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Close Encounters of the Christ Kind

by David A. DePra

     Christianity -- THE Christianity of the Bible -- is a life-changing

encounter with Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The change which

takes place is a revolutionary upheaval of what I used to be, to a

new creation in Jesus Christ. And it is permanent. The fact that it

takes time and growth to manifest some of the various aspects of

this change does not negate the fact that the change has indeed

taken place.

      The fact is, if my encounter with Jesus Christ has NOT changed

me, I had better question whether it is real. For how could it be

possible for any one of us to encounter Jesus Christ and not be

changed by the experience? It is impossible. We are talking here

about meeting GOD HIMSELF. Once that happens, I can never be

the same again.

     Now, you will notice that I said it was impossible for things to ever

be the SAME again. But this does not necessarily mean that I will

change for the better. No. The fact that I have encountered Christ

means that I have seen what I never saw before. It means that I can

no longer plead ignorance. It means I now have a revelation which

gives me the Way, the Truth, and the Life. But it also means I am no

longer blind. I am now accountable. Thus, once I encounter Christ,

I will either change for the better, or for the worse. I will either

embrace Him or reject Him. But the door of my past has been

closed behind me. And I can never go back.

Not Religion

     Most of the people who encountered Jesus Christ were changed

drastically for the better. They were carried out of their lives into a

consciousness of a new realm, the kingdom of God. They had a

new life within that could not be denied.

     These people did not simply "get religion." No. Many of them

HAD religion. They were cursed with religion. It was the UNDOING

of some of them. Lots of people "get religion," buy into a "belief

system," and alter their lives according to a moral code. This is not

what happened to those who encountered Jesus Christ. Instead of

"getting religion," they got GOD.

     Neither did these people study the Bible real hard, get theology

degrees, or become scholars who could tell others "the real truth."

They did not walk around with their ecclesiastical robes and

ministerial credentials. They walked around with Jesus Christ. He

was in them. And it was something that could not be approached

by any of those other things.

     These people did not have hardly any Bibles. There was NO

New Testament written. They had no churches as we do today, but

only home churches. They did not have television, radio, or the

internet. They could not hop on a plane and be across their country

in a matter of hours. Furthermore, they lived in a society where they

could be executed for what they believed. There were no

promotional gimmicks, mass mailings, or huge prayer meetings and

miracles services. In effect, they had NOTHING going for them but

Jesus Christ. And despite the fact that none of the tools we have

today are necessarily wrong to use, those people proved that only

JESUS was the essential. They had Him, and He had them. And

they turned the world upside down.

     For the last two-thousand years, right down to today, people

have been offered substitutes for Christ. They are offered religion.

They do get degrees. They train to become this or that in the Body

of Christ. None of these things are evil as things unto themselves.

But do they encounter Jesus Christ? Is their encounter with Him a

PERMANENT, life-changing experience? Is MINE?

An Experience

     Today we have a focus upon spiritual experiences. In some

parts of the Body of Christ, experience has taken priority over all

else. It does not seem to matter whether the experience is

validated by the Word of God. If it makes me feel good, then it

must be of God -- that is what some folks say.

     Then there is the reaction to all of this: A rejection of ALL

experience. Those who hold this persuasion say that everything

is "by faith." Translated, this means that there really is no reason

to expect an actual experience of any kind. "Just study the Word

of God, and serve Christ at church, and obey God." That is what

they say. And it's all the experience you will ever need.

     The fanatical focus on experience today is a dangerous thing.

It takes the focus off of Jesus Christ, and violates, in many cases,

the Word of God. Much of it is done, not by the Spirit of God, but by

people -- usually in ignorance. But the rejection of all experience

is no less harmful. It is the really the other side of the coin -- the

passive mode of the same problem. It too violates God's Word.

Read the gospels and the book of Acts. Read in the epistles

when Paul digresses and shares some events that have happened.

     Does it sound like these people had an experience? Absolutely.

