Who was Jesus? What did he claim about himself? There are those who respect and admire Jesus as a great teacher – but as nothing more than that. Yet Jesus himself in the Gospels did not leave that as an option and claimed much more about his identity.
Jesus would sometimes force the issue of his deity, putting people in a position of having to accept or reject him as God incarnate. There was no in-between or riding the fence. As he taught, Jesus would also make efforts to “weed out” the fickle fans from the committed followers. Jesus wanted people to make an informed decision about following him, and count the cost of it. Again, there wasn’t an option for simply seeing Jesus as a nice guy.
To consider a few examples: Mark 2 is the story of the paralyzed man being lowered through the roof by his friends to be healed by Jesus. Jesus proclaims that the man’s sins are forgiven, and the religious leaders are disturbed because only God can forgive sin. They consider Jesus’ statement to be blasphemous. Jesus does not back down, but confronts them in verses 9 and 10:
Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? 10 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” [and then Jesus healed the man]
In other words, Jesus said something like “not only can I forgive sin, I can perform miracles of healing too!” – The miracle was validating his message. As God incarnate, Jesus could both heal and forgive sin.
A critic might point out that Jesus did not directly say “I am God” – yet the claims Jesus makes about himself throughout the four Gospels amount to the same thing. Even if some modern readers miss the point, the original hearers did not! We can see them react in anger to the divine claims made by Christ. For example, in John 8 Jesus makes a series of unique claims about himself. While some believed (verse 30), others responded by wanting to assassinate Jesus (verse 59). A couple chapters later in John 10, we can again see an angry response to the claims Jesus made:
“We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”
Jesus was also looking for committed followers who were “all in” and some listeners found the expectations or teachings of Jesus too difficult. In John 6, after Jesus had been teaching, even his disciples responded “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (verse 61). Jesus had a knack for getting to the heart of the matter and discerning what was hindering someone from being “all in.” What were they putting ahead of commitment to Christ? For example, the rich young ruler was too attached to his possessions (Matthew 19, Mark 10).
As one reads through the Gospels, there is really no way to avoid that Jesus was claiming to be God and expected his followers to be fully committed to him. Here is something that Bono (of the band U2) recently said in an interview with Jim Daly (of Focus on the Family):
Daly: So often those that struggle with accepting Jesus Christ as their savior … it’s the idea that he’s the Messiah. … How did you respond to that?
Bono: Jesus isn’t lettin’ you off the hook. The Scriptures don’t let you off the hook so easily. … When people say, you know, “Good teacher”, “Prophet”, “Really nice guy” … this is not how Jesus thought of Himself. So you’re left with a challenge in that, which is either Jesus was who he said he was or a complete and utter nut case. … You have to make a choice on that.
And I believe that Jesus was, you know, the Son of God. And I understand that … we need to be really, really respectful to people who find that ridiculous and … preposterous.
I think there are challenges here for all of us…whether believer or unbeliever. Unbelievers need to seriously read through the Gospels and consider the claims of Christ.
Believers need to ask themselves if they are living like they truly believe the claims of Christ. Perhaps we need to spend some time really meditating on this, and allowing who Jesus is to saturate us. God walked on this earth in human form. That changes everything! Doesn’t it? In what areas of our life are we not “all in”?
In closing…Bono’s thoughts sound like a paraphrase of CS Lewis and his statement that Jesus was a lunatic or Lord. However there is another option that skeptics like Bart Ehrman bring up…that the deity of Jesus was nothing more than a legend. While I don’t want to drift into other issues, in the next post I do want to address the legend option…