Recently, Revival Times interviewed Senior Minister Colin Dye on the issue of rediscovering Jesus.
“I would invite every Christian to read the Gospels again, with fresh eyes. Begin with Jesus, the man, and watch the evidence unfold.”
RT: You are talking much about “Rediscovering Jesus” at the moment. Why?
CD: I guess people are more used to preaching that addresses those outside the church about “Discovering Jesus”, but I think that many people inside the church need to discover him again and to see him in a totally new light.
Does that mean you think many Christians in today’s churches have lost sight of him?
In a way, yes. What I mean is, there has to be some reason why our knowledge of Jesus, or our faith in him doesn’t produce the radical discipleship we see in the Gospels. I think we need to encounter him in a new way.
In what way, precisely?
Well, I think that after more than 2,000 years of confessional Christianity, we approach him from the point of view of the doctrines held by those great and valid confessions. I mean, we accept him as the Christ, the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity. We believe he died for our sins and that he rose from the dead, that he is coming again and so on. But somehow, the reality of it all does not strike home. We end up with a rather theoretical concept of him. For the most part, we believe with our mind but the reality does not grip our hearts or really change our lives, at least not in the way that it could.
You mean you think that many of us know him in theory, but not in reality?
Not exactly. It actually goes deeper than that. Yes, there are people whose faith in Jesus is only intellectual, they believe with their minds and that’s as far as it goes. It’s not a very deep faith. But, there are many others who accept that Jesus is Lord, that he is Saviour, that he’s risen from the dead, but somehow they miss the reality of it.
When the early disciples discovered that Jesus was alive again, that he had conquered sin, death and the grave, it totally revolutionised them. They didn’t just believe it, they knew it. In those days to go about proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus, you had to know what you were talking about. It would make you dangerously unpopular. After all, the Romans had crucified him on the charge of rebellion, because he claimed to be King. The Jewish religious establishment had been plotting his death for a long time and they too were furious that his disciples now were claiming he had risen from the dead. That’s why they put about the ridiculous story that Jesus’ disciples had stolen the body.
So you think that if we were truly convinced that Jesus is alive today, we would behave differently? But surely every true Christian believes that Jesus rose from the dead. What was so different about those first disciples?
I think it was because they knew him before. They had been with him for the three years of his public ministry. They got to know what we call “the Jesus of History”. They had no difficulty in believing him to be a real human being. But they had a great deal of difficulty in understanding that he was more than that. And the resurrection helped them to discover that he was no ordinary Teacher or Prophet, but that he is everything the Gospels and the New Testament teaches us that he is.
Are you saying that we have to first know the “Jesus of History” before we can know “The Christ of Faith?”
No, I wouldn’t put it like that. The two are the same person. What I am saying is that because they were so close to the historical Jesus, he was always real to them, they knew him as a real person. And witnessing the historical events, I mean the things that actually happened, including the resurrection, left them in no doubt about the reality of these events. That’s why their faith was real and practical and not just about abstract propositions.
But we have their testimony, their eye witness testimony, to these events. Why doesn’t that affect us in the same way?
Well of course it does. For some people at least it does. There are many radical disciples today. But many of us don’t quite seem to get there. Once you meet the real Jesus, and grasp the real meaning of his life and mission everything changes. So there is hope for us all!
I would invite every Christian to read the Gospels again, with fresh eyes. Begin with Jesus, the man, and watch the evidence unfold. Watch how Jesus’s actions and words build a picture of who he was and what he came to do.
How would we go about doing that? Do you mean we should look at all the historical evidence and in that way become convinced of the truth of the gospel of Jesus? Surely that approach will lead to an even more intellectual kind of faith?
There is nothing to fear from historical study. Our faith is founded in history and the history of Jesus stands up to scrutiny. We should certainly look into the historical background of the Gospels.
Most Study Bibles provide helpful notes so that we can understand the historical context, for example, of the Jewish hopes and expectations of Messiah, and their attitude to the Roman occupation.
But what about the Gospels themselves, they are historically reliable?
Yes they are. But it might help if we looked into the reasons we can have confidence in them. But, remember, they are not mere, dry history. They tell a story. And part of that story, which fascinates me, is how the disciples came to believe. The Gospels are faithful in their record of the disciples’ struggle to believe and to understand what Jesus was all about, what kind of Messiah he was proving himself to be. Tracing their steps to faith, I think is a very fruitful way of finding that same faith grip our lives today.
And what about the Old Testament background, is that important too?
Absolutely. Crucially important. You cannot understand Jesus, what he did and who he was without understanding how his mission is shaped by the Old Testament. The Gospels constantly refer back to the Old Testament to show how the hope of Israel and God’s messianic promises were taken by Jesus, shaped into a demonstration of God’s faithfulness operating in the life and ministry of Jesus.
Jesus’ mission was a deliberate, selfconscious fulfilment of God’s ancient promises to Israel and the world. But it took on surprising twists and turns which confounded the traditionalists of his day. It turned out that God was not interested merely in the political liberation of Israel. Jesus did not come to start a revolt against the occupying power, such as had happened some hundred or more years earlier under the Maccabean revolt against Antiochus Epiphanes, the Syrian tyrant. He brought a revolution of love. The kingdom of God was not about him taking sides. In Jesus, the true King of the Jews, God came to take over, not take sides. His kingdom is for all nations, not just for the Jews. The death of Messiah, though predicted in the Old Testament, was a repugnant notion at the time of Jesus. But Jesus, reaches back into the Old Testament Scriptures and pulls out of them their true meaning and purpose. And all this helps us understand the gospel as we know it today.