by Pastor Dan Miller
Editor’s Note: This article was reprinted with permission from Dan Miller’s book Spiritual Reflections.
You may remember the days when our nation’s media sources were obsessed with the dawn of the new millennium. It was difficult to pick up a newspaper, thumb through a magazine, or watch a thoughtful program on television at that time without encountering a list of the most influential people of the past year (1999), decade (1990’s), century (twentieth) or millennium (second). The lists of names, pigeon-holed into one inventive category after another, seemed endless.
In the midst of this barrage I was struck with Time magazine’s nomination for pivotal figure of the past millennium: Jesus of Nazareth (Time, December 6, 1999). Time is an “enlightened” journal with wide circulation and fully innocent of any and all charges of pandering to religious zealots. So I was a little surprised by its acknowledgment of the significance of Jesus—surprised at such candor from a publication that so studiously ignores the significance of Christ in the lion’s-share of its endeavors. Be that as it may, I believe Time was right to recognize that no single individual has so influenced our world in the past millennium (make that two) as Jesus Christ.
There are still some who insist that Jesus never lived. They acknowledge the obvious influence of myths about Jesus, but insist that He was an imaginary figure. This happily rare notion still finds a proponent now and then—spokespersons, it must be said, who willing labor with a cavalier disregard for historical facts. Substantial evidence gleaned from ancient Jewish, pagan, and Christian sources demonstrates beyond question that Jesus lived. For that matter, what greater proof of one’s influence than the dogged lengths to which his detractors will go to prove that He never existed!
Others dismiss Jesus’ significance by viewing Him in light of the failures of His more notorious followers. Admittedly, it is not difficult to find people throughout history who have claimed to follow Jesus while failing miserably to honor His teachings. But the inherent danger in dismissing such followers (which ought to be done) is that one’s image of Jesus can be easily distorted in the process (which is a tragic blunder).
Those who detect shortcomings in the followers of Jesus should at least temper their judgments with the realization that any teacher whose followers walk in strict, universal conformity to all of His teachings either does not have much to say or is a tyrannical dictator. Jesus taught the truth (John 14:6) and it is not He who is judged by the response of His hearers, but His hearers who are judged by their response to His teachings.
All this aside, Time’s editors honestly acknowledged the tremendous influence Jesus has exerted on our world. This does not mean they acknowledge the claims of Jesus. Rather, the “enlightened class” typically dismisses such claims by insisting they are nothing more than an inventive recasting of Jesus’ teachings by His over-zealous followers. Clearly it is one thing to acknowledge Jesus’ influence (thank you, Time); it is quite another to embrace Jesus as Lord and worthy of all honor and glory.
So what is it that compels some to step beyond a reasoned acknowledgment of Jesus’ influence and to actually worship Him? Consider three reasons. The first two are objective. The third is (happily) subjective.
PROPHESY. Jesus fulfilled numerous prophetic statements made about Him centuries before he was born. These prophecies were made by a number of individuals, many of whom were separated from one another by several centuries, precluding any coordinated conspiracy of deception.
They prophesied, for instance, that Messiah would be born to a virgin (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:18-25), in the city of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:1-6), of the lineage of Judah’s King David (Genesis 49:10; Isaiah 9:6-7; Matthew 1:1-17). The prophet Daniel pinpointed the very day Messiah would present Himself as king and the specific mode of transportation He would employ to ride into Jerusalem on that day (Daniel 9:24-25; Isaiah 62:11; Matthew 21:1-11). Jesus Himself prophesied repeatedly that He would die a violent death on a stake and rise from the dead three days later (Matthew 16:21-28; 20:17-19). Jesus fulfilled all of these prophesies (and others like them) with stunning accuracy.
RESURRECTION. Historically speaking there is one fundamental reason why I am a Christian: Jesus Christ rose from the dead. If this event is a grand hoax, I am without hope and without God (1 Corinthians 15:12-19). But there is solid evidence that Jesus did conquer death. Scripture reveals it (Luke 23:50-24:43; Acts 10:34-43). The historical record supports it. Investigative research confirms it. Spiritual experience demands it.
Consider by way of illustration the journey of the mid-nineteenth to early twentieth century Jewish scholar, Simon Greenleaf—a renowned authority in jurisprudence at Harvard Law School. Greenleaf was also known for repeatedly reminding his students to never decide a case until they had considered all the evidence. In the course of a lecture one day, Greenleaf casually dismissed the resurrection of Jesus Christ as myth. He was embarrassed when one of his students turned the professor’s famous dictum back upon him, objecting, “But professor, have you considered all the evidence?” Greenleaf left the classroom that day determined to prove the resurrection of Jesus a hoax.
Applying his considerable abilities to a careful analysis of all the evidence, Greenleaf was shocked by his findings. After extensive research he was forced to accept the resurrection of Jesus as historical fact. Eventually he embraced Jesus as his risen Savior (cf. Simon Greenleaf, The Testimony of the Evangelists Examined by the Rules of Evidence Administered in Courts of Justice, 1874).
The resurrection of Jesus from the dead not only emboldened His first followers; it formed the central tenet of their preaching (Acts 2:22-32; 3:12-15; 4:8-10; 10:34-43). Often paying with their lives, the first Christians fearlessly proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus until their message dramatically stirred the Roman world (Acts 17:1-8; 19:10). It is a message which continues to transform lives today.
PERSONAL TRANSFORMATION AND JOY. I am less a convert to the teachings of Jesus, and more a new creation in spiritual union with the risen Christ (Galatians 2:20; 2 Corinthians 5:17). I know not how else to explain what has happened in my own soul. I was once dead to spiritual interest and understanding and incapable of living righteously. But God acted upon me and opened my eyes to His truth and continues to patiently transform me. And it all started with a realization that Christ is who He claimed to be and did what He claimed to do.
And this spiritual life I have experienced is radically transforming people all over the world. With regularity I read the reports from every continent. I see it in people’s eyes. I witness it in our church. People once controlled by sin are unmistakably freed of its tyranny. This liberation starts when they place their full confidence in a simple message: Jesus died to provide forgiveness of sin for those who trust in His redemptive work and He rose from the dead to give life to His people (1 Corinthians 15:1-6).
Jesus is not only the man of the second millennium; He is the man, period, and will be forever. So in the final analysis, this Man is not judged by what we think of Him; we are judged by what we think of Him.
|Dan Miller has served as senior pastor of Eden Baptist Church (Savage, MN) since 1989. He graduated from Pillsbury Baptist Bible College (Owatonna, MN) with a B.S. degree in 1984. His graduate degrees include an M.A. in History from Minnesota State University, Mankato, and M.Div. and Th.M. degrees from Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). He is nearing completion of D.Min. studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, IL). Dan is married to Beth, and the Lord has blessed them with four children.