We mentioned last week that many people say Jesus never existed. We answered this: It’s indisputable that He existed. But many people reduce Jesus to being a great teacher. We Christians, however, believe He’s God. How would we respond to them? Simply saying “we believe” isn’t enough. They would say, “Well we believe in leprechauns. What’s the difference between your belief and mine?” So much, therefore, is riding on our ability to explain our faith in Jesus as God.
Let’s follow the story of Nicky Gumbel. His father was a secular, agnostic Jew and his mother was not a church-goer. As a teenager, he decided he was an atheist and was particularly resistant towards Christianity.
In first year university, one day, his best friend told him that he and his girlfriend had become Christian. Nicky was horrified and wondered, “They were such good people—how can I help them?” So he started investigating, found an old Bible, and began reading the New Testament into the early hours of the morning. He kept on reading for the next few days, and when he got to the end, he came to the conclusion, “It’s true.”
Now Nicky was a trial lawyer, and trial lawyers rely on historical evidence to make their case. They present historical facts to the jury so that when the jury brings back a verdict, it’s a step of faith… based on evidence. Nicky said he couldn’t be a Christian if there wasn’t any evidence; he couldn’t just take a blind leap of faith. For him, faith in Jesus was a step of faith based on good historical evidence.
Nicky followed one basic argument that shows the divinity of Jesus. This is how it works: What did Jesus say about Himself? If He didn’t believe He was God, then someone else made it up, it’s only a legend, and it’s not true.
But the Gospels record many examples of Jesus indicating that He’s God, and like we said last week, these words are historical; He actually said these things. Jesus today, for example, says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, even though they die, will live” (Jn 11:25). Think about how that would sound coming from Deacon Andrew. Imagine him standing in front of all of us and saying things Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn 14:6). We’d say, “Deacon, you’re the truth? Then why aren’t you giving the homily?” Then he’d reply, “He who sees me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9), “I am the bread of life” (Jn 6:35) and “the light of the world” (Jn 8:12). Who could claim to be the way, the truth and the life but God alone?
The attitude of famous religious teachers has always been, “Look to God, follow Him,” but Jesus’ attitude is, “Look to me!” To the rich young man, He says, “If you wish to be perfect… come, follow me” (Mt 19:21). He makes Himself the be-all and end-all of everything. Eternal judgement and life are based on whether you believe in Him (Mt 25:31-46). There’s a scholarly Jewish rabbi in our own time who says, “Only God can demand of me what Jesus is asking” (Rabbi Jacob Neusner in Jesus of Nazareth, vol. 1, by Pope Benedict XVI, 115).
Jesus also did what only God does: send angels (Mt 13:41), forgive sins (Mk 2:3-11), judge the world, change God’s law (the Torah) (Mt 5:21-48) and have power over the Sabbath (Mt 12:1-8).
At one point in Jesus’ ministry, He said, “I and the Father are one.” It then says that the Jewish people picked up stones to stone Him. So Jesus asks, “‘I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of these do you stone me?’ The Jews answered him, ‘It is not for a good work that we stone you but for blasphemy; because you, being a man, make yourself God’” (Jn 10:30-33). The Jewish authorities tried to stone Him because He used titles that referred to God, like “I AM” (Jn 8:58), and the “Son of Man” (Mk 14:60-64).
When we look at the evidence, it’s clear He thought He was God. So His claim needs to be tested: Was He right? Now there are two possibilities: either He’s right or He’s wrong. If He’s wrong, then He’s either lying or insane.
Now if Jesus said He was God and knew it wasn’t true, then He’d be a liar.
But this goes against the universal consensus of Christians and non-Christians alike: All people acknowledge that Jesus was a great teacher. But you can’t be a great teacher and a liar at the same time, because if you intentionally deceive people, you’re not a great teacher. The facts are that Jesus was holy, a man of high moral standards, purity and wisdom. He forgave the people who were killing Him, reached out to all people, welcomed sinners and the outcast, treated the sick with care, preached about loving God above all things and our neighbour as ourselves. When many followers left Him, He was such a man of integrity that He didn’t moderate His teaching to win them back. In 2,000 years, humanity has improved scientifically and technologically, but no one has ever improved the moral teaching of Jesus. So, is there any evidence that He was a liar? On the contrary, there’s every reason to believe He would never lie.
So was He insane: Did He think He was God, but totally delusional?
Here’s the thing: Jesus didn’t talk and act like someone who’s insane or delusional. He was actually very rational. For example, He taught, “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Mt 5:23-24). This is very logical: to offer a pure gift to God, our hearts must be pure too. Elsewhere He says, “If you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same?” (Mt 5:46). This makes a lot of sense: There’s nothing noble about loving those who are good to us.
He was also down-to-earth (Peter Kreeft & Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, 159-161). “Can any of you, by worrying, add a single moment to your life-span?… Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.” (Mt 6:27 NAB). When the Pharisees asked Him if it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not, trying to trick Him into choosing one side against the other, He gave a very practical answer: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mt 22:21).
His parables were brilliant! His parable, for instance, the Prodigal Son showed us how good and loving the Father is (Lk 15:11-32). Is the truth about how loving God is, told in one of the most celebrated stories of all time, the fruit of a crazy man?
Also, people who are not mentally well are oftentimes erratic. But Jesus never was; He knew exactly what His plan was and followed it. When He was sweating blood in Gethsemane, He didn’t panic; rather He stayed calm, overcame His emotions and continued with His mission (Lk 22:41-45). When He was angry, it was always justified and under control (Jn 2:13-21).
And everything He taught, He did. He practiced what He preached.
Based on the evidence, Jesus doesn’t talk or act like someone insane. The facts show Him to be a most reasonable, level-headed man.
So Nicky eliminated the possibility that Jesus was insane or that He was lying and that left him with the option that Jesus’ claims were true. Nicky found even more evidence, but this was the basic one.
C.S. Lewis once wrote: “You must take your choice. Either this was… the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse… But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher” (Mere Christianity). There’s no middle ground with regard to Jesus. Have we ever realized that, in the Gospels, after people met Jesus, they either loved Him or rejected Him? No one ever said, “He’s a nice guy, a great teacher.”
Many people today, including Catholics, want to say this because a nice guy doesn’t need to be followed. We can also pick and choose which teachings of a great teacher we’re going to follow. Labelling Him as such is really just a convenient way to avoid the demands of His teachings.
“Is Jesus really God?” This is a question we all must wrestle with, and we need to make a decision at some time. Is He the Lord, a liar or a lunatic?
When the lawyer Nicky Gumbel looked at the evidence and finished reading the New Testament, he was convinced it was true. But he still didn’t want to become Christian because he thought life would be totally miserable! So he wanted to put it off until his deathbed.
Then he realized that wouldn’t be intellectually honest. So very reluctantly he kind of said, “Okay, yes.” And at that moment (he still remembers that moment so clearly): being convinced it was true dropped from his head down to his heart, and he experienced a relationship with Jesus. And looking back, he found what unconsciously he had been looking for all his life: something that provided ultimate meaning and purpose. Jesus said, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (Jn 10:10). A liar can’t truly give this, nor a lunatic; only God can.