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Who is Jesus ... Really?
A Dialogue On God, Man, And Grace
By Josh McDowell, Dave Sterrett, Paul Santhouse
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2011 Josh McDowell and Dave Sterrett
All rights reserved.
Late September Opal School of Religion Dallas, TX
THE AUDITORIUM was packed. Hundreds of students, faculty, and donors turned out for the humanitarian dinner, and Dr. William Peterson, professor emeritus at Opal School of Religion, was about to deliver the keynote. He walked onstage to hearty applause, spread his notes on the lectern, and made eye contact with friends.
* * *
"Thank you for that very gracious welcome. Honestly, the students who organized this event deserve all the recognition, and I'll be asking one of them to join me up here in just a moment. First, let me highlight an important upcoming event here at the school of religion.
"We're pleased to announce an exciting new lecture series entitled 'The Historical Christ: Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up.' Beginning October 8, right here in Wesley Auditorium, three professors --including two of our own—will be exploring and debating the historicity of Jesus Christ. This is something you won't want to miss."
Nick, sitting at a front table, nodded at his friend and instructor, Jamal Washington. Jamal would be one of those speakers, and Nick couldn't wait.
Dr. Peterson went on to recognize several teams of students who spent their summer months working with orphans and refugees in Majority World countries. Then, turning to his right, he invited one of them, Jessica Friesen, to join him at the podium and describe this year's student-led humanitarian campaign. Nick's heart pounded as Jessica crossed the stage. She looked stunning. He noted how long her hair looked when she wore it down, and how fit she looked, probably from her marathon training. If only I'd acted differently she might still be interested in me, he mused. Maybe I should have ... huh? His friend Jared was shoving a note under his elbow. He unfolded it and read, "Hey—close your mouth, chump!"
Nick smiled at him, and then turned back toward Jessica. She had been completely transformed since coming to faith in Christ five months ago. All she ever talked about was Jesus. No more getting wasted with the girls at the bars on McKinney and Lower Greenville. She even turned him down one night when he asked her out for Tex-Mex. What was that about? She loved Tex-Mex. Nick was offended because her rejection seemed personal. Although she expressed genuine gratitude for his influence in leading her to trust Christ, the more she grew in her relationship with God, the less time she made for her relationship with him.
Then again, she was busy. Between her nineteen credit hours, leading the Sudan project for girls, and training for the marathon, the only time he saw her was at the weekly I am Second campus Bible study. He shook his head. Months ago he was the one resisting a romantic relationship because of her disinterest in Christianity. Now she was avoiding him! It just didn't make sense.
Jessica closed with a story about the Opal students who had traveled to Sudan during the summer. The audience was moved by her emotional appeal and responded with a round of applause and cheering as she returned to her seat.
Throughout Dr. Peterson's lecture Nick glanced at Jessica and reflected on their times together. At one point, her eyes met his and she smiled before quickly looking back at Professor Peterson. She seemed to be moving on, and Nick felt convicted that he should be thinking more about the children in Sudan.CHAPTER 2
JESUS CHANGING ROCK STARS
IT WAS TUESDAY NIGHT and two hundred students were packed into McCulloch Coffee House for the weekly I am Second Bible study. Following a strong set of worship songs from the band, Nick mounted the stage while everyone else found seats. He wore a black T-shirt with bold white letters proclaiming I am Second. Grabbing the microphone he spoke with clarity and confidence. "I am second, and so are you! We're second because Jesus Christ is first!" At these simple words the students broke out in applause. One thing was for certain—this group didn't lack for enthusiasm.
* * *
Nick continued, "Before we show this week's video, I'm going to read you one of the all-time greatest descriptions of Jesus Christ ever written. It's from the apostle Paul's letter to the Colossians."
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
As soon as Nick finished reading, Jessica stepped onstage and led the students in a prayer. On her "amen," the lights dimmed and the I am Second video began. Nick was pumped. This powerful story was bound to get some feedback!
The video kicked off with eerie music in a totally dark room. A weird light shone over a white chair, and the voice of Brian "Head" Welch, former lead guitarist for the band Korn, came from off camera. Then he was sitting in the chair, surrounded by darkness, and covered with tattoos —including a tattoo of a small cross outside his right eye. The students were silent as Welch told his story with great sincerity.
"There was a few times where life seemed good. My daughter Jenna came into the world and it was just such a euphoric feeling. I thought my life could just feel like that forever I thought I was 'spiritual,' but I couldn't stay sober I hit rock bottom. I'd sworn that I would never do methamphetamines again because I saw what it did to my child's mother. It just took my wife's feelings away and made her leave her kid. I just wanted my wife dead. I wanted to kill her. I thought she was the scum of the earth. How could she do drugs like that and let the drugs win her like that? So I was never going to do meth again.
