This week, we recorded two new Beyond Today programs at the home office: program 344, “God’s Hand on the Nations” and program 345, “Shocking Teachings of Jesus: The Kingdom of God.” When we have the monthly recording sessions, it’s an entire media department effort, as everyone works on the recording process simultaneously as camera operators, studio controllers, teleprompters and more.
This week, Bev and I were happy for pastor Scott Hoefker and his wife, Gayle, to stay with us while he taught a ten-hour Ambassador Bible College module about common mental health challenges addressed from the perspective of using God’s Word as therapy to heal.
This coming Sunday, Dec. 17, Darris and Debbie McNeely and Steve and Kathe Myers will be leaving for Africa to conduct training and ABC classes. Once in South Africa, the McNeelys will travel to Zambia for three days of training with leaders there while the Myers will go to Malawi to conduct sessions. They will then regroup and travel to Bloemfontein, South Africa, for a week-long youth and family camp where they will teach from their ABC curriculum. The sessions in South Africa will bring together leaders from Angola, Brazil and Zimbabwe. Jorge de Campos will provide Portuguese translation.
The Real Jesus
When my December issue of the National Geographic ( NatGeo ) arrived, I was startled by the cover article headline: The Real Jesus . We once had a booklet by that title. So, what was my much loved National Geographic going to say to enlighten me about my Lord and Master? Would it indeed make my Savior more real?
For the past 60 years I’ve subscribed to National Geographic , a wonderful magazine about geography, geology, archaeology and other sciences. Increasingly, its articles have wandered into the domain of spirituality, faith and morality. Articles have recently appeared about transgender issues, lying, and now: Jesus! While I appreciate National Geographic’s attempt to report on archaeological evidence of Jesus, I found it to be slanted towards skeptics and non-believers whose theoretical bias is not to rejoice in finding supportive evidence, but to continually highlight alleged contradictions and anything that takes away from the Gospel accounts, which are the strongest evidence of the real Jesus.
The questions about Jesus are relevant and legitimate. As NatGeo author and former archaeologist Kristin Romey points out, some two billion people today have claimed some degree of belief in Jesus as simultaneously historical and personally influential. So, we ask: Was Jesus indeed the very Son of the all-powerful God of the Bible, and the Savior of all humanity? Or was He a first-century mythical revolutionary advocate of local regime change?
In the article, National Geographic draws out some physical evidence and scholarly opinion—pro and con—about the existence and the claims of Jesus. As mentioned, we have astonishingly well-preserved ancient records—notably in the form of the four Gospels and the New Testament book of Acts—as well as references about Jesus from Roman historians like Tacitus. But a never-ending assault on the divine origin, mission and purpose of Jesus has been underway for centuries. The assault never succeeds, but that doesn’t stop people from trying. In the “From the Editor” column, NatGeo ‘s Editor-in-Chief Susan Goldberg praises Kirsten Romey and concludes: “How gratifying in this season of goodwill, to see the scientific and the spiritual coexist.” I felt that the “scientific” received the greater respect, with doubters outnumbering believers.
National Geographic cites the biased work of the so-called Jesus Seminar, a group (essentially disbanded since 2006) of revisionist scholars who once tried to deconstruct the ancient biblical accounts, ladling out their human opinion of what they thought might have happened in the Gospels and what they labeled as far-fetched. NatGeo further cites what they call “a bombshell of a book,” the 1990 Historical Jesus , where one of the former Jesus Seminar participants serves up a warmed-over claim that Jesus was simply a first-century sarcastic wandering sage.
This revisionist nonsense about Jesus has appeared and reappeared off and on for centuries. The Apostle Paul identified those who didn’t like to retain God in their knowledge as out and out “haters of God” in the last verses of Romans 1. Over the centuries, liberal theologians have attempted to mix biblical tenets with science and explain that the miraculous works of a powerful God were myth or fiction.
