“I believe; help me with my unbelief!” Mark 9:24
In previous posts below we explored the reliability of the Bible and the audacious claim that it is actually “God-breathed”. We looked at evidences for the existence of God and noted that perhaps the main evidence for God’s existence is that He came here in Person and told us He exists and showed us exactly who He is. Few doubt that Jesus lived and that He is arguably the greatest and most influential person who has ever lived. It seems logical to believe that a man named Jesus lived but was He really God in the flesh? Are the outrageous claims that He made of Himself true? How can I know?
Perhaps you have wrestled with this question of doubt. It’s critical that we wrestle with this one because it is at the center of the Christian belief, indeed (if it’s true) at the center of LIFE itself. As we approach this question, we need to realize that at the center of Christ’s teaching, His mission, His Message, His life, was His IDENTITY. The central theme or truth of His teaching was not a set of principles or commands; it wasn’t love or grace, per se. At the core of His teaching was His identity. Think about it: Jesus was ultimately crucified not because He talked about love or serving others or caring for the poor. No, His enemies crucified Him because of Who He claimed to be. And it is His identity that continues to be at the center of discussion, debate, belief and unbelief- and heaven and hell. We can’t overstate the importance of this question.
Luke 7:18-23 John asks, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” If there is anyone in the Bible that we would think did not doubt Jesus’ identity, it was John the Baptist. He was the foretold prophet and his role was to announce who Jesus was. In John 1:29, seeing Jesus, John said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the Word.” Here in Luke 7 (also told in Matthew 11) John finds himself in prison, about to be beheaded and he’s questioning the true identity of Jesus. Notice how the Bible never hides doubt, sin, failure, brokenness. It simply describes real people wrestling real faith issues.
Who did Jesus claim to be? He said He was the Messiah, the long-awaited “Liberating King”, the Lord God in the flesh, the Son of the Most High, the now-seen Holy God.
Jesus answers saying, “tell John what you’ve SEEN (His works) & HEARD (his words)”.
1. His works prove He is Lord. What evidence do we have that Jesus Is Lord? We have what the Bible calls “signs” Jesus’ works (these “signs” were prophesied. The Gospels record 35 miracles that Jesus performed: 23 were healing miracles, 9 were miracles showing power over nature, and 3 were miracles of raising the dead. He had power over nature, He calmed the storm, turned water into wine, fed 5,000 people from 5 loaves and 2 fish, raised people from the dead. He performed miracles of physical healing, and He reports back to John that “many people of diseases, the lame walked, lepers were cleansed, & the deaf could hear..” He provided physical and spiritual healing, defeating evil spirits as well. He says, “Go and tell… the blind receive their sight, the dead are raised up…” These were all signs of the kingdom of God, a New Order that Jesus came to usher in. His miracles proclaimed the nature of the kingdom- that is, blindness, brokenness, death do not reign and rule in the kingdom of God. He reverses the order of this fallen and broken world.
Of course, the ultimate demonstration of His Lordship was the resurrection (much more on that next week). BUT historically, how do you explain what happened 2000 years ago if Jesus did not rise again? Scholars have noted that within five weeks after the resurrection not just one but over 10,000 Jews in Jerusalem (including many Pharisees, the ruling priests of the day) who were willing to give up their social and religious beliefs that they had rigidly observed since childhood to follow Jesus.
2. His words prove He is the Lord. He said tell John about my works and tell him about my words- the truth that He spoke- and again namely the truth about WHO He was. Jesus didn’t simply walk around doing good things. He walked around making the audacious claim that He was the Messiah, knowing that it was blasphemous. He even challenged hostile, even violent skeptics to examine Him, watch Him, and prove that He wasn’t. I’ve talked to people who claim, “Jesus never really claimed to be God.” Just listen to His first hearers: “This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because not only was He breaking the Sabbath, but He was even calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.” John 5:18
John 10:24-31 “So the Jews gathered around Him and said to Him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.’ Jesus answered them, ‘I told you, and you do not believe (WORDS). The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me (WORKS), but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, & they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.’ The Jews picked up stones again to stone him.” He is clearly claiming to be the Messiah and everyone knew it.
Note (back to Luke 7) that John the Baptist wanted to believe, the Pharisees did not. And to answer John the prophet, Jesus looked at the Old Testament, the signs of the foretold Messiah. As He answered the Pharisees (theologians) Jesus gave a very theological and logical response. But again, faith precedes reason. Even with the works of Jesus, we still find ourselves doubting. One of the ways to come to a clear conclusion is to eliminate the possibilities. For some this will offer a very clear response:
Four Possible Options for Jesus’ Identity:
1. Legend – This option would say that the story of Jesus claiming to be God is a legend; it never even happened. Most people believe Jesus lived. The problem with Jesus as legend is that modern archaeology shows that the four biographies of Christ were written within the lifetime of Christ’s contemporaries. Most scholars agree that by 70 – 80 AD the Gospels were written. People knew Jesus personally. They saw Him. They could have refuted the claims about Him. See Dr. Luke’s purpose in writing His account of Jesus in Luke 1:1-4.
