Who’s This Jesus Guy?
The existence of Jesus is a documented reality, his life an historical truth. His name pops up in ancient political papers and his face seeps into sacred scriptures of several world religions. Thus, the question is not whether or not Jesus really lived, for it is proven that he tread the paths that exist beneath Middle Eastern feet. It’s the true identity of this Jesus, however, that has caused tension and discord for centuries. So who is this guy, really?
In the Jewish tradition, the existence of a man named Jesus is unanimously accepted. However, he was simply that: a man. Nothing more. A magician perhaps, but a man nonetheless. Similarly, in Islam, Jesus is seen as another good teacher–a prophet–and is revered for his teachings. He stands out as an exemplary figure who is to be honored and heeded. The words from his lips were messages from God, but in an indirect sense. Jesus was simply the messenger, not God himself. Just like any other prophet.
Jesus of the Bible paints a different picture, though. In fact, the New Testament is littered with proclamations that Jesus is God in the flesh. Not a messenger. Not a prophet. Not just a good teacher. He claims to be God. Jesus describes himself as the “Son of God” and the “Son of Man” (referring to a term in the book of Ezekiel that describes God). He says that he is the “Good Shepard”, “The Light of the World”, “The Bread of Life”, “The True Vine”, and “The Resurrection”, all images that insinuate his divinity. Further, he claims to be “The Way, The Truth, and The Life”–or, in other words, the way to God. The only way. He didn’t say, “I’m just one of the million ways to get to God.” Instead, he says he is ‘the way’ to God. No other prophet or good teacher in the history of the world has made such radical statements. Indeed, they would be appalled if anyone had asked if they were God in the flesh. And yet, Jesus says it plainly, time and time again.
Imagine if the person beside you claimed to be God in the flesh. I don’t know about you, but I’d be entirely creeped out and immediately create an excuse to leave. My face, all the while, revealing my true thoughts of disgust and disbelief. Yet, when considering Jesus’s proclamation of being God in the flesh, there are only three possibilities: a) he’s a liar, b) he’s a lunatic, or c) he really is Lord.
My friend Casey explained, “If he’s lying about being God, then he’s just deceived billions of people, and people have died for the sake of Christ. So that’d be a sick, sick thing–that’s not a ‘good person’ thing to do.” So, if this were the case and Jesus was a liar-liar-pants-on-fire, all world religions who acknowledge Jesus as a good man would be mistaken. Clearly, he would not truly be Christ as Christians trust him to be, but he would also not be a good person, as many other religions believe.
Perhaps he was a nut job. We have probably all seen a film or television show that portrays mentally unstable characters claiming impossible things. The CIA is following them. The president is the devil and they have been sent by God to eliminate him. The aluminum foil on their head prevents aliens from reading their minds. What’s to stop a crazy person from claiming to be God? It might be part of his intense delusions and he could truly believe that he is indeed the Messiah. Yet, thousands–if not millions–of people experienced torture and persecution by believing in Christ. It seems unlikely, then, that Jesus would be just another lunatic waving a cardboard sign that warns of the upcoming apocalypse. Imagine having a conversation with one of those crazy characters from the silver screen. They are entirely convinced of their delusions. But how convinced are you? Would you sacrifice your life for their claims?
I think about the night Jesus was apprehended before being tried and sentenced to death. Although historical documents report his crucifixion, the Bible is my only resource for his arrest. So I turn to it in search of truth. There, I find a passage from Mark: “Distress and anguish came over him and he said to [his disciples], ‘The sorrow in my heart is so great that it almost crushes me. Stay here and keep watch.'” (Mark 14:33-34). Then, awaiting his upcoming capture, Jesus goes into a garden “and being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). When his assailants arrive, John writes, “Jesus knew everything that was going to happen to him, so he stepped forward and asked, ‘Who is it you are looking for?’. ‘Jesus of Nazareth,’ they answered. ‘I am he,’ he said.” (John 18:4-5). Then, in every gospel, the authors describe a scene in which the disciples try to attack the men arresting Jesus. One disciple even slices off the ear of another man. But Jesus instructs them to put away their swords and then heals the ear of his captor.
I reflect on this dark night that happened so long ago. Are these the actions of a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord? How would all three of those personalities respond when faced with such an agonizing demise? If the man was simply a liar, deceiving the crowds for some sadistically demented reason, would he have stuck around in the midst of his ‘crushing sorrow’? Surely not. At the very least, he would have fought and fled the scene of his arrest. Similarly, how would a lunatic respond to persecution? Would the blood oozing from his pores cause him to patiently wait for his imminent doom? John says that ‘Jesus knew everything that was going to happen to him’. It would take great strength and courage, therefore, to be aware of his future and willingly accept it. Again, thanks to the entertainment industry, we have witnessed the skittishness of psychotic people. We watch their eyes dart around the room and their lips murmur petrified worries. Fear of their own delusions propel them away from whatever pain they foresee in their future. Thus, the reported actions of the biblical Jesus simply do not coincide with typical qualities exuded by a “liar” or a “lunatic”. That only leaves one option regarding Jesus’s true identity. So, I don’t have to speculate how the Lord would have responded when faced with capture, torture, and death. All I have to do is read the passages again.