Liar, Lord or Lunatic: Why I Believe in Jesus Christ
Sermon 4 of 10 from the Why I Believe series
October 1995 – Several years ago someone wrote a book called The Many Faces of Jesus. It happened to be the book Elvis Presley was reading when he died in Memphis, Tennessee. That title stands as a fitting symbol of the confusion surrounding Jesus in our time. Last month several thousand people filled Moody Memorial Church in Chicago to hear two noted scholars in a debate entitled “Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?” On one side was William Lane Craig; on the other John Dominic Crossan. Dr. Craig defended the literal truth of the New Testament, especially the truth of the resurrection accounts. Dr. Crossan defended the view that we can’t take the stories about Jesus as literally true, including the story of his resurrection. It’s a symbol or a myth, not a literal historic reality.
It’s been 2000 years and men still debate about Jesus Christ.
But it’s nothing new. When Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say I am?”, they replied with four different answers (See Matthew 16:13-16). Even when he walked on this earth, people were confused as to his true identity. Some thought he was a prophet, others a great political leader, still others thought he was John the Baptist come back to life.
One question with many answers. One man with many faces.
Who is Jesus Christ? And why do we believe in him? As we begin our search for the answers, let’s start by surveying some of the modern versions of Jesus.
I. Modern Versions of Jesus
1. The Good ManWe start with this view because it is no doubt the most popular “face” of Jesus. Ask any ten non-religious people on the street who Jesus and eight of them will say something like, “He was a good man who lived a long time ago.” People who say such things do not pretend to be Bible scholars in any sense of the word nor do they mean to be offensive. They simply are reflecting the common wisdom most of learned as children: when in doubt, say something nice.
Of all the modern versions of Christ, this one is the both the closest to the truth and the deadliest error. Jesus was a good man. Acts 10:38 even says, “he went around doing good,” referring to his miracles. But to stop there is to miss the central truth of his divine personality. He was a good man–Yes! But only because he was also the Son of God from heaven who came to be the Savior of the world.
2. The Misunderstood RabbiPeople who hold this view see Jesus as a talented Jewish teacher who never meant to start a new religion. They see him as a first-century Martin Luther who wanted to reform Judaism, but ended up being crucified for his efforts. Moreover, they don’t believe he rose from the dead, but that his disciples believed he was present with them after his death so the legend of the resurrection arose in order to keep the dream alive.
That paragraph describes the view of the Jesus Seminar, a group of liberal scholars who meet periodically to determine the authentic words of Jesus. They vote using colored ballots. They take each saying or story one by one and vote on it. Black means it’s not authentic, pink means it might be, red means it definitely is authentic. In March they declared that Jesus probably didn’t rise from the dead but that the disciples concocted the story in order to spread their message. One scholar even called the resurrection accounts “historically worthless.”
3. The Revolutionary JesusThis view was very popular in the 60s when left-wing radicals appropriated Jesus as the Messiah who came to overthrow the unjust power structures of his day and to bring in the kingdom through protest and non-violent action. Some theologians even used the image of the Revolutionary Jesus to support the establishment of Marxist governments around the world.
Thankfully, we don’t hear much about this nowadays. Ever since the collapse of Communism and the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Revolutionary Jesus has become a relic of modern history. As many people have pointed out, Jesus was indeed a revolutionary, but not in the sense intended by those who used the term. Jesus came to start a revolution of love on planet earth. He wasn’t concerned about overthrowing governments but about overthrowing sin in the human heart.
4. The Ecumenical ChristThis is the option for people who like Jesus but don’t want to worship him exclusively. They lump him together with other notable religious leaders, such as Moses, Confucius, Gandhi, Buddha and Mohammed. Such people have a Mt. Rushmore religion. When they look up, they see four or five faces peering down from heaven. Jesus is one of the faces they see. Pick the one you like and worship him.
We saw a good example of this last Monday during the Million-Man March. Whatever else might be said about that event, one fact was offensive to all true Christians. I refer to the fact several speakers put Jesus and on the same level. I even heard one Christian pastor pray like this: “We pray to the God who is called by many names–Jehovah, Yahweh, Elohim, God, Allah, Jesus.” Such a prayer is blasphemy and a denial of the Christian faith.
But many people believe in the Ecumenical Christ. It’s a convenient way to call yourself a Christian and still be open-minded about other options.
After surveying the various answers of modern man, we are still left with the great question of history, “Who is Jesus Christ?” If those answers are wrong, what is the right answer and how can we be sure?
II. The Great Question of HistoryIn order to answer that question, we have to go back to the New Testament, which is the only reliable source of information about Jesus Christ. It’s true that we do have some information about Jesus in extra-biblical sources from the first century, but it is limited and scattered. The only way to get an accurate picture of Jesus is to study the record of his life found in the four gospels. When we do, five important facts emerge that form the answer to history’s greatest question.
Fact # 1: Fulfilled ProphecyThe Bible uses a fascinating phrase to describe the moment of Jesus’ birth. That phrase is the “fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4). It refers to that one chosen moment in history when God arranged all the circumstances perfectly so that his Son would be born in just the right way at just the right moment at the precisely-chosen location. That phrase also refers to the all the circumstances of his life, including his death and resurrection. All of it was perfectly planned by God and predicted in writing before it happens.
Consider the following. The Bible predicted the following about Jesus Christ before he was born:
1. That he would be born of a virgin–Isaiah 7:14.
2. That he would be born in Bethlehem–Micah 5:4
3. That he would be born into the tribe of Judah–Genesis 49:10
4. That his ministry would begin in Galilee–Isaiah 9:1
5. That he would work miracles–Isaiah 61:1
6. That he would teach in parables–Psalm 78:2
7. That he would enter Jerusalem on a donkey–Zechariah 9:9
8. That he would be betrayed by a friend–Psalm 41:9
9. That he would be sold for 30 pieces of silver–Zechariah 11:12
10. That he would be accused by false witnesses–Psalm 35:11
11. That he would be wounded and bruised–Isaiah 53:5
12. That his hands and feet would be pierced–Psalm 22:16
13. That he would be crucified with thieves–Isaiah 53:12
14. That his garments would be torn apart and lots cast for them–Psalm 22:18
15. That his bones would not be broken–Psalm 34:20
16. That his side would be pierced–Zechariah 12:10
17. That he would be buried in a rich man’s tomb–Isaiah 53:9
18. That he would rise from the dead–Psalm 16:10
These are only a few of the hundreds of prophecies about Jesus Christ in the Old Testament. This list is striking in the amount of detail surrounding the death of Christ. Even a casual reader must admit that either this is an amazing coincidence or it is the result of divine planning.
Andy McQuitty effectively answers those who say that Jesus was a fake:
Fakes can’t fulfill prophecy. They can’t direct the circumstances of their birth and death. Jesus’ fulfillment of such prophecies shows he was no fake… . Jesus Christ was the credentialed, expected, authoritative Messiah for whom the world had been taught to look since the Garden of Eden and Genesis 3:15!
Fact # 2: Amazing ClaimsHere is a fact not often appreciated by the non-religious person. Jesus made absolutely astounding claims concerning himself. In fact, if you catalogue his own words, you must conclude that either he is who is he said he was or else is a liar or a madman. The people who say, “Jesus was a good man–nothing more” have never read the gospels because you could never come to that conclusion if you actually read what Jesus said about himself.
*He claimed to be the Son of God.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16).
*He claimed that the angels obeyed him.
"The Son of Man will out his angels” (Matthew 13:41).
*He claimed to be the ultimate judge of all men.
"The Father … has entrusted all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22).
*He claimed to possess all power in heaven and on earth.
"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18).
*He claimed the power to forgive sin.
"Friend, your sins are forgiven” (Luke 5:20).
*He claimed that he could raise people from the dead.
"All who are in the grave will hear his voice and come out” (John 5:28).
*He claimed that he could raise himself from the dead.
