Sunday, June 19, 2011

Extreme Makeover: Transformation Edition

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson dated 6.25.11

“In his book, Has Christianity Failed You?, Ravi Zacharias points to one of the greatest proofs for the truth of Christ and the reality of his resurrection: the changed lives of Christians. He writes:
“‘During the course of nearly 40 years, I have traveled to virtually every continent and seen or heard some of the most amazing testimonies of God's intervention in the most extreme circumstances. I have seen hardened criminals touched by the message of Jesus Christ and their hearts turned toward good in a way that no amount or rehabilitation could have accomplished. I have seen ardent followers of radical belief systems turned from being violent, brutal terrorists to becoming mild, tenderhearted followers of Jesus Christ. I have seen nations where the gospel, banned and silenced by governments, has nevertheless conquered the ethos and mind-set of an entire culture.’
“Then in his own words Zacharias lists examples of Christ's power to transform lives:
“‘In the middle of the twentieth century, after destroying all of the Christian seminary libraries in the country, Chairman Mao declared that … Christianity had been permanently removed from China, never to make a return. On Easter Sunday in 2009, [however] …; the leading English language newspaper in Hong Kong published a picture of Tiananmen Square on page 1, with Jesus replacing Chairman Mao's picture on the gigantic banner, and the words "Christ is Risen" below it.
“‘I have also been in the Middle East and marveled at the commitment of young people who have risked their lives to attend a Bible study …. I have talked to CEOs of large companies in Islamic nations who testify to seeing Jesus in visions and dreams and wonder what it all means.
“‘The British author A. N. Wilson, who only a few years ago was known for his scathing attacks on Christianity … celebrated Easter [in 2009] at a church with a group of other church members, proclaiming that that the story of the Jesus of the Gospels is the only story that makes sense out of life and its challenges. [Wilson said], "My own return to faith has surprised none more than myself …. My belief has come about in large measure because of the lives and examples of people I have known—not the famous, not saints, but friends and relations who have lived, and faced death, in light of the resurrection story, or in the quiet acceptance that they have a future after they die.”’”[1]
There are people all around us who have been transformed by Jesus.  Do we need any stronger proof that Jesus exists than that?   
“A Chicago Tribune article in early 2008 began: ‘For nearly 40 years, Ted Neeley has been Jesus. He's lived Him. He's breathed Him. He's spent nearly his entire lifetime researching Him.’ Though the opening words sound a little odd, they're actually true. Since the 1970s, Ted Neeley has been playing the part of Jesus in the popular musical Jesus Christ Superstar. Neely is now 64 years old—;nearly 30 years older than Jesus was when He was crucified the article points out, tongue in cheek.
“In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Neeley said something interesting—something we should reflect on as Christians. ‘I'm only playing Jesus,’ Neely told the interviewer. ‘He got it right the first time. I'm still working on it, you see. The key word there is “playing.” I'm a performer. I'm pretending to be something which I am not.’”
“I don't know whether Mr. Neeley is a Christian or not. If he isn't, here's a guy who can say Jesus' words, dress like Jesus, and walk in Jesus' footsteps, but in the end, he cannot make Jesus really come to life. No matter how inspired it might be, no one will ever watch Neely's performance and say, ‘You know, for a little while, I forgot I wasn't actually watching Jesus himself.’ However, if Mr. Neeley is a Christian, with Jesus' life flowing through him, I would venture to say that whether on a stage or not, those who know him personally would say, ‘Ted really is like Jesus. It's not the costume or the words he says. He's just—I don't know—like Jesus.’”[2]
Another person who experienced the transformational power of Jesus is Bruce Marchiano.  If you have never read or heard his testimony, you need to.  It is really breath taking.  He’s written his story in a book entitled In the Footsteps of Jesus.

Marchiano is the actor who played Jesus in The Gospel of Matthew, a film that uses the exact words of Matthew as its script.  When Marchiano accepted the role, he was, a Christian, but putting on the character of Jesus for the movie, changed him completely.  If you haven’t seen that film or read Marchiano’s book, you really should. 

Some folks will try to tell you that religion is just a bunch of myths and fairy tales, but if you look at the evidence, no myth or fairy tale has the power to rebuild and transform lives broken lives.
“For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.  For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.”  Galations 3:26-29
You know what?  We don’t have to actors like Ted Neeley or Bruce Marchiano to “put on Christ.”  Anybody can do it.  “How?” you ask? 
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?  God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?  Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?  Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.  For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.”  Romans 6:1-6
Being clothed in Jesus Christ isn’t something that only some people can do.  It’s available to all of us.   Jesus gave Himself to us – for us. All we have to do is accept His life changing gift.
“Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.  And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.  The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.  Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.  But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.”  Romans 13:10-14

[1] Ravi Zacharias, Has Christianity Failed You? (Zondervan, 2010), pp. 105-107

[2] Kelley L. Carter, "After 40 years, Neeley says 'Jesus' is Work in Progress," Chicago Tribune (2-15-08)

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