"I ended up with an everyday crippling addiction to methamphetamine and everything that I said about my ex-wife came true for me. I sunk to the lowest gutter I could ever think of. I would spend time with my kid and I would still be on it because I needed it to function. I would get up in the morning and have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and snort meth and then take her to school. I was a junkie. My life was just spinning out of control. Jenna had come out on one of the tours. I just remember her skipping around singing one of our Korn songs called 'A.D.I.D.A.S.' 'All Day I Dream About Sex.' And I'm going like, 'What am I doing? I'm a junkie, my daughter is singing all day I dream about sex, and I'm going to die.'
"My real estate broker, Eric, said, 'Brian, I don't mean to be weird with you, I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but I felt the Scripture jump out at me. I've never done this before so I don't really know how to do this, but I felt like this would mean something to you. It's Matthew 11:28. Jesus says, "Come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest." '
"I remember, all tweaked out, looking up in the dictionary 'weary.' I looked up 'burdened' and I pulled the Scripture apart. I admitted, 'I'm wearied and burdened and I need rest for my soul.' I didn't know if it was real, but they invited me to church a couple weeks later and I said a prayer to receive Christ at the church but I went home just like I used to do. I neglected my daughter, got it all smooth and powdery. But before I took it, I prayed, 'Jesus, You gotta take these drugs from me. Search me right now. Search my heart.'
"Something happened. I felt so much fatherly love from heaven and it was like 'I don't condemn you. I love you. I love you.' It was just love and instantly that love from God came into me. It was so powerful that the next day I threw away all my drugs and I quit Korn. I said, 'I'm quitting Korn and I'm going to raise my kid the right way.' I got the love from God coming into me and then it came out of me to my kid. It changed me. My heart was changed and I said to my daughter, 'Jenna, Daddy's going to be home with you all the time. I'm quitting my career.' And her face lit up and she was like, 'for me?' She felt so special and God used her to save me ... to save her life later on."
Nick returned to the stage as the lights came back up. He had a small leather Bible in his hand and chose his words carefully. "Maybe you too feel weary and burdened. If we're all willing to be honest, most of us have felt wearied. Last year, at least for me, it was late nights, hangovers, and some serious confusion about my life. Even now I struggle between having fun and doing well in school ... not to mention that I'm totally addicted to caffeine. Every student knows what it's like to be burdened, and to carry heavy loads. If that's you right now, here's something you should know. You don't have to figure it all out before coming to Jesus.
"Maybe you can relate to Brian Welch. Meth is a tough master. But so is drinking too much, or doing anything too much. You heard what he said about how to gain your freedom.
"Or maybe you watched that entire video and thought, 'I may not be perfect, but I don't have any problems like that guy had. I'm a good person living a good life and I'm good with God. Why surrender my life to Jesus?'
"Let me ask you a couple of questions. Have you ever told a lie?" Nick smiled. "Yeah, me too. The trouble is, that makes you and me liars. Have you ever had lust in your heart? How about your eyes—ever looked with lust at someone? Jesus said that anyone who lusts has committed adultery in his heart. Before I came to Jesus last year I looked at pornography all the time. Believe me, I know what it's like to get wasted and treat girls disrespectfully. How about this—have you ever hated anyone? Jesus said anyone who hates his brother or sister has committed murder in his heart. That makes every one of us a lying, adulterous murderer. You can check all this out in the gospel of Matthew, chapter five.
"We've all done lots of good things, and most of us live with the best of intentions. But compared to the infinite goodness and holiness of a Perfect Being, our best actions will never measure up. There's only one way to be good enough to stand before a holy God. You have to let Him forgive you. Today can be the day you receive Christ. He paid for your sin with His death. Accept that gift and make Him first in your life.
"Now is the perfect time to make a decision about Jesus. We're not promised tomorrow. Let's suppose hypothetically that you leave here tonight and get hit by a drunk driver. As you stand before God to give an account of your life, will you stand guilty ... or innocent? Do you think you would go to heaven ... or hell? If you don't know Jesus, I encourage you to talk with Him right now. Confess your sin, accept His forgiveness, and give Him control over your life. He died in your place and will forgive you and cleanse you of all of your sin!"CHAPTER 3
THE INSTANT NICK finished speaking, a former friend and classmate stood up and shouted, "That's just your opinion, Nick!" She was wearing a bright T-shirt proclaiming There's Probably No God—Now Stop Worrying and Enjoy Your Life in bold letters, and everyone stared.
Nick was startled, but recovered quickly. "Andrea? What are you doing? And what do you mean by that? You know what I've said is more than just my opinion. Every bit of it corresponds to historical reality. On what foundation is your opinion based?"
* * *
Immediately another student stood up, this one wearing a black shirt with Atheist printed in red letters. "Jesus Christ was a man! Nothing more! What makes you think your Jesus is better than any other teacher?"
