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Jesus, You, and Experiential Evidence, Part 1

From the series Jesus Skeptic

If someone asked you: “how do you know Jesus actually lived?” or “can we really trust the Bible?”... what would you say? In this program, we begin a new series called “Jesus Skeptic” from guest teacher John Dickerson. He’s gonna unpack the evidence for Christianity and highlight notable Christians from history, that changed our world.

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Message Transcript

I want to start off with something that I can guarantee you and I have in common. And it is this. You want to be happy. I want to be happy. We all want to be happy. And here's what I mean. I don't just mean that fleeting moment when your team wins the big game, when you have that moment of happiness but I'm talking about something more significant. I'm talking about lasting internal fulfillment. I mean that deep inner piece, we all want it. And we all chase it in different ways.

Now, when I was a kid, I was absolutely certain how to achieve fulfillment. It was a very simple path. It was very clear in my mind, it was anything with four wheels, a car, a truck, a tractor - I'm a car guy to an extreme. And when I was a kid, every birthday, every Christmas, all I wanted was die-cast metal car models, or tractors, or trucks. And then as I got older, I added on subscriptions to Motor Trend, Car and Driver, Road and Track, Hot Rod magazine, Hot Rodder magazine. I am not exaggerating. I don't think I would know how to read today. If it wasn't for fine automotive journalism.

And I just knew my whole childhood. If I can work with cars, when I grow up, that's it like that's heaven. What else does a person need in life? I graduated with my journalism degree at age 20. And by age 23, I was the editor of a newspaper in Scottsdale, Arizona. And being the creative person that I am, I figured out a way to be in charge of the press fleet. What is the press fleet you might ask? It is the motor pool that all the manufacturers, Jaguar, Porsche, Range Rover BMW, Audi, whenever they have a new model, they pick a certain number of those for journalists to drive and write about.

So, I was in charge of the press fleet for the newspaper that I worked for. What this meant was that as a 23-year-old, I could not go and rent an economy car because I wasn't 25, but all I had to do was send an email and a brand, new Audi RS4, or whatever else I was in the mood for, would come and be delivered at my door, I kid you not, with a full tank of gas. I could drive it for one week or two or three. Then I would write my column about it. And then I would say, what I want next, let's go with a supercharged Range Rover. Let's try that. And that was literally my life for a number of years. And there's a picture of me at the wheel of one of those Audis. Here's what I learned during that time.

One, cars are awesome. Two, I also learned that if I was having a really bad day, let's say my girlfriend just broke up with me. And I slid into the leather seat of an AMG Mercedes with a sticker price of 146,000 and dollars. It was still a really bad day. And I learned that if I had an entry level economy car that I was testing that week, one where you closed the door and it sounds like a tin can and the windows roll up.

In fact, when the first hybrids came out, I remember the first Honda hybrid. It was Phoenix, Arizona. I stopped at a stoplight. It was 115 degrees out and the air conditioning turned off because they hadn't yet figured out how to have a hybrid where the AC stayed on. Anyhow, I'm getting a little detailed here. Point is I learned this even if it was a really terrible car, but I was having a good day and I was fulfilled in purpose and significance, then I was still just as happy.

You know, I got what I had always wanted and I found that I was thirsty for something more. I wonder, have you ever felt that way? Where you give everything you can to get a relationship, or a promotion, or a home, or some achievement, or some possession. And it's not that the thing is necessarily a bad thing, but you finally get what you wanted and you find that you're still unfulfilled. I wonder if you can relate to that.

Maybe you thought having a baby would make you happy. And instead, all it did is make you sleep deprived. Maybe you thought the promotion at work would make you happy. And instead it's just made you more stressed because now you're always thinking about work and there's so much responsibility with it. Maybe you thought, oh, the bigger house that'll be the thing. And you got the bigger house. And now it's like, oh man, maintaining and cleaning and paying the bills on the bigger house. This wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Maybe you thought if I could marry that amazing person that will be happily ever after and, and you get married and it's beautiful, but it turns out to be a lot of work and a lot of hurt feelings along the way. If we live long enough, we all experience this feeling of this lack of fulfillment. Even after chasing fulfillment with all that we have.

Well, I wonder would you like to discover today how you can find fulfillment that lasts? Would you like to discover today how you can find that kind of inner peace, that whether you're getting into an economy car, or the relationship didn't work out, or the promotion didn't go through -you're okay?

