Rembrandt’s Faces of Jesus
(…continued) In Matthew 16:15 Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Isn’t it interesting that today, 2,000 years later, this is still an important question? If Jesus is who he said he is, this is the most important question in all of life, and what you say you believe about Jesus is the only thing that will matter for you in a hundred years from now. So imagine Jesus asking you, “What about you; who do you say that I am?”
What are the choices?
There are four possibilities, and C. S. Lewis pointed out that they all begin with the letter ‘L.’ The first ‘possibility’ is that perhaps Jesus was a LIAR. There are many people who say that Jesus was not really the Son of the Living God, but they would grant that he was a great moral teacher and example; like Buddha, Confucius, or the Dalai Lama. This is the preferred choice for many, because it cannot be denied that Jesus has had a significant impact on human history. By allowing that he was simply one of several great moral teachers, someone can acknowledge Jesus’ influence without getting into anything spiritual. If one does not believe Jesus was anything more than a man, one does not have to make any kind of religious commitment.
But Jesus did not leave that option open to us. He was indeed a teacher of morals. He did say we should love each other, be kind to one another, and forgive our enemies. But talking about being nice isn’t what got him killed. Nobody would have objected to that. Rather, what got Jesus in trouble with both the Jews and the Romans was that he claimed to be much more than a great teacher. He claimed to be God. To the Jews, this was blasphemy, which was punishable by death. To the Romans, this was also treason because Caesar was Lord, not Jesus. The Roman punishment for treason was also execution. This is why the Jewish leaders and Roman authorities conspired to have Jesus killed. The evidence was clear. This was an unmistakable part of who Jesus said he was.
So if Jesus wasn’t God, then he was a liar and a deceiver, and therefore, not such a great moral example after all. Even in the Gospels, there stories of how some people accused Jesus of being a deceiver, and intentionally misleading the people.
So the first possibility is that Jesus was a liar, trying to deceive everyone about this ‘Son of the Living God’ business. But the problem with that choice is that people will tell lies for dishonest gain, or, to get out of trouble. But a sane person will not tell a lie to get into trouble. Jesus was already a popular teacher. If he was not the Son of God, that deception gained him nothing but a torturous death on a cross. It is, therefore, not reasonable think Jesus was a liar. But the very idea does point out the fallacy of the notion that Jesus was only a great moral teacher.
As pointed out, a sane person will not lie to get into trouble. This leads to a second possible choice, and that is perhaps Jesus was insane, or, to use a second word beginning with ‘L,’ a LUNATIC. What would you think if the person in line behind you at the grocery store tapped you on the shoulder and said, “Believe in me and you will have eternal life, for I am the Son of the Living God?” Would you say, “Wow, that’s wonderful, I will follow you;” or, would you think he was crazy, turn around, ignore him, avoid any more eye contact, and get away as fast as you could? Of course, you would want to get away. You would not want to get involved with such a person. Jesus also faced that response. The Gospels record the reactions of some people who thought he was out of his mind, and some who thought he was demon possessed. That is what you think when someone starts talking like they are God, or Caesar, or Napoleon, or Elvis. There are such people in the world, and they are avoided.
But the interesting thing about Jesus is that even though he talked that way, most people did not avoid him, but followed him wherever he went. Many times in the Gospels we read about Jesus was being followed by large crowds. His many miracles and profound teachings aroused interest, so people did not automatically dismiss his talk about being divine. They kept listening and kept following. Even when Jesus tried to avoid the crowds and get some rest, they would find him, and gather around. This is not how people react to a person who is insane, so the ‘lunatic’ option doesn’t work either. (continued…)
John 7:12 — Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him (Jesus). Some said, “He is a good man.” Others replied, “No, he deceives the people.”
John 10:19-21 — The Jews who heard these words (of Jesus) were again divided. Many of them said, “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?” But others said, “These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”
Matthew 4:23-25 — Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.
Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief.