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Today’s post is an excerpt from a book: The Life, A Portrait of Jesus, by J.John & Chris Walley, p.181-185. This is the best arguement I have seen, explaining who Jesus claimed to be and the importance of making a decision about him. I recommend you read the book.
Jesus’ claims are so awesome and significant that they cannot simply be ignored or overlooked. If Jesus was, in some way, God come to earth, and if our eternal happiness does depend on us giving him our total loyalty, then we are faced with an issue that is without any doubt the most important thing in the world.
Equally, if the claims of Jesus to be God’s unique and supreme intervention into our world are to be rejected with any intellectual honesty, then some alternative explanation for them must be found. Yet the alternatives are very limited. One assessment of Jesus sixty years ago by C.S.Lewis was that because of Jesus’ claims, there were only two alternatives to him being Lord: he was either a liar or a lunatic. With the passage of time, we might extend and rephrase those alternatives: Jesus was either mythical, misunderstood, mistaken, mentally disturbed or someone who misled his followers.
Was Jesus mythical?
This first alternative is an attempt to duck the challenge. This ‘escape route’ from the claims of Jesus assumes the gospels are unreliable and that the divine figure they portray is fictional. Yet the gospels show none of the hallmarks of myth; they are understated and matter-of-fact accounts and the evidence that Jesus considered himself much more than a man is so diverse (the direct and indirect claims, the titles, the actions) and, above all, so consistent, that it seems far more probable that the figure they portray is authentic.
To maintain such a view a hard question has to be answered: how did such a mythical Jesus arise? How did a belief that ‘Jesus was a good man’ so rapidly evolve into ‘Jesus was God’? There are no remotely similar parallels for this sort of development elsewhere and none at all in Judaism.
Was Jesus misunderstood?
This second alternative suggests that, in reality, Jesus never claimed to be God. Rather, his disciples spectacularly misinterpreted what he said and turned his claim to be a faithful prophet of God into that of being an incarnation of God. This view might have some merit if Jesus’ claim to be divine rested on one single statement; but given that he presented his claims in so many different ways it seems hard to maintain. It is difficult to believe that Jesus’ disciples were so stunningly incompetent that they consistently and repeatedly misunderstood what he said on one of the most fundamental issues of his teaching. The charge of ineptitude can also be extended to the leaders of the early church, for never thinking to check whether the disciples had got it all wrong.
Was Jesus mistaken?
A third alternative is that it was Jesus himself who was wrong. On this view, Jesus genuinely thought he was God but, in reality, was sadly mistaken about his own identity. This would mean, however, that far from Jesus being a reliable and authoritative interpreter of the Law, he was breaking the First Commandment – ‘you shall have no other gods before me’ – in a most breathtaking and blasphemous way. The implications of this view are devastating: if Jesus was wrong about this most fundamental issue, then nothing else that he said can be trusted. If he was wrong here, Jesus was not even a reliable teacher.
Was Jesus mentally disturbed?
Another alternative is that Jesus suffered from a delusional psychological disorder. So, for example, the writer George Bernard Shaw considered that Jesus must have suffered from megalomania. Such an explanation has one slight merit: it admits Jesus did make astonishing claims about himself. Yet there is little else to support it. In the gospels, Jesus does not come over as the slightest bit delusional or disturbed.
To hold this view required you to believe that the greatest moral influence the world has ever seen was a man who was mentally disturbed. That conclusion is so bizarre and unsettling that few people have felt comfortable even considering it.
Did Jesus mislead his followers?
A final alternative is that in making his claims, Jesus deliberately misled his followers: he lied to them. Yet it is hard to imagine any motive for Jesus wanting to mislead people in this way’ far from leading to fame or fortune, his claims merely led to his death. And the charge of lying hardly seems consistent with everything else that we know of Jesus, including the fact that he started many of his statements by saying ‘Truly, I say to you…’ To pretend to be God and to accept the worship and praise of devout followers, while you knew you were as human as they were, would be an extraordinary act of deception. To say that it seems out of character with the author of the Sermon on the Mount is an understatement!
Jesus made extraordinary claims that he was God. If those claims are true then they have awesome and life-changing implications. In Jesus, every search for God comes to its end. In him is found everything that our hearts truly desire and that our lives really need.
There are alternative explanations for the claims that Jesus made. Yet none of those explanations is without serious flaws. A Christian could easily say that it takes much less faith to believe that Jesus made his claims to be God because that’s who he was, than to believe the alternatives. One of Sherlock Holmes’ comments to Watson is helpful here: ‘It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.’
One event that we will look at later and that is crucial to Jesus’ claims is the Resurrection. If Jesus did rise from the dead, then all his claims are confirmed as true.
