GOOD NEWS: What We Need to Know
Welcome to our Good News pages. This is the second of the studies in this series.
Each study consists of the information pages – to help you know the story – and the Homework pages, designed to help you integrate what you’ve learned into your daily life.
If you don’t have a Bible in e-format, you can click here for online access to a free complete Bible in translations for several different languages.
This material is also covered in more detail in our Roots Course – see the Courses tab for more information.
GOOD NEWS ABOUT JESUS CHRIST
Like the Good News about God, the Good News about Jesus Christ is also perfectly sensible.
It starts with the fact that He really exists, too. In the Bible we’re reading real history of real people living in real times and places.
One of the best-attested facts of ancient history is that a man named Jesus lived about 2000 years ago in what is now modern Israel. Thousands of ancient manuscripts speak about Him. Even ancient “non-believers” wrote about Him.
Since His time, millions of people have claimed to follow Him. Western civilization has been deeply affected by His teachings. Most of the world numbers calendar years starting with His approximate birthdate.
People have used His name to justify devastating wars, brutal oppression, and suffocating ignorance. Jesus’ name has also launched such tremendous reforms as hospitals, the abolition of slavery, and help organizations for people in poverty.
All kinds of religious groups claim to follow His teachings and to represent Him to the world. Even today some political organizations claim to promote what Jesus wants for people.
How did one man living so long ago have such an impact? Why do so many different, often conflicting groups of people claim Him and His teachings as their banner?
Regardless of what anyone believes about Jesus Christ, it’s clear that something about Him has made a big difference to the world.
Like the question of God’s existence, the big questions about Jesus Christ are not about whether He existed. The big questions are about who He was, what He was like, and what He said and did. What does it all have to do with us?
You remember from “The Good News About God” that sin is an alien power that has infected the human race. It damages us and starts cycles of destruction that go on and on. Sin clouds our picture of God, making us believe lies about Him and about ourselves. It also makes people misunderstand Jesus Christ and misuse His name.
What did He teach? What would He do with people? What does He really want from people?
Many who say they follow Jesus really don’t – no one has ever explained to them what this really means, or how it’s done – they just follow the dictates of religions. Many people who reject Jesus reject a false picture of Him from what they see in religion. Some people reject Jesus because they don’t want anyone to help them. They buy into the lie that intelligent, resourceful people shouldn’t need help from God for living.
Most people know almost nothing about Jesus Christ. A lot of what is said about Him is inaccurate.
This lesson can help you get better acquainted with what the Bible says about Jesus Christ. The course does not contain all the information you need, but it will help you to start on it so that you can make an informed decision about following Him.
WALKING WITH JESUS IN THE GOSPELS
Jesus is mentioned throughout the “New Testament,” the second part of the Bible. The “Old Testament” also indirectly refers to Him. The best way to get acquainted with Him as a Person is to read about Him in the four New Testament books called the “Gospels.” What we’re doing in this study is only an introduction – but we hope it’ll help you begin to find your way.
In the Gospels you get to see Jesus in real life, talking with real people. These books contain Jesus’ teaching, but they’re also a story of what He did. Patterns in what people do usually tell more about character than what others say about them.
Let’s take a closer look at Jesus as portrayed in the Gospel of Mark. In the section starting with chapter 1 verse 40 and ending with 2.17, notice how Jesus responds to people.
Leprosy is a horrible disease. However, in Jesus’ day it wasn’t only the physical pain that made it so dreadful. A diagnosis of leprosy meant that the leper had become “unclean”: he had to leave his wife and children, his friends, his work, and everything else meaningful to him. He had to live alone or with other lepers, but he could have no contact with healthy people. Everything the man had lived for in the past was gone. He could look forward only to more isolation and a lonely, agonizing death. You can see why the ancient people thought that leprosy was a punishment from God. The man probably also believed that God was angry with him.
What did Jesus do? Apparently He could have healed the man at a distance, but He didn’t. Violating all the rules about lepers, Jesus touched him. And the man was cured immediately.
Jesus’ supernatural power of healing can be impressive – but even more important is His attitude: “filled with compassion.” Who knows how long the leper had gone without the warmth of human touch? Jesus did more than heal the man’s body. By touching him Jesus affirmed that the man was human, valuable to God no matter what had happened to him. By healing the man Jesus gave back his dignity, family, work, friends – his life – and his God.
You may not have met any lepers lately, but do you know anyone who feels lonely and isolated? Anyone who has lost the meaning of life, who feels devastated by events beyond one’s control?
