In an effort to stretch-out the Christmas season, I’d like to talk about an ongoing debate concerning who Jesus Christ really was. Discussions I’ve had over the years with those who do not profess Christianity seem to have a general consensus that Jesus was simply a good moral teacher. But, is this a valid option?
Christian apologist C.S. Lewis, who was a professor at Cambridge University and once an agnostic, wrote prolifically on the subject of Jesus. Concerning whether or not Jesus was simply a good moral teacher he said, “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 the 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.”
Let’s examine Mr. Lewis’ three options – Lord, Liar or Lunatic – and see whether or not it is possible Jesus could have been only a good moral teacher.
Lunatic. Could Jesus mistakenly have thought Himself to be God? After all, it is possible to be both sincere and wrong. But in a culture that was fiercely monotheistic, it would definitely have been the thoughts of a madman to tell others their eternal destiny depended on believing in Him. But as we read the words of Christ we find no indication of a madman.
Josh McDowell’s book ‘Evidence that Demands a Verdict’ quotes various authors concerning the mental health of Jesus. Scripture finds Him to “possess a calm authority of His precepts”; “unlabored simplicity in His language”; “not one trace of feverish enthusiasm while always returning the wisest answer to tempting questions in a composed and serene fashion.” Church historian Philip Schaff adds, “Is such an intellect – clear as the sky, bracing as the mountain air, sharp and penetrating as a sword, thoroughly healthy and vigorous, always ready and always self-possessed – liable to a radical and most serious delusion concerning His own character and mission? Preposterous imagination!”
Liar. Could Jesus have simply been a liar? Did He knowingly deceive people when making His multiple, clear and varied claims of being God? If so, then He was not only a liar but a hypocrite because He told others to be honest, while Himself living a colossal lie. Furthermore, He would be unspeakably evil for telling others to trust Him for eternal salvation knowing He would ultimately be unable to back-up these claims.
Jesus would also be a fool to lie about who He was, because His own claims of being God led to His crucifixion. According to the Gospels, as Jesus was being interrogated shortly before his death, “…the high priest was questioning Him, and saying to Him, ‘Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?’ And Jesus said, ‘I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.’ And tearing his clothes, the high priest said, ‘What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy; how does it seem to you?’ The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God.”
Lord. If Jesus Christ was not a lunatic or a liar, there is only one other possible option. Napoleon, the former French military and political leader, said, “I know men; and I tell you that Jesus Christ is not a man. Between Him and whoever else in the world, there is no possible term of comparison. He is truly a being by Himself. His ideas and sentiments, the truth which He announces, His manner of convincing, are not explained either by human organization or by the nature of things.”
William Lecky, one of Great Britain’s most noted historians and a dedicated opponent of Christianity wrote concerning the ministry of Jesus Christ, “…The simple record of these three short years of active life has done more to regenerate and soften mankind than all the disquisitions of philosophers and all the exhortations of moralists.”
Jesus simply cannot be put on a shelf as only a great moral teacher. Intellectual honesty does not allow for a great moral teacher to also possess the characteristics of radical madman and/or profound liar. Nor does history provide us with such an example. In fact, as Napoleon alluded to, no man has ever come close to moving the world in such a way as Jesus Christ, God in the flesh.