The people of Jesus should know Jesus. That is the inescapable impression we get from reading the Book of Acts. We see it in the church’s boldness — that is, the church’s outspoken clarity about the identity and significance of Jesus.
This boldness actually hems up the entire story of Acts with its key appearances in Peter’s first sermon (Acts 2:29) and Paul’s concluding hospitality ministry (Acts 28:31), not to mention several mentions throughout the gospel’s advance (Acts 4:13; 29, 31; 9:27–28; 13:46; 14:3; 18:26, 28; 26:26). From start to finish, and everywhere in-between, we see that the life of the early church was consumed with Jesus. They knew him and were open about him. This is the boldness that characterized the church then and should characterize the church today. But how exactly?
Getting to the How
How do we live with this kind of clarity and outspokenness about Jesus? How do we live bold?
It has to do with knowing Jesus. I mean, really knowing Jesus, as if our lives depended on it. I think that’s what’s happening in the portrait we see from Acts. Back then, and here now, grasping the glory of Jesus isn’t an extracurricular activity to our discipleship, it is our discipleship. Who he is defines who we are. If we know anything, let us know him. For if we can convince our neighbors to vote like us, but we know not Jesus, we are just pushy religious people. And if we are well read, and understand the numerous pitfalls among the emerging millennial generation, and if our church has a podcast, so as to be heard, but we know not Jesus, we are nothing. Nothing. And the list could go on.
So then, let us know Jesus. Let us press on to know Jesus, theologically, biblically, personally.
What I hope to do in the rest of this post is sketch a vision for knowing Jesus like this, which implies two things I want to make clear. First, knowing Jesus like this is not the full experience of how I know him now. I have come to know Jesus (or rather be known by Jesus, Galatians 4:9), but I am not writing as an aged saint with decades of communion in my background. I am writing as a mere disciple with a vision — one who has tasted and seen Jesus’s goodness and who, by grace, has an appetite for more. So hear my words as aspiration and hope, not as experience and advice. I am writing as someone like you.
Second, this vision of living bold isn’t an over-romanticized view of the early church. The first-century Christians had their own troubles. And in fact, much of the theological truth we understand about Jesus today has come as the gold of yesterday’s doctrinal furnaces. This is not an exercise to “get back” so much as to step forward — to build upon the grace given to our forefathers in order to wait well now for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is vision. And every vision must navigate between the extremes of historical adulation and chronological snobbery. Only one has ever done it perfectly. We must live as faithfully as we know how for such a time as whenever it is. And an indispensable part of that in every generation of the church is to know Jesus. Here is a snapshot of what that might look like today.
To Know Jesus, Theologically
This is the nuts and bolts section. Jesus is God of God, Light of Light, True God of True God. He is “begotten, not made,” the early creed said. He is of the same essence as the Father. He is the second person of the triune God — the one God in Trinity and Trinity in unity, having neither persons blended nor essence divided. The person of the Father is distinct, the person of the Son another, and that of the Holy Spirit still another. But the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one. Their glory is equal, their majesty coeternal. And it was through the Son — the uncreated, immeasurable, eternal Son — that all things were made. And it was him, who for us and our salvation, came down from heaven by the power of the Holy Spirit, became incarnate by the virgin Mary, and was made truly human. Fully God, fully man, one person with two natures — glorious hypostatic union. This is Jesus.
Do we know him like this? Over centuries, the church has pressed deep into biblical concepts to faithfully articulate the identity of Jesus and guard against error. Individuals and communities devoted their lives to this cause. Over against the encroaching tides of new thought-systems and complex philosophical cultures, orthodox doctrine has persevered. The truth has stood, and stands. And we should know it. The Athanasian Creed (from which much of the preceding paragraph borrows) claims that knowing Jesus theologically is a matter of life or death. To not keep the doctrine of the Trinity (including the doctrine of Christ) means you will “doubtless perish eternally.” Again, this is not extracurricular to the Christian life. This is the heart and center.
Practically, I think a good step in this direction is to memorize the Nicene Creed The idea is not that every Christian become a seminary-level expert on Christology. Rather, the hope is that we would be acquainted with the primary theological categories and have at least one creedal go-to. The Nicene is a good one.
To Know Jesus, Biblically
The triune God has revealed himself preeminently in Jesus Christ. And his testimony is the organizing principle of Scripture. We should know him there.
The Bible is the story of God’s glory and grace that stretches centuries and cultures and literary genres, all pointing to and holding up the definitive witness of Jesus — who is the Word of God made flesh (John 1:14), the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature (Hebrews 1:3), the Lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8), in whom all the fullness of deity is pleased to dwell (Colossians 2:9), who upholds the universe by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3).
Jesus reminded his disciples that everything written about him in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled (Luke 24:44–45). Peter said that God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets that his Christ would suffer (Acts 3:18). Paul said that the gospel mystery of Jesus was made known through the prophetic writings (Romans 16:25–27). From Genesis to Revelation, the Book is about Jesus. That’s the point in the Redeemer mentioned in Genesis 3 who would come to crush the serpent (Genesis 3:15). That’s why God promised Abraham that through his offspring all the peoples of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:1–3). That’s why he told Moses that there would be a prophet like him who would rise up in Israel and speak his word (Deuteronomy 18:15). That’s why God told David that he would have a son who would be enthroned as King forever (2 Samuel 7:16), a King to whom Solomon still looked and the prophets eagerly proclaimed.
The Redeemer, the Son, the Prophet, the King — he’s the one the whole world longed for. And then he came. Born in Bethlehem, in a stable, the promised one came. And he lived the perfect life, tempted in every way we’ve been tempted, yet he never sinned. He trusted his Father and was faithful to the end, to the point of death, even death on a cross. On a cross. A cross where he suffered in the place of sinners, where he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities. The cross of his condemnation brought us peace. The scene of his forsakenness became the grounds to our adoption. Jesus, by faith in him, reconciles us to the Father. Jesus makes us no longer enemies, but sons and daughters. No longer dead in Adam and destined for wrath. But now, because of Jesus, we are alive in him, alive to God, filled with his Spirit, and drawn into this very story of his glory.
Practically, this means we read the Bible. Jesus’s people are Bible-people. Let us read it through, and study it, and memorize it, and every time we open its pages breathe this prayer with our hearts: “Show us Christ.”
To Know Jesus, Personally
We want to know Jesus theologically and biblically because we know him personally, and in order to know him more personally. We can’t extract any of these perspectives if we’re to really know him, and especially not this one.
If we focus exclusively on the theological side, it could become all about not falling into error. If we focus exclusively on the biblical side, it could dwindle down to a cerebral exercise of one exegetical discovery after another for the sake of exegetical discovery. But if we know him personally, the uncreated Son is the one who saved us. The Suffering Servant is the one who suffered for my sins. The priest after the order of Melchizedek is the one who prays for me, who knows all of my failings and weaknesses and who never tires to plead for me. If we know him personally, he is not just the Jesus of theological categories, or the Jesus of canonical testimony, he is Jesus my Lord and my God. Jesus, our Savior.
Practically, this means we commune with him as we learn of him. It means we think about Jesus and we talk about Jesus. It means we love him.
This is the joy we have been saved to, that we know Jesus, and in knowing him, live in outspoken clarity about his identity and significance.