Some people are as painfully isolated by success and prosperity as others are by misfortune. The “competitive edge” that builds their bank account destroys their relationships. Everybody wants a piece of them, but nobody really cares about them – and they have nobody to care for, either.
The world is a painful place. Sometimes people bring pain onto themselves. Other times it just happens. Even understanding how it happened doesn’t always make things better. The important thing is to know what to do about it. Jesus knew what to do, wanted to do it, and did it.
The next story is in chapter 2. It’s about a man who was paralyzed in more ways than one. His friends had to do some creative re-roofing to get the man into the house so that Jesus could see him. What did they expect Jesus to do? They hoped that Jesus would heal him – and Jesus did. But He did more than that!
Just as interesting as the healing was the first thing Jesus said to him: “Your sins are forgiven.” There is a paralysis even more debilitating than an uncooperative body: guilt. Guilt eats away at one’s sense of value and confidence. Guilt tells you that once you’ve blown it, there’s no point in trying to change. Guilt shrinks the exciting vision of good that you could have become into dreary re-runs of your failures. And it virtually guarantees that you’ll live out the re-runs. Guilt unleashes the destructive power of “off-target” living. It chains the best part of you by telling you that God won’t help you.
Jesus had unusual priorities. He knew that a paralyzed spirit was even worse than a paralyzed body. Jesus healed the man’s body to prove that He had the power to take the chains off his spirit, too. He didn’t promise to heal every physical ailment for all time – not yet – but He did show that He knows where the real sickness is, and that He knows what to do about it.
Then there’s Levi. He worked for the hated Roman overlords collecting taxes (and his very large side commission) from his own people. Back in those days most people were poor – many were mortgaging their houses and selling their children just to pay all the taxes that the Romans and others demanded. Levi was just the shark to see if you needed a loan. You wouldn’t have wanted your daughter to marry him. Religious leaders agreed that tax collectors were hopeless and could never change their evil ways. Levi was rich, at a price. He had no friends other than cynical people like himself. Levi had no future, no family, no grandchildren, no respect. He was the classic case of the man who got to the top of the “ladder up against the wrong building.” The authorities said it was too late to start over on the right one, even if he could find it.
Perhaps some people do set out to be “bad” – but not everyone. Others get hurt and don’t know how to cope, so they become cynical. They fight abuse and injustice, but they end up becoming what they’re fighting. At one time Levi was a small child, like everyone else, eyes wide open to the possibilities of life. Who knows what life experiences drove him into such a hard-bitten dead-end?
Do you wonder why he got up and followed Jesus? Jesus sees hope for all kinds of people. By inviting Levi to follow Him, He in effect said, “I am your friend. I believe in you. What you really need is an opportunity to start over. This time let’s do it together.” The man least likely to ever get right with God became one of Jesus’ best friends, and later may have even written the Gospel of Matthew.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were “good people.” They did all religious duties as exactly as they could. They talked endlessly about religious issues. People looked up to them, and they liked that. These leaders hated what Jesus said and did with people, because He showed people a way to connect with God without going through all the noisy mess that the leaders had created. Some of the most religious people, the ones you’d expect to be most excited about Jesus, became His worst enemies. As you read Mark you’ll see them slander Him and break their own rules to stop Him. Religious leaders set up Jesus’ death on the cross. You could almost say that religion tried to kill God Himself.
The idea that people didn’t understand Jesus very well isn’t new to our time: when you read Mark you’ll see that even most of those who followed Him didn’t really understand Him – or His mission on earth. That’s why they abandoned Him when He was dying.
But all 4 Gospel writers will tell you that Jesus came back from death after 3 days – not only back to life, but back to the people He had loved, back to their friendship. Even when people don’t understand Him and hate Him and reject Him, Jesus still tries to help us find Him!
THE BEST NEWS OF ALL
When you remember “Good News about God,” one thing becomes clear: what Jesus did with people is exactly what you could expect God to do if God were “in the flesh.” The attitudes He showed toward people who were confused, hurt, and powerless are just like the ones God showed so clearly in Genesis. The only difference is that with Jesus you can see it all “up close and personal,” in the lives of ordinary people. You’d expect Him to have power over sin and evil. He would tell people truth, and it would be different from what they already believed.
You may also remember from “Good News about God” about how sin affects people’s view of God. Sin blinds and twists us, making us think that what we want and already have is better than what God wants for us. What people did to Jesus is exactly what you’d expect them to do to God “in the flesh.”
You can read about it in Mark chapters 14 – 16. The best of them misunderstood Him. Most of the people He helped either forgot about Him or didn’t care enough to defend Him when He was in trouble. The worst of them killed Him on a trumped-up charge of being the very thing He refused to be: a terrorist.
