Sometimes people who have heard some of Jesus’ teaching such as ‘love your enemies’ suggest that Jesus was just a good man. But if we take seriously what the Gospels say about Jesus we cannot agree with that assessment. Jesus persistently claimed to be God and to be the only way to God. In doing so he was either self-deceived or was consciously deceiving others.
C.S. Lewis, in his book ‘Mere Christianity‘, famously wrote these challenging and thought-provoking words about Jesus:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him [that is, Christ]: ‘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 a 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 up with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
As you look at the life, teachings and records of Jesus Christ, who do you say that He is? A liar? A lunatic? Or is He who He said He was – the Son of God and Saviour of the World?
But didn’t the Early Church make up the story of Jesus?
It is sometimes suggested that the early disciples made up the stories of Jesus to increase their authority or to somehow make their message more appealing. There are a number of reasons why this suggestion is flawed.
- In the gospel records the picture that emerges of the disciples is that they are often lacking in faith, slow to understand and ultimately abandon Jesus in his hour of greatest need. The disciples no doubt could have influenced the content of the stories, for they were often their eyewitness accounts, but they clearly do not fail to tell of their shortcomings. This suggests they were telling events as they happened.
- There are four independent Gospels and the writers would not have known that they would be bound together and could easily be compared. Yet when we do compare them we find that they agree with each other remarkably and again strengthen the case that they are recording actual events.
- The Jesus the Gospels tell us of was not a figure who was likely to appeal to the thinking of the day. As Paul would later say, the message of a crucified Saviour was ‘a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.’ The Jews considered anyone who died on a tree to be cursed by God and therefore it would be scandalous to suggest he was a Saviour. On the other hand the thinking current in the Gentile world suggested that the ‘gods’ should have nothing to do with the material world and therefore the idea of a God who took on humanity was contrary to what they believed to be good.
- The early disciples suffered greatly for what they believed. Almost all of the original disciples were killed because of who they said Jesus was and what this meant. It is inconceivable that they would have persisted with this position had they made up or even embellished the stories about Jesus.
These factors strongly suggest that the early disciples were indeed the reliable witnesses they claimed to be.