"I have the authority to lay it down and … take it up again” (John 10:18).
*He claimed to be one with God.
"I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).
*He claimed to be the only way to God.
"No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
*He claimed to be the giver of eternal life.
"I give them eternal life” (John 10:28).
Before we go any further, let us note that these are absolutely stupendous claims. What would you do if you neighbor knocked on your door this afternoon and said, “I am God’s Son and I can raise myself from the dead"? I daresay that you would close the door and call the police because anyone who goes around talking like that is likely to be a danger to himself and possibly to others.
But Jesus routinely made such claims about himself. Laugh if you will, but before you dismiss him, consider what he had to say.
Fact # 3: Supernatural PowerWhen John the Baptist was in prison, he sent his disciples to Jesus with a very poignant question, “Are you the one who was to come or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:3). Jesus answered by listing the miracles he had performed: The blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the lepers are cleansed, and the dead are raised. No one could fake such miracles as that. No religious charlatan could give sight to the blind. Not even the great Houdini could raise the dead. Only the mighty Son of God could work such stupendous miracles.
Let me highlight some of Jesus miracles:
Turned water into wine (John 2:1-11)
Multiplied the loaves and fishes (John 6:5-13)
Walked on water (Matthew 14:25)
Opened the eyes of the blind (John 9)
Made the lame walk (Matthew
Cast out demons (Mark 5:1-20)
Stilled a raging storm (Mark 4:35-41)
Cleansed 10 lepers (Luke 17:11-19)
Raised the dead (Matthew 9:18-26)
This week I read about yet another TV evangelist who made extravagant claims for healing that have now evidently been exposed as fraudulent. You see, anyone can claim to work miracles. But only Jesus can do it! His life was marked by miraculous power–which is exactly what you would expect from the Son of God.
Fact # 4: The Empty TombThis of course is the ultimate proof. In the debate between Dr. Craig and Dr. Crossan, the whole issue resolved down to one central question–Did Jesus really rise from the dead? If he did, then he really was the Son of God. If he didn’t, then he’s not the Son of God. In fact, if he didn’t, he’s not even a good man but the world’s greater faker. And we are fools for following him.
Therefore I invite you to study the gospels with an unprejudiced mind and come to your own conclusions. When you do, I believe you will find the following four statements to be absolutely true.
1. Jesus was really dead.
2. Jesus was buried in a tomb on Friday evening.
3. The tomb was empty on Sunday morning.
4. Jesus appeared to his disciples after the resurrection, alive from the dead.
In the years following the French Revolution, there was a great turning away from Christianity. A man named La Revilliere concocted a new religion that he fancied to be superior to Christianity. Unfortunately he had trouble gaining concerts. So he went to the great diplomat Charles de Tallyrand for help. His advice was simple:
To ensure success for your new religion, all you need to do is have yourself crucified and then rise again from the dead on the third day.
His religion disappeared because he was unable to follow Talleyrand’s advice. One person ever has–Jesus our Lord. The story of his death and resurrection is perhaps the single, best-attested fact of ancient history..
The entire Christian faith hangs on this one fact: Jesus rose from the dead–literally, physically, bodily, visibly. It is the testimony of the empty tomb that forever sets Jesus Christ apart from all other religious leaders.
They are dead. He is alive today!
Fact # 5: Transformed LivesBefore you make a final decision about Jesus, there is one additional fact to consider. When Jesus left this earth 2000 years ago, he left behind a few hundred disciples in Israel. That’s all he had to show for his 33 years.
Today over well over one billion people proudly bear his name. That tiny band of followers has spread to every nation on every continent. Thousands more join the ranks every single day. The race is on to complete the Great Commission by the year 2000. To put matters in perspective, more people have come to Christ in the last generation than in the previous 2000 years.
History shows that Jesus Christ continues to change lives 20 centuries after he walked the dusty roads of Galilee and braved the narrow cobblestone streets of Jerusalem. Yet today he is the single most influential person in all human history. John Lennon is dead, Jerry Garcia is dead, Karl Marx is dead, Adolph Hitler is dead, Napoleon is dead. But Jesus Christ is alive!
