Sincere people have often asked this question over the past 2,000 years! Admittedly, the teachings and parables of Jesus are brilliant, and he held crowds spellbound. His “sermon on the mount” (Matthew 5-7) is classic, helpful truth. So why can’t spiritual people just accept his nuggets of truth at face value, without elevating Jesus to a divine status?
As attractive as that argument is, it begs one simple fact: “good teachers” are sane, balanced people who always tell the truth! The frank reality is that Jesus repeatedly asserted he actually was God’s Son. In John 5:23 and elsewhere, Jesus refers to himself as the Son of God and declares that God the heavenly Father had sent him. In Matthew 16, when Peter declares: “You are the Son of God,” Jesus commends his disciple for his insight.
What’s more, Jesus routinely did things that only God could appropriately do. He forgave the sins of strangers. He accepted the worship of his fellow beings here on earth. He described his planned return to heaven and promised to return again in glory.
Picture this scene. You’re taking a college class, and the professor is great! His Powerpoint lectures are interesting and helpful; you’re taking copious notes. Suddenly one day, as he is explaining the mysteries of life, he also interjects: “By the way – this is important – I am the Son of God. Trust in me and you will be saved.” Would you and your classmates continue to call him a “good teacher”? Not likely! He would soon no longer be teaching in your classroom; he would be fortunate to find himself lecturing, as we say, “to the fence posts at the funny farm.” Because good instructors are not deluded megalomaniacs.
Years ago I had the joy of pastoring at a tiny Christian church in Ojai. A New Age devotee visited me one day and admitted, “I admire your Jesus as a good and decent man; let’s leave it at that.” “What do you especially appreciate?” “Well,” she said, “when they crucified him, Jesus was kind and thoughtful to that thief next to him. He tried to comfort him.”
Well, I about jumped out of my skin! “Wait a minute! The very last thing Jesus said to him was: ‘I can save you. I’m promising you eternal life with me in my kingdom.’ Is that noble kindness . . . to lie to a dying man?” “I never thought of that,” she admitted.
In his keen defense of the idea that Jesus was indeed exactly what he said, C. S. Lewis observes that from a point of pure logic, we have three choices. One, this Jesus was a hardened, cynical liar, a con man. Two, he is a madman or lunatic, on the par, Lewis writes with a smile, with the man who goes about “claiming to be a poached egg.” Or three: Jesus is exactly what he always said he was: the divine Son of God. Those are really our only three options.
Interestingly, this same writer went out of his way to slip the same concept into his hugely popular children’s books, The Chronicles of Narnia. In the first installment, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” three children are sure that their little sister is mistaken about the mystical land they have never seen. How can the back of an old wardrobe closet lead to this fabled winter wonderland filled with white witches and fauns?
And the old professor slowly analyzes the situation with them. Was their sister Lucy a liar? Well, no. They knew her better than that. Was she a “mental case,” slowly going mad? Again they shake their heads. In that case, he sagely observes, it must somehow that Lucy has indeed experienced what she has described.
The simplest solution is to accept all that this wisest of teachers said, especially about himself!