What's So Special About Jesus?
What would you think of someone who walked around Tipperary town claiming to be the light of the world? How much of an impact would such a person have? Do you think he would get many (or any!) followers?
You do get some people saying such things from time to time. A very small minority sometimes get a cult following but it seldom lasts. And they rarely if ever get any respect outside of their own group of fanatical followers. You certainly wouldn't want to have your kids having anything to do with such a group! But the interesting thing about Jesus is that it is rare for anyone anywhere to say a bad word about him. In fact it is difficult to find a religion, denomination or sect that doesn't claim him as their own in some way. Even atheists respect him. Here is just a selection of quotations from famous people from all kinds of backgrounds.
"His beauty is eternal ... Jesus is in every respect unique and nothing can be compared to him" Ernest Renan (An atheist)
"Between Jesus and whomsoever else in the world there is no possible comparison." Napoleon
"I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene.." Albert Einstein
"Christ is the most unique person in history. No man can write a history of the human race without giving first and foremost place to the penniless teacher of Nazareth." H.G Wells
"This is how life ought to be lived" Gandhi
- Nobody knows the exact date of his birth but that event divides history into BC and AD and is celebrated throughout the world every year. Winter would be very strange without Christmas!
- He never wrote a book, yet more books have been written about him than any one of the 60 billion people who have lived on this planet.
- He never painted a picture or composed poetry or music, but nobody's life and teaching has been the subject of so many songs, plays, poetry, pictures or films.
- Except for one brief period during his childhood, his travels were limited to a region smaller than Ireland. Today his influence is worldwide.
- He had no formal education but thousands of universities, seminaries, colleges and schools have been founded in his name.
- He never raised an army but millions of people have laid down their lives for his cause.
"All the armies that ever marched and all the navies that were ever built, and all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of mankind on earth as powerfully as this one solitary life."
Amazing WordsWho spoke as he spoke? On one occasion men were sent to arrest him. They were afraid.
"No-one ever spoke the way this man does," the guards declared. (John 7:46)
Amazing LifeWho has lived as he lived? The dying thief knew that Jesus was innocent. In fact, the Bible claims that Jesus never sinned at all. Impossible? Jesus is in the business of doing the "impossible". That is one of the things that made him special!
"We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong." (Luke 23:41)
"the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect." (1 Peter 1:19)
"He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth." (1 Peter 2:22)
And who has done the miracles that Jesus did? People weren't stupid 2000 years ago. If people were so easily fooled, every Tom Dick and Harry could have posed as a miracle worker. When you look at the variety of miracles and the nature of the miracles it's very hard to see how they would have been anything other than genuine. Even his enemies had to explain them by saying that the devil was behind them rather than laugh them off as having natural explanations. He baffled people. They could hardly believe their eyes. They wondered if he was the Messiah. They were expecting someone very different yet he gave them powerful evidence.
On the day of Pentecost, Peter addressed those who had crucified Jesus.
"Many of them said, "He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him? But others said, "These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?"" (John 10:20)
"but Jesus said to them, "I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?" "We are not stoning you for any of these," replied the Jews, "but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God."" (John 10:32)
"Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind." (John 10:32)
"Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know." (Acts 2:22)
As all this was done in the public arena among friends, enemies, strangers, no-one could deny it. Nor could someone invent these stories. A person could falsely claim to have met an angel in the woods. Or perhaps a person could claim that he once saw a man raised from the dead in Outer Mongolia but it would be very hard to test such claims. But if you lived 10, 20, 30 years after Jesus returned to heaven and someone told you about Jesus, you could have investigated all this. There were thousands of witnesses. You don't invent a story when thousands could refute it. The early church had many enemies but no-one raised serious objections to the things written in the New Testament about Jesus. They just dismissed it and hoped that it would go away. It didn't!
The Greatest Miracle - the Resurrection
Many leaders have predicted their own death. Maybe some of them said that they would rise in the distant future. But who has ever said that they will die and rise again in three days?
"We are going up to Jerusalem," he said, "and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise." (Mark 10:33,34)Well, maybe it's easy to predict that you will rise, but it's another matter fulfilling it! People have given all sorts of explanations in an effort to explain away the resurrection. Again, if it had been just one man who saw some kind of a vision of the risen Christ, it would be easy to discount. But there were hundreds of witnesses. Paul pointed this out in his First Letter to the Corinthians.
