Archive for October, 2010

Was Jesus God?

October 25th, 2010

The Bible is very clear, in countless places, that Jesus was God. E.g. John 1:1-5; 9-14 – John, who was a close friend and disciple of Jesus, clearly states that Jesus was God. Other Scriptures include Romans 9:5, Titus 2, Hebrews 1, Colossians 2:9. Jesus was understood to be God right at the start of Christianity – it wasn’t added later.

But  was that what Jesus meant? Did Jesus believe that of himself?

1. Did he think he was God?

  • Mark 2 – Jesus heals a paralysed man but more shockingly, pronounces his sins forgiven, despite never having met this man before. Jesus is claiming that he is the one who has ultimately been wronged, that he is God (and only God can forgiven sins. This outraged the religious leaders of the day.
  • Matthew 5, 6 & 7 – when Jesus was teaching the crowds and quoting from the Torah – the holy book – he suggests he has authority to “go one better”, which was shocking in the Jewish culture.
  • Matthew 12 – Jesus says he was greater than the temple, the holy place of worship where men met with God.
  • John 17 – Jesus says that he and the Father (God) are one – claims equal standing with God.
  • When he was being interrogated by the religious leaders before being crucified, Jesus gave them a mind-blowing answer, saying “Before Abraham was, I AM” – claiming that he was God eternal, using the same name that God used to reveal himself to Moses in Exodus (“I AM that I AM”). This is an incredible name – speaks of power, immortality, self-sufficiency – something that commands awe.
  • Jesus was very clear – he was not just a “good man” but God himself. Good men don’t claim to be God!

2. Was he lying?

  • Was Jesus a conman? Is this the biggest hoax in history?
  • Apart from not looking like a conman (being known for his kindness and love and mercy), he didn’t gain anything from claiming to be God. People only con in order to get something – but all Jesus got was trouble, suffering and a gruesome death. There is no logic.

3. Was he insane?

  • Perhaps he had lost it mentally? Maybe he had a divinity complex? Some people have had this.
  • But people like that don’t tend to be gracious, loving, humble, kind, etc. Jesus was obviously a very balanced person. In fact, he was also famous for his wisdom and brilliant mind; huge crowds followed him because they wanted to hear what he had to say – his teaching and insight.

4. Was he a mystic?

  • Some people agree that Jesus was neither lying or insane, but they say that what the real meaning of what he meant and what he said was missed. Was Jesus the first century sage/guru, like Buddha and Oprah Winfrey? Was he just god the same way everything is god and we are all part of god (pantheism) – and that Jesus came to enlighten us that we are all mystically connected to god?
  • But there is no evidence for this – Jesus did not ever teach this.
  • Some say he was just trying to accommodate to Jewish understanding – and yet this doesn’t hold, because Jesus frequently went against people’s expectations and the cultural norms of the day.
  • He was a terrible guru if that was all he was!
  • The only conclusion left is that Jesus really was who he said he was.

5. God became a man

  • God had to reveal himself to us. We don’t like this idea because we have our own notions and preferences of what God should be like – but what makes our ideas right?
  • Jesus is the revelation of God – of what he is like. God is found in Christ.
  • Jesus said he who has seen him has seen the Father.
  • One thing Jesus reveals – that God enters into our suffering and pain, and cares deeply for us and weeps with us.
  • Jesus identifies with us, and carried our sin and guilt and shame on the cross. Because he’s God he can deal with it, and because he’s man he can identify with us and be our substitute.

Did Jesus Start a Religion by Accident?

October 19th, 2010

Many people question whether Jesus really meant to start Christianity or the Church, usually because people tend to like Jesus a lot more than the Church and Christians. People blame the Church for many awful things done in the name of God or Jesus, and famous figures like John Lennon have said that it is the disciples that ruin the image of Jesus. People often don’t reject Jesus but the Church.

However, we need to examine whether Jesus meant the Church and we need to look at his actions as well as his words. One thing Jesus did was that he chose 12 disciples – just like how God’s people began with the 12 sons of Israel. In this he was making a clear statement – that he was starting a new community belonging to God. Jesus also called his disciples his “little flock” – same terminology used by God to describe his people Israel – and he used the imagery of the bride and the bridegroom like in the Old Testament. It shows Jesus was meaning to do the same thing as in the Old Testament – preparing a people for God.

