What’s the Deal with Jesus?
Believe what you will about him, nobody else has created more controversy, changed more lives, shaped more of culture, or shifted more of history than Jesus. No one has taught more provocatively about life’s meaning, nor walked the talk more authentically.
Surely such a defining figure deserves a closer look – by skeptics, cynics and believers alike.
In Jesus’ day, some followed him, but many doubted and questioned his authenticity and authority. Your questions today are also welcome.
You might discover – as millions have – that Jesus is not only as real as the Bible says he is, but that he loves you as much as the Bible says he does. That is the good news of Jesus.
“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.”
– C.S. Lewis
For nearly two thousand years most of our world has considered Jesus a real man who had exceptional character, leadership and power over nature. How can we distinguish a mythical character from a real person? For example, what evidence convinces historians that Alexander the Great was a real person? And does such evidence exist for Jesus?
Both Alexander and Jesus were depicted as charismatic leaders. Both reportedly had brief careers, dying in their early thirties. Jesus is said to have been a man of peace who conquered by love; Alexander a man of war who ruled by the sword.
In 336 B.C. Alexander the Great became king of Macedonia. A military genius, this handsome, arrogant leader swept through villages, towns, and kingdoms of Greco-Persia until he ruled it all. It is said that he cried when there were no more worlds to conquer.
The history of Alexander is drawn from five ancient sources written 300 or more years after he died. Not one eyewitness account of Alexander exists. However, historians believe Alexander really existed, largely because the accounts of his life are confirmed by archaeology and his impact on history.
Likewise, to determine if Jesus was a real person, we need to seek evidence for his existence in the following areas:
- Early non-Christian accounts
- Early Christian accounts
- Early New Testament manuscripts
- Historical impact
Thousands of highly educated people have become convinced of the claims about Christ once they open-mindedly explored the facts for themselves. One such person is Lee Strobel.
Strobel was a highly successful investigative journalist for the Chicago Tribunal. He was trained to approach any claim in a highly rational way, always surveying carefully the evidence before coming to a conclusion on any matter.
When his wife became a Christian and he observed the positive impact it made on her life, he was persuaded by her to at least explore the facts about Christ for himself.
After years of exploration, he became convinced that the facts of Christ held up under the most penetrating scrutiny.
He wrote a book, The Case for Christ, which retracted and expanded upon his several-year journey from atheism to Christianity. In it he interviewed thirteen leading experts on the historical evidence for Jesus Christ.
Did Jesus really claim to be God, or is that belief a misunderstanding of his words? Some words Jesus spoke reflect his humility as a servant and his limitations as a man. However, on other occasions Jesus made claims that only God could make.
Jesus didn’t parade around the hills of Judea shouting, “Hey everybody, look at me – I’m God!” On the other hand, neither did he go around proclaiming, “I am a teacher,” I am a prophet,” or, “I am the Messiah.” Yet his followers called him by each of those names. They also called him, “Lord.”
After the apostles died, several first and second century church leaders wrote of Jesus’ deity. In fact, early church historian Larry Hurtado states, that from the very beginning of the church Jesus was worshipped as Lord along with God the Father.
But what did Jesus Christ say about himself? What did Jesus mean by the terms, “Son of Man,” and “Son of God?” If Jesus wasn’t God, why did his enemies accuse him of “blasphemy?” More importantly, if Jesus wasn’t God, why did he accept worship?
If Jesus did rise from the dead then he alone would have the answers to what life is about and what is facing us after we die. On the other hand, if the resurrection account of Jesus is not true, then Christianity would be founded upon a lie. Theologian R. C. Sproul puts it this way:
The claim of resurrection is vital to Christianity. If Christ has been raised from the dead by God, then He has the credentials and certification that no other religious leader possesses. Buddha is dead. Mohammad is dead. Moses is dead. Confucius is dead. But, according to Christianity, Christ is alive.
One of those who originally thought the resurrection was simply a myth was one of the world’s leading legal scholars, Dr. Simon Greenleaf. Greenleaf helped to put the Harvard Law School on the map. He wrote the three-volume legal masterpiece A Treatise on the Law of Evidence, which has been called the “greatest single authority in the entire literature of legal procedure.” The U.S. judicial system today still relies on rules of evidence established by Greenleaf.
While teaching law at Harvard, Professor Greenleaf stated to his class that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was simply a legend. As an atheist, he thought miracles to be impossible. In a rebuttal, three of his law students challenged him to apply his acclaimed rules of evidence to the resurrection account.
After much prodding, Greenleaf accepted his students’ challenge and began an investigation into the evidence. Focusing his brilliant legal mind on the facts of history, Greenleaf attempted to prove the resurrection account was false.