The cross was the worst thing that could happen to someone in the ancient world. There was no stronger way of rejecting a human being than to crucify him. This kind of execution was horrible not only for the physical pain of exposure (which normally lasted for days), but also for its humiliation and shame. The victim was subjected to all kinds of degrading, contemptuous treatment from the crowds and could do nothing to defend himself. He had no protection from weather, insects, etc. Ancient people believed that a cross was God’s special curse. That’s what they did to Jesus.
What would you expect God to do about that?
If you didn’t know Him, maybe the right move would seem to be to destroy everybody and start all over again. But the real God and the real Jesus did what They have always done, and will always do. On the third day after Jesus was crucified (so there would be no doubt that He really died), God raised Him back to life. It wasn’t a life of ghostly appearances, though. He had new power, but He was still Jesus, like He’d always been. Once His closest followers got over the shock, they recognized Him.
What did He do with His new life?
The same things He was doing before His death: loving people, teaching them, forgiving them, helping people to help others get to know God. These are same things God has always wanted to do for people, ever since Adam and Eve in the Garden. And He’s still doing it. That’s what # 3, “Good News about God’s People” will be all about.
WHO IS JESUS?
The first part of this unit has been a simple presentation of a few events in Jesus’ life. Getting to know some of His teaching is also very important to making an informed choice about Him.
While Jesus was on earth, He taught about life. He taught in a way that amazed people, because He taught “with authority.” He knew where He had come from, where He was going, and He knew what people needed to hear. In His teaching He made numerous claims about Himself.
At various points of the story throughout the Gospel of John Jesus calls Himself the “Messiah” (a King who leads people out of oppression and back to God) in 4.25-26; the “Son of God” doing what God always does, in 5.17-19; the “Bread of life” who meets the deepest human hunger and thirst, in 6.35; the “Light of the world” who brings real life to people, in 8.12; the “Good Shepherd” who leads his people and lays down His life for them, in 10.11; the “Resurrection and Life,” who brings real, permanent life, in 11.25; the “Way, the Truth, and the Life,” the only access to God, in 14.6. These are only some of the references to His claims.
Jesus’ identity was a source of great controversy in His day, as it is now. Jesus’ claims about Himself were reported in all the most ancient documents about Him. Assessing His claims honestly is important, since there is no doubt that He made them.
To assert that Jesus was “a great moral teacher who represented the best in humanity” is flattering, but misguided. He never said this about Himself. If He is not who He claimed to be, then He is at least deranged, and more likely a charlatan. If He is deluded or deceptive in this area, then we may be reasonably skeptical about the rest of what He said and did.
However, the possibility remains that the claims are valid and true, and that He is everything He said.
His claims should be examined in the light of His life. Are His attitudes and actions toward people consistent with those of a maniac? Do they fit the clever games of someone trying to sucker people out of easy money? Does He behave like someone who is out for great political influence?
Or is His life understandable in the light of what we know God is like? Does He think like God, act like God? Do people treat Him the way one would expect people to treat God?
The song says that all we are is “dust in the wind.” If Jesus is not who He says, then we may well be only hope turned into dust. But if He is the Son of God, could it be that we are really dust turned into hope?
When you think about how God has dealt with people in the ancient past of Genesis, isn’t it sensible that if God were to show up in the world of humans, that He would do things the way He did them in Jesus?
When you think about how humans responded in Genesis 3-11 to God’s help when we messed it all up – if God were to show up in the world of humans, doesn’t it make sense that we would do to Him what we did to Jesus – to get Him out of the way, so we can do what we want?
Jesus died to help us deal with what sin has done to us — and what it will do to us. All the corrupting changes it brings to us (noted in “Good News about God”) are healed. Ultimately, the Great Day of victory that God promised in Genesis 3 is the day when everything new that Jesus started will be completed.
He was raised from the dead so that among other things, we can be confident that:
death and failure do not have the final word on our lives
there is a greater life available to us than what this world can give us
all sickness will be cured, all wrongs will be righted, all wounds will be healed.
everything else Jesus said and did is right for us: He has the keys for real life
What did Jesus do after He was raised from the dead? He continued exactly where He left off before His death: teaching, loving people, helping people find God.
What would you expect God to do to people who had killed His own Son? The amazing thing is that God didn’t send Jesus back to destroy them, but instead to try to find some way to help them. The world’s situation is that desperate. God is that good.
The biggest issues of life are addressed by God through Jesus Christ. What He has done for people is available to you.
EXPLORING THE ISSUES
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