Some years ago, a rabbi friend invited me to observe the Passover Seder with her family. She said the story that is retold and reenacted in the Passover Seder is the Jewish people’s defining story. She noted, “We once were slaves. God heard our cry, had compassion upon us, delivered us, and made us his people. If you are a Jew, you’ve got to get this story. It is our defining story.”
This is how Christians see the story of Jesus. It’s our defining story. Jesus demonstrates who God is, what God is like, and what God’s will is for our lives. His life and ministry, his death and resurrection shape how we see ourselves and how we see the world.
Ingmar Bergman once said, “You were born without purpose, you live without meaning, living is its own meaning. When you die, you are extinguished. From being you will be transformed to non-being.” But faith in Jesus offers a very different perspective. We were born with purpose, our lives have meaning, and when this mortal body is finished, we’ve only just begun to live.
Richard Dawkins once famously wrote, “We are survival machines—robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules know as genes.” But faith in Jesus says that we were made for more than this. In fact, the pain and brokenness in our world are largely the result of our living as “robot vehicles” blindly focused on serving the self. Jesus calls us to be authentically human, to love, give, serve, and rise above our selfish genes. As we do so, we not only make the world a more just and compassionate place; we find joy in the process.
Yale historian Jaroslav Pelikan captured well the impact Jesus has had on the world. He wrote, “Regardless of what anyone may personally think or believe about him, Jesus of Nazareth has been the dominant figure in the history of Western culture for almost twenty centuries. If it were possible, with some sort of super magnet, to pull up out of the history every scrap of metal bearing at least a trace of his name, how much would be left?”
For Father’s Day last year, my then twenty-five-year-old daughter Rebecca, who is living in New York, sent me a gift. I was getting ready for church and the doorbell rang. And there was a delivery person with a balloon, a card, and a container with beautiful plants. I opened the card and read it: “Dad, Happy Father’s Day. You are my hero and I am so proud to call you my Dad. Rebecca.” I put this miniature garden of succulents on my desk, and every time I look at them I am reminded that I’m loved by my daughter.
When God sought to communicate his love for us, he sent Jesus. It was in his Son that God’s message, God’s Word, came to us and became our defining story. Through Jesus, God was saying: I Am. You matter to me. I love you.
In Jesus, God showed that he cares about those who are lost and those who are made to feel small. He showed us compassion for the sick. He showed us how to love, to forgive, to give, to serve. In Jesus’ death on the cross, God showed us the depth of his love and the costliness of grace. And in Jesus’ resurrection, God defeated evil, hate, sin, and death!
In writing these words, I’m reminded of Karl Barth, the great twentieth-century theologian, who devoted fourteen volumes to expressing the truths I’m trying to cover in this one short book. Yet despite those fourteen volumes, when Barth was asked by a student if he could summarize in one sentence his theological work, Barth responded by reciting the words of a song his mother had taught him as a child: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” (See Roger Olson’s post about these now famous words of Barth’s: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2013/01/did-karl-barth-really-say-jesus-loves-me-this-i-know/.)
Yes, Jesus loves me. Jesus loves you, too. And that makes all the difference.
This is just a brief excerpt form Chapter Two of Creed: What Christians Believe and Why. If you would like to know more about the book or the children, youth or adult small group study resources based upon it, click here; or click here to view the promo videos (scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the "Videos" tab).