of Christian music that I had never quite heard before; it was the band and singers from this ministry’s headquarters in Ohio.  After a brief period of introductions with a few people in the crowd of about 20, someone stood up in front to explain more about this class that so many in the room were obviously absolutely enthralled with.  Then a woman got up to share her testimony for how this class had changed her life so much for the better.  The leader then explained that there would be an opportunity to sign up for the next class that evening.

Afterwards I was approached by a laid back, very friendly gentleman in his late forties.  He explained how he had taken the class when he was a student at ECU in the 70’s and how it had changed his life as well.  I was a bit intrigued by the way he cussed a little as we talked.  I can’t say that I had ever really heard that in Christians circles before.  His demeanor was quite disarming and relaxing to someone like me prone to extreme social anxiety, especially around authority figures.  He pressed me to sign up for the class, which involved a $50.00 registration fee.  “The bottom line is that this just works”, he said.  “It really brings positive results”, he insisted.

The thought of being better able to understand the Bible led me to believe that this class just might be the answer that I was looking for; learning the keys to prosperity and success and overcoming fear sounded wonderful to the ears of that poor anxiety-ridden skinny kid who hoped he’d never have to prime another row of tobacco or load up another truck with watermelons or corn to peddle in parking lots and city streets in downtown Winston-Salem – or live in a junk yard, I suppose.

Me in the store with Daddy's blue ribbon watermelon.
Me in the store with Daddy’s blue ribbon watermelon.

Yet I was reluctant to sign the card and pay the fee.  Would my anxiety outweigh my longing to find the answers that I had declared I would find?

I hemmed and I hawed about how I was just so busy, which I was – a full course load, Air Force ROTC, and an officer in a fraternity – I didn’t know if I could squeeze in the dozen or so sessions that would be required.  The $50.00 caused me pause too, but not too much when I thought about how many hundreds of dollars of student loan money I had spent on booze – one time about $100.00 drinking beer and taking shots in the bars in downtown Greenville, a night I would never forget if I hadn’t blacked out.

By this time the leader for the ministry in Greenville had joined in the conversation.  As I proffered excuses he challenged me to believe that God would make a way for me to take this class, a principle I would learn much more about when I actually took the class.  I signed the card; I paid the fee; I took the class called “Power for Abundant Living” (PFAL) offered by a nondenominational ministry called “The Way International” (TWI).

The class was taught by the founder of TWI, Dr. Victor Paul Wierwille, who was by that time deceased.  He had his teachings recorded on video tape even while he was still alive so they could be disbursed as far and wide and as fast as possible.  From the start I was captivated by his charisma, impressed by his boldness, and delighted with what seemed to be his clear, logical teaching straight out of the Bible.  He referenced Scripture profusely such that it seemed he backed up virtually everything he taught with the Bible.  He insisted that it was not his own views or the views of any other preacher or theologian that mattered, and that what he was teaching was “the Word and nothing but the Word.”  I was hooked.

Everything just seemed to make so much sense.  I felt a deep sense of trust in the “accuracy of the Word,” the Bible.  At one point during one of the class I found myself rubbing my open Bible in awe and adoration.  I was infused with a tremendous confidence that I had never experienced before.  During that class I became a wild-eyed fanatic for the Word, at least the Word according to “The Way” (TWI).

Wierwille said something though at a later point in the class that jolted me just a bit.  It wasn’t the main point of what he was talking about, but something he just mentioned in passing as he quoted, Acts 2:22, which says in part, in the King James, which is what he was teaching from, “Ye men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God …”  Here Wierwille briefly paused and adamantly insisted that the Bible just teaches that Jesus was a man and it was wrong and just plain silly for other preachers and theologians to teach that he was God since the Bible here just plainly states that he was only “a man approved by God.”  He then quickly moved off of this tangent and back to his main topic.  Although I was slightly taken aback, I quickly gave him the benefit of the doubt because of how it had really seemed that he had substantiated everything else he had taught.

This class really did change my life, in many ways for the better.  My addiction to alcohol was broken and my desire to grow in the things of God and the word of God exploded.  I was so excited that I wanted to share what I had learned and was learning with anyone and everyone who would listen.  The PFAL class ended just before the spring semester did; shortly I would take my new found excitement and confidence back home with me, along with a big bag of dirty laundry for my mother to wash.

At first I didn’t take my completion of the PFAL class to mean that I was to become a full-fledged participant in TWI exclusively.  I very enthusiastically began to go back to my home church, Chestnut Grove United Methodist, with an eagerness that I hadn’t had since I was a very young little boy.  The sermons of our Methodist preacher seemed to pale in comparison to the teachings of Dr. Wierwille, but I did not take that to mean that I at that time needed to stop going to church and just attend TWI meetings.  As a matter of fact, early on in my summer break that year, I even had a vision while I was mowing my parent’s yard that I would go to Duke Divinity school and become a Methodist preacher after graduation from ECU.  As of yet I didn’t see the stark difference between the mainstream churches and TWI.  Pretty soon that would change.

It wasn’t long before a TWI fellowship coordinator (TWI groups meet in homes) in Winston-Salem and the one in King came to pay me a visit.  They began to fill me in on those stark differences and insisted that mainstream churches, while they had many good people, even some saved people in them, taught the “false doctrine” of the Trinity as well as encouraged spiritualism by teaching that there is conscious existence after death.  They insisted that I needed to stay away from mainstream churches and call others out as well to join with TWI.  Suddenly that passing comment Dr. Wierwille made had to come off the back burner of my mind; a wrestling match for my soul ensued.

I wanted to be right with God; I wanted to know the truth.  I listened carefully to the folks from TWI; I read Wierwille’s book “Jesus Christ is Not God”.  Wierwille’s logic, which his loyal followers had made their own, and the apparent confirmation from Scripture were compelling to my theologically ill-informed, naive 19 year old mind.  Nevertheless, I intuitively knew that I was on the precipice of making an enormous, life-altering decision.  I was getting ready to take a major plunge, either way; and I wrestled with which way I should go.  My mother was also extremely concerned, to say the least.  Even though I was more and more convinced by the arguments of TWI, I wasn’t quite ready to make that turn, to take that plunge.

I asked for a meeting with the pastor of my home church.  Little did I just how much hung in the balance and on this one conversation with my rural United Methodist pastor.

That and more later …  Stay tuned.