Defending Jesus

Published 12:05 pm Saturday, April 9, 2016

by Andrew Book

I am passionate about Jesus. My relationship with him defines my life and who I am has been deeply shaped by my relationship with Jesus and the words of scripture. Living life with Jesus is the biggest source of meaning, purpose, joy, hope, and peace in my life. As such introducing people to Jesus and helping them know Jesus more is a big part of why I am a pastor—I want people to discover Jesus in the ways that I have (and more, because I know that we can never run out of things to learn about our infinite God!).

Throughout the course of my walk of faith, I have tried many different ways to help people get to know Jesus: everything from homeless ministry to international missions to offering hot chocolate to drunks late on Friday night and many more. Over the course of roughly two decades of experimenting with how to genuinely point people to Jesus, I have learned a lot about what doesn’t work!

For example, in college I invested much of my time into what is called “apologetics.” Apologetics are logical or intellectual ways to defend the faith. As a microbiology student, I focused in on the scientific arguments for and against faith and spent many hours finding the holes in arguments which sought to disprove God. I wanted to convince others of the reality of God. My friends and I would stand on the “free speech” platform at the University of Georgia as thousands of students streamed past and we tried to prove to them that God was real and science did not have all the answers. Our theme verse was 1 Peter 3:15, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” We thoughts we were pretty good at it.

The only problem was, we were not making a difference. For some reason, the thousands of people within the reach of our voice didn’t really care if our arguments were good or not. Those who were convinced God was not real were never convinced. Even if we could dissect their arguments and leave them speechless, they never had a change of heart in terms of Jesus. I remember vividly when I realized that I was not using my time well. We had just finished one of our debating sessions with some of the campus atheists (an atheist is someone who believes God does not exist) and I was getting lunch in the cafeteria. After I went through the line, I saw one of my debate opponents—someone I thought to be hardened to life and faith—sitting alone. I asked if I could sit down with him and quickly realized he was struggling with something. I asked him about it and a story of family illness and hurt came out that I had not expected. I sat there listening for 15 or 20 minutes. As we said goodbye, it was clear to me that my willingness to care and listen had done more to bring this young man closer to Jesus than any carefully crafted arguments I could ever offer. The next time I went to the student center I brought a table, a sign saying “free Bibles and prayer” and a box for prayer requests. The only times I have talked about “apologetics” since have been when people have asked!

Apologetics is all about trying to “defend” Jesus, and our inclination to defend Jesus is a pretty natural one as people of faith. Matthew 26 paints this picture well. When the religious leaders came to arrest Jesus, one of the disciples pulled out a sword and stuck out with it, cutting an ear off of one of those who was present to arrest Jesus (v.51). The problem with this tendency is that Jesus opposes it! The very next verse, Jesus declares “put away your sword.” He goes on to explain why: “Don’t you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us and he would send them instantly?” (26:52-53) When we think Jesus needs defending we are forgetting that he is the Son of God. He is more than capable of defending himself if he wants to be defended.

When I realized that my defense of Jesus was both unnecessary and ineffective, it shook me. I wasn’t real sure how to proceed for a time, but I found new inspiration when reading John 1 where we see some of the first disciples coming to Jesus. In John 1 Phillip is talking to Nathanael who is the first doubter in John’s Gospel. He knows where Jesus is from and doesn’t think that anything good can come from there. Phillip doesn’t try to argue with him or prove him wrong, he simply says, “Come and See.” Nathanael comes with him. He meets Jesus and that very day his questions are answered in the presence of the Son of God. I doubt Phillip could ever have convinced him, but for Jesus it only took a moment. So, for much of the last two decades, I have been more interested in inviting people to meet Jesus than defending Jesus. It’s more scriptural and more effective, and frankly, it is a lot more fun.

So, if you are wondering about faith, I have no interest in debating with you (though if you have questions, I am happy to help you explore them!), but I would love to offer you an invitation: come and see. Come and meet Jesus. Pick up a Bible (we will give you one at Courtland United Methodist Church if you don’t have one) and read about the man who gave his life that we might live (I recommend reading Luke as a good starting point). Ask God simply, “If you are real, help me see you.” Jesus may not answer all of your questions, but once you meet him everything changes and questions become part of growing in faith rather than search for faith!

If you need a place to gather with others who are coming to see Jesus, you are always welcome at Courtland United Methodist Church. May God give you eyes to see Jesus clearly!

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or