By Editorial Staff
Published April 8, 2008
by Josh McDowell
Jesus considered who men believed Him to be of fundamental importance. C.S. Lewis, who was a professor at Cambridge University and once an agnostic, wrote: “I am trying here to prevent anyone from 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 one thing that 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 a man who said he was 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.“1
C.S. Lewis added that: “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 patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.“2
In the words of Kenneth Scott Latourette, the great historian of Christianity at Yale University: “It is not His teachings which make Jesus so remarkable, although these would be enough to give Him distinction. It is a combination of the teachings with the man Himself. The two cannot be separated …3
Is Jesus Christ God?
Jesus claimed to be God. He did not leave any other options. His claim to be God must either be true or false, and is something that should be given serious consideration. Jesus’ question to His disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29) is also being asked of us today.
Jesus’ claim to be God must either be true or false. If Jesus’ claims are true, then He is the Lord and we must either accept or reject His lordship. First, let us suppose that His claim to be God was false. If it was false, then we have two and only two alternatives. He either knew it was false or He did not know it was false. We will consider each one separately and examine the evidence.
Was He a Liar?
If, when Jesus made His claims, He knew that He was not God, then He was lying. But, if He was a liar, then He was also a hypocrite because He told others to be honest, whatever the cost, while He Himself taught and lived a colossal lie. And, more than that, He was a demon, because He told others to trust Him for their eternal destiny. If He could not back up His claims, and knew it, then He was unspeakably evil.
Philip Schaff, the Christian historian, said: “This testimony, if not true, must be downright blasphemy or madness. The former hypothesis cannot stand a moment before the moral purity and dignity of Jesus, revealed in His every word and work, and acknowledged by universal consent. Self-deception in a matter so momentous, and with an intellect in all respects so clear and so sound, is equally out of the question.
“How could He be an enthusiast or a madman who never lost the even balance of His mind, who sailed serenely over all the troubles and persecutions, as the sun above the clouds, who always returned the wisest answer to tempting questions, who calmly and deliberately predicted His death on the cross, His resurrection on the third day, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the founding of His church, the destruction of Jerusalem – predictions which have been literally fulfilled?
“A character so original, so complete, so uniformly consistent, so perfect, so human, and yet so high above all human greatness, can neither be a fraud nor a fiction. The poet, as has been well said, would in this case be greater than the hero. It would take more than a Jesus to invent a Jesus.“4
In another book by Schaff, he probes further: “How, in the name of logic, common sense, and experience, could an imposter – that is a deceitful, selfish, depraved man – have invented, and consistently maintained from the beginning to the end, the purest and noblest character known in history with the most perfect air of truth and reality? How could He have conceived and successfully carried out a plan of unparalleled beneficence, moral magnitude, and sublimity, and sacrificed His own life for it, in the face of the strongest prejudices of His people?“5
Someone who lived as Jesus lived, taught as He taught, and died as He died could not have been a liar. What other alternatives are there?
Was He a Lunatic?
If it is inconceivable for Jesus to be a liar, then could not He actually have thought Himself to be God, but been mistaken? After all, it is possible to be both sincere and wrong.
But we must remember that for someone to think that He is God, especially in a culture that is fiercely monotheistic, and then to tell others that their eternal destiny depends on believing in Him, is no slight flight of fantasy … surely they are the thoughts of a lunatic in the fullest sense. Was Jesus Christ such a person?
The French leader Napoleon Bonaparte once said this: “I know men; and I tell you that Jesus Christ was not a man. Superficial minds see a resemblance between Christ and the founders of empires, and the gods of other religions. That resemblance does not exist. There is between Christianity and other religions the distance of infinity …
“Everything in Christ astonishes me. His spirit overawes me, and His will confounds me. Between Him and whoever else in the world, there is no possible term of comparison. He is truly a being by Himself. His ideas and sentiments, the truth which He announces, His manner of convincing, are not explained either by human organization or by the nature of things …
“His religion is a revelation from an intelligence which certainly is not that of man … one can find absolutely nowhere, but in Him alone, the imitation of the example of His life … I search in vain in history to find the similar to Jesus Christ, or anything which can approach the gospel. Neither history, nor humanity, nor the ages, nor nature, offer me anything with which I am able to compare it or to explain it. Here everything is extraordinary.“6
Historian Schaff said this: “Is such an intellect – clear as the sky, bracing as the mountain air, sharp and penetrating as a sword, thoroughly healthy and vigorous, always ready and always self-possessed – liable to a radical and most serious delusion concerning His own character and mission? Preposterous imagination!“7
Whom you decide Jesus Christ is must not be an idle, intellectual exercise. You cannot put Him on the shelf as a great moral teacher. That is not a valid option. He is either a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord. You must make a choice. “But,” as the Apostle John wrote, “these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,” and more important, “that believing, you might have life in His name” (John 20:31).
The evidence is clearly in favor of Jesus as Lord. However, some people reject the clear evidence because of moral implications involved. There needs to be a moral honesty in the above consideration of Jesus as either liar, lunatic, or Lord and God.
1 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity. (New York: MacMillan and Company. 1952)., pp. 40-41.
3 Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity, (York: Harper & Row, 1953), p. 44.
4 Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 8 Vols. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962), p. 109.
5 Philip Schaff, The Person of Christ, (New York: American Tract Society, 1913), pp. 94-95.
6 Vernon C. Grounds, The Reason for Our Hope, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1954), p. 37.
7 Schaff, The Person of Christ, pp. 97-98.
Taken from Evidence That Demands a Verdict, by Josh McDowell, © 1972 by Campus Crusade for Christ, San Bernardino, CA. Used by permission.
The “Jesus” film is distributed by The Jesus Project, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ, and has been shown in over 110 countries in 106 languages to over 270 million people. It is considered by some to be the most accurate portrayal of the life of Christ on film. It has been used in Bible studies to clearly explain the gospel to the viewer. Video cassettes can be purchased by writing The Jesus Project, P.O. Box 7690, Laguna Niguel, CA 92677.
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