Hmmm. I’m aware I should be saying something. And yet - no sounds are emanating from my mouth.
I’ve been asked a question about Jesus. By someone who doesn’t know Jesus! How rude. I have no idea how to answer that. My brow stiffens. My hands are sweaty. Buttocks clenched. What next?
This may sound familiar. We’ve all had situations where our mates have asked us something about our faith, supposedly the central pillar in our very being. And, remarkably - we don’t know what to say!
It’s okay if you’ve felt like this. I certainly have. In this blog post today I thought we might try and construct a sort of “Frequently Asked Questions” for queries our mates will bring to us about Jesus.
Remember - these aren’t fully developed, apologetic style addresses designed to convert someone on the spot. These are just a few handy things to have in your back pocket, backed up with a bit of scripture and history.
“Why won’t people get into heaven if they’re just good people?”
A classic of the genre. And something that a lot of university students are asking today. On the surface, it’s a fair observation. Why should objectively “good” people go to hell? If they live with integrity, are kind and generous, but aren’t Christians, why would they not get into heaven?
To start thinking about an answer to this question, we need to go to John 14.
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
What a claim that is. Jesus says this in response to a question from one of his disciples, who asked him how to get to the place Jesus is going (i.e., heaven, to be with his Father).
Therefore, if we’re thinking about the answer to the question “how do I get into heaven?” Jesus is clear - it’s through listening to his words and acting accordingly.
Interestingly, if we understand getting into heaven like this, being “good”, initially at least, has absolutely nothing to do with it. Some of the folk Jesus picks up along the way during his ministry can quite clearly be identified as “not good people”. Tax collectors, adulterers, Roman occupiers - Jesus was very, very interested in these people. He does not reject them. And on more than one occasion, the inward revelation Jesus brings causes these people to change everything! Have a look at what Zaccheaus does in Luke 19.
Are any of us truly, purely good? Probably not. We might know people who do good things, but even the best among us is in just as much need of Jesus our Saviour as the worst. It’s a bit of a mind-bender that one, but throw it out there and see what your mates think.
“But was Jesus actually real?”
Yes! Definitely. There’s two key non-Christian historians who record Jesus as being a man who lived in Palestine around AD 30, and both paint him as a figure who was drawing incredible followings.
You can read about Jesus in the writings of Josephus (a Jewish historian) and also Tacitus (a Roman historian). They were around at the time, and were documenting the events of the day.
There’s a great line from the Alpha film series, in the “Who is Jesus?” episode. “No self-respecting historian would deny the physical existence of Jesus”. Essentially, the question is then whether or not he was who he says was - the Son of God.
“Is the Bible not just full of contradictions anyway?”
Again, on the surface, probably a fair comment. I’ve felt like this at some points too, and it can be really frustrating.
However - it’s important to remember - and you can say this to whoever asks you this question - the Bible is a work composed by approximately 40 authors over 1500 years. These writers had different purposes for what it was they were committing to paper, different audiences, different literary styles.
What we do know, however, is that all of it is “God-breathed”.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness
2 Timothy 3:16
What this means is that all of scripture, in its incredibly wide and diverse scope, is held together and inspired by God. People can find parts of the Bible that seem to contradict each other - there are websites and books literally dedicated to this. It can be hard to address some of these contradictions, but you’re well within your rights to say, “I don’t know about that one”. It isn’t indicative of a rootless faith to admit you don’t know something. It’s an honest answer that can be followed by an invitation to explore it together.
Remember - the questions our friends are carrying deserve our respect and attention. We have to show grace at all times in these discussions. Nobody wants to be met with pious know-it-all answers, but rather honest answers that affirm the truth whilst acknowledging the limits of what we understand.