And that even when those things do go through and they're good, but not as good as you thought they'd be, you have something else inside. Would you want that, today? Well, I want to take you, today, into the definitive feature of Jesus’ teaching. You see, Jesus claims over and over again, that He can give you life to the full. And this is one of the unique things about Jesus, of all the people in human history. He did not claim to just be a good teacher, or a profound spiritual guru, or someone who could help you improve your life. He claimed that He is almighty God. He claimed that He's the one who spoke the universe into existence and that He designed you and that He alone can fulfill you. And that He freely offers that to you. These are radical claims from a real person who actually lived.

And I found as a skeptical journalist, I started at the very beginning, did this guy even live? And once I decided, okay, He lived, then I looked, can we know what He said? And once I, okay, these words are reliable. This is what He said. Then I started to look at these words and I thought this guy's either crazy, or He is actually God, there's not really a lot of room in the middle, because look what He says here in John, chapter 10 to you, He says, “I've come that you might have life and have it to the full.” I mean, who else talks like that?
You know, think about this. This is a real person. Can you imagine being at like a, a party with some friends and you sit down with a drink and some guy sits down next to you and He turns to you and says, “Hey, I've come that you might have life. And that you might have life to the full. You'd be like, what are you talking about?

Jesus talked as if He's the Creator of the universe. He claims that He's a source of fulfillment that never runs out. Listen to this in John 4, He put it this way: “Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst again.” He's talking about this very thing that I was talking about with the press cars, where it's like, man, it's fun to drive a new car every week and not have to pay anything for it, but there's something deeper. And we've all been there where you get the car or the house or whatever else. And then after a few months or a few years, it's like, Well, what's next? And Jesus makes this claim. He says, if you will receive Me into your life as God and experience Me, you'll find the one source of water that you never thirst again, radical claims, but are they actually true? And that's what I want to encourage you to genuinely ask yourself today. Could Jesus give you a lasting fulfillment that nothing else, and no one else, can give to you? What if He could?

I spent probably, if you count my college years, all the way through my journalism career, more than 10 years researching the existence of Jesus and then the ancient manuscripts. I'm such a nerd that I went and learned ancient Greek, because I wanted to know like: Can we trust this thing that's called the Bible? Have they fiddled with the original language? And I'm such a nerd. I compiled so much evidence. And I found that it all falls into really three basic categories. There's ancient evidence. Ancient evidence would be things like Josephus, and Suetonius, and Tacitus, non-Christian writers of Jesus’ era who described this Jesus of Nazareth who claimed to be God.

And when I found those ancient writings and ancient artifacts, it affirmed to me the Church didn't make up this Jesus guy. He clearly lived and there's all sorts of ancient evidence, but then there's external evidence. External evidence is really the human record from the time Jesus was born until now that we can measure objectively how He has impacted humanity. For example, every time you're filling out something online and you have to put in your birthday and it asks you year that you were born, why does that year start with a 1900 or a 2000?

When we know that humanity goes back far longer than that, because the year zero on our calendar is the year when Jesus was born. That's how profound His impact is on our world. That every time an atheist writes their date, they're actually referencing Jesus. And there's all sorts of external evidence. And we'll get into that throughout this series. But today I want to talk with you about something that I call internal evidence. Now first internal might sound subjective and in a sense, internal is subjective, but here is the thing. You're the subject. There are claims that Jesus makes that you'll never know if they're true or false, unless you try them. For example, in the Word of God, God tells us this, you will seek Me and you will find Me if you with all your heart. And I reached a point in my quest for fulfillment in my research of Jesus, where I realized that, yes, it is intellectually valid.

Some of the most brilliant people who've ever lived have been followers of Jesus. For example, Isaac Newton, Blaise Pascal, C.S. Lewis. You don't have to be dumb to believe in Jesus. It's intellectually valid. However, there comes a point we're asked to move from the head to the heart.

And I realized as I read these claims of Jesus, that I'm never going to know for sure if they work or not, unless I try them. Hey, here's what I mean. As a news reporter, I learned early on, right? When I finished my undergrad, my first newspaper editor assigned me to write a story about skydiving in Arizona. He said, “John, I don't want it to just be a human-interest story. I want the statistics. What percentage of people die? How high do they bounce off the ground if their parachute doesn't open. That's how twisted my newspaper editor was - okay? Arizona's a skydiving Mecca. And that's where I live. There are no clouds and the weather's good.