Nick turned to look at him and said, "You're right—Jesus was a man. But He was also God, and He proved His claims of deity by His resurrection."
Another student yelled, "Hey Nick, you're full of it!"
Nick, growing irritated, called back, "What's your name?"
The student didn't answer, so Nick persisted. "You—the one who told me I'm full of it. What's your name?"
Lord, give Nick wisdom, Jessica prayed silently.
"I'm Sam," replied the student.
"Okay, Sam. Explain to me how I'm full of it."
"Jesus Christ was just a man ... and that's all. A do-good teacher followed by some misguided, naïve people—like you. Those people attributed outrageous supernatural abilities to Him."
Nick shot back, "why do you think so many people attributed supernatural power to Him?"
Sam didn't answer because the guy with the atheist T-shirt, cut in. "Very few, if any, books written back then mentioned his divinity. Jesus might have been a popular guy, but He sure wasn't divine."
Nick was in adrenaline mode. "You really don't have any basis for your claim—and I was actually asking Sam the question."
Sam yelled, "Jesus wasn't even a good teacher! He was a moron on a power trip, deceiving the gullible with riddles and condemning anyone who disagreed to hell."
Nick looked at Sam. "First of all, you're contradicting yourself. You just said Jesus was a 'do-good teacher.' You also said He was a moron who taught riddles, yet the people attributed supernatural abilities to Him. If Jesus was just an ignorant moron, why would eyewitnesses attribute miracles to Him?"
"You're just a superstitious Christian!" yelled another angry student. "We don't believe in God, talking snakes, virgin births, or unicorns!"
Things were getting out of hand. Did Andrea bring the entire atheist club here just to interrupt me? wondered Nick. Then he got an idea. "Friends, I understand why some of you are angry. I felt the same way as an agnostic. I couldn't even stand the thought of God. I get that. But we're running out of time here so let me make a request. I ask that you not interrupt tonight's meeting any more. We can have dialogue without verbal attacks. In fact, in three weeks we're hosting a forum with one of our own instructors, Jamal Washington, addressing the identity of the historical Christ. Jamal, a theist, will be joined by Dr. Jurgen Hitzfield, the agnostic church historian, and Dr. Franck Gouffran, an atheist philosopher of science. I invite you to come to this forum. For now, I'm going to close in prayer and then the band is going to close us out with a couple more songs. I ask that you would please be respectful and not interrupt me. Also, Andrea, will you chat with me afterwards?"
Andrea's face remained blank, and when the band finished up she was gone. Nick hoped either Mina or Jessica connected with her, but it seemed like she was hurting and didn't want to talk.
He left the coffeehouse frustrated that he hadn't offered better answers and that he didn't handle the rowdy crowd very well. He also felt convicted because of his bad attitude.
As he was leaving, a young man holding a motorcycle helmet stopped him. "Hey Nick, my name is Brett. Can I ask you a question?"
"I liked the I am Second video, but do you think I can meet with you sometime about this stuff?"
"Yeah, I'd be glad to meet with you. Tell me what's up."
"First, I want to apologize for my rude atheist friends. I have my own questions and doubts, but they shouldn't have jacked your meeting."
"That's okay," said Nick. "Christians can be pretty rude sometimes, too."
Brett nodded. "Anyways, I'm a biology and premed student and I tend to be logical in my thinking. I didn't grow up in Texas like these Bible-thumping kids. My father taught at MIT and he trained us to avoid blind emotional faith. Even though Brian Welch's story is good, I don't think personal testimony counts for much. Stories like his have no actual value to anyone but Christians, and such things only serve to strengthen what you guys already believe. It's confirmation bias."
"What you're saying makes sense," said Nick. "I would agree that personal testimony may not be the strongest intellectual argument for God, but I wouldn't say it doesn't have any actual value in reality."
"Nick, it matters to you because you're a Christian, but it doesn't count for anything to people like me who have a logical, rational, scientific outlook."
Nick motioned toward the outdoor tables and chairs. "You have a minute to talk?"CHAPTER 4
A SKEPTIC WANTS HISTORICAL EVIDENCE
"NICK, IF I GAVE YOU a video of Mother Teresa expressing her doubts and how she could never feel God in her life, would you change your view? If not, you prove my point. Look, you could show me a video of Richard Dawkins himself becoming a Christian and saying, 'I am second to Jesus,' and it wouldn't impress me a bit. Like Christopher Hitchens said, the gospels have 'multiple authors—none of whom published anything until many decades after the Crucifixion and who cannot agree on anything of importance.' Nick, if you really want me to believe in this Jesus of yours, you'll have to provide historical evidence. Even then I'll be skeptical of all the so-called miracles and 'Jesus is God' stuff."
Excerpted from Who is Jesus ... Really? by Josh McDowell, Dave Sterrett, Paul Santhouse. Copyright © 2011 Josh McDowell and Dave Sterrett. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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