Continuing archaeological finds can and do serve an excellent purpose in both confirming and illuminating the magnificent story of the biblical account. As NatGeo author Romey correctly points out, from archaeology’s point of view, “Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence.” In other words, just because something hasn’t been found yet (or may never be found) to confirm a given textual reference, that in itself is not “proof” that the textual narrative is less than accurate.
Romey accurately quotes an important point from one scholar: “Thanks to archaeology, there’s been a big change in thinking—from Jesus the cosmopolitan Hellenist to Jesus the observant Jew.” The fact that Jesus was born into the biblical tribe of Judah and lived and died as a practicing Jew may be a shock to some traditionalists. But that’s exactly what happened. Jesus’ practices of keeping the seventh-day Sabbath, upholding the law of God (Matthew 5:17-20 Matthew 5:17-20 17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.
18 For truly I say to you, Till heaven and earth pass, one stroke or one pronunciation mark shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
19 Whoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
20 For I say to you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
American King James Version×) and putting God first—”You shall love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30 Mark 12:30And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength: this is the first commandment.
American King James Version×, emphasis added), all stood out in stark contrast to the times, both then and now.
A major part of Jesus’ early ministry was spent in northern Galilee near critical trade routes. As National Geographic acknowledges, archaeology may have found the remains of the very synagogue where Jesus preached in Capernaum on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. The Gospels are careful to record that Jesus performed an astonishing degree of “mighty works”—supernatural acts inexplicable by human means—in that region where numerous trade routes existed (Matthew 11:20-24 Matthew 11:20-24 20 Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not:
21 Woe to you, Chorazin! woe to you, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
22 But I say to you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you.
23 And you, Capernaum, which are exalted to heaven, shall be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in you, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.
24 But I say to you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.
American King James Version×). Think about how stories and summaries of these “mighty works” might have been carried by commercial traders to all corners of the Roman Empire, thus laying the foundation for the later spreading of the gospel.
The Real Jesus/The Unknown God
Paul illuminated the proof of the real Jesus to a most improbable group: ancient Greek philosophers. On one of his extensive journeys, the apostle Paul made his way down the Grecian peninsula, walking some 70 miles from northern Thessalonica to Athens in the south. A learned scholar himself, Paul immediately “reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks” (Acts 17:17 Acts 17:17Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him.
American King James Version×, New International Version) about Jesus and the truth of the gospel.
But he expanded his outreach in this legendary epicenter of human philosophical thought. He took the gospel to “the marketplace,” an area where public speaking and discourse on various topics was permitted and encouraged. Paul immediately attracted major attention, “because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection” (Acts 17:18 Acts 17:18Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seems to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached to them Jesus, and the resurrection.
American King James Version×). Paul sought to satisfy the Greeks with proof and testimony about the real Jesus!
So, Paul set out on a unique course. He addressed a special group of philosophers and local officials on Mars Hill (the Areopagus). The parallels to today are amazing. Paul piqued their interest with a reference to a nearby monument inscribed “To the Unknown God.” Paul thus declared: “The One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you” (Acts 17:23 Acts 17:23For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore you ignorantly worship, him declare I to you.
American King James Version×).
Tapping into their professed quest for truth, Paul skillfully outlined the mighty attributes of God, the very Father of Jesus, even quoting their own poets to show the widespread recognition of these important truths. He concluded with the fact that this mighty God “has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man He has ordained” (Acts 17:31 Acts 17:31Because he has appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he has ordained; whereof he has given assurance to all men, in that he has raised him from the dead.
American King James Version×). This, of course, is a direct reference to Jesus.
Paul proclaimed the historical and personal validity of Jesus before possibly the most difficult of all audiences. He authoritatively showed them the Real Jesus.
The last sentence of the article is actually my last word about who the Real Jesus is to me: “for true believers, their faith in the life, death and Resurrection of the Son of God will be evidence enough.” I am thankful daily for having found the Real Jesus who still, for most of the world, is the Unknown God. As Paul said on Mars Hill, in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:20 Acts 17:20For you bring certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean.
American King James Version×). I am so happy that this is the reality and foundation of my life. I am hoping that more people can come to this realization through the Work that God does in and through us.