We live in a time in which many assert that Jesus of Nazareth never existed, or they assert that Jesus really did exist but they say they know Jesus better than Christians know him. So we live in a time in which all Christians need to be more engaged as apologists and evangelists for Christ, much like it was early on in Church history during the Apostolic Era of our faith.
Even our local bishop, Bishop Jeff Barrow of our ELCA Greater Milwaukee Synod, mentioned this reality in his recent sermon at our congregation. He commented that his son’s generation has been so heavily inundated with a secular agnostic culture that they can more easily drift into confusion about Jesus being real or about who Jesus truly is. And Bishop Jeff added that these confused persons might even say that they are not sure if all this even matters anyway.
Well, it very much matters because truth matters. And it matters because GOD’S GRACE matters. All of it matters, because all of us need the grace and truth of Christ for our redemption as children of God. We need the grace and truth of Jesus for absolute forgiveness of sins and complete renewal of life, both now and in eternity.
Therefore, in order to equip my brothers and sisters to be modern-day Christian apologists and evangelists for Christ, I often cite the ongoing discoveries of biblical archeology within my preaching and teaching — discoveries that continue to affirm the accuracy of the historical places, people and events described within the Bible. For, as Christians, we believe in “good news” of the actual birth, life, teachings, death and resurrection of Yeshua Ha-Notzri (Jesus of Nazareth), who was, is and forever shall be Yeshua Ha-Mashiach (Jesus the Messiah/Christ), the only begotten Son of God. And beyond the findings of biblical archeology (which confirm the biblical accounts far more often than not), I also have been known to cite Tacitus, the great Roman senator and historian, who wrote about Jesus Christ and Pontius Pilate. In addition, there is also Josephus, the great Jewish historian, who wrote about John the Baptizer and our Lord Jesus, among others.
Therefore, we confidently assert that Yeshua (Jesus) is a historical person by citing a variety of scholarly sources, and, not the least of which, we can cite the Bible itself as primary among these sources. So, Atheists, Agnostics, Muslims, Jews, Bahais, and a few others, may tell us that we Christians have Jesus all wrong, but we can graciously disagree with them and declare that nobody knows Jesus better than the community he and his Apostles founded: the Christian Church.
Some may even seek to use sacred texts that post-date the New Testament to support their claims to know Jesus better. They may use Gnostic writings, Muslim scriptures, Rabbinical texts, or other “latter-day” documents such as the Book of Mormon. However, we can take our faithful Christian response from Tertullian. A Second Century AD leader of the Church in North Africa, Tertullian addressed the efforts of the Gnostic religion to lay claim to the New Testament and to appropriate the Christian message for its own theological agenda with its own set of sacred writings. He wrote the following concerning this effort in relation to the Gnosticism of Marcion, Valentinus and Apelles:
“Not being Christians, they have no right to the Christian Scriptures. We can rightly ask them: Who are you? When and where did you come from? As you are none of mine, what are you doing with my property? Indeed, Marcion, what right have you to hew my wood? By whose permission, Valentinus, are you diverting the streams of my fountain? By what power, Apelles, are you removing my landmarks? This is my property… I am the heir of the Apostles.”
While the Trinitarian Christian Faith has many branches, all of these branches share the same “tree trunk” of Jesus the Christ, who is God incarnate in human flesh, offered to us and for us so that we might have salvation in his grace, faith and love. So let us be prepared in this day and age to engage the scoffers and those who say they know Jesus better than our New Testament faith. Like Tertullian — but perhaps a little more kinder and gentler than he — let us “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give an accounting for the hope that is in you” (First Peter 3:15). Let us always be ready to defend our Christian faith and hope with gentleness, respect for life, care for those in need, and with a core theology of God’s love (see First John).
Christ’s shalom be with you always! Pastor Tim