At its heart, the Christian faith is a message about Jesus Christ, a message that's really good news for all people.
Jesus was a real historical person, who lived 2,000 years ago. We can know about him through detailed eyewitness accounts of his life. He claimed to show us that God exists, and who God really is. He also claimed to be the solution to everything that is wrong with the world. If his claims are true, he still has great relevance for us today.
But to understand Jesus properly, we need to back up a little bit.
Who is God?
Most people, throughout history and around the world, believe that there is a God. But, if he does exist, who is this God? And what's he like?
When we come to know God through Jesus we discover that there is one, and only one, true God, but that he exists in three Persons—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is called the doctrine of the Trinity. This defies our understanding, but shouldn't we expect that? If we're dealing with God—who by definition is far greater than we are—we shouldn't think that we’ll completely understand everything about him.
In fact, the Trinity is good news, because it means that the heart of reality is a love that is deep and rich and unchanging—the love of God the Father for his Son in the Spirit, and the love of the Son for his Father.
In his love, God created all things, including human beings, so that we could know him and enjoy him. He created a perfect world, and rules over it wisely and well. He wanted that world to be full of human beings who would enjoy his love, and would love and honour him.
But that's not the world we know, is it?
What's gone wrong?
The first humans rejected God and decided they’d try to run the world without him. As a result of their rebellion (which the Bible calls sin) we've gone on doing that ever since. The result of God's creation is a world full of beauty, goodness, life, and joy. But the tragic result of our rebellion is that the world is also filled with selfishness, injustice, suffering, and death. And we're all in the frame. All of us have rejected God. All of us sin.
Jesus is universally recognized as a great and wise teacher. And he taught that the two most important commandments are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbours as ourselves. But, if we're honest with ourselves, none of us does this completely or perfectly.
But God is perfectly good and holy. So, as a result of our rebellion, he has said that he will judge the world justly, giving us what we deserve: the penalty of death and separation from him forever.
Why is Jesus good news?
In his goodness, God still loves us. And so, after the first humans rebelled against him, he promised that one day he would enter his world to deal with evil and suffering, and to put all wrongs right. These promises are recorded in the Jewish Scriptures, the Old Testament of the Christian Bible.
Just over 2,000 years ago, in fulfilment of these promises, God's Son was born into this world as the man Jesus Christ.
In the eyewitness accounts of Jesus' life, his first recorded words as an adult are an announcement of God’s kingdom, "The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the good news" (Mark 1:14-15).
Jesus was born as a descendent of David, Israel's greatest king. According to the promises of the Old Testament, this shows that Jesus was born as the Christ, the rightful ruler of the world, the King of God's just and peaceful kingdom.
Jesus showed his kingly authority, and gave us glimpses of his kingdom’s beauty, by healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, and even raising the dead back to life. Perhaps you've sometimes asked yourself, "Why is there so much suffering and evil in the world?" If so, you've been longing for this kingdom.
Jesus also taught with great wisdom, and authority, announcing the good news of God's kingdom, teaching its values, and calling all people to pledge allegiance to him as King.
But in the end, his teaching and miracles weren't the central purpose of his life. Much to the surprise of his contemporaries, Jesus work as King could not be completed, and his kingdom could not be fully established, until he died. According to his own words, "The Son of Man [Jesus] did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45).
Jesus taught that his death was not simply an accident, or a tragedy. Rather, it was all part of God's good plan. He voluntarily surrendered himself, and offered himself in death as a sacrifice, a substitute for the very humans who had rebelled against God in the first place—people like you and me. In dying a hellish death upon a Roman cross, Jesus suffered God's just penalty for our rejection of God—death and separation from God.
Jesus died. He was buried. But he did not stay in the tomb. Most scholars accept two facts about what happened next: (1) three days later Jesus' tomb was empty; and (2) many people (more than 500) believed they had seen him alive again. What you make of these events will obviously depend on what you think about God. If there is no God, of course a dead man couldn't come back to life. But if the God Jesus shows us is real, then there's no reason at all why he can't defeat death. And there are good historical reasons to believe that's exactly what happened.
Jesus was not just back from the dead. He is now beyond death. When God raised Jesus, he installed him as the rightful ruler of all creation, with authority over all things and all people. Jesus' resurrection means that he really is the eternal King of God's kingdom.
It also shows us what we can expect if we trust in him. Jesus’ resurrection is a glimpse of the fulness of God's kingdom, a promise within history that one day death will be completely destroyed, evil will be fully defeated and removed, and all creation will be restored to the glory and beauty that God intended for it when he made it.
Life with King Jesus today
After appearing to his disciples and teaching them for forty days, King Jesus returned to heaven where he is now already ruling. However, he did not leave his followers alone, but sent his Holy Spirit to comfort and strengthen them, and to unite them to him by faith. In a way that's similar to what happens when two people are united in marriage, when someone becomes one with Christ by trusting him, everything he has becomes theirs, while everything they have becomes his. He took our rebellion, guilt, and punishment when he died for us on the cross. He now gives us his righteousness, his life, and his relationship with God as his Father.
The family of those who have God as their Father through Jesus is called the Church. There is only one Church throughout the world. But that one Church meets in many different congregations. Christ Church Salisbury is one of them. As those who have pledged allegiance to King Jesus, we belong to him. We know his love for us, and we love him in return.
Because we love him, we meet each week on Sunday—the day he rose from the dead—to hear him speak to us through his Word, to praise, worship and pray to him, and to have our faith strengthened through the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper. We also seek obey his commandment to love other people as ourselves. And so we want to serve him and to serve other people in our ordinary lives—in our families, our jobs, our recreations, in fact in everything we do. We also look forward in hope, waiting for the day when God brings his kingdom to perfect completion.
Before Jesus died, he promised that one day he will come back to earth, to make all things new. As God's risen king, he will judge everyone who has ever lived, declaring that those who are one with him by faith are righteous—not because of anything they have done, but because he is righteous and he took the punishment for their sin when he died in their place. He will welcome them into his Father's eternal kingdom, and give them a share in his rule over the renewed creation. But as a just and righteous king, Jesus will also justly condemn all those who have persisted in their rejection of God, and exclude them from the life, joy, love, and blessing of his kingdom forever.
What about you?
Our Christianity Explored course gives an opportunity to consider whether these claims of Jesus could be true. Alternatively, why not read one of the eyewitness accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and judge for yourself?
But if all of this is true, nothing could be more important than to come to King Jesus in faith, to pledge allegiance to him as King, and to love him with all your heart as one of his family, the Church.
If you would like to do that, Jesus gave us a prayer that sums up everything he did and taught. It's a beautiful expression of trust in God, a heartfelt plea for forgiveness for rejecting God, and a request that King Jesus and his kingdom would shape everything about you:
Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed [ie, honoured] be thy name,
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses [sins],
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever.