Life is empty without Jesus

 …you were redeemed from the empty way of life… – 1 Peter 1:18

To live in certain parts of Siberia means to live in some extreme conditions. Over the years, observers of people who live in those extreme conditions of Siberia have described an unsettling phenomenon. The phenomenon has come to be known as “Siberian Hysteria.”

A Japanese author has described Siberian Hysteria in this way. He says, “Try to imagine this: You’re a farmer, living all alone on the Siberian tundra. Day after day you plow your fields. As far as the eye can see, nothing. To the north, the horizon, to the east, the horizon, to the south, to the west, more of the same. Every morning, when the sun rises in the east, you go out to work in your fields. When it’s directly overhead, you take a break for lunch. When it sinks in the west, you go home to sleep. And then one day, something inside you dies. Day after day you watch the sun rise in the east, pass across the sky, then sink in the west, and something breaks inside you and dies. You toss your plow aside and, your head completely empty of thought, begin walking toward the west. Heading toward a land that lies west of the sun. Like someone, possessed, you walk on, day after day, not eating or drinking, until you collapse on the ground and die.” That is a description of Siberian Hysteria.

It is also a description of your life and mine without Jesus.

Think about that for a moment. Isn’t it true that the worst part of living as a lost soul in a broken world is just the sheer emptiness of it all? I can do things to occupy my time. I can find enough to eat. I can find a place to sleep. But if I am doing all this in a vacuum, if I am doing all this surrounded by emptiness–emptiness of meaning, emptiness of hope, emptiness of anything that matters–isn’t it true that I am just a case of Siberian Hysteria waiting to happen?

That’s why God chose to invade my emptiness. He invaded my emptiness in the Person of Jesus. Where once was the awful nothingness created by my own sin, there now is my Savior. His perfect life and death on my behalf destroyed the chasm that had surrounded me, isolated me, made me so alone.

Then he rose from death, just to assure me that my days of emptiness were over; to assure me that I would never be alone again. Ever.

And he has done the same for you.

Darkness Pierced

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. – Romans 8:15

For a young man by the name of Andy Nieman, the darkness in life had become complete. “I lived in a place of total darkness,” he later said. Given his life history up to that point, perhaps you and I would have felt the same way.

He grew up in a violent home with alcoholic parents. His earliest memory was that of waking up in a cold house during the winter. He was alone. He remembers screaming in panic because no one was there.

At age ten he was placed in a boarding school. For the next three years he endured abuse. By the time he left, he said, shame covered him “like a cloak.”

In the years that followed, Andy staggered through a haze of alcohol and drugs. He ended up on the streets of Vancouver. The sheer misery and loneliness of his life had now reached a point where he just wanted it to stop. On what he described as “one of the loneliest days of [his] life,” Andy purchased enough cocaine to give himself a fatal overdose.

Before he acted on it, however, something happened. Somewhere along the line, someone had told him about Jesus. And so in that moment, on that day, in the total darkness of his life, Andy simply prayed, “Help me, Jesus.” And Jesus did. An old friend of Andy’s came and carried him through that terrible day. Soon after, the message of God’s Word refreshed Andy in what Jesus Christ had done at the cross to embrace him and forgive him and wash him clean. And the darkness went away.

Today Andy Nieman serves as a Christian pastor, reaching out to those who are still in that “place of total darkness.” To pierce that darkness he has the light of Jesus Christ—the same light that can pierce your darkness too.

Is Jesus Just a Prophet?

Prophets come in all shapes and sizes. If you speak of prophets in Christian circles, they will recall Old Testament folks like Isaiah and Jeremiah. But what about Jesus? Was he just a prophet among the many prophets?

Generally, prophets are known by their claim to speak about secret events or to reveal some divine truth not known by their hearers. And since it is unknown, there could be many so-called prophets who will say interesting things. But who is to know if they are speaking from supernatural, inspired knowledge, or just making stuff up?

When prophets predict some future event that doesn’t come true, it certainly causes us quickly to lose confidence in their claim to have a special ability as a prophet. We ought to listen carefully to those who have never missed once.

That narrows the field of prophets down quite a bit. While in Japan I was touring a Buddhist Temple at Narita. The monks were busy scribbling “holy writings.” I asked a teacher what they were doing, and he said, “They are updating their holy writings in order to make them relevant to today.” If their prophets were supposed to proclaim some divine truth, it would surely be suspect and hardly reliable.

Compare that to the prophets of the Bible. Every one of their prophecies was fulfilled. The Bible hasn’t changed in over 3000 years, and still every prophecy holds true. Quite dependable, wouldn’t you say?

