Our belief in and relationship with Jesus Christ must be based on our faith and not on historical data.
We live in an amazing age of data collection. My computer stores information about every word I type, every topic I research, and every purchase I make online. My cell phone records every call along with every text from every location in the world. All of this data forms my digital footprint.
Jesus lived on earth long before the dawn of such meticulous data collection. In fact, most of what we know about the life of Jesus comes from the Bible. Scripture only records the events of a few days from His incredible time with us. Christian believers remained satisfied with the Bible’s portrayal of Jesus for nearly 1700 years. We did not know everything about our Savior’s life, but we knew enough to believe in Him as Lord and have the assurance of our salvation.
That all changed at the end of the eighteenth century as Christian scholars decided it was time to historically chronicle the earthly life of Jesus. The research later earned the name “Quest for the Historical Jesus.” Scholars posed questions about Jesus’ time on earth that led to decades of research. From the early days of that quest until now, the Christian academy has hosted three exhaustive studies exploring Jesus of Nazareth.
What did these three studies prove with certainty? Not much. Most scholars agreed that Jesus was born, discussed religious topics from his youth with Jewish leaders, was baptized by John the Baptist, gathered disciples, taught crowds of followers, and was crucified by Roman authorities. Many began their research with the hope of historically proving the religious claims of Christianity. They believed this might offer a watertight case, proving the truthfulness of Christ’s ministry.
Some became disillusioned with their portrait of the Jesus of history when it did not prove the Christ of faith.
Every time I think about the three quests for the historical Jesus, I lament that so many scholars poured so much effort into a misdirected goal. They seemed not to understand that people of faith do not need modern scholarship to prove that the Jesus of history is the Christ of faith in order to make Him Lord of their lives.
Rational proof seldom leads to genuine discipleship.
Christian friends sometimes say to me, “If we could just see more miracles and wonders in our day, people would turn their hearts to Him.” I doubt that!
Moses led the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. Along that 40-year trail, God revealed Himself in unmistakable ways through parting the Red Sea, manna falling from heaven, water flowing from a rock in the desert, a cloud leading by day, and a pillar of fire by night. God displayed miracles daily and provided quantifiable, undeniable evidence. Did divine miracles result in His people having greater faith? Unfortunately, they did not.
The same proved true in Jesus’ ministry. He taught irrefutable truth and worked mighty miracles. The day following the feeding of 5,000 people, Scripture records, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him” (John 6:66). Following His resurrection from the dead we read, “When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted (Matt. 28:17).
Not much has changed from biblical times until today.
People put their trust in Jesus as Lord through faith, not through irrefutable evidence.
The Bible never attempts to compel discipleship through rational logic. Rather, it offers an invitation to enter into relationship with the Jesus we read about in the pages of the Bible so that He might become the Christ of our faith.
Frank M. Moore is editor in chief of Holiness Today.
Holiness Today, Jan/Feb 2019.