Jesus also called his disciples his family above his natural family – this was a shocking declaration in that culture. It was radical and it showed Jesus believed in this.

Matthew 16:13 – the turning point of Jesus’ ministry, the first revelation of Jesus’ identity. This changes the course of events – Jesus says they’re on a new mission. This is the plan – ‘on this rock I will build my Church’. It is so serious that not even the gates of hell will prevail against it.

Jesus entrusts the authority and legacy to Peter and the disciples to inherit his calling. God wills that people carry this authority – His reign – on earth. When Jesus was on earth he was the light of the world; now his Church is the light, carrying his rule and glory across all over the world.

Jesus invented and intended the Church.

It’s no use debating about the good vs. the bad that has been done by the Church; the real question is was it really true Christianity, or a distortion, when bad things have been done in the name of Christ? Unfortunately we live with the consequences of what Constantine did in the 4th century, which was to make everyone in the Roman Empire a Christian, leading onto the tie we still have between the Church and the State. Jesus did not intend for this to happen – no one can be forced to become a Christian. But what we have had over the centuries is people who claim to be Christians, who didn’t even believe in Jesus, doing terrible acts while wearing the “uniform” of Christ. The Crusades is one example, done on false teaching about how killing Muslims would be your ticket to heaven.

Don’t dismiss Christianity because of what some people disguised as “Christians” have done. There are also countless amazing things that the Church has done, because of faithfulness to Jesus and his commands, acting as it should – e.g. Martin Luther King. But we have to remember, this doesn’t mean the Church will always look right when it’s being faithful to Jesus – people won’t always like or approve of what it does. Jesus said the Church will be persecuted and hated.

As the Church, we should aim to have favour with all people, but ultimately our allegiance to Christ always comes before pleasing people. We will sometimes be criticised by people who thing they’re doing good or the right thing (for example, when the disciples thought they were right in criticising the woman who poured out a whole jar of perfume on Jesus’ feet). However, do not use persecution as an excuse for just being obnoxious.

Some people find joining a church of Christians unattractive – we love individualism in this culture and don’t want to conform. But the truth is we’re still conformists no matter what, just to other things and other communities. For others, it’s an issue of standards, thinking they’re better than Christians – that Christians are boring failures and hypocrites, and they can “do better”. But Christians are just people who have admitted that they’re failures – that is the difference. We all need to admit the same, because none of us are perfect, and come freely into Jesus’ community.

Who did Jesus think He was?

October 13th, 2010

Was Jesus just a man with an over inflated story? Would he just be embarrassed by all the subsequent attention? Actually Jesus very clear about who he was and he must have been either incredibly deluded or someone absolutely unique in human history.

The basic message of Jesus was himself and that’s the evidence of the gospels. This makes Christianity unique in world religions, take Jesus out of Christianity then it all collapses. It’s all built on his identity so it’s important we understand who he is.

John’s gospel is built around the ‘I am’ statements of Jesus.

I am the bread of life. We all have a hunger that needs satisfying. Jesus didn’t just direct people to the source of this satisfaction he claimed to be that himself.

He didn’t just point to the truth he said; I am the way, the truth and the life.

I am the resurrection and the life Jesus doesn’t provide the answers he provides himself, THE answer.

Jesus often described himself as the son of man. Was Jesus emphasising he was just human?

Daniel 7:13-14  provides a great description of the son of man. He has authority to rule all the nations and they’ll worship him. It’s not about manhood, the name refers to him being God,  or another name for the son of man; Messiah. Messiah means anointed, empowered by God for a certain task.

Old Testatment  full of prophetic promises for a coming rescuer, the messiah. Jesus read all those things, understood them and realised that was his identity. Jesus could have crushed this identity, most ‘messiahs’ end up being killed! Even before the Sanhedrin prior to his execution. They asked are you the Christ? He says I am.

What part do our expectations play in the way God acts?

The Jews didn’t understand why Jesus wasn’t acting like the messiah they’d expected. They thought their enemy was the Romans but Jesus talked about an enemy much more dangerous that required a much different saviour to the one they expected.

We all want Jesus to solve our problems and help us get what we want. But that can show we don’t really understand Jesus and what he offers.

Our problems are much deeper. There is a heart issue at stake.

Did Jesus Really Live?