Now notice: These people who were the first to encounter Christ,

did not have two-thousand years of history to refer to. They did not

have anyone picking at them, telling them how they should "act"

when the Holy Spirit comes upon them. They were not "taught" how

to speak in tongues, how to prophecy, or how a "really spiritual

person" ought to operate. They weren't told how to make their

voices fluctuate during a sermon, or how to move an audience to

send in money. No! They did not have the slightest notion as to

what it meant to encounter God Himself. When they did encounter

Him, STUFF HAPPENED. Unplanned stuff. But REAL stuff.

     Now, that "stuff" was the outward manifestation of something that

was happening inward. It was in the INWARD that the real

encounter and the real change was taking place. They would

never be the same again.

     Again -- we have to face the facts: An encounter with Jesus Christ


experience. You cannot be the same ever again.

     Now perhaps it would be wise to define "experience." The word

is, after all, quite broad. You can almost fit anything into it. You can

pretty much make it mean what you want, and apply it the way you

want. This is the reason why things are all over the map today as

to what it means to experience Jesus Christ.

     An "experience" is something that happens to me. It adds to me,

or subtracts from me. However, subtle, I am not the same

afterwards. I have either learned something, have acquired

something, or have have suffered some loss. In this sense of the

word, we see that all of life is an on-going experience. And of

course it is. You are never the same person tomorrow as you were

today. Each day you change for the better or for the worse.

     Now, note that "the day" provides the experience. But "the day"

doesn't change you, no matter how good or bad. How you respond

TO the day is what changes you. Everything else is external. The

CHANGE is within, based on how you choose.

     Again we see that our response to our encounter with Christ is

the key. THAT determines whether we are better or worse. WE

must choose what to do with the encounter. This means faith, and

then obedience. And it really never gets more complicated than

those two basics of choosing.

     An encounter with Jesus Christ is an actual, tangible, experience.

If HE is real, then an encounter with Him must be real. And since we

are talking here about the Saviour of this world -- God Incarnate -- an

encounter with Him is THE experience which will bring us face to

face with the very purpose for which we were created. It will bring us

to a sobering realization that without Jesus Christ, we are dead. But

it will bring us into the realization and consciousness of a new life

that is far beyond anything which we could have imagined.

God's Initiative

     People of the first century were not idiots. They didn't have the

scientific advances we have, but it was not because they had no

brains. It was because things were not yet discovered. In fact, if

we were to take a step back and look at our world today, we would

have to admit that the things which people believe today quality US

as the ones whose sanity ought to be questioned.

     Those people were not only smart, but they had more at risk on

a day to day basis than any of us have. In that day, there was no

public assistance. If you lost your job, you didn't eat. It was not an

society with many rich people. And worse, most of those countries

were occupied by Rome. You could not drag someone into court

everytime your rights were violated. You had no defense if your

"religious liberty" was denied. There was no religious liberty. It

depended upon what mood the local despot was in on any given


     In was in that atmosphere that Jesus Christ came on the scene,

lived, taught, was crucified, died, arose, and ascended. It was in

that kind of a society that the original disciples began to teach

Christ. No books, churches, schools, televisions, seminaries, or

models. Only the Truth. And what happened was this: People

encountered Jesus Christ. Their lives were changed forever.

     Now here's the question: How did this happen? What causes

an encounter with Christ that is real and life-changing?

     In our arrogance, we are apt to think that it is our preaching from

the Bible. Or logical arguments which force people to concede the

point. Or clever illustrations. Or church programs. We need to

get real. None of this was available then. The fact is, GOD

HIMSELF initiated contact with these people. GOD HIMSELF

initiated these encounters which resulted in conversion. For unless

He did, they were not real. They could not have happened.

     If you had to walk into a town WITHOUT a Bible, and without

any literature, and without any videos, tapes, or teaching materials,

and tell people about Jesus, could you do it? What if you had no

church behind you? Not one other person behind you? What if the

place you were visiting was not very receptive to your message?

Even violently against it? Could you preach Jesus? Maybe the

more important question is, WOULD you do it?

