When events are out of the ordinary and particularly when their implications are of great importance, it isn’t unusual for people to recognize the importance of recording eyewitness accounts so that generations to come can have confidence in what took place.
This was the case when General Eisenhower inspected Nazi death camps after their liberation. In his diary, he wrote of these inspections:
I visited every nook and cranny of the camp because I felt it my duty to be in a position from then on to testify at first hand about these things in case there ever grew up at home the belief or assumption that `the stories of Nazi brutality were just propaganda.’ Some members of the visiting party were unable to through the ordeal. I not only did so but as soon as I returned to Patton’s headquarters that evening I sent communications to both Washington and London, urging the two governments to send instantly to Germany a random group of newspaper editors and representative groups from the national legislatures. I felt that the evidence should be immediately placed before the American and British publics in a fashion that would leave no room for cynical doubt. 
Eisenhower’s prediction that some would later say the Holocaust was only propaganda has proven right, which makes his careful inspection of the evidence so important.
The ancient physician Luke seemingly had the same insight when it came to the events of Jesus’ life. Like the Holocaust, the incredible nature of the events of Jesus’ time would later be viewed with a cynical eye, despite the absence of refuting evidence. Luke seemed to know this would be the case and so was careful to make a thorough inspection of the evidence. As a preface to his account of Jesus’ life, he writes:
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. 
When it comes to history, we are largely dependent on those who carefully gathered the evidence of what happened in their day. Take away those accounts and we are left only to speculate. Why do I believe in the Holocaust? Because people took the time to investigate and record the events in the day they happened. Why do I believe in the events of Jesus’ life? Because people took the time to investigate and record the events in the day they happened. To be an automatic skeptic of either set of events is to throw history in the trash bin.
 Dwight D. Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe (New York: Doubleday, 1948), 409.
 Luke 1:1-2, New International Version
I grew up hearing a lot about God and the Bible. I heard stories about Moses crossing the Red Sea, Jonah and the whale, and Jesus dying on the cross. I also heard certain “Bible truths” like God is good or love your neighbor. And then there was the bit about sin, that is, that we are all sinners. In fact, I heard that we are all sinners so many times I’d have to say it just became a plain, old vanilla fact with little to stir me up. In some ways that’s understandable. If you feel embarrassed because you lost your hair due to chemo, but then find that everyone around you is in the same boat, it doesn’t seem like all that big a deal even if it's evidence you’ve got a deadly cancer growing inside you.
Recently I led a discussion with a group of men. We were talking about the question, “Who’s in?” or in other words, if there is a God and a heaven who gets to go there? Most people feel pretty good about their own chances. And they think that they’re good to go because on the balance they’ve done more good than bad and have never done anything too heinous.
The opening pages of the Bible seem to suggest something different. They tell the story of Adam and Eve. God puts them in a perfect garden, and says, “Have fun, just do one thing for me: don’t eat from this one tree.” I don’t know how long Adam and Eve held out, but it doesn’t seem like that long until they just couldn’t stand it any longer--they had to taste the forbidden fruit. Now, think about it. Up until that fateful moment, Adam and Eve had a perfect record. They had been interacting with God and each other and the animals with a 1.000 batting average, and then they ate just one piece of fruit. That’s it. They didn’t murder someone. They didn’t get in some big marital spat. They ate a single piece of fruit. I don’t even think they finished it.
But guess what God’s response was to this infraction. Without hesitation he said, “You’re out! You are banished from the garden for the rest of your lives and cursed with hard work and strife until you die.” Seriously. That’s what the story says. One forbidden piece of fruit and Adam and Eve were no longer in with God.
So back to the group of men. After sharing this Adam and Eve story, I asked, “So given what this story is saying, what might that say about whether we are in with God given our own track record?” Without hesitation, one man blurted out, “We are all screwed!” I don’t think I could have said it better myself. It’s not just that we are all sinners. If the Bible is right when it comes to God’s stance on the sin in our lives, my friend hit the nail on the head—we are all screwed!
You might say, “But that’s rather depressing, John.” And you’re right, it is. If nothing else, it adds a little necessary spice to my plain vanilla, childhood concept of the universality of sin. If God’s reaction to even the smallest blemish in our lives is, “You’re out!” maybe we are in a lot bigger mess than we ever imagined. And maybe it makes sense of all the fuss about Jesus. But that’s a conversation for another day.
I see it all the time now: stickers, signs, wall art all implore us to "BELIEVE." I'm not sure the meaning behind all of it, but it seems it has something to do with having an optimistic outlook on life. I don't have any problem with well-placed optimism, but since the word believe can mean so many things we probably have to define what we mean when we use it. For example, believe can mean wishful thinking, like I believe the Texans are going to win the Super Bowl next year. But belief can also be a confident agreement with the facts, like I believe the sun is in the middle of the solar system. Sometimes belief can mean a deep personal trust, like I believe my wife will not betray me no matter how many other men come along.
Calling people to believe, however, is not a modern fad. Christians have been calling people to believe for two millennia. And in particular they tell people they should believe in Jesus. But just what kind of belief are they calling us to? Are we just to be optimistic about life because Jesus was looking to a brighter future and we can too? Are we supposed to believe that Jesus was a real person who lived too thousand years ago and not some made-up myth, and then we are good to go? Or does the word believe for the Christian mean something more than that?
Perhaps the most famous verse in the Bible is John 3:16. There Jesus states: “For God so loved the world that whoever believes in him will not die but have eternal life.” The question becomes what kind of belief was Jesus speaking about? Fortunately, Jesus gives us a very strong indication in the preceding two verses. He says, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” Of course, to understand what Jesus is getting at here we need to know a little bit about his snake in the desert illustration.
In the Old Testament, when the Israelites were on their way to the Promised Land, they complained to God incessantly. To teach them a lesson, God sent a bunch of poisonous snakes into their midst. Seeing the gravity of the situation, the people repented and cried out to God. At that point God told Moses to fashion a bronze snake on a pole and to instruct the people to look at the snake on the pole if they were bitten. If they did so, their lives would be spared. Suppose you were in a tent at the time and a snake came and bit you. You could have sat in your tent and tried to squeeze the venom out. You could have believed the stories about how others were saved when they looked at the pole and even enjoyed their stories. But if you didn’t get out of the tent yourself and look at the snake on the pole, you would have died. God simply did not provide any other means by which you could live.
When we consider Jesus’ illustration, we get a good understanding of the kind of belief he is calling people to in order to receive eternal life. He is not looking for someone to simply know some facts about him or even like the Jesus stories. And he is certainly not looking for someone who is trying to heal himself from the dings and failures of life. Rather, he is looking for you or I to realize that there is no way to be saved apart from him. Just as the people in the desert desperately looked to the snake on the pole for life, so Jesus says we must look desperately to him for life.
Another way to illustrate the kind of faith to which the Bible calls people is to consider wedding vows. Let’s suppose a man and a woman stand before a pastor to be married. The pastor asks the man, “Will you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife?” The proper answer, of course, is to say, “I do.” But let’s suppose that instead the man says, “I really think she is pretty, don’t you?” The pastor may repeat his question, and the man might say the second time, “I really like the way she cooks, and I think it’s super that we both like to ride bicycles.” At this point, everyone would recognize the man is not really willing to be wedded to the woman. He may know all kinds of things about her and even like many of them. But knowing lots of things about a person and even liking them doesn’t mean you believe in them enough to put your life into their hands. When the Bible calls you to believe in Christ, it is not asking you to declare that you like him; it is asking you to put your life into his hands.
One of the great hurdles to biblical belief is the absence of absolute certainty. Some argue, “Since I can’t be absolutely certain that eternal life is only found in Christ, I can’t really believe in him.” But this type of thinking creates a bar for belief that is not realistic. Let’s suppose angels came down from heaven and handed you a personal note from God. Or suppose that God himself shows up and says, “Believe in me!” Would that be enough to be absolutely certain? Probably not, since there is always the chance you were hallucinating! Every day we place our trust in people and in things we are not absolutely certain about. I am not certain my car’s brakes will not fail today, but I trust them enough to drive my car anyways. I can’t prove that my wife will never leave me, but that does not keep me from trusting that she won’t. Even biblical greats like John the Baptist had doubts, but in the end the evidence was enough for them to say, “I am pushing all my chips into the middle of the table.” This is what God is asking us to do. He is asking us to believe that only in Christ can we find eternal life. So if that's what all those "BELIEVE" signs are about, I'd be good with that.
John likes to help people wrestle with the big questions of life in his work with Search Ministries. He served as a pastor in Houston for 16 years, earned his doctorate at Biola University, and is a contributing author of Reasons to Believe: Thoughtful Responses to Life’s Toughest Questions.