189) Was Jesus Only a Great Teacher?

From Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis

     …Among the Jews there suddenly turns up a man who goes about talking as if He was God.  He claims to forgive sins.  He says He has always existed.  He says He is coming to judge the world at the end of time.  Now let us get this clear.  Among Pantheists, like the Indians, anyone might say that he was a part of God, or one with God: there would be nothing very odd about it.  But this man, since He was a Jew, could not mean that kind of God.  God, in their language, meant the Being outside the world who had made it and was infinitely different from anything else.  And when you have grasped that, you will see that what this man said was, quite simply, the most shocking thing that has ever been uttered by human lips. 

     One part of the claim tends to slip past us unnoticed because we have heard it so often that we no longer see what it amounts to.  I mean the claim to forgive sins: any sins.  Now unless the speaker is God, this is really so preposterous as to be comic.  We can all understand how a man forgives offenses against himself.  You tread on my toe and I forgive you, you steal my money and I forgive you.  But what should we make of a man, himself unrobbed and untrodden on, who announced that he forgave you for treading on other men’s toes and stealing other men’s money?  Asinine fatuity is the kindest description we should give of his conduct.  Yet this is what Jesus did.  He told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured.  He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned; the person chiefly offended in all offenses.  This makes sense only if He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin.  In the mouth of any speaker who is not God, these words would imply what I can only regard as a silliness and conceit unrivalled by any other character in history.  

     Yet (and this is the strange, significant thing) even His enemies, when they read the Gospels, do not usually get the impression of silliness and conceit.  Still less do unprejudiced readers.  Christ says that He is ‘humble and meek’ and we believe Him; not noticing that, if He were merely a man, humility and meekness are the very last characteristics we could attribute to some of His sayings.

     I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him:  ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’  That is the one thing we must not say.  A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic– on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg– or else he would be the Devil of Hell.  You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God or else a madman or something worse.  You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.  But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher.  He has not left that open to us.  He did not intend to…   Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.

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Matthew 9:2-3  —  Some men brought to Jesus a paralyzed man, lying on a mat.  When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”  At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!”

Luke 7:48-49  —  Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”  The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

John 1:29  —  The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

II Corinthians 5:19  —  …God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

II Peter 1:16  —  We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

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Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of the godly life:  Give to us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.
Book of Common Prayer