What was it that within a few days transformed a band of mourners into the spiritual conquerors of the world? It was not the memoirs of Jesus’ life; it was not the inspirational which came from past contact with him. But it was the message, “He is risen.” That message alone gave the disciples a living Savior, and it alone can give us a living Savior today. We shall never have vital contact with Jesus if we attend to His person and neglect the message for it is the message which makes him ours.
But the Christian message contains more than the fact of the resurrection. It is not enough to know that Jesus is alive; it is not enough to know that a wonderful Person lived in the first century of the Christian era and that Person still lives, somewhere and somehow, today. Jesus lives, and that is well; but what good is it to us ? We are like the inhabitants of far-off Syria or Phoenicia in the days of His flesh. There is a wonderful Person who can heal every ill of body and mind. But, alas, we are not with Him, and the way is far. How shall we come into His presence? How shall contact be established between us and Him? For the people of ancient Galilee contact was established by a touch of Jesus’ hand or a word from His lips. But for us the problem is not so easy. We cannot find Him by the lake shore or in crowded houses; we cannot be lowered into any room where He sits amid scribes and Pharisees. If we employ only our own methods of search, we shall find ourselves on a fruitless pilgrimage. Surely we need guidance, if we are to find our Savior.
And in the New Testament we find guidance full and free–guidance so complete as to remove all doubt, yet so simple that a child can understand. Contact with Jesus according to the New Testament is established by what Jesus does, not for others, but for us. The account of what Jesus did for others is indeed necessary. By reading how He went about doing good, how He healed the sick and raised the dead and forgave sins, we learn that He is a Person who is worthy of trust. But such knowledge is to the Christian man not an end in itself, but a means to an end. It is not enough to know that Jesus is a Person worthy of trust; it is also necessary to know that He is willing to have us trust Him. It is not enough that He saved others; we need to know also that He has saved us.
That knowledge is given in the story of the Cross. For us Jesus does not merely place His fingers in the ears and say, “Be opened”; for us He does not merely say “Arise and walk.” For us He has done a greater thing–for us He died. Our dreadful guilt, the condemnation of God’s law–it was wiped out by an act of grace. That is the message which brings Jesus near to us, and makes Him not merely the Savior of the men of Galilee long ago, but the Savior of you and me.
It is vain, then, to speak of reposing trust in the Person without believing the message. For trust involves a personal relation between the one who trusts and him in whom the trust is reposed. And in this case the personal relation is set up by the blessed theology of the Cross. Without the eighth chapter of Romans, the mere story of the earthly life of Jesus would be remote and dead; for it is through the eighth chapter of Romans, or the message which that chapter contains, that Jesus becomes our Savior today.
J. Gresham Machen “Christianity & Liberalism” 1923