Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Who Was Jesus? Lord, or Liar, or Lunatic

In 1968, there was still a Western Civilization requirement at at the University of California, Santa Barbara, so one day there I sat in Campbell Hall along with 600 to 800 other students, mostly freshmen, listening to the professor discussing early world history. In the course of things, he mentioned something about Jesus. Immediately, a student sprang up and asked loudly, "Isn't it true that Jesus didn't really exist?"

The professor, unflustered, took the question politely and said something like, "No, there is good evidence from reliable sources outside the Bible, that Jesus was a real, historical figure." The student, disappointed, sat down.

The  question then arises, "Well, if Jesus really did exist, who was he?" Someone has suggested that there are three possibilities: He was a liar or con man, telling people he was one with God when in fact he knew he wasn't. Or he believed his own claims, which would make him insane, thinking that he came down from heaven to save sinners. Or he actually is the Lord and what he said is true.

Let's look at each of these briefly.
1. Was Jesus a liar? If you study the four Gospels in the New Testament carefully, you'll find all kinds of clues to their believability. For example, when Jesus casts the demon out of the possessed man into the herd of pigs (Matthew 8 and Mark 5), a myth would more likely say that the people marveled and began to worship Jesus. Instead, they begged Jesus to go away.  Or look at the disciples themselves. When Jesus calms the wind and the waves (Mark 4 and Luke 8), instead of rejoicing at their Lord's power, they are absolutely terrified and ask each other, "Who is this man?" Another piece of evidence is that Matthew and John were disciples of Jesus, which makes them eyewitnesses to what he said and what happened. They wrote two of the Gospels. Were the three of them all willing to die for a lie? I doubt it.

2. Was Jesus insane? That's what his enemies said (John 10:20). Would John even record this accusation if he didn't believe otherwise? And the fact is, at least two of Jesus' brothers became Christians (James and Jude). They grew up with him and followed his actions closely. Would they accept him as their savior if they believed he was just making crazy talk? And wouldn't well educated people like Joseph of Arimathea and Paul be able to tell if Jesus could not distinguish between imagination and reality?

3. Was Jesus Lord? This is the third possibility. If the New Testament is true, and if Jesus wasn't lying or crazy, and if he raised people from the dead, and if God raised  him from the dead, then this must be the answer.

If my discussion makes you curious, the best thing you can do now is to read the gospel of John, after praying to the God you might not yet believe in (don't feel foolish; it's okay) and ask him to reveal himself to you if he is real and ask  him if  the claims of Jesus are true. The Gospel of John, together with the rest of the New Testament, will tell you what to do next.

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