And Jesus went on with his disciples, to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do men say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.”
When I was in Divinity school some student had written graffiti on the bathroom wall. And I’ve never forgotten the humor of it. It went something like this: “And Jesus spake unto Peter saying ‘Who do men say that I am?’ And Peter answered, ‘Thou art, according to Paul Tillich, the very ground of our being. Thou art Emmanuel Kant’s deontological categorical imperative. Thou art the man of the Eschaton, the ultimately determinative one! And Jesus looked at Peter and saith, “What?”
Seriously, in the text, Jesus did look at His disciples and ask, “Who do you think I am?” And that question has been asked of every generation down through twenty centuries of human history. And today I ask it of you. “Who is this Jesus Christ?”
The mildest conclusion one may draw is that Jesus Christ is a myth.
You will recall the heroes of your youth–Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Puff the Magic Dragon and Superman. When you grew up you found out they weren’t real. And there are those who assign Jesus Christ a place among such mythological creatures. To them, Jesus is no more than a Hercules or a Sinbad. He never really existed. His life is but a cleverly written myth told to inspire, to entertain.
Yet under serious investigation such a conclusion cannot stand. As F. F. Bruce, Professor of Biblical criticism at the University of Manchester points out, “Some writers may toy with the fancy of a ‘Christ-myth,’ but they do not do so on the ground of historical evidence. The historicity of Christ is as axiomatic for an unbiased historian as the historicity of Julius Caesar. It is not historians who propagate the ‘Christ-myth’ theories.” The fact is, no serious scholar has ever yet ventured to say that Jesus Christ never lived.
Actual evidence that Christ was a real man is found in 27 different New Testament documents. And non-biblical proof of His existence is to be found in the writings of Polycarp, Justin, Origin, Tacitus, Lucian, Josephus, Pliny, and the Jewish Talmud.
All of this evidence, and more, has led scholars like Harvard University Professor Clifford Moore to say that Christianity “…was founded on positive, historical and acceptable facts.”
So, what do you think of Jesus Christ? If one cannot say He is but a myth of antiquity, what then can be said of Him? Just this: Jesus Christ was a man, an actual human being like you or me.
In the 1970’s rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar this is the conclusion Mary of Magdala comes to as she sings, “I don’t know how to love Him.” The lyrics, “He’s just a man” are repeated over and over again. And many of us may want to rest our convictions here. Jesus Christ was a real man, nothing more, nothing less. He was born, He lived, He died. That’s all.
Yet upon a closer investigation of the evidence surrounding the life of Christ, one is most uncomfortable in settling here. British scholar W. H. Griffith Thomas wrote, “The testimony to the present work of Jesus Christ is no less real today than it has been in the past. In the case of all other great names of world history, the inevitable and invariable experience has been that the particular man is first a power, then only a name, and last of all a mere memory. Of Jesus Christ the exact opposite is true. He died on a cross of shame, His name gradually became more and more powerful, and He is the greatest influence in he world today.” Who is this man who won’t fade into history?
Encyclopedia Britannica has devoted more words, approximately 20,000 in all, to Christ than to any other person.
Christ never owned a home. He never put His feet inside a big city. He never wrote a book or held a political office, He never married or had a family or traveled more than 200 miles from the place of His birth. Yet His fame grows instead of diminishing with the years.
Of Him Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Jesus is the most perfect of all men that have yet appeared.”
Islam’s Koran concludes that Jesus is “…the greatest above all in this world and in the world to come.”
Jewish writer Shalom Ash says, “Jesus Christ is the outstanding personality of all time.”
Historian William Lecky concedes, “The simple record of (Jesus Christ’s) …three short years of active life has done more to regenerate and soften mankind than all the disquisitions of philosophers and moralists.”
But perhaps it was Napoleon Bonaparte who summed it up best. “Gentlemen,” he said, “I know men, and I can tell you, Jesus Christ was more than a man.”