Jesus was called a prophet. Matter of fact, Moses told God’s people to be looking for this prophet (Deuteronomy 18:18). When Jesus lived on earth, he did prophesy about the coming of the kingdom of God and about his purpose to save the world. He often spoke about his own suffering and death. Other prophets spoke of these things too, but what sets Jesus apart from all the other prophets is the fact that all the other prophets directed their attention to the promised Savior—to Jesus.

Jesus fulfilled every prophecy about the promised Savior. He was born from a virgin in Bethlehem; he descended from the Tribe of Judah; after his birth there would be a massacre of babies; he rode a donkey into Jerusalem; he was betrayed by his friend for 30 pieces of silver; he was rejected by his own people; and he was accused and condemned unjustly. Then came the big fulfillments. He suffered on a cross while the soldiers cast lots for his clothes. He died and then had his side pierced without one bone being broken, Jesus was buried with the rich and rose again from the dead – everything just as had been prophesied about him.

No other prophet, either Christian or non-Christian, has come close to fulfilling what Jesus did. No other prophet has come close to proclaiming accurately the secret things of God like Jesus did. No other prophet has come close to fulfilling prophecy like Jesus has.

Jesus is a prophet. But he is much more. He is the Savior of the world. He has freed us from the punishment of sin and hell. Jesus is our Savior. You can count on it!

Knowing Jesus or Knowing about Jesus—what’s the difference?

Isn’t social media wonderful for staying in touch? Watch a video of your nephew’s first step. Share your grandmother’s recipes. Make personal contact with your best friend on his birthday. Monitor your classmate’s battle with cancer.

Even though separated by a distance, you carry your friends and family around with you in your pocket or purse. But it’s not the same as being there in person, is it? There’s no substitute for holding your mom’s hand at the clinic when she gets the bad news, or sitting by your dad’s side at the funeral. A relationship is more than following a news feed, it’s being an eyewitness to history and experiencing it.

What kind of relationship do you have with Jesus? Most people know the facts about his life, as told to them by parents and preachers. In Nazareth, the people knew who Jesus’ parents were. They heard reports about his preaching and his miracles, and they were thrilled to have him come for a visit. But they didn’t know him as well as they thought. He announced, “No prophet is accepted in his hometown” (Luke 4:24). And when Jesus started to tell them what needed to change, the people of Nazareth tried to kill him.

Just knowing the facts about Jesus doesn’t change my behavior or attitude. Just following the story with my head won’t make me feel ashamed of my sins and lead me to trust him as my Savior. And it certainly won’t get me to heaven, because knowing about Jesus isn’t the same thing as knowing Jesus. Knowing Jesus means taking to heart what he says about my sins. Knowing Jesus means there’s nothing I can do to make this relationship work, but that he makes it all possible. Knowing Jesus means experiencing his love and forgiveness. Knowing Jesus means walking with him through the darkest days of my life. Knowing Jesus means a relationship that never ends, no matter how bad the news is.

How can you be close to someone who lived so long ago? Read the eyewitness accounts written in the Bible. Put yourself in their place and apply what they saw and heard to your own life. Stay in touch with your Savior by regularly reading and listening to God’s Word, and speak to him in prayer. Join together with other Christians to grow in your knowledge about Jesus and what he means for you.

It’s true: No Jesus, no peace. Know Jesus, know peace.

How is Jesus the Savior of the world?

On September 11, 2001, passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 attempted to gain control of the hijacked airplane that was by most accounts headed for a target in Washington, D.C. The plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. All 44 passengers were killed. The valiant passengers sacrificed their lives so that possibly many more lives were spared. Those passengers were lifesavers in the sense that they substituted their own lives for the lives of others.

Christians refer to Jesus as a lifesaver. Jesus saved our lives and the lives of every single human being. That is quite an astounding assertion. How specifically did Jesus save the human race? The answer hinges on Jesus serving as our substitute.

The Bible clearly states that God is absolutely holy, righteous and just. The problem is that we human beings are not in God’s spiritual league, far from it. The apostle Paul bluntly reminds us that no one is perfect: “There is no one righteous, not even one…All have turned away and have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10,12).

We are sinful; God is not. Left to ourselves, our lack of holiness will prevent us from living eternally in our holy God’s presence. God’s Word says, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Instead of going to heaven, our final destiny is eternal death in hell. Jesus said that those who are not righteous will be cast by God into the place of torment (Matthew 13:49,50), the abode of the evil angel Satan. It is an ominous and bleak eternal outlook!

But God intervened. We have a lifesaver. We have a substitute. In unimaginable love, God the Father sent his Son, Jesus, to save us from death and hell. As true God and true man, Jesus lived a holy and sinless life in our place. Jesus substituted his holiness for our lack of holiness, so that because of Jesus God counts us completely holy!

Then in remarkable humble love for all of us, Jesus suffered and died. On the cross, Jesus suffered the agony of eternal separation from God the Father’s love. We deserved that eternal punishment for our sin, but God put Jesus under the sentence of death as our substitute.

Then victoriously Jesus rose from the dead to prove that he fully accomplished our salvation. He is the Savior who rescued the world from the guilt of sin, the hold of death, and the power of hell by his perfect life and his death for us.

Trust Jesus who is your “substitute” Savior, and all these eternal blessings are yours!

Why did Jesus do miracles?

When Jesus lived on this earth, he made some astounding claims. As a twelve-year-old, Jesus reminded his parents that God was his Father. In his sermons he said things like, “I am the light of the world… I am the way, the truth and the life… I am the living bread that came down from heaven…” (John 8:12, 14:6, 6:51). Near the end of his life, Jesus answered the question “Are you the Son of God,” saying, “Yes, it is as you say” (Matthew 26:64).

Jesus claimed to be divine. One would think that the divine would be able to do things on earth that mere humans could not. If Jesus really were divine, he should have been able to perform miracles.

Jesus did just that. He healed the sick, walked on water and even raised the dead. These miracles helped to support his claim that he was the true God come to earth to save mankind. Jesus said, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves” (John 14:11).

Jesus’ miracles did more than just support his divine claims. Jesus’ miracles provided him an audience to hear his message. Some came to see Jesus drawn by the prospect of seeing or receiving a miracle. When they came, Jesus also took the opportunity to tell them about the good news of forgiveness.

However, Jesus’ miracles were no mere marketing tool. Jesus genuinely cared about people and used his divine power to bring healing and happiness. The Bible tells us, “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick” (Matthew 14:14).

Finally, Jesus’ miracles helped to build up the faith of those who believed in him. For example, one night Jesus slept in a boat while a deadly storm raged on the sea. Deathly afraid, Jesus’ friends woke him up and pleaded with him to do something. In a miracle of divine proportions, Jesus raised his hands, rebuked the wind and the water, and the storm immediately calmed (Luke 8:22-25). Jesus’ miracle of power over the storm helped bolster the weak faith of his friends.

What Was Jesus Doing Before He Began His Ministry?

“Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his ministry.”  The Bible, in Luke 3:23, gives us that life-marker for Jesus.  The four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) then go on to describe a three year ministry of Jesus.  So we know Jesus died, rose and ascended into heaven at about age 33.  What was Jesus doing all those years before he celebrated his 30th birthday?

Aside from the account of Jesus’ birth and infancy, there is only one account in the Bible about his boyhood.  That’s the time when the 12 year old Jesus was in the temple courts of Jerusalem amazing his teachers with his knowledge of the Scriptures.  You can read about it in Luke 2:41-52.  The account ends in an interesting way.  God tells us that the boy Jesus did not remain in Jerusalem in the temple.  Instead he was obedient to his earthly parents and went back with them to his hometown of Nazareth.  There in Nazareth, from age 12 to 30, “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”

That’s it.  That’s all we’ve got in the Bible about what Jesus was doing for all those years.  We might wish we had more.  That’s when it’s good to remember that the Bible wasn’t given to us so that we could know every detail of Jesus’ life on this earth.  It was given to us that we might be, as Paul once wrote to Timothy, “wise unto salvation.”  That’s a shorthand way of saying the Bible tells us exactly what we need to know about Jesus in order to believe in him and be saved.

Speaking of “saved,” consider that one little statement that summarizes 18 years of Jesus’ life and what it says about being saved.  “Jesus grew in favor with God and men.”  This means Jesus was loving God perfectly and loving his neighbor as himself perfectly for all those years.  He was keeping every single command of God’s holy will.  The Bible says that he was just like you and me except that he did not sin.  Jesus, true God from eternity, came to earth and became a perfect human being.

So what does that have to do with being saved?  It means you have a perfect Substitute.  Jesus places his perfection over your sin so that you may stand before God as not guilty.  Jesus himself affirmed this at his baptism when he told John that he had come “to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15).  And the apostle Paul underscored this truth when he said that Jesus “was born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).