Consider this: President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. Imagine, if over the past 50 years, and over the past 15 years in particular, people claimed J.F.K. was the Messiah. What if people began saying that he rose form the dead? What would happen? Those who knew Him would refute those claims immediately. If Jesus was not a real person, how do you explain what happened on the in the Southwest region of the Mediterranean Sea? How do explain the emergence of the most transforming movement of history 2000 years ago? For some, the most impressive of all historical sources are the numerous ancient non-biblical sources that refer to the life and Person of Jesus, including the writings of Tacitus (considered the most famous Roman historian of Antiquity) and Josephus (a famous First Century Jewish historian, who was not a Christian), both of whom were born within 25 years after the death of Jesus. Within 150 years there are more extra-biblical sources that mention Jesus than who mention Tiberius (the Roman emperor at the time of Jesus). In the First and Second Century there are numerous sources that document historically that Jesus lived, died, and was crucified, that His disciples claimed to have seen Him alive after His death, that the empty tomb was commonly accepted and not disputed even by the enemies of Jesus, that the number of believers spread rapidly and widely after the claimed resurrection appearances, and that believers from the very beginning worshipped Jesus as God. This is why most people believed a man named Jesus lived. If He is not a legend, then perhaps He was a…
2. Liar – This option would argue that Jesus knew He was not God but lied and said He was. Few if any, take this option seriously because Jesus was such a great moral teacher. But how could He be a great moral teacher if He lied about the most crucial point of His teaching: His identity. And of course, what do you do with the miracles, the resurrection? Jesus consistently answered His skeptics, namely the Pharisees, with, “I AM” statements, to the questions concerning His identity. “I AM” was the name of God, YHWH, in the Old Testament. Revealing again that it was His identity that was the focal point of His teaching. Consider these amazing claims he made:
- To know Him was to know God. (John 8:19)
- To see Him was to see God. (John 12:45,14:4)
- To believe Him was to believe in God. (John 12:44)
- To receive Him was to receive God. (Mk. 9:37)
- To hate Him was to hate God. (John. 15:23)
To honor Him was to honor God. (John 5:23) As if to say: “Prove that I’m lying”
3. Lunatic – This argument says that Jesus really thought He was God and though He was sincere, He was self- deceived. He was crazy; He was a lunatic. Is there any evidence of abnormality or imbalance as we look at Jesus’ life? No, he did not behave like a madman. Again, you must deal with miracles, the resurrection, and the prophecies. Consider the prophesies: Mathematician Peter Stoner took just eight of the Old Testament prophecies about Jesus and calculated that the odds of them being fulfilled by any one person in history to be 1 in 10 to the 17th power- this 1 with 17 zeros behind it. To understand how incredibly unlikely that is, Stoner says you should take 100,000,000,000,000,000 silver dollars “and lay them on the face of Texas. They will cover all of the entire state two feet deep. Now mark ONE of these silver dollars and stir the whole mass thoroughly, all over the state. Blindfold a man and tell him he can travel as far as he wishes, but he must pick up one silver dollar and say that this is the right one. What chance would he have of getting the right one? The same chance that the prophets would have had of writing these eight prophecies and having them all come true in any one man, from their day to the present time…” (see page 167 of Evidence that Demands a Verdict: Historical Evidences for the Christian Faith, Volume I, by Josh McDowell). Consider too that most of the prophecies were outside the control of Jesus (not self-fulfilling)- family lineage, date of death, born in Bethlehem, preceded by a messenger, rejected by His own people, betrayed for 30 pieces of silver, scourged, death with hands and feet pierced, crucified with thieves, no bones broken, soldiers gambling for clothes, suffer thirst during death, buried in rich man’s tomb.
4. Lord - If none of the other options is true, the only option is that Jesus was and is Lord. He knew who He was and He spoke the truth boldly. Jesus wanted everyone to check out His claims to see if He could back up what He was saying (John 10:38).
In his famous quote in Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes: “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 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.”
Who do you believe Jesus is?
Jesus is the whole truth about God, God as God is, rather than whom we supposed God to be.” In Matthew 16, Jesus asked, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ (Messiah), the Son of the living God.”
Who do you believe Jesus is?