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Saturday, December 24, 2016

“Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15)

“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 the 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 didn't intend to.”                                                                            
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

During this season which has traditionally been celebrated by the Christian world as the time when Christ was born, it is a good time to ask ourselves the very question Jesus asked the apostles. The world seemingly has as many ideas about Jesus as it has people. Many don’t give Him a second thought. They go about their days with thoughts captive to the proverbial rat race and getting "ready" for the holidays. In their minds, getting ready means preparation for a holiday meal, perhaps spending time with family and the ubiquitous gift giving that our society is known for. Others will give Jesus a cursory thought—witness how much fuller our churches become on Christmas day if, as it does this year, it happens to fall on a Sunday.

But the question for us is much more profound and important than what the season may represent. It goes to the center of our very being for, if Jesus is whom He claimed to be while on earth, our lives are directly and inevitably impacted by that reality, whether we are believers or not. C.S. Lewis was no great theologian. But in penning the words that open this article he put his finger on the heart of the matter. Either Christ was and is who He said He is, or else He was insane, deluded or a devil. In today’s world, especially in our western, post-modernist society, you will find probably millions who will attempt to tell us that Jesus was a good moral teacher, perhaps the best ever, but little more. Their concept of Jesus is based solely on a naturalistic explanation and the thought that He was and is more than that is inconceivable.

One of the great confusions that Satan has foisted upon our modern world, is the idea that there is no such thing as absolute truth. If you ask a millennial whether a particular moral stance is true or not, the answer you are likely to get is “well it depends." If it is true for you, the idea goes, then it is true. However, that same “truth” may not apply to me at all. I may have a completely contradictory world view to yours, but, to put it in the words of pope Francis, “who am I to judge?” This mentality has infected our society to such an extent that even those of previous generations, like the pope, have begun to think and behave in ways that would be unrecognizable to the ancients (or even our great-grandparents, for that matter).
And so, we come to the question at hand: who was Jesus? Since our society views the world through relativistic glasses, whatever you happen to think of Him is okay with them. You can think He was a demon possessed lunatic, as the Jews do. You can think He was a prophet who did not die on the cross, as the Muslims do. You can see him as the supreme example of Buddhism, the Dalai Lama does, as a "spiritually mature, good, and warm hearted person." Jesus can be all things to all people because there is no such thing as absolute truth. One immediate problem with such thinking, however, is that they are all contradictory and, with few exception, will relegate Jesus to something short of what the West wants to think of him.
But as C.S. Lewis reminds us, Jesus never intended to give people the option to decide for themselves who He was. The New Testament is full of Jesus’ claims, and the only time He asked his hearers what they thought about Him was the quote in the tile of this article. To those outside his inner circle, He proclaimed Himself as God’s Son in unmistakable terms. Just to mention a couple, in one of the most recognizable passages in the gospel of John, Jesus told his disciples that “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). If we are to get to God, then we have to go through Jesus, there is no other option available to us. In the same gospel, during one of his confrontations with the Jews, he told them that “unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24). Thus, we can neither reach the Father, nor have remission of sins without Christ.
Many have attempted to find a fourth way to get around what Lewis said in his watershed work. They attempt to tell us that, Jesus really was a good moral teacher who never claimed to be anything more than that. He was a rabbi who led a band of followers for a few years, but ran afoul of the authorities and was crucified. They will then tell us that his followers, not wanting his memory or his legacy to die, invented the idea that He was more than a man and turned Him into a god, going so far as to claim that He was the only true God. That is the thesis of books such as "Misquoting Jesus," in which Bart Ehrman attempts to portray Jesus as nothing more than the proverbial good guy who was completely transformed by the apostles.
The problem with such a position is that it ignores the basis of the Christian faith. And that is the New Testament. Without the New Testament, even the enemies of Christ would be unable to tell us much about Him. They could not tell us more than that He was a real historical person who lived during Tiberias’ reign and was put to death under Pontius Pilate. Without the New Testament, they could not tell us that He was a good moral teacher or much anything else about His life and work. Thus, if the New Testament invented the Christ that Christians worship, then those who want to claim Him as a good moral teacher for their own would be unable to do so without also accepting His claims to deity.
The bottom line is that Jesus was and is the Son of God. And a day is coming when we will have to face Him in judgement (2 Corinthians 5:9-10). The question is whether we will bow down to Him as Lord and Master, or whether we will be forced to bow down to Him as the judge who will condemn us to eternal separation from Him and His kingdom. In this season of good will, what choice will you make?

 


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