Finally, simply saying ‘I believe Jesus is God’ does not exhaust the significance of Jesus’ identity. It is too easy to limit the idea that Jesus is the divine Son of God to some theoretical test-question that identifies true Christianity. Yet to be a Christian does not mean to obey a doctrine or recite a creed, it is to live within a transforming relationship with Jesus. The reality is that the idea that Jesus is God is a truth that should sustain us every day. Jesus was not just the Royal Rescuer, Loving Leader, Perfect Provider and Suffering Servant for his people two thousand years ago: he is all those things for us today.
This was written one Christmas in 1513 from a Fr. Giovanni to a Contessina in Firenze:
There is nothing I can give you which you have not got; but there is much, very much, that, while I cannot give it, you can take. No Heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take Heaven! No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in the present little instant. Take peace!
The gleam of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. There is radiance and glory in the darkness, could we but see, and to see, we have only to look. I beseech you to look.
Life is so generous a giver, but we, judging its gifts by their covering, cast them away as ugly or heavy or hard. Remove the covering, and you will find beneath it a living splendour, woven of love, by wisdom, with power. Welcome it, grasp it, and you touch the Angel’s hand that brings it to you. Everything we call a trial, a sorrow, or a duty; believe me, that angel’s hand is there; the gift is there, and the wonder of an overshadowing Presence. Our joys too: be not content with them as joys, they too conceal diviner gifts.
Life is so full of meaning and of purpose, so full of beauty – beneath its covering – that you will find that earth but cloaks your heaven. Courage, then to claim it, that is all! But courage you have; and the knowledge that we are pilgrims together, wending through unknown country, home.
Christians are God’s ‘workmanship.’ The Greek word is poiema, from which we get our word ‘poem.’ It means ‘a work of art, a masterpiece.’ In Christ, you receive God’s grace and become his work of art.
Michelangelo’s paintings and sculptures testify to his creative genius. Shakespeare’s plays make us mindful of the work of a master. Mozart’s music proclaims the inspired talent of an incomparable composer.
Paul is saying, ‘Look around. Consider the Christians you know. Think about the difference God has made in their lives. Each life points to the creative genius of God. He has taken wrecked, broken, distorted, misguided lives and made them works of art.’
We are God’s workmanship. Poems, communicating his grace, mercy, and love. Paintings, designed to capture on the canvas of daily living the very essence of life.
God’s poem? That’s what he has in mind for you!
[Reblogged from Rusty Peterman on his Jesus Apprentice blog, 14 July 09]
What is evangelism?
See what God is doing and work alongside him.
Who is evangelism?
We have to cross the line to discipleship. In the New Testament discipleship is not about being a student, but an apprentice who watches his master working. It is always in community. Sometimes community becomes an end in itself – it should be a means to an end. Evangelism is not a thing to do, it is a person – Jesus. We can no longer just be consumers in church.
Where is evangelism?
The world. See Matthew 28 and John 20.
What is the Good News?
Jesus lived and died and rose again, and this changes everything. It is a fact (the Latin root of ‘fact’ means ‘done’). It’s about life.
How do we know things (knowledge)? How do we make sense of them (purpose)?
The faith-based world view (Hebrew) is great on purpose but not on knowledge. We know things through revelation – which is not enough for scientists.
The scientific-based world view (Greek) is great on knowledge but there is no purpose. We have created an amazing world but we don’t know what it’s for.
We need to take hold of the crises: A crisis of purpose which gives rise to a resurgence of spirituality. Then there is a crisis of spirituality which doesn’t satisfy. Also a crisis of prosperity which does not fulfil.
How do we reach people?
The beauty of our lives attracts people. Discipleship, because you have to know how to live a beautiful life.
“I want to believe in Richard Dawkins, but he’s not happy and you are. It’s not evidence, but it’ll do for now.”
[based on a talk by Martin Cavender, Swansea University, 27/10/11]
1. Christianity as a ‘Big Picture’
It provides a way of looking at things in a coherent way.
“I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen; not only do I see it, but by it I see everything else.”
1. It illuminates reality
2. It allows us to see what is otherwise in shadows
3. It brings things into focus – like a lens
4. It helps us to see things as they really are – truth seeker
5. It allows us to fit things in – helps us make sense of the world but goes beyond reason
2. The Argument from Desire
In each of us there is a deep desire for something out of this world.
He has also set eternity in the hearts of men. (Eccl 3:7)
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses 1941
The world is full of beauty – these are signposts to God, not just containers. Like the scent of flowers in a garden at night – you know they are there but you can’t see them. So nature tells us that there is something more.
3. Lewis on Imagination & Stories
Christianity tells a story that makes sense of things and connects up with our own stories.
In The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe children hear different stories about the true origin of Narnia, but gradually one story emerges as true.
Christian apologetics is about out-narrating the stories of the secular world.
Lewis believed we should use plain English to explain the deep truths.
“You must translate every bit of your theology into the vernacular.”
“We are here in the land of dreams. But cock-crow is coming.”
Your story is given depth and meaning by the great story, so you need to understand it.
[based on a lecture given by Alister McGrath, biographer of C S Lewis]
“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity