Many years ago the land of Persia was ruled by a wise and beloved Shah who cared greatly for his people and desired only what was best for them. One day he disguised himself as a poor man and went to visit the public baths. The water for the baths was heated by a furnace in the cellar, so the Shah made his way to the dark, dingy basement to sit with the man who was in charge of the fire. The two men shared a meagre meal, and the Shah befriended him in his loneliness, and day after day the ruler came to visit the man.
Eventually the Shah revealed his true identity, and he expected the man to ask for him for money or a gift. Instead he looked long into his leader's face and with love and wonder in his voice said, "You left your palace and your glory to sit with me in this dark place, to eat my coarse food, and to care about what happens to me. On others you bestow riches and gifts, but to me you have given yourself."
Apparently that's a true story, and it wonderfully illustrates what happened that first Christmas, when God left heaven and came to earth as a baby boy in the form of Jesus, so we could know him personally. In the Bible, a man called John puts it like this...
"The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us."
God could have sent a book down from Heaven, or an Angel, but instead he sent his one and only Son, the mostly costly thing he could give.
When he was 30, Jesus started travelling with a group of twelve of his closest friends. Everywhere he went he offered a new and exciting life through God. He claimed to be God in human form, who had come to give life, and life in all its fullness. He healed the sick, raised the dead, and once fed over 5,000 people with the contents of a little boys sandwich box! He made many friends, and more than a few enemies.
When he was 33 the tide of public-opinion turned against him. One of his closest friends betrayed him and the others ran away. He was indicted on false charges, tried before a prejudiced jury, convicted by a cowardly judge and then murdered by being nailed to a cross between two common criminals. Then three days later he came back to life, and today he is the central figure of the human race, with billions following him and his teachings.
Barry Norman, the British film critic made this comment when talking about movies that portray the life of Jesus. "Very few people could have as magnetic a personality as Christ, and no actor has got that. You will always know that you are looking at an actor pretending to be someone infinitely greater than he is... The whole point about Christ, if you believe in Christ, is that Christ is divine, not that he was a jolly good chap."
Becoming a Christian
Jesus is the only way to God. Jesus said these words:
"I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me."
The first thing to do is to admit that we are separated from God because we have ignored Him. We need a mediator who will step in and mend the broken relationship between us and God. We must admit that we deserve punishment because of our sin.
As we look at what Jesus did on the cross for us, we realise that He has taken the punishment we deserve and has therefore dealt with our sin. Committing our lives to Jesus Christ brings God's forgiveness and new life. In the physical world, a new life is created as soon as conception takes place. In the spiritual world, new life begins when someone commits his or her life to Jesus and so receives the Holy Spirit and the new life Jesus offers. That person is 'born again.'
It's one thing to admit that we've done wrong and to begin a new relationship with God by committing our lives to Him. It is quite another thing to continue that relationship and live it out, day by day. Submitting to God involves living as God wants us to live. We must allow God to work in our lives and gradually change us into the kind of person He wants us to be. God does not leave us to handle this alone. It is not like turning over a new leaf or making a New Years resolution. His Holy Spirit comes into our lives to help us become more like Jesus. Every day, He guides and strengthens us and helps us to serve God.
If you want to begin a new relationship with God, then say these words as a prayer to Jesus, who is the only way to God:
Thank you, Jesus, for dying on the cross.
Thank you, Jesus, that I can come to You now because you are alive.
I admit that I have lived my life without You and that I have broken Your laws.
I commit myself to You and I ask for Your forgiveness.
I receive You into my life by Your Holy Spirit.
Help me to submit my life to Your teaching and to your direction from this moment on.
Asking Jesus into your life is just the first step – like shaking hands with someone you have just met. But getting to know someone well takes time and effort. It is the same with Jesus.
We can get to know Jesus better through the Bible, through prayer and through the local church.
It might seem a strange thing to say, when it comes to actually reading the Bible, but starting at the beginning might not be the best place to start. The Old Testament tells us how God helped and guided people in the past, whilst the New Testament tells us of Jesus' birth and beyond. So as you start to follow Jesus, why not get to know him a little more by reading the 'gospels', Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, four different authors who tell us the life story of Jesus from their perspectives.
"All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realise what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. It is God's way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do."
(2 Timothy 3:16-17)
Try to get your hands on a modern translation of the Bible, something that is easier for you to understand, and ask some Christians for some tips on how best to start reading and understanding it.
The key to any friendship is communication and the way that we communicate with Jesus is through prayer. Just as the Bible is God's way of speaking to us, prayer is the way we speak to God. Jesus' twelve disciples asked Him how to pray and He said:
"Pray like this: "Our Father in heaven, may your name be honoured. May your kingdom come soon. May your Will be done here on earth, just as it is in heaven. Give us our food for today, and forgive us our sins, just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us. And don't let us yield to temptation, but deliver us from the evil one"."
The first three statements of this prayer are all concerned with God and how great He is. It is always good to start our prayers by remembering how great God is and praying that what He wants will be done. As you do this, you may become conscious of things you have done wrong since you last spoke to Him. Acknowledge that you may have hurt Him, someone else or even yourself. Say sorry to God and you will receive His forgiveness.
"But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong."
(1 John 1:9)
Jesus then said, 'Give us today our daily bread.' Pray about the day ahead and ask God to provide for your basic needs.
'And lead us not into temptation.' Pray for God's strength in the various situations that you will find yourself in. Pray for wisdom and insight. Pray for guidance in knowing how to react in those particular situations.
So, spend some time each day praying to God. You don't have to use long or special words, God will always hear you. However, because He knows what's best for us, He does not always answer our prayers in the way we expect. Sometimes God says 'yes', sometimes, 'no' and sometimes the answer is 'wait.'
If you are a Christian, you are part of the family of God. So don't go it alone. Belonging to a church, particularly a small group within it, will bring you regularly in touch with other people who also know Jesus and are part of the same family. They can encourage you - and you can encourage them.
"And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near."
In a church, you will be able to worship God and you will be able to receive teaching to stimulate your mind, to inspire you and to nourish you.
Click here to find a Church near you.
You may be experiencing a whole range of feelings - or you may be feeling no different at all. It is important to reflect on the implications of the commitment you have made. At some stage, you will need to explain to your friends what you have done.
It will not be long before you realise you are in a fight. The Christian life is not a bed of roses. The Devil, who is also called Satan, does all he can to ruin our relationship with God. There will be hard times but those hard times produce character and the goal of eternal life with our Heavenly Father makes it all worth it!
"We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us – they help us to learn to endure. And endurance develops strength of character in us, and character strengthens our confident expectation of salvation And this expectation will not disappoint us. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love."
So don't give up on reading the Bible, talking to your Heavenly Father and going to Church. Once we have committed our lives to Jesus, we can have complete assurance that our relationship with God is restored.