It's easy to ask religious questions, but not so easy to find the answers. Perhaps the most fundamental religious question is, "Who can answer my religious questions?" We need someone to be our Answer, someone to satisfy our quest for religious truth.
Jesus the Son of God came into the world for that reason. Jesus is the Word, "the true light who enlightens every man" (John 1:9). When many of his disciples were turning their backs on Jesus, he asked his chosen twelve, "Will you also go away?" Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:68).
I suppose the key issue, when it comes to religious truth, is the question of God's existence, nature, and purpose. Human beings even have difficulty understanding the gods which they invent for themselves.
The people of a village in Vanuatu worshipped the spirit of a certain large tree. When half the tree came crashing down, they were deeply puzzled about the nature and purpose of their god. How then shall man be able to understand the God who invented and created him? Jesus provided the answer.
Is there a God? Jesus was God. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1). He became man. "And the Word became flesh and dwelt for a while among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).
What is God like? In the person of Jesus, God lived among us, showing himself to be "full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). He was explaining himself to us through his own human lips and life. "No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained him" (John 1:18). Not only in his teachings, but in the way he lived and died, Jesus provided the best explanation of the nature of God.
What does God want? God's purpose for us becomes plain in the death of Jesus on the cross. "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). Jesus fulfilled God's purpose (Acts 2:23) and our greatest need —a sacrifice for sin.
When something is going to happen to you that frightens or worries you, its great to have a friend who has already been through it. That person can answer a lot of questions for you and help you through the process. Jesus has died, risen from the dead, and ascended into heaven.
Do I have a soul? Jesus assures us that each of us has a soul, and it is unimaginably precious. "What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world yet forfeit his soul. Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matthew 16:26).
Will I survive death? Jesus survived death. And he promises anyone who believes in him that they shall do the same. He said to Martha, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me shall live even if he dies" (John 11:25).
Where will I go after death? Jesus told the thief on the cross, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43).
The world into which the dead go is not paradise for everybody who goes there. Jesus made that plain when he told the story of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man found himself in agony after he died, but Lazarus was comforted (Luke 16:219-31).
That world of the dead is only temporary. Jesus tells us that "an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear voice, and shall come forth, those who did the good to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil to a resurrection of judgment" (John 5:28-29).
When that resurrection happens, Jesus will send the latter into "the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41).
That place of eternal punishment was not meant for human beings however. Jesus says to believers, "I go to prepare a place for you and I will come again and take you to myself that where I am there you may be also" (John 14:1-3).
Once we know there is a God, what he is like and what he wants, we realise that we may not be right with him. When we also know what happens to our soul after death, we realise we need to get things straight with God right now while we are still alive.
Have I sinned? Jesus made it clear in his parable of the Pharisee and the tax gatherer, that we all should recognise sin in ourselves. He tells us to humble ourselves and say, like the tax gatherer, "God, be merciful to me a sinner" (Luke 18:9-14).
What is the punishment? Jesus warns us to "fear him who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell" (Matthew 10:28).
We have already noted his description of hell: "the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41).
Jesus, however, has made a way of escape for us from this punishment. "I am the good Shepherd. I lay down my life for the sheep" (John 10:14-15).
Jesus was punished and crucified as a criminal although he had done no wrong. In fact he had lived a perfectly righteous life. So God accepted his death as a sacrifice for us in order that we could have forgiveness of our sins.
What must I do? Jesus makes plain the steps we must take...
❖ 10th Annual Saving Light Series, Heidelberg West (Melbourne) November 2002