October 6th, 2010

Jesus is always in the public eye, the most famous person – and everyone has an opinion about who he is. But we can’t just make up who we think he is; we have to build up an accurate portrait of who he really was.

Firstly, did he even exist? Or is he just a myth? This is common perception – that people think of Jesus as a myth that is used by people as a crutch to help them through life. However, we need to look at the facts and what historical evidence there is for his actual existence.

Over the centuries, there has been a popular thought that God started off the world and has simply left it to its own devices, and hasn’t got involved since. Additionally, in our present age, we don’t believe in miracles anymore – we think we’re “beyond” it. And since the gospels are full of the miracles of Jesus, we explain it all away as myth and don’t take any of it seriously. However, as an atheist once said to his friend C.S. Lewis (who was also an atheist at the time), the gospels actually seem to be solid history.

Our faith must be based on reason and truth – we need to know what we believe is based on facts; it is definitely not something we believe in spite of facts.

Also fuelling the myth theory in our day and age – and many conspiracy theories about Jesus – are the Gnostic gospels. People have taken to these to be the “real” accounts of Jesus. However, these were not only written generations and even centuries after the 4 gospels of the Bible were written, but also by people who wanted to hijack the teaching of Jesus. The early church had made its mind up about who Jesus was long before the Gnostic gospels – and it was not a power-hungry establishment, but a loving community of believers who were being martyred for their faith.

So how trustworthy are the books of the Bible, and in particular, the 4 gospels?

1. What kind of books?
• Were the gospels history or legends/myth?
• We need to look at how the author describe their own writings – they present it as sure historical fact, not myths or stories.
• 2 Peter 1:16 – described as Scripture; beginning of Luke – eyewitness accounts
• The way they were written – such detail and accuracy that would never have been included by ancient writers if they were purely made-up stories.
• There is the very common idea that Christianity is simply borrowed from “older” myths – e.g. stories apparently telling of gods born of a virgin, gods who died and rose again, etc. But the reality is that scholars have said the earliest written sources of these “parallel” myths do NOT precede the gospels – so it would appear that the myths have copied Christianity instead, if anything. Not only this, but the “parallels” are bizarre and are not very similar at all. Do not be wavered by conspiracy hype.

2. Do other ancient writers back them up?Tacitus
• Yes, even many non-Christians wrote about Jesus and the early church
• One example is Tacitus (56 AD – 117 AD) – one of the great historians of the ancient world. He wrote about the man Jesus who was killed under Pontius Pilate.
• Another is Josephus (37 AD – c.100 AD) – a renowned Jewish historian. What he said lines up with the gospels. Although there has been some dispute over the accuracy of his writings (there have been suspicions that it has been tampered with), scholars say that what we have now is largely accurate.
• There are at least 100 facts from other sources that line up with the Bible.

3. What happened between events and writings?
• Because the gospels were written decades after the events had happened many people assume what we have is just a case of Chinese whispers.
• However, the time between the events and writing is incredibly short in terms of ancient historical texts.
• Some scholars (e.g. F. C. Baur) have said that they were written much later, at least in the second century. And yet a copy of John’s gospel was found and carbon dated back to no later than 130 AD, more likely 100 AD (and remember, this was just a copy).
• The gospels were written later because people lived in an oral culture in that day – the message and stories would have been preached and spoken, but not like Chinese whispers. People in that culture would have paid immense detail to what was being said, memorising what they heard and passing it on exactly as they had heard it. There was a huge emphasis on passing it on accurately.
• It was eventually written down for the generations to come, as those who were telling it originally were dying out.
• Eyewitness accounts were done with immense care and attention to accuracy. The writers took it incredibly seriously – this was a matter of life and death, of heaven and hell. Therefore, we can take them seriously.

4. Do we have good manuscripts?
• Number of complete New Testament copies: 5,700; written 60-100 AD; earliest copy is 300 AD; time span: 200 years.
• Compared to other ancient texts (which are unquestioned as historical fact), this is phenomenally solid – miles ahead of any other ancient texts.
• Copies were found in all different parts of the world, and yet they all said the same thing.

Ultimately, we fight the accuracy of the New Testament because if it is true and Jesus is real, it changes everything, it affects our lives, and we can’t ignore it and go on living on our own terms. We need to look at the facts and make up our minds from those – not merely from ideas made popular by our culture.

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