And so I did all this research and he said, “Okay, John, now that you've done everything about, you know, the statistics, the facts, I want you to go and go skydiving yourself. And I want you to weave that into the story and describe what is it like? And I learned that as an investigative reporter, that there was the intellectual side to a story, but then there was the experiential side to every story. For example, whenever I was covering crime, no, I would not go and do the crime if that's what you're thinking. Okay. But I would have sources who would get me into the drug house, where the heroin was sold. So, I could see it.

I would ride along with the police officers who covered those beats. Why? Because there's part of any story that is fact. And there's part of any story that you've got to just be there to really know the truth of what's going on. And I reached this point in my investigation of Jesus, where I needed to do a ride along. I needed to test for myself to see if these claims were actually true.

So, I grew up in Michigan and we would often go camping up in Canada. And when we did, there was this massive lake up there called Lake Matinenda. And there's a waterfall, a stream that runs into the lake. It's probably considered a river here and it would vary in width depending on what year and how full the river was. This picture's a year where the river was a little bit lower and it wasn't as wide.

But on one particular year I was about nine years old and my three older brothers, they're all incredibly athletic, they're jocks. And I know what you're thinking. I did not get the gene. Okay. I didn't get that gene. I, I got the nerd gene instead, okay?

But we were at this waterfall and as you can see in the picture about halfway down, this waterfall goes down these stairs and they're probably each, I don't know, six to 10 feet high. If you're up close to the waterfall there and in the middle, there's this pool. And then the waterfall begins again. Well, we were kind of fishing and setting up for a picnic. And one of my older brothers, incredibly athletic guy, decided at the top of the river where the water looks very smooth that he was going to inch his way across and just kind of demonstrate that he was stronger than the waterfall. I'll never forget because I saw him out of the corner of my eye. One minute I see him, and the next, I just hear this whishing noise. And I look back and he's gone.

I mean like that, the waterfall had taken him down a number of those steps and, in the middle where there's this big pool, the water's just, you know, going straight down it's burying. And my other brothers, we run there and we're waiting like is David's head going to pop up out of the water? And we keep waiting and his head's not popping up. And now if any of you are a youngest and you grew up in a small home and you always had to share a bedroom, you probably know what I was thinking at that moment.

It's true. I'm a terrible person. I was thinking if he doesn't pop up, I'm going to get his bedroom room. He did pop up and he lived and everything was fine, but here's the thing. My brothers and I, we will never again, underestimate the power of moving water. We've learned that no matter how strong you are, if you step into a powerful current, the current is going to take you where the current is going.

And it's a great picture because in life we all get carried along by different currents. Sometimes we step into the current of popularity, or the current of achievement, or the current of material possessions, or the current of relationship. And we think it's going to take us one place, but we don't realize it's taking us somewhere else. We all seek to be happy. We all seek to be at peace. But so often we find ourselves in these currents that are taking us out of happiness. They're taking us into anxiety and it's like we can't even get out.

You know, every drug addict who has ruined their life and their relationships and their career, they don't start off by saying, “Hey, I really want to ruin my life and family and career.” They start off thinking, This feels good. This helps. And I know some other people can't control it, but I can. And the current's not going to take me where it takes everyone else. None of us, you know, plan to ruin our lives or plan to be unfulfilled. But there are all these raging currents.

We step into the current of our dream career, or our dream car, or our dream partner. And a lot of those things are not bad things. They just don't take us where we thought they would take us. In my life, I spent a lot of years, really my college years, all through my twenties, looking at the different currents of life.

I'm an analytical person. And I know it sounds nerdy and weird, but I kind of launched out at age 17 from my home of origin to just study like where - what path actually leads to fulfillment? What path am I going to choose for my life? And I figured, instead of just trying them all, I could look at other people, let them get tossed around in the white water and decide what current leads where and then be intentional about what to step into. I know that's kind of analytical and nerdy, but that's part of my journey.

Here's something I realized along the way. I'll never know for sure. If the current of Jesus can carry me to fulfillment, I'll never know that for sure unless I get into it. There's so much that I can observe from the river banks. And I did a lot of observing from the river banks. Did this guy live?

Have his followers been good, wherever they've gone around the world? Has it been generally a good thing for humanity? And then as I got to know followers of Jesus today, there was this fulfillment. There was this peace, but I got to a point where I realized I'm never going to know for sure, unless I step in for myself. And here's what I want to ask you today. Could Jesus give you the fulfillment that nobody else and nothing else can?

The answer is you'll never know unless you try it.