“A Great Teacher”
More than a myth. More than a man. Who is this Jesus Christ? What can we conclude about Him? Well, the next possible conclusion, and perhaps the most widely held, is that Jesus Christ is a great teacher.
This opinion places Jesus in the company of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Buddha, Confucius and Mohammed. He was a real man whose teachings have won Him a prominent place in civilization.
This conclusion would certainly be upheld by the findings of a recent Gallop Poll which found 87% of Americans affirming the influence of Christ in their lives.
Yet, look but further and you’ll discover the great trilemma of this position. And that is that Jesus as a great teacher was either a liar, a lunatic, or God!
Consider: Other great religious leaders said, “I have taught you the truth.” But Jesus said, “I am the truth.” (John 14:6)
Of all the great religious teachers of history it is Christ alone who actually claimed to be God. (John 20:26-29, John 4:19-26, John 14:8-11) He asked His followers to believe in Him (John 14:1), He said that to see Him was to see God (John 14:9), He said all earth would pass away, but never His words (Mark 13:31), He accepted worship from people as if He were God (Matthew 8:2, Matthew 14:33, John 20:27-29), He claimed to forgive sins (Mark 2:7, Matthew 9:5-6), He claimed to be the only way to God (John 14:6), He claimed He would rise from the dead (Luke 18:31-33), and He claimed He would come again to judge all men and reign eternally (John 5:27, Matthew 28:18-20, Matthew 24:30-31).
Now, obviously, a person who said these things about himself is either a liar, a lunatic or who he says he is. Was Jesus a liar? Did He know the things He was teaching to be absolute falsehood and yet go on intentionally misleading His followers trying to build His Kingdom in order to serve His own ends? Was Jesus little more than an egotistical and self-serving liar trying to get rich, famous, and powerful? That is one option. Yet His gentle acts of healing, His role as a suffering servant, His refusal to be made a king, His poverty, and His willingness to die for His claims seriously erode such a view.
This leaves us with Jesus the lunatic.
This conclusion states that Christ was suffering from delusions. His imagination had run away with Him to the point that He actually believed the lies He was telling about Himself. We call this type of personality today a megalomaniac. Yet, a renowned psychiatrist from Duke University, Dr. Bill Wilson, said he applied all the different mental illnesses to Jesus and found that none fit. In fact, he concluded, “Jesus Christ is the most whole person who ever lived.”
The only other option here is to say that Jesus Christ is who He says He is–God!
C. S. Lewis, a professor at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities ably summed up the situation for us here:
“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 patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.”
“Son of God”
Who is this man Jesus Christ? What can we finally conclude about Him? He’s not a myth. Indeed, He is a real man. But beyond that one cannot conclude that He is a great moral teacher. For, indeed, He is either a liar, a lunatic, or who He said He is, the Son of God.
The story is told and I believe it is a true one. The year was 1928 and a would-be mechanic was working on his Ford automobile. He could not get it to run. About then a new Ford pulled up, out stepped a well-dressed gentleman in a Derby hat with a cane, he looked at the engine and confidently suggested, “If you’ll adjust this screw here your car will run.” Well, the would-be mechanic stared at the stranger and thought, “He doesn’t look like a mechanic!” But then he’d already tried everything he knew to do. So he adjusted that screw, kicked the starter and, lo and behold! His car sprang to life. In amazement the man turned to the helpful stranger and said, “Just who are you anyway?” And the man stuck out his hand and said, “The name’s Ford, my boy. Henry Ford! I made that car! I ought to know what makes it run.” And the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that He is the Son of God, born of the virgin Mary, alive some thirty-three years in Israel teaching, healing, demonstrating God’s love, dying for our sins, rising from the dead, and ascending into Heaven. He is God come into this world to tap you on the shoulder and say, “If it’s not working, listen to me! I made you! I know what makes life work!”
This is whom Jesus Christ claimed to be, the Son of God!