Yet the more Greenleaf investigated the record of history, the more stunned he was at the powerful evidence supporting the claim that Jesus had indeed risen from the tomb.
Greenleaf’s skepticism was being challenged by an event that had changed the course of human history. Greenleaf was unable to explain several dramatic changes that took place shortly after Jesus died, the most baffling being the behavior of the disciples. It wasn’t just one or two disciples who insisted Jesus had risen; it was all of them.
Applying his own rules of evidence to the facts, Greenleaf arrived at his verdict. In a shocking reversal of his position, Greenleaf accepted Jesus’ resurrection as the best explanation for the events that took place immediately after his crucifixion. To this brilliant legal scholar and former atheist, it would have been impossible for the disciples to persist with their conviction that Jesus had risen if they hadn’t actually seen the risen Christ.
Many think that Jesus Christ wants us to become religious. They think Jesus came to take all the fun out of life, and give us impossible rules to live by. They are willing to call him a great leader from the past, but say he is not relevant to their lives today.
Josh McDowell was a college student who thought Jesus was just another religious leader who set up impossible rules to live by. He thought Jesus was totally irrelevant to his life.
Then one day at a student union lunch table McDowell sat next to a vibrant young coed with a radiant smile. Intrigued, he asked her why she was so happy. Her immediate reply was, “Jesus Christ!”
Jesus Christ? McDowell bristled, firing back: “Oh, for God’s sake, don’t give me that garbage. I’m fed up with religion; I’m fed up with the church; I’m fed up with the Bible. Don’t give me that garbage about religion.”
But the unfazed young coed calmly informed him,
“Mister, I didn’t say religion, I said Jesus Christ.”
McDowell was stunned. He had never considered Jesus more than a religious figure, and didn’t want any part of religious hypocrisy. Yet here was this joyful Christian woman talking about Jesus as someone who had brought meaning to her life.
Christ claimed to answer all the deep questions about our existence. At one time or another, we all question what life is all about. Have you ever gazed up at the stars on a pitch-black evening and wondered who put them there? Or have you ever seen a sunset and thought about life’s biggest questions:
- “Who am I?”
- “Why am I here?”
- “Where am I going after I die?”
Although other philosophers and religious leaders have offered their answers to the meaning of life, only Jesus Christ proved his credentials by rising from the dead. Skeptics like McDowell who originally scoffed at Jesus’ resurrection, have discovered that there is compelling evidence that it really occurred.
Jesus offers life with real meaning. He said that life is much more than making money, having fun, being successful, and then ending up in a graveyard.
“Look, the secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: He was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets, be they Elijah, Muhammad, Buddha, or Confucius. But actually Christ doesn’t allow you that. He doesn’t let you off the hook. Christ says, No. I’m not saying I’m a teacher, don’t call me a teacher. I’m not saying I’m a prophet….I’m saying I’m God incarnate.”
The message of Christianity is that God loves you. He proved it by sending his Son Jesus who lived the perfect life, died in your place, was raised to life so that you too could live forgiven, forever reconciled to God. It’s true today as it was two thousand years ago and it’s a message for you.
The Bible says, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
Receiving God’s salvation is as easy as that because the hard work was done by Jesus himself. The gift is free to us but was costly to Jesus. To receive this gift, you could simply pray,
Jesus, I believe you are the Son of God. I believe that you died for the wrong I’ve done against others and against you as the creator. I accept your love and grace for me and ask that you would be the Lord of my life.
“I am the way and the truth and the life.”
1. Keep Exploring
Find out more about Jesus through Alpha. Alpha is a series of sessions exploring the basics of the Christian faith and it runs all around the globe.
Look for an Alpha near you: alpha.org/try/
For those in the Durham, Ontario region, sign up for the next Alpha course hosted by City Gates church: citygates.ca/alpha/
2. Find a Church
A church is gathered community of people saved by Jesus. Look for a local church that worships Jesus as the Lord.
Consider looking for a local church here:
3. Read the Bible
The Bible is God’s message revealed to people. The first part of the Bible, the “Old Testament” looks forward to a promised hero, saviour and king who will save the the nation of Israel and every nation. The second part of the Bible, the “New Testament” records the life of Jesus, the hero, and development of the early church.
For some good resource for more on the Bible:
4. Download and Read “Mere Christianity”
Well known for his children’s book series, The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis was a well known British novelist, poet, and academic. “Mere Christianity” was first delivered as radio talks made between 1942 and 1944. It is considered a classic Christian apologetic, intended to present a reasonable case Christianity.