Shortly after moving to the Richmond, VA area in 1989 we met two couples who lived north of the city. Their friendship has been precious to us over the years. The two husbands have met much to me, men to whom I could reveal my soul.
When I first met them, my two new friends (the husbands) had been friends, it seemed, before time began. They had a friendship that I, at times, envied; at all times I respected it – their friendship, and that of their families, was a wonderful model of love and friendship. Over the years these two couples have been a constant source of love and encouragement for Vickie and me. Whether in good times or bad, whether in celebration or in stress, our friends have always been there for me, for us…always, always, always.
The friend who I am thinking of this morning, and praying for, is one of those men who has a presence; when he walks into a room you know he is there, when he writes his thoughts they are powerfully communicated, when he speaks he draws your attention the way a magnet draws iron shavings. He is soft spoken, he is kind, he is generous. I envisioned us always being together, if not in physical presence, then in communion with our Lord Jesus.
But now I look and I don’t see him and I don’t understand why. He once shared his testimony about coming to know Jesus Christ, he once read the Scriptures to discover Christ…wherever he might be reading…whether the Law and Prophets or the Gospels and Epistles. But now I look and I don’t see him and I don’t understand why. I don’t understand why he now says the Gospels and Epistles are man’s fantasies; I don’t understand why Jesus is but another man to him…to him my friend. And I don’t understand why he, my friend, now strives to turn others from knowing Jesus, the Son of God.
I am convinced of two things which my friend disputes; that Jesus Christ is the risen Son of God and that the New Testament is a reliable document in terms of textual transmission. My bookshelves are lined with English translations of ancient Christian writing that span many authors and centuries; the writings contain quotation after quotation, and allusion after allusion, to the New Testament as well as the Law and the Prophets – it would be a grand conspiracy indeed if this mass of documents (along with other documents that are not on my bookshelves but are from the same period) were found to be the result of forgery, fabrication, and lies. Whether one believes the assertions and witness of these documents, the textual integrity of the Scriptures is open for all to see. It is arrogant for people who live two-thousand years after the fact to dismiss that for which countless men and women have given their lives for down through the centuries. Dispute the witness if you will, but to dispute the textual transmission is something that requires a suspension of historical tests that are otherwise applied to other ancient and historical documents and witnesses. Why would men and women disseminate this poison? My friend was poisoned by others, now he passes the poison on.
Then there is Jesus; Jesus is Biblical Christianity and Biblical Christianity is Jesus Christ, the risen Son of God. My friend would likely now say that since he does not view the New Testament as Scripture that my idea of Biblical Christianity is not important to him. My response is that I know Jesus Christ and I know others who know Jesus Christ. For the past 2,000 years there is a record of countless men and women and children who have known Jesus Christ. They have not just known about Him, they have known Him. These people have come from countless backgrounds – social, economic, educational, ethnic, political – and they have had personal and collective relationships with Jesus Christ. It is not likely that they have all had the same delusion or illusion; in fact, many people I have known have shared the same experience of Jesus without preconceived notions of what that experience should be.
The historical record indicates that countless people in history have not only believed the Biblical witness – but they have experienced the Biblical witness – they have known Jesus Christ in much the same way we know our spouses and family members – in personal relationships. Many of these people have been functionally illiterate or have otherwise had limited knowledge of the Bible – and yet there is a commonality of experience of Jesus Christ – a commonality we would expect when talking about actually knowing a person…rather than simply knowing about a person. The Biblical witness guides and authenticates our experience, and our experience authenticates the Biblical witness – in other words, the Biblical witness corresponds to the reality we see around us and the reality we experience within us and with others.
My friend would point to caricatures of Jesus as seen in Christians and in organized religion – I cannot argue that the professing church has often desecrated the image of Jesus and the Gospel, I cannot argue that the professing church can often be on artificial life support as it seeks to sustain itself rather than trust Jesus Christ to sustain it. I cannot argue that professing Christians often act as though they know nothing of Jesus Christ – the Biblical Jesus Christ. But my friend pays too much attention to the ugly and not the beautiful, he focuses on the counterfeit and not the real…and in so doing he employs one counterfeit to counter another counterfeit.
I love Jesus Christ. I have known Him for around 51 years now. He is my life. He is not an idea, He is not a belief, He is not an icon, He is not a painting, He is not a figment of my imagination. He is my Lord and my God and I owe Him my life. His love and presence surrounds Vickie and me as we walk though this life together. We do walk with Him, and we do talk with Him; as individuals and as a husband and wife. We experience Him with others, and we long to see Him face to face.
Our society may teach that we are the products of time plus matter plus chance, and we may be encouraged to live as if there is no eternity. Others may entice us with promises of a higher way of thinking or learning and promise us a hidden spiritual wisdom and experience not available to others. Toxic teachers and false prophets under the guise of scholarship may spin webs of deceit with systems of thinking that in any other discipline of study would likely be rejected due to lack of objectivity, and in doing so they may lure others into a spiritual opium den. All of these groups and individuals may do what they may to make us “men without chests” (from C.S. Lewis) and desecrate the one message of hope in the world, the Gospel of Jesus Christ – but we have the promise of Jesus Christ that He will never leave us or forsake us and that the gates of hell will not prevail against His Church, the true Church, that transcends time and space and natural origin.
Life is about Jesus Christ, and in Jesus Christ alone there is life. This is not an esoteric or academic or sociological game.