The Danish philosopher and Christian theologian Soren Kierkegaard once compared people to debris washed ashore by the tide. Whether it’s driftwood, seashells or sand dollars, each is brought ashore by the tide and carried out by the tide. Kierkegaard warned that if people are not careful, they can be a lot like shore debris. Cultural tides are strong and many people are thoughtlessly swept along by its currents. The real task, at least as Kierkegaard saw it, is to stand apart from the tide and judge for one’s self which direction to go in.
Over 2000 years ago a wandering rabbi named Jesus, a carpenter’s son from Nazareth, issued a similar challenge. He said “the time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the Gospel” (Mark 1.15). The word “repent” might evoke images of fiery preachers thumping Bibles and wagging fingers at “sinners,” but that couldn’t be farther from what Jesus had in mind.
The English word “repent” comes from the Greek word metanoia. Meta means to “go beyond” and nous means “mind.” So in one sense, to repent means to “go beyond your current thinking.” Or more simply it means to change your mind. To borrow a phrase from the military it means to do an “about face,” turning around not just the mind but the whole person. Jesus’ call to “repent” is a Kierkegaardian call to swim against the tide.
But why should anyone have listened to him? And why in the world should we, 2000 years later, listen to him now? Here are some things to consider:
Consider the Character of Jesus: Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of the Indian independence movement, and a man who enjoys near universal respect for his courage and moral fortitude once remarked “I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians.” While the quote is a damning critique of the hypocrisy of many Christians, it is at the same time high praise for Jesus, the central figure of the Christian faith. In fact, Gandhi went so far as to call Jesus “ideal and wonderful.” Why? While the world often overlooks the poor, the sick, and the suffering, Jesus sought them out to comfort and serve them (Matt 4.23). Jesus preached a radical message of love for enemies, reconciliation, absolute fidelity, and love of God (Matt chs. 5-7). Furthermore, Jesus practiced what he preached right up until the end of his life. From the cross he lived the radical message of the Sermon on the Mount, praying for the forgiveness of the very people who were crucifying him (Luke 23.34) and loving his friends until the very end (John 13.1).
Consider the Claims of Jesus: There are many people who would agree that Jesus was a great moral teacher. Some would even concede that Jesus’ life was exemplary. But Jesus himself claimed to be more than a great moral teacher. For example he claimed to be the Son of God (Luke 2.49). He said that he was given authority to judge (John 5.22-23), to forgive (Mark 2.10) and to save (John 3.14-16). Recognizing that Jesus himself thought he was more than a great moral teacher is critical to coming to terms with whether or not this man, Jesus of Nazareth, is someone who deserves a hearing. In other words, you can’t simply say “I accept the teaching of Jesus but not his claims about himself.” The beloved author and Oxford English Professor C.S. Lewis put it this way:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to…Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.
Consider the Resurrection of Jesus: After three years of public ministry Jesus was arrested by the religious authorities for blasphemy and crucified by the Roman government for treason. If this was the end of his story, we simply wouldn’t be talking about him these many years later. But this is not the end of the story. Three days later, witnesses in Jerusalem claimed that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead. One week later several others claimed to have seen him. Within a month, hundreds and even thousands said the same thing. Many would be arrested by the same Roman authorities that killed Jesus. The Romans were attempting to silence the witnesses claims about the resurrection. But they wouldn’t be silenced. Chuck Colson, the infamous “hatchet man” and special counsel to Richard Nixon during the Watergate Scandal became a Christian while serving his prison sentence for obstruction of justice in 1973. In regards to his conversion, he put the blame squarely on the resurrection. He said:
I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren't true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn't keep a lie for three weeks. You're telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.
So What Now?
Michael Green was a young student at Oxford University in 1953. He had come into contact with the life, claims, and resurrection of Jesus. He came to a very simple conclusion. “I thought to myself,” he said, “if this is true it could be the most important discovery of my life. If it isn’t true, I’ll fight against it all my days.” Green determined it was true and he did an about face. His life changed direction.
Your life doesn’t need to change direction, yet. First thing’s first. You need to determine for yourself whether the voice of Jesus is worth listening to when he says “About Face!” Here are some ways for you to do that:
- Read a “Gospel” for yourself: A “Gospel” is an account of the life, death, resurrection and teachings of Jesus. If you want a first hand account, try Matthew or John’s Gospel. You can find both easily in the Table of Contents of any Bible. Try reading a chapter a day.
- Read a good explanation of Christianity such as C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity or more recently Tim Keller’s The Reason for God. Perhaps you may even want to read it alongside a knowledgeable (and open minded!) Christian friend or minister.
- Try Prayer: It may sound silly, but you can ask God, “If you are real, show yourself to me.” Then be on the look out for the ways he might be answering your prayer.
Whatever you do, don’t leave this unexplored. Returning again to Lewis, he wrote:
Here is a door, behind which, according to some people, the secret of the universe is waiting for you. Either that’s true or it isn’t. And if it isn’t what the door really conceals is simply the greatest fraud, the most colossal ‘sell’ on record. Isn’t it obviously the job of every man…to try to find out which, and then to devote his full energies either to serving this tremendous secret or to exposing and destroying this gigantic humbug?
Whether you were raised a Christian or whether you’ve never had time for religion, whether you’re a skeptic or a seeker, you owe it to yourself to see what’s on the other side of that door. And if it’s true, then you’ll know what to do. About Face! Repent and believe, the Kingdom of God is at hand.