Summary: This sermon examines three options regarding Jesus' claim to be God.
In 1977 Josh McDowell wrote a book titled, More Than a Carpenter. He released a revised edition, with collaboration from his son, Sean, in 2009. We are giving this book to first-time visitors this Easter Sunday. I would like to reflect on another one of the chapters of this book tonight.
No other human figure has been as dominant as Jesus Christ of Nazareth. The world-renowned historian Jaroslav Pelikan makes this clear:
Regardless of what anyone may personally think or believe about him, Jesus of Nazareth has been the dominant figure in the history of the Western culture for almost twenty centuries. If it were possible, with some sort of super magnet, to pull up out of that history every scrap of metal bearing at least a trace of his name, how much would be left? It is from his birth that most of the human race dates its calendars, it is by his name that millions curse, and in his name that millions pray (Pelikan, JTC, 1).
Many people have a high regard for Jesus. They assert that he was a great man, a great moral teacher, a great example, or a great martyr. But what did Jesus think about himself?
Jesus believed that it was critically important what others thought about him. C. S. Lewis captured this truth in his book, Mere Christianity. After surveying the evidence regarding Jesus’ identity, Lewis writes:
I am trying here to prevent anyone 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 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 with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to (Lewis, MC, 55–56).
Jesus regarded himself as God in human form. Jesus’ claim must be either true or false. If Jesus’ claim to be God is true, then we must respond appropriately. But, if Jesus’ claim to be God is false, then either he knew that his claim was false (thus making him a liar), or he did not know that his claim was false (thus making him a lunatic).
Tonight, I would like to examine three options regarding Jesus’ claim to be God.
Let’s use the following outline:
1. Is Jesus a Liar?
2. Is Jesus a Lunatic?
3. Is Jesus Lord?
I. Is Jesus a Liar?
First, is Jesus a liar?
If Jesus knew that he was not God, then he was making a deliberate misrepresentation, and he was a liar. But, he was more than a liar. He would also be a hypocrite. And, worse, he was also a fool, because he eventually died for the lie that he was promoting.
But, how could Jesus—a liar, a hypocrite, and a fool—leave us with the most profound and powerful teaching in history? How could a liar teach life-changing truths and live such an exemplary moral life? The notion stretches credulity.
However, most open-minded people, even those opposed to Christianity, admit that Jesus was an amazing teacher and not a liar. In his work, The Person of Christ, historian Philip Schaff addresses the question that Jesus was a liar, and writes, “The hypothesis of imposture is so revolting to moral as well as common sense, that its mere statement is its condemnation…. [N]o scholar of any decency and self-respect would now dare to profess it openly” (Schaff, PC, 103).
In his book, Cold-Case Christianity, J. Warner Wallace, a cold-case homicide detective, lists the three types of motives that lie at the heart of any misbehavior: (1) financial greed, (2) sexual or relational desire, and (3) pursuit of power (Wallace, CCC, 240). Did Jesus perhaps lie about his identity because of one of these three motives?
Was Jesus motivated by financial greed? Jesus taught his disciples to give their possessions to the needy, not to store up treasures in this life, but to store up treasures in heaven (Luke 12:32-34). Jesus never profited from his preaching and healing. Moreover, Jesus’ only possession at the end of his life was his robe. No, he was not motivated by financial greed.