One Sunday morning a few weeks ago, Bob’s neighbors visited our church. As we exchanged introductions, the husband asked me, “Do you know Bob?” I thought for a moment as a number of responses ran through my mind: “I’ve known Bob longer than I’ve known my wife—over thirty years.” “Bob and his wife were in our wedding.” “Everybody knows Bob.” Each of these is true except the last—and that’s practically true too, at least in our church. But the man was a visitor, a stranger. He had no idea whether I knew Bob or not and he might be put off by an overly flip answer. In the end, I simply settled for smiling and saying, “Yes, I know Bob.”
Of course, it’s easy to admit knowing Bob. After all, he’s a good guy and I’m not likely to get in trouble for saying I know him. But what if I were? Early Christians were repeatedly persecuted for preaching or teaching “in the name of Jesus” (Acts 5:40). The book of Acts is filled with examples (Acts 5:17-42; 6:11-15; 7:54-60; 21:10-14).
We all know that when his turn came, Peter failed the test (Matt. 26:69-75; Mark 14:66-72; Luke 22:54-62; John 18:15-18; 25-27). The night Jesus was arrested, when people asked Peter if he was one of Jesus’ disciples he said “‘I do not know the man.’” (Matt. 26:74b ESV). It’s easy to be self righteous and look down on Peter today but none of us really knows what was going through his mind at the time. None of us knows what we would do in his position. For Peter, knowing Jesus wasn’t the same as knowing Bob is for us. Most of us aren’t likely to be threatened or endangered for knowing Jesus any more than we are for knowing Bob. There might be a bit of ridicule at times but nothing most of us can’t handle.
Peter later wrote, “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. . . . always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you;” (1 Pet. 3:14a; 15b ESV). He was writing to people who were seriously concerned about being persecuted for their faith, with good reason. Imprisonment and even death were frequent consequences for Christians.
But the real problem for most of us comes from knowing what to say, knowing how to answer the question. If someone asked you or me, “Do you know Jesus?” I wonder how we might respond. Would we say “I’ve known Jesus since I was a child”? Or “I’ve known Jesus for X years”? Or even “Everybody knows Jesus”? Or would we falter, stammer, and grasp for the right words to say?
At the beginning of Luke’s gospel, an angel says to Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, “‘And he [John] will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, . . . to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.’” (Luke 1:16;17b ESV). What about you and me? Are we “a people prepared”? Are we ready to share our faith? To “ turn many . . . to the Lord”? Paul wrote to his young friend, Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Tim. 2:15 ESV). Regular Bible study—along with Pastor Kim’s excellent sermons—can help prepare us for when the time comes. Pray that you and I will have the words—and the opportunity.
But we shouldn’t stop at being ready to answer the question when it is posed to us. Instead, we should be prepared to ask the question ourselves. The children at church sometimes sing a song called “Everybody Ought to Know Who Jesus Is” and it’s true. Everybody should know who Jesus is. But many don’t. And the only way they will ever know is if someone tells them. I’m reminded of a hymn my friend Ron and I used to sing in church when we were teenagers, called “Do You Know My Jesus?” This is the question we should be asking, and we should ask it as often as we can.
“Do you know (do you know) my Jesus?
Do you know (do you know) my friend?
Have you heard (have you heard) He loves you?
And that He will abide til the end (til the end)?”
(“Do You Know My Jesus?” Vep B. Ellis and William F. Lakey.)
Copyright © 2011 by David Phelps