What does Jesus teach about PEACE?

It was more of the same: The usual morning battle to persuade the sixteen year old to get in and out of the shower in under an hour.  The struggle to get the seven month old fed, dressed, changed, and dressed again.  The usual clash with thousands of other drivers also trying to shave minutes off their daily commute times.  The mental fatigue involved with trying to figure out what went so wrong that there are separation papers in the glove box needing to be signed by Friday.  The physical wars all over the world covered daily on talk radio news.  It was more of the same.

As she squealed into stall number 21 five minutes late for work, the stupid bumper sticker on the Chevy in stall 20 caught her eye again as it did every day: “No Jesus no peace; Know Jesus know peace.” She scoffed to herself and then shouted out loud for all to hear, “What-EVER!” sounding a lot like her teenager.

Although the noise of life makes it difficult to have peace, this is exactly what Jesus promises, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

Jesus’ peace most likely won’t quiet a screaming child.  Jesus’ peace doesn’t guarantee a slick commute in the morning.  Jesus’ peace won’t make all your problems and all the world’s conflicts fade away.

Jesus does, however, promise a peace that will quiet your heart.  Knowing that Jesus came into this world to heal damaged relationships with God brings peace to a troubled soul.  Knowing that Jesus came to open wide the doors to heaven brings true peace to confused and searching minds.  Knowing that Jesus is waiting to welcome you to his eternal home where there will be no more “noise” makes all the noises of life a little easier to deal with.

Jesus promises, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.”

Unchanging Hope for an Ever-changing World

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  (Hebrews 13:8)

As one year ends and another begins, columnists and commentators look back at the previous year. What changed? What stayed the same? Whose passing did we mourn? Whose new arrival did we celebrate?

At the same time, we make predictions about the coming year. What will the new year hold? What will change? What will stay the same?

As fun and exciting as it may be to reminisce about the past and dream about the future, it can also be a little sad and scary. Things will likely never be what they used to be. Loved ones who have passed away don’t come back. Jobs that are lost seldom reappear quickly. Even when broken dreams and broken relationships are repaired, they rarely return to their former glory. Many times our experiences in an ever-changing world are difficult.

Yet we sometimes look at our lives and see a need for change. Many of us make New Year’s resolutions: “I’m going to exercise more and eat less.” “I’m going to save more and spend less.” “I’m going to love more and hate less.” But too often, our good intentions disappear, and only poor excuses remain.

No matter what (or who) changes from one year to the next, there is one who never changes—Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He always exists, from before time, throughout the course of time, and at the end of time for eternity. Jesus loved you before you were born. He loves you today, and he will always love you.

Jesus loved you so much that he wanted you to experience his unchanging love forever. So he came into the world to live up to God’s perfect demands in your place. He took the punishment for your imperfection and gave you the reward for his perfection. That reward is an eternity far away from this world’s sorrows and disappointments—the unchanging peace and joy of a place called heaven.

Jesus—the same yesterday, today, and forever—promises to be with us, to love us, to care for us, and to give perfect peace with God to all who trust in him. Only Jesus offers unchanging hope to an ever-changing world.

How did God become a man?

How did God become a man?

In a word: “miraculously.” When God became a man in the person of Jesus Christ, he overthrew the basic principle on which he had founded the universe: the distinction between the Creator and the creation.

The opening words of the Bible make that distinction clear: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”(Genesis 1:1). That means God is not the world, nor is he anything in the world.

The chasm between God and everything that isn’t God is vast and unbridgeable. Martin Luther once said it would be far easier to understand that a man became a donkey, than that God became a man. “Man” and “donkey” have much more in common. They’re both creatures, which makes them fundamentally like each other and fundamentally different from their Creator.

The Bible states that at a specific time and place in history, the eternal, almighty, infinite God became a human being like you and me, and yet without ceasing for an instant to be God.

God’s own angel explained it to a virgin by the name of Mary. He said: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” Luke 1:35.

This results in paradoxes we simply can’t understand. The Bible makes no attempt to explain them either. It simply says the baby who lay in the manger at Bethlehem is the Creator of the universe. The infinite, eternal God grew up in a village in Galilee. The almighty God went hungry, got thirsty, and even fell asleep.

Most miraculous and amazing of all, the immortal, eternal God died on Jesus’ cross.

These truths have important implications and blessings for us. Here are a few of them: Jesus’ atoning work is limitless in its scope and application; the sins of the world are completely paid; the redemption of mankind is accomplished; and God’s love for people is boundless.