I was born in 1959 and grew up on a housing estate in South Wales. From my earliest years I knew the name 'Jesus'. I now know that not everyone refers to him that way. Some say Iesou or Iesu, others Isha or Yeshua, but to me he was always 'Jesus'.
Early vague impressions
My earliest impressions were all positive but were unhelpfully embodied in traditional pictures of Jesus as a bearded young man in a long white gown. Our local chapel had a graveyard and one of the more flamboyant Victorian graves boasted a statue of an `angel' (ie a winged young hermaphrodite in a long gown). Despite the missing beard, I thought this must be a statue of Jesus (perhaps marking the site of his burial!). I think this was because from the beginning I had picked up the idea that above everything else Jesus is good. It seemed to me that anyone who was good must look good.
As I grew a little older I remember pointless arguments in my unbelieving home as to Jesus' physical appearance. I had come to the conclusion that there was no reason to suppose him to be the blue-eyed, blonde of Sunday School pictures. I was particularly keen on the idea that he was of African appearance. I had never met anyone of a different race to my own European one but this was the 1960s and I think I came to this rather odd conclusion because I was aware of the oppression of people of colour in different parts of the world. Jesus, it seemed to me, was a man on the side of the oppressed, one who himself had been persecuted and so even if not black in reality he was at least so in spirit.
A little more research established the fact that Jesus was most likely to have been of Middle Eastern appearance. We had a beautifully tooled book at home (a Seventh Day Adventist production I later learned). It included several pictures of Jesus, still very romantic, but clearly suggesting he was Jewish.
So I came to believe that Jesus was a Jew (whatever that might mean). I believed he was a man, but no ordinary man - one who transcended racial barriers and even human ones. Sometimes this latter perception was bolstered in rather bizarre ways. For instance, at the Sunday School we would sing a song I knew as `Jesus bits of shine' (you may know it better as 'Jesus bids us shine'). Yes, I thought, Jesus was majestic, a 'sparkly Jesus' even. Then from somewhere else I picked up the chorus of the Negro spiritual 'Michael row the boat ashore'. When I asked my mother who Michael was she told me it was another name for Jesus. She held to this view, I guess, under the influence of the Watchtower teaching that she was receiving at the time. I believe Calvin also identified the Archangel and the Christ but most evangelicals would not accept that today. For me, even though the information was not necessarily accurate, it added to my conviction that this man Jesus was definitely someone very special indeed.
Later clear impressions
So, throughout my pre-teens, my notions of Jesus remained decidedly vague. However, in 1970 I began to sit regularly under the faithful preaching of the Word of God. The Scriptures speak first and foremost of Jesus Christ and it was through the exposition of the Word, in public and in private, that I eventually came to a clear understanding of who Jesus really is. Since about 1971 I have felt that Jesus knows me and that I know him, personally. In 1973 I sought to underline that conviction publicly by being baptised by immersion.
I now realised Jesus is not simply a very special man but the God-man. He is God, it is true, yet he is also a man. As a man he came to earth from the glory of heaven and as a man he died on the cross on behalf of sinners. Also as a glorified man he is now at the Father's right hand in heaven. By means of his Holy Spirit he comes to those who put their trust in him. I have put my whole life in his hands and I firmly believe that he lives with me and in me by his Spirit. It is a developing relationship not a static one but from my own viewpoint I would say there are five leading characteristics in my relationship to him.
I. Jesus is my Friend
Who is your best friend? Without hesitation I have to say Jesus is. That can sound trite I know but I have no-one like him. I tell him absolutely everything. There are no secrets nor can there be. There are things I tell Jesus I would not tell my own dear wife. Not a day passes, sometimes scarcely a daylight hour, without us speaking. Often - on my best days - we are inseparable. We are always together. Life without Jesus is impossible to contemplate. It would have no meaning. I love him with all my heart. Nothing grieves me more than to let him down. The better I know him the more amazed I am that he should want to be a friend to me but that is what he has always been.
2. Jesus is my Saviour
Of course, he is far more than a friend - he saved me. He lived and died so that all my sins could be forgiven and that I might live with him in Paradise forever. I truly believe that if I were the only sinner on earth Jesus would have died just for me and that there is no other way I could possibly have been delivered. To say I am indebted to him for everything is an understatement. Apart from Jesus I am nothing.
3. Jesus is my Shepherd
The Lord is my Shepherd. I say this because although he is my Friend and Saviour and although he lives in me, yet I still feel, within, a temptation to wander from him. It is madness I know but sometimes the temptation can be strong. When I do wander he gently brings me back and on my best days I am more than willing to follow wherever he leads. I am convinced this can be only for my good. Even when I pass through the darkest times I am not afraid because he is with me. Both blessing and trouble assure me of his guiding hand. He will bring me safely home. I trust him.
4. Jesus is my King
He is also my King., my Lord and Master. Whatever he commands I am willing to do. Wherever he sends I am willing to go. I honour him. I respect him. I look to him. If necessary I am willing to give up my life for his sake and for the sake of his kingdom.
5. Jesus is my God
Finally, I do not simply love and serve him: I worship him. I bow down before him not simply as my King but as my God. He is the absolute Lord of all of my life. Nothing is hidden from him. He has the right to demand from me what he will and to do with me as he please. I am nothing. He is all.
First published in Grace Magazine
First published in Grace Magazine