A number of years ago, a famous American general named Lew Wallace and his friend, Robert Ingersoll, an agnostic, agreed that together they would write a book that would convincingly destroy the myth of Christianity and thus deliver multitudes of people from religious superstition. So, for two years Wallace studied in the great libraries of America and Europe trying to uncover evidence which would enable him to write his book. But, while writing the second chapter, Lew Wallace found himself on his knees praying to the Christ he had been seeking to expose as a fraud. The evidence for the claims of Christ was simply so convincing on all levels that he could no longer deny Jesus was who He said He was. And Lew Wallace set his book aside to begin another one, Ben Hur, a novel about the life-changing impact of Christ, the Son of God.
No, Jesus is not a myth. Yes, He is more than a man. And certainly He is more than a great teacher. He is who He says He is, the Son of God! But don’t stop there! That would be like acknowledging the law of gravity and yet jumping out of an airplane without a parachute. For agreeing that Jesus is the Son of God without accepting Him as your personal Savior is suicide! Yet that is what many of us do. We affirm Jesus is God, but we ignore Him. We agree His teachings are true. But we refuse to live by them.
A missionary was called to talk to a small boy who was dying in an African hospital. The man asked the boy if he believed in God. “Yes,” came the timid reply. “Do you believe in Jesus Christ?” he inquired. Again came the reply, “yes.” “Well, then, have you ever asked Him into your life as your personal Savior?” he inquired. “No,” replied the child. The missionary was grieved and he struggled with how he might explain the Gospel to the little child so near unto death. Finally he took the boy’s hand and said, “‘Jesus Christ is the Savior.’ That’s five words. One for each finger on your hand. And do you know which word is the most important? The word, ‘the’ for, you see, the statement, ‘Jesus Christ is the Savior’ is but history. It’s true. But it does you no good. But change the word ‘the’ to ‘my’ and that becomes salvation. ‘Jesus Christ is my Savior.’ Will you confess that?” The little boy said he would and the missionary had a prayer for him and left wondering if he’d gotten through to the lad.
The next day there was news of the boy’s death. And his parents called for the missionary. “It is strange,” they said. “When our son died he was holding tightly to his pointer finger with his hand. We don’t understand why but it seemed to give him comfort.” And suddenly it came to the missionary that the Gospel had gotten through to the little boy after all. The pointer finger was the “my” in the statement, “Jesus Christ is my Savior.” For the lad, the Christ of history had become a personal Savior.
Has Jesus become your personal Savior? He is no myth. He’s more than a mere man or a great moral teacher. He is the Son of God! That is fact. It’s history! But, it’s not salvation until you invite Him into your own life by a prayer of faith. Have you done this? Will you do so now?
I tell you, one does not have to commit intellectual suicide to do so! The credentials of Christ are impeccable. As George Bancroft states, “Christianity has attracted to itself the profoundest thinkers of the human race, and is in no way hindered by the ever-advancing tide of human knowledge.” Novelists Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Defoe became Christians. So did Poets T. S. Eliot and Emily Dickinson. Musical composers like George Friedrick Handel and J. S. Bach along with artists like Rembrandt knelt at Christ’s feet calling Him Savior. But don’t receive Jesus as your Savior just because Charlemagne, Shakespeare and Isaac Newton did. Accept Him because Jesus is who He says He is and you believe in Him personally.
But have we gone far enough when we accept Jesus as Savior? Have we accepted Christ for all He is when we believe Him as Savior? No. For He is more. He is Lord of all the universe, King forever!
Many Christians treat this last credential of Jesus as entirely optional. According to their line of reasoning, one may receive Jesus as Savior from sin, from death and eternal punishment, but leave off with the Lord of life and master part. This is sort of like buying into Christ for the “fire insurance” He offers, but rejecting Him as boss of our earthly lives.
