Monday, September 21, 2009

The Jesus Question...Why Jesus?

"WHY (believe in) JESUS?"

Why Jesus?
Isn't claiming that Jesus is unique intolerant
What about other religions, other "ways to God?"
How can someone claim that one way is better than others?

All religions make some unique, distinct truth claims that could be labeled intolerant.  Judaism, Islam, Christianity, and other religions have doctrines (truth claims) that distinguish them from one another. And, in reality, persons who are secular/non-religious, agnostic or athiest also make distinctive truth claims which can't be reconciled with what others believe, and are therefore, by the same definition, intolerant.

Everyone has some sort of belief system which does two things:

(1) their belief system makes truth claims which cannot be reconciled with other faith's truth claims, and

(2) at the foundation, every belief system is based on faith, because all of its truth claims cannot be proven by scientific observation, reason or logic.  This is as true of the athiest's beliefs as it is of the Christian's beliefs...both accept some tenets of their belief system by faith, not scientific evidence.

So why be Christian instead of agnostic, or Muslim, or Wiccan? Is it fair to say Christianity is superior to any of these other faiths/belief systems/worldviews?

I believe the answer to that question is a resounding "yes!" - or I would not and could not be a Christian minister (or even a Christian, period). I could not and would not ask others to be part of the Christian faith if I didn't believe it accurately spoke about life, God, truth, and salvation.

Last Sunday (September 20), I asked the question, "Why believe in Jesus?"  Jesus has been a polarizing figure in history for 2,000 years.  He has received the devotion and worship of millions (likely over a billion people on earth today are Christians), but he is only seen as a great teacher or religious leader by many others, and even as a myth by many, who doubt he ever lived.

There is plenty of evidence that Jesus was a real, historical person.  A number of first century A.D. and later texts - both Christian and non-Christian historical texts - speak of Jesus as a 1st century Jew who lived in Palestine. Josephus is one such historian from the 1st century who mentions Jesus several times, acknowledging him as a religious leader who had many followers.

The Christian movement from the first century on is evidence for Jesus as well; without the historical figure of Jesus (whom his followers believed not only suffered and died on a Roman cross, but was also raised from the dead with a recognizable body), why would these people suffer for their beliefs, and in many cases even suffer death because they would not recant their faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah?

The answer is: their belief in Jesus resurrection - and consequently their own resurrection after death - was so strong a conviction that they were willing to remain faithful to his teachings, and even to suffer loss of reputation, health and life itself. 

Another reason I believe Jesus is, in his own words, "the way, the truth, and the life," is because he himself made these claims about himself, and he never backed away from them. No other teacher or leader of another religion has claimed to be a savior. Many have claimed to be - and have been lauded as - great teachers, but Jesus claimed to be more. He claimed to be sent from God and he claimed to be the Savior of the world. 

Other religious leaders have pointed to the divine.
Jesus alone has claimed to BE divine.

He could not make that kind of a claim without stirring up some questions and some doubts from people.  Jesus definitely stirred people up - and he still does today!  The Pharisees and other Jewish religious leaders of his own day understood exactly what Jesus was claiming for himself, and they plotted to destroy him for his claims. They were convinced that Jesus' claims about himself were blasphemy against their Jewish faith, Torah and traditions.

But many others believed Jesus, including a few of the religious leaders, like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. Why? Because Jesus' teachings resonated in their hearts and minds as truth, but also because he did miraculous things ("signs") which were evidence that he was no mere man; he exhibited power over nature, sickness and even death (Lazarus' death, and later his own death) which created belief in many persons. 

One of the great minds of the 20th century, C.S. Lewis, wrote extensively about the evidence for Jesus as the Son of God and the savior of the world in a number of books, but particularly in Mere Christianity.  Even though baptized as an infant, Lewis became an agnostic in his youth, then became a brilliant professor of medieval literature at Oxford University in England. 

As Lewis wrestled more and more with the claims of Christianity, he finally concluded that the evidence was overwhelming: he became a Christian (around the age of 30), joined the Church of England, and spent the rest of his life defending the faith and writing marvelous books to help others deepen their faith in Christ (including the Chronicles of Narnia series, The Screwtape Letters, and The Space Trilogy).

One often quoted passage from Mere Christianity succinctly makes the argument for Jesus as savior of the world:

       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 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. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and 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 patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher.

       He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. ... Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.

Lewis's words resonate with my mind and with my soul; perhaps they do with yours as well. Many others have written powerful arguments for the Christian faith (these arguments are called 'apologies,' and arguing for the faith is called 'apologetics'). One recent author who comes to mind is Lee Strobel, an agnostic journalist who examined the claims of Christ, eventually became a believer, and wrote the excellent The Case for Christ: A Journalist's Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus. This book has helped many persons examine the claims of Christianity and the struggles and questions that are often raised about faith in Jesus Christ.

I look forward to hearing from you if you have unanswered questions about why we should accept Jesus as the savior of the world.  And remember, no question is too silly or insignificant to ask if you are honestly struggling with it! So please ask, and let's keep the conversation going, and

Stay connected...

Pastor Mike

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