I was reading an article in The New Zealand Herald (dated Tuesday April 15) which mentioned that the latest NZ census figures show a further decline in numbers and influence of Christianity. In that context the writer lamented that unbelievers are “ignoring the evidence of Jesus”.
The article was a well-reasoned defence of the resurrection of Jesus – which is the heart of the Easter story. However, in the process the author made a mistake that so many people have made over the years and that British writer, C.S. Lewis, warned against already many years ago in his booklet, “Mere Christianity”.
The writer said that if the resurrection of Jesus didn’t happen then Jesus is just a good man and a great prophet.
Not so! Many people have a deep respect for the person of Christ and for His teaching. The Indian lawyer and Prime Minister, Mahatma Ghandi, was one such person. He very much appreciated The Sermon on The Mount but remained a Hindu. He had a high respect for Jesus as a good man and a great teacher but he was not a believer.
Over the years I have often had people tell me that they don’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God or that He arose from the dead. Yet they persist in claiming that he was a good man and one of the greatest prophets who ever lived. I not only find that patronising towards Christians but also demonstrating a lack of knowledge and a failure to think clearly about the teachings of Christ.
I have sometimes used C.S Lewis’ argument and told such people that believing Jesus was just a good man and a great prophet is not really an option.
One of the things Jesus taught was that He was Divine. He was both Son of God and Son of Man. And even the term “Son of Man” has overtones of divinity because it is a term taken from the book of Daniel and a prophecy about the end of the ages. Jesus proved his divinity by His many miraculous deeds and by His claim to be able to forgive sin. Above all He proved His divinity by rising from the dead on the third day.
From my experience of life I know only three options when it comes to people who claim to be divine.
First, I’ve met people in mental institutions who claim to be God. No one takes their claims to be divine seriously – that’s why they are in mental institutions. So was Jesus “a lunatic”? Reading the gospels one does not get that impression. Quite the contrary! His behaviour and His teaching bear the marks of a wonderfully sane person.
Second, we hear frequently of people who claim to be divine but who are not in mental institutions. They are the religious leaders and gurus who claim divinity. They are the great pretenders who lead their followers astray. Liars! And their death – with no resurrection afterwards – shows them to be the liars that they are. Jesus was not a liar.
The point is that if Jesus is not a liar or a lunatic then He must be what He claimed to be: Lord! Easter is the justification of the claims of Jesus to be the Son of God, one with the Father.
You and I should not let people get away with the trite dismissal of the claims of Jesus that He was just a good man and the greatest prophet who ever lived. The well-attested resurrection of Jesus from the dead on Easter morning is the great proof that he was neither mad nor bad, neither lunatic nor liar but the Lord of the universe who deserves our love and our allegiance.