     Today Jesus Christ is known everywhere -- even by those who

reject Him. But back then, He was UNKNOWN everywhere but in

Israel. If you were one of the few people who had, say, one copy

of one book of the Bible, and took it into a pagan town and began

to preach from it, why should the people there listen to you? What

would you say to them?

     Let's get practical. Suppose you said, "See, it says right here in

the scriptures that the Messiah was to suffer for the sins of the world,

and Jesus DID. So Jesus is the Messiah! Believe and be saved."

     Why should they believe? What if they said, "What scriptures? We

have our own scriptures. What makes yours better? Furthermore,

who is this Jesus? You are telling us that He existed, died for sin,

and arose? How do we know He existed? And so what if He died

and arose? Big deal. And what exactly IS "sin"? And why should

we care if your God forgives us for it? We aren't bad people."

     Today we have the SAME objections everywhere. How do we

know for sure Jesus existed? How do we know the Bible is an

accurate portrayal of what He said and did? Maybe the Jesus of

the Bible is not the "historical Jesus," but one manufactured by

later Christians. And even if Jesus existed, how do we know for sure

that He rose from the dead? How can that be proven? Furthermore,

why do I need to care? Prove to me that I need a Saviour. Prove

to me that Jesus IS that Saviour! You can't.

     Maybe the answer to these issues is so obvious that we easily

miss it. Maybe instead of getting into the arena of the unbeliever

and trying to win an argument with him, we ought to start reading the

very Bible we say we believe. If we did, we would find out that it is

not up to us to win arguments. It is our job to LIFT UP JESUS

CHRIST -- in preaching, yes. But also in our living. And if we do,

notice what Jesus said would happen:

And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. (Jn.


     Jesus Christ is the only one who can convert a person to Himself.

We can convert people to a "religion called Christianity." We can

use a threat of punishment, or a promise of reward, to stampede

them into adopting a set of standards and principles, upon which

we paste the name of Jesus Christ. But only God can convert

people to His Son. God must take the initiative which results

in an encounter with Jesus Christ. Our preaching and teaching is

merely the "lifting of Him up."

Peter's Encounter

     Read Matthew 16. Read how Jesus asked His disciples, "Who

do men say that I am?" Peter answered, "Thou art the Christ, the

Son of the Living God." He was right on! But how did Jesus answer

him back? He said, "Flesh and blood has NOT revealed this to

you, Peter, but my Father in heaven." Can we possibly grasp the

magnitude of that statement?

     Peter walked and talked with Jesus. He had before Him the

Light of the world; the only sinless man who ever lived. He was

given the greatest witness ever given. But Jesus said that despite

all of this, that no "flesh and blood" means had shown Peter the

Truth. In other words, Peter had not figured it out, argued himself

into it, logically pieced it together, guessed right, found a guru to

tell him, or been stampeded into this conclusion under threat of

punishment. No. "Flesh and blood" had NOT revealed this to him.

God Himself had taken the initiative to do so.

     Where does that leave US? It leaves us even more reliant upon

God to reveal Jesus to people. Our "flesh and blood" methods

cannot do it. They will, at best, create a religion out of Jesus Christ.

They cannot bring the reality of Christ which only God can reveal.

     Now here's a brutal question: Why hasn't the church, for the last

two-thousand years, including today, as a general rule, taught this?

This brutal question has a unwelcome answer: Because many of

the very people preaching Christ have never encountered Him.

They have simply learned about Him in books. So they don't have

a frame of reference in their preaching.

An Encounter

     It is not possible to have an encounter with Jesus Christ and

remain the same. There are no exceptions. And if we will just open

ourselves to Him, our encounter will not only result in eternal life,

but it will begin us on a journey unto freedom. Once I see Jesus, I

have seen the Truth. Error will begin being exposed for what it is.

     An encounter with Christ is permanent. But not just as to results.

It is an encounter which doesn't end. Why? Because we are IN

Him. We become one with Him through His Redemption.

     The best news possible is that God has taken the initiative to

reach down to man. HE has taken the initiative to encounter us.

By faith we embrace Him through His Son.

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