Do You Know Jesus, or Just Know About Him?

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Matthew 7:21-23 (ESV)

Consider the stories of Peter and Judas in the Gospels. Both were called by Jesus as disciples to follow him. Both spent three years traveling across the land of Israel, watching as he performed miracles, taught people, and even excoriated the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes. Peter was a natural leader, sometimes brash but always self-assured. Judas was given the responsibility of carrying the funds for the group by which they would buy food and other necessities. They swore they would stand by Jesus when told that all the disciples would desert him. When the moment came, Peter denied him three times, and Judas sold him out to the Jewish leaders. Both regretted what they’d done. But Peter returned, and Judas hanged himself. What was the difference? I would suggest that while Peter knew Jesus as Friend and Lord, Judas didn’t. He only knew about him.

I know about my wife; how tall she is (not quite as tall as she used to be), her eye color (blue), where she was born and grew up (Arkansas), how many siblings she has (two), her favorite color (purple), and so on. Those are facts that anyone who’s interested can obtain. But I also know my wife. I know what brings her joy, and what brings her tears. I know what irritates her, and what makes her happy. I know how to make her laugh (and I’m very good at it, by the way). I know her hopes, fears, and dreams, because I know her heart and mind. I know her because I’ve spent a great deal of time sharing my heart and mind with her. She is my friend, and we are very much a part of each other.

The Bible doesn’t tell us a great deal about Judas, but what little glimpses we get indicate he was more interested in enriching himself than of becoming a true disciple. Perhaps he saw Jesus as a means of obtaining power and influence, seeing him as a conquering king who would throw out the Romans and re-establish the kingdom of Israel (which was a common misconception among the Jews about the Messiah). I’ve heard it suggested that one explanation for Judas’ betrayal was to force Jesus’ hand and initiate his ascension to the earthly throne. If true, it demonstrates that Judas thought he knew about Jesus, but never really knew him.

When told by Jesus he would deny the Master three times, Peter became indignant and vigorously said he would not. Jesus also told him that Satan had demanded permission to sift Peter like wheat, “but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32). Luke tells us when Peter had voiced his third denial, “The Lord turned and looked at Peter” (Luke 22:61). Peter remembered what Jesus had told him, and he went out and wept bitterly. His self-assured pride he would always stand by Jesus had been destroyed, and he felt the full weight of his failure.

In spite of his shame, when Jesus came looking for him, Peter returned. His shame was still there, seen in his answers to Jesus when asked, “Peter, do you love me?” It hurt deeply because Peter had always been sure that he did, indeed, love Jesus but had still denied him three times. In John 6, when many of those following Jesus turned away and left, it was Peter who answered Jesus’ question to his twelve closest disciples, “Will you also go away?” by saying, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Only someone who knew Jesus could have made such a statement.

The problem with only knowing about Jesus is that mere facts cannot change our lives. Even Satan can quote scripture. There are avowed atheists who know the Bible better than most professed believers. While it’s important to know the words of the Bible, it’s absolutely essential to understand the message of the Bible. God Himself said it: “This is My Beloved Son: listen to Him!” (Matthew 17:5) Jesus refers to Himself as the Living Bread; the Living Water; the Way, the Truth, and the Life; the Good Shepherd; the Gate; and John, in the beginning of his gospel calls him the Word. These terms are used purposely, and each gives us a picture of who Jesus is. They describe the various ways in which He affects our lives, if we seek to know him deeply and intimately.

Christian brothers and sisters, don’t settle for a superficial relationship with the One who would be our Savior and Master. Have a deep spiritual hunger and thirst for the Living Bread and the Living Water. Spend time in the scriptures and get to know Jesus- really know Him. I promise you will be satisfied, and He will change your life in ways you could never imagine.

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