Yet, if Jesus is who He says He is, then nothing of His claims is optional for you and for me! The book of Colossians is interesting to study here. In a brief three page letter Paul uses the word “all” thirty-three times. And what does “all” mean in the Greek? “All” means “all”! It means everything! Completely! And that’s how Paul describes Jesus Christ. He is all! “The First-born of all creation” (1:15). “In Him all things were created” (1:16). “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (1:17). “For in Him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell” (1:19). “…though Him to reconcile to Himself all things” (1:20). “…Christ, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (2:3). “…Him, who is the head of all rule and authority” (2:10). “…But Christ is all and in all” (3:11). Very impressive credentials, eh? And answer me this! If Jesus Christ is all He says He is, do you think He’ll be satisfied with less than all of your life? Do you think you can really get away with giving Him second place in your life?
If you read through the Gospels you will quickly see that the credentials of Jesus Christ do not stop with Savior. He went beyond the cross and the empty tomb to the throne. He ascended into heaven and was given dominion to reign as King forever. And until we make Jesus in our lives right now what He is in the universe forever, and that is Lord and Ruler of all, then we have not gone as far as we can.
I like the way a Christian quarterback once explained Jesus as Lord of his life. He said, “Christ calls the plays. I run them.” Are you willing to trust God to call the plays in your life starting right now? Are you willing to obey His Word as regards finances, marriage, worship, child rearing, leisure, giving, prayer and forgiveness? Are you willing to let Jesus rule your life?
Notice how Paul introduces himself to the church in Romans 1:1. Most of us preachers like to be introduced in our press releases as “Doctor”, Dynamic”, “In constant demand”, or “World traveler.” But Paul simply introduces himself saying, “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ…” Isn’t that refreshing? Paul had gone all the way with Jesus Christ. God was his boss. Paul was Christ’s servant. Think of it! A servant is a worker. He follows orders. He might be assigned any task here or there. And the Bible says that this Lordship of Christ over our lives is not optional! We must be His servant!
Do you acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus in your life? Is He your King? Are you His servant?
Living under the Lordship of Jesus means all your belongings are entrusted to Him. It means you allow Him to place you in the home, the job, the church of His choice. It means He can use you to serve in a successful spot or a position where He needs a noble failure or a humble, plodding mediocrity. It means you place all your attitudes, hopes, and expectations upon Him.
Have you done this? Is He your all? Is He in your life right now who He already is in the universe, King and Lord forever?
“Getting Started Where You Are”
The first question in the Bible is found in Genesis, Chapter 3. God asks Adam and Eve, “Where are you?” And I’d like to ask that question of you right now. “Where are you in your thinking about Jesus Christ?” Who do you say He is?
Maybe you cannot go all the way in affirming Him as Savior and Lord today. Perhaps you can only affirm that He was a real man. What you need to do is approach the next step with study and prayer and reflection. Then when you can honestly and by faith affirm Him as the Savior, you can go on to consider Him as your personal Savior and then finally, your Lord.
This is what Doubting Thomas did. “I won’t believe,” he said, “unless I see!” And, beginning there, he made his investigation which led to the highest affirmation of Christ ever uttered by human lips in Scripture, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)
He walked here only thirty-three years…
Yet we measure time from the year of His birth.
Who is He? A good man? A teacher? God? A Savior?
He never owned a home.
He never put His feet inside a big city.
And He rode on a borrowed donkey.
His followers were common folks like you and me.
The only thing He ever wrote was in the sand,
yet libraries the world over have volumes written about Him.
Who is He?
Who is this man who made such strange claims?
“I am the door.”
“I am the light of the world.”
“I am the bread of life.”
He lived in an obscure mid-eastern country.
He was born in a stable.
His parents were peasants.
Yet who can ever estimate His influence on the human race?
His name? Jesus. Jesus of Nazareth.
Ever wonder who He really is?
Isn’t it about time you found out?
Draw me nearer, O God. Draw me to you as Savior and Lord. For Christ’s sake. Amen.