Listen to the words of Napoleon Bonaparte after he was exiled to Helena Island. As he contemplated his exploits in Europe versus the legacy of Jesus, he came to this stunning conclusion:
I know men, and I tell you that Jesus Christ is not mere man. Between and every other person in the world, there is no possible term of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and myself founded great empires; but upon what did the creations of our genius depend? Upon force. Jesus alone founded his empire upon love, and to this very day millions would die for him.
III. The Decision You Must MakeIn the end the decision about Jesus Christ must become very personal. Who do you think he is? Is he the Son of God? Is he the Messiah from heaven? Is he a misunderstood Palestinian rabbi? Is he who he claimed to be? Or is he something else altogether?
May I submit to you that when all the alternatives are fairly considered, we are left with only three options concerning Jesus Christ:
1. He might be a Liar. Perhaps he wasn’t telling the truth at all. If so, then he falls in the category of those religious charlatans who come along from time to time selling spiritual snake oil to the gullible. But note this. If Jesus is a liar, then he is the biggest and most successful liar in history since to this day over 1 billion people have followed his lies.
2. He might be a Lunatic. Let us suppose that you desire a more charitable judgment on Jesus. Is it possible that he was well-meaning but deluded? Could it be that he thought he was telling the truth, but like those poor souls who think they are Napoleon, deserved to be locked way in an asylum? Is that your judgment on Jesus? If so, the question remains: How could so many evidently normal people follow a madman for so many centuries? Lunatics gain a following for a time but are eventually found out. How has this madman from Galilee continued to trick people after 20 centuries?
3. He might be the Lord. If the first two alternatives do not suit you, then perhaps you will consider this one. It really is the only option left. A man who said the things Jesus said was either a liar, a lunatic or he was (and is) the Lord from heaven. But if he is the Lord from heaven, then you dare not remain neutral. You must give some account for how you respond. If he is the Lord, then you must yield your life to him. No other response will suffice.
C.S. Lewis on JesusDoes this scenario seem unfair to you, as if perhaps the deck has been stacked to force you to a predetermined conclusion? It is possible that you wish to consider a fourth alternative, one that is popular with many, many people? It is sometimes said this way: “When I look at Jesus, I see the greatest moral teacher the world has ever known. He may or he may not be the Son of God–to me that doesn’t matter–what’s important is that I recognize and follow his moral teachings.” Is such a view compatible with the New Testament picture of Jesus Christ? Does it present him as a great moral teacher or as the ultimate example for mankind?
In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis considers this very common viewpoint and concludes his chapter “The Shocking Alternative” with these penetrating words:
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 or 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.
We’ve come now to the very end of my message. If you still unsure about Jesus, let me encourage you to pick up the New Testament and read it for yourself. You don’t have to take my word for it. If what I am saying is true, then the facts ought to be self-evident to any intelligent man or woman. Please don’t make a final decision about Jesus without checking things out for yourself.
The Bottom LineI close by placing before the three great alternatives regarding Jesus: He’s a liar, he’s a lunatic, or he’s the Lord. Two thousand years ago Jesus asked his disciples to answer one all-important question: Who do you say that I am?
Listed below are three alternatives regarding Jesus. I’m going to ask you to check the “yes” blank next to the one you believe is correct. Then sign your name beneath and fill the date.
I’ve told you what I believe and what Christians everywhere believe about Jesus. But you can’t get to heaven on someone else’s faith. It’s time to sign on the bottom line.
I say Jesus was the Son of God who came to be my Savior and I am trusting him with all my heart. What do you say?
He’s a liar. _______Yes _______No
He’s a lunatic. ________Yes _______No
He’s the Lord. ________Yes ________No
If after reading this message, you have decided to make a definite commitment of your life to Jesus Christ, please write me (931 Lake Street, Oak Park, IL 60302), call me on the phone (708/386-3900), or stop by to see me personally. I’d like to hear the good news and give you some words of encouragement.
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