I have never made religious affiliation or belief in God a prerequisite for friendship. So, throughout my life I have had some very good friends who believe very differently than I do. (Some of my atheist, agnostic or anti-Christianity friends may be reading this blog and I want you to know that I love you and value your opinions.)
I remember an ongoing discussion that lasted several months with a co-worker who claimed to be an atheist. Despite our different beliefs, we enjoyed each other’s company. I think part of the attraction was that we agreed at the outset that we would not hold back our personal opinions while still valuing the other person. This gave us the freedom to ask each other questions about our beliefs (or lack thereof) and gain a glimpse into the worldview of the “opposition.”
My love for that friend compelled me to always try to refocus our religion and ethics conversations on Jesus. I asked him the question that Jesus asked His disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:13-20). According to my friend, Jesus was a historical figure but was no greater than any figure of historical significance, like Gandhi or Freud. His thoughts about Jesus caused me to take a closer look at Jesus and so, for the next few posts, I would like to share with you some of my findings and ask you to consider the question: “Who do you think Jesus is?”
The line of reasoning that I took with my friend was that even if you don’t believe that Jesus is the Messiah, or the Savior, or God in human flesh…you must concede that Jesus is a historical figure of inestimable significance for (at least) the following reasons.
- His birth: It is a historical fact that Jesus was a direct descendant of King David and would have been in line for the throne of Israel if David’s dynasty was still in place (Luke 3:23-38). This may not seem like a big deal on the surface but it proves that Jesus was royalty which does set his birth apart from many others. Add to this the fact that shepherds believed that angels appeared to them to testify that Jesus was the Savior and kings (wise men) believed that a star led them to worship Him. Even King Herod, the local despot, believed this birth was important enough to kill every Hebrew male child in that region, from newborn to 2 years old, in an attempt to kill Jesus. It is difficult from history to find a birth that has more peculiar recorded events surrounding it. Not to mention the fact that we still keep track of history in relation to the birth of Jesus.
- When Jesus was 14 years old, he was smart enough intellectually and solid enough spiritually to hold his own with the religious leaders and lawyers in the Jewish temple. Again, this by itself does not seem like much but it does show his amazing intellect even in his youth.
- Jesus’ ministry was marked by miracles. Even if you don’t believe the miracles actually happened (which my friend did not), the fact is that many people at the time did believe it and Jesus’ opposition was never able to negate it.
- Jesus’ teaching was and is transformational. Jesus did not record his teachings for us although his teachings were recorded by others. These teachings were so transformational that they sparked a movement that has grown from 12 mostly unimpressive men to 2.2 billion adherents in a world population of 7 billion.
- A major part of the world, celebrates Jesus’ birth as the largest holiday in the world (Christmas).
- The book based on his life and teaching (The Holy Bible) is the all-time best seller of the world with no other holy book or sacred writings even coming close.
- Today, Jesus is worshipped in multitudes of languages on every continent, by young and old, men and women, Jew and Gentile!
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Much more can be said about Jesus and I will say more in the posts that will follow. Today I merely wanted to point to the fact that the import and impact of Jesus upon humanity and history makes it necessary for people to grapple with who he is.
This first century Jewish rabbi came from relatively poor parents, was never trained as a religious leader, never travelled very far from his home town and never wrote his teachings down. Yet, two thousand years later, his life and teachings have shaped the course of history and impacted kings, kingdoms, peasants, politicians and presidents. You may agree or disagree with this post but you must ultimately answer the question for yourself, “Who do you think Jesus is?”