"... he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. (1 Corinthians 15:5 ff)Why would Paul make such a testable claim? It's a bit like someone falsely claiming that they made a record and it got to number one in the Irish Top 40 in March 1995. If you are going to make a false claim, don't make it testable. All these people could have been interviewed if anyone was in any doubt. Moreover, it wasn't just a matter of seeing Jesus. His disciples spent a lot of time with him. In some ways it wasn't very different to the experience they had before the resurrection.
Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." None of the disciples dared ask him, "Who are you?" They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead. (John 21:12, 13)
Were they all telling lies? All of them suffered and most of them ended up as martyrs - as did thousands of others. A person might die for what he believes to be true, but who would die for what he knows to be a lie? You only have to read the epistles of people like Peter and Paul, and the Book of Acts written by Luke, a close associate, to get some insight into their character. Some might say - "I don't care what evidence is offered. It is impossible to rise from the dead!" Well, if it were not 'impossible', it would hardly have had such an impact. That is the very point that Christians make - he did what would normally be considered impossible. Of course it isn't theoretically impossible in an absolute sense. If, speaking hypothetically, some future generation found life on another planet that could rise again, I assume that people would not disbelieve it. If there is a God, then nothing is impossible for him. If he wanted to give evidence that Jesus really was the Son of God, then this would be a good way of substantiating the claim. It's a bit silly asking God to prove something by doing a miracle and then rejecting the evidence because it's 'impossible'. It's a bit like saying "I don't believe that tornadoes ever occur in the UK", seeing a tornado for yourself and then saying "Awh it must have been something else - it couldn't have been a tornado because tornados don't occur in the UK!"
Every few years someone brings out a new book with some conspiracy theory that explains it all away. There's a big fuss and accusations of blasphemy etc and the 'astonishing discovery' is all forgotten again. They very fact that people are able to make so much money on this story is an indication of its impact on humanity. If someone is mentally ill, it is not uncommon for them to think that they are Jesus. Again, in it's one strange way, this is a measure of the impact that this one man has had on humanity. Likewise, when people swear, it's his name they generally use. In the Gospels, the demons were often a step ahead of the general public in knowing who he was. Both the angels and men, both good and evil, seem to recognize him at a deep level.
Admiration is not Enough
It's not enough to sit back and wonder how someone with little or no possessions could have such an impact on humanity in so short a space of time. Jesus claimed that he was going to prepare a place for his followers and that he would come again and take them to himself (John 14:1-6). The thief next to Jesus on the cross who repented and trusted in him was told that he would be with Jesus in paradise that very day (Luke 23:43). Can we trust his promises? How many inferior people influence us throughout our lives. What will they do for us? Who is more worthy of our allegiance?
In Ireland, many go through life 'sort of' half-believing. We were brought up hearing about it and we went through all the rituals but we've never really grappled with the issue of whether it is really true. Furthermore, we are often cynical about churches and tend to throw the baby out with the bath water. All sorts of doubts arise in our minds. We'd like to examine it all but we never get around to it. Other things rush in and dominate our thoughts. C.S.Lewis said this:
"Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance; And, if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important."
Why not put the issue of churches out of your mind for a moment. As Christians, our focus should be on Jesus. A church is a very good thing if you find a good one but we follow Jesus, not the traditions of men or the impressive qualities we see in other people. Jesus wants to speak to you as an individual. He speaks through the Bible. As I write this, I don't know who will read it. But God is different. Without you realising it, he is with you more than anyone. In fact, he knows you better than you know yourself. He orders the events of your life. God, because he is God, is capable of dealing with more than one person at a time. If you have a family, you can know and love your children. Sometimes big families are the most loving of all. Of course a time comes when you would begin to have difficulties. A grandmother might have 50 grandchildren. But God can have a close relationship with millions of individuals. You are not some statistic to God. Jesus spoke about his followers - his sheep
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no-one can snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:27)Do you listen to the voice of Jesus? Is there anything in this verse that comforts or excites you? Shortly after Jesus spoke these words an effort was made to murder him by stoning him to death. Jesus divides people. Not all are his sheep. Of course, many would like to be neutral and take a wait and see approach but this is not an option.
"He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters." (Matt 12:30)
Jesus doesn't insist on perfect faith or perfect behaviour from his followers. This is what we should be aiming for, but his disciples had many failings. On the night before he died when he told them that he was going to prepare a place for them in heaven, he knew that later than night and the next day, most of them would be nowhere to be seen. Peter would deny him. Peter fell but he got up again, dusted himself down and continued to follow Jesus. That is what Jesus wants from you. He is our creator, we belong to him. He is the one that gives us physical life, moment by moment. He is the one who laid down his life for his sheep. He offers to forgive your sins if are willing to repent and trust him. He is only a prayer away! More on Jesus