Jesus of Nazareth, “The man nobody knows,” Bruce Barton once called him. There was irony in that, of course, for everybody knows Jesus. If an advertising firm on Madison Avenue were to conduct a test to determine the recognition value of Jesus’ name, they would surely find that it is known to more households in the world today than any other name, including Karl Marx, LeBron James, George Bush and Barack Obama.
The name Jesus is invoked missions of times a day, perhaps even billions. Hundreds of thousands of churches and cathedrals stand as monumental testimony to his glory. More books are written about him each year than about any other person who ever lived.
The sheer economic fallout of his influence, including the global empire of the papacy, countless schools, agencies, and publishing houses, and the far-flung enterprises of radio and television evangelists, denominational groups, and charitable organizations, is beyond computation.
But of all the millions of people who call themselves Christians, who belong to churches and parishes, who use the name of Jesus in some manner to describe themselves: how many do you suppose can be said to be on intimate terms with him, to know him really well?
If only half of the millions of people who claim to be his followers knew him today as that small group did, then our world by now would have been altered beyond recognition. If only a fourth of the people who use his name really knew him, deeply and personally, then we would not be in the precarious world situation we are in today, with crime and disease and poverty and the threat of war.
Obviously, we do not know him well enough to follow his teachings. He commended meekness and submission; and we promote machoism and toughness. He exalted forgiveness and compassion; and we practice pride and retaliation. He counseled sharing and stewardship; and we treat everything as if it existed for our private welfare or exploitation.
“You shall love God with all your heart and mind and soul,” he said, “and your neighbor as yourself.” We begin with ourselves, rarely think of our neighbors, and almost never get around to God.
A lovely, outgoing friend needed a job. She went to work for a prominent church as a wedding hostess. “I have always loved being in church,” she said, “and I thought it would be a wonderful position. But was I ever wrong! In all my years of working, I have never encountered such pettiness, meanness, and downright rudeness as I experienced in a month in that position.”
She soon resigned from the position and left that church. She ran into too many people who professed to be friends of Jesus but who had never learned to live by his teachings.
Then, too, many people do not know Jesus well enough to deal with personal suffering as he did. “If anyone would come after me,” he said, “let them deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me.”
Jesus never promised his disciples that life would be easy for them if they only believed in God and committed themselves to the way of righteousness. “I have not come to bring peace but a sword,” he said. Nobody is worthy of me who has not left father and mother and everything else.”
There is an awful heresy abroad in the world today that following Jesus Christ will bring riches and rewards. Once, I was visited by two young women who were visibly upset by the disappointing results of this heresy. Allured by the promise of a prominent television evangelist that God would richly reward anyone who sacrificed worldly possessions to further the evangelist’s work, they sold a small house they owned in the city, gave part of the proceeds to the evangelist, and moved to rented property near the evangelist’s headquarters.
Several months had elapsed and the young women unable to find work were nearly out of funds. “Why hasn’t God fulfilled His promise?” they wanted to know.
The truth is that the blessings of God are often of an intangible nature and cannot be negotiated in the banks and money markets. The blessings of God have to do with inner peace and satisfaction and meaningfulness, not with job security and guaranteed wages.
For his own part, Jesus endured the slander and reproach of others to an almost unprecedented degree; he underwent sufferings and humiliations that have become a reference point for suffering and humiliation in the great art and literature of the world. Deserted and denied by his own followers, he hung alone upon a cross for the sins of the world.
“Unless a seed falls into the ground and dies,” he said, “it abides alone.”
And every minister talks to people who bear the name of Jesus, yet complain of every little ache or pain or inconvenience as if God had turned His back on them and was permitting unbearable affliction to fall on them.
How does one come to know Jesus better, as so many faithful folk have? It is not always a matter of our choosing, I am afraid. We have no blanket prerogative to know Him well. The initiative remains with God and God alone; it is part of what the Bible calls His divine sovereignty. But if one is fortunate enough to be chosen for such a revelation – if God is speaking to your heart about it now, for example – then it is important to be open to Him when He comes to you.
“Behold,” he says, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and will open to me, I will come in and sup with him” – an act of intimacy – “and he with me.” He will not violate your will or personality by intruding where you are not prepared to receive him. You are an individual and he will not do that.
When Jesus appeared to the disciples in the upper room after his resurrection from the dead, he simply came and stood in their midst. There was no knock, no call, no forewarning. But he will not do that to you as an individual. He knocks at the door and waits. He calls from the threshold of your life until you respond and invite him in.
Holman Hunt’s famous portrait of Jesus Christ pictures him standing at the door. There is Christ: strong, patient, gentle, waiting beside the thick wooden door where he has knocked. There is an aura of light around him, illuminating the darkness outside the cottage. And, as you have always heard, there is no knob or latchstring on the exterior of the door. The only control to the door is on the inside, at the will of the occupant.
How do you get to know Jesus better? You listen for him at your life’s threshold, and, at the least indication of his being there, you open the door as quickly and widely as you can say, “Enter, Master, and take charge of this humble life!” You welcome his as Lord. Perhaps you do it more than once. He stops at some doors many times. Each time he is more warmly welcomed, more deeply admitted. “Enter, Master, and take charge of this humble life!”
Some of us, I fear, have a way of shutting off rooms to him, of saying, “You are a guest here; you may come this far and no farther.” So he keeps standing at doors and waiting to be master of the entire household.
In the end, it must be as it was for the Apostle Paul, who said, “For me to live is Christ.” You may punctuate it anyway you like; the New Testament does not care.
“For me, to live is Christ” – it is for Christ to live.
“For me to live, is Christ” – if I live, then he lives.
Either way, it means knowing Jesus deeply, fully, intimately. It means being committed to him with all you are and have and want to be. And when that happens, when you really, truly know him, then you will sing until your heart bursts; and when your heart bursts it will spread flowers and perfume throughout the world.
“Enter, Master, and take charge of this humble life!”
Dr. Fred Andrea is the pastor of Aiken’s First Baptist Church.