In this third chapter of our Sure. series we come to Jesus. Who is He? How do we know what we know about Him? Why do we believe it to be true? What are the critiques of the Christian belief in Jesus as a historical figure and what are the rational arguments in favor of the orthodox view of Jesus as Lord? In this message Greg explores these questions and others while explaining what it means to “give the reason for the hope that you have”.
In 1 Peter 3:15 we’re instructed to be prepared to share with others why it is we believe in Jesus and the gospel stories. Although emotional connections with the Lord can be vital and important in the life of a believer, in order to explain our faith to the outside world it can be helpful to use other approaches in addition to our own experience. Based on historical research and examining it is clear there is more evidence than just “it feels true” that we should explore.
In many ways the gospels represent the greatest love story ever told, or could be told. The Gospels tell the story of an all holy God becoming one of us, and eventually becoming our sin and taking on our forsakenness in order to restore us to the Father. God crossed an unsurpassable distance becoming antithetical to His being and therefore defined an unsurpassable love toward humanity. As C.S. Lewis stated, Jesus was myth become reality. His life, death, and resurrection answered the greatest questions and longings of the human heart. So, why come to the conclusion His story is historically and psychologically true?
In the mid to late 30’s and early 40’s a movement started by Jesus’ disciples preaching Him as the embodiment of Yahweh crucified and resurrected as a way to save believers from their sins and bring them in to right relatedness with God. Shortly after in the 60’s through the 80’s the four core Gospels were recorded. There was a case for belief in Jesus in these Gospels based on His:
- teaching with unprecedented authority
- performing of miracles and exorcism
- divine claims
- death and resurrection
At this point there would have been (and still is) two main options. Either the story is true or false. If someone’s answer is false, then the option further breaks down in to two key conclusions. Either (1) the story is intentionally false and the disciples were lying, or (2) the story is unintentionally false and the story was a legend.
When looking at the lie hypothesis, Greg gave 4 key considerations as to why it would be going against the evidence to conclude the story was a lie:
- What possible motive would the disciples have had to lie? They didn’t benefit from it at all; in fact they and their families were killed in horrendous ways for their beliefs. They knew ahead of time they were going to suffer & had nothing to gain from lying.
- Early critics never accused disciples of being insincere. They never accused them of making it up. The early Jewish critics never even denied His miracles; they just claimed He was doing them under trickery or power of the Devil.
- How could they have pulled off a lie of this magnitude? It would have been easy to disprove given Paul’s writings and the Gospels were all released in the same vicinity as the events, with very public names and places listed, and with some of the same people still living that would have been effected by stories.
- Lastly, there aren’t any records of any of the early followers cracking under pressure to reveal some secret lie. Nero tortured and killed many early Christians in terrible ways and none of them ever cracked to reveal any hidden lies.
Additionally, when considering the possibility of the Gospels as legend, Greg gave 6 considerations against this conclusion as well:
- 1st century Palestinian Judaism was not at all conducive environment for legend making. They were very skeptical to legends given all the pagan cultures around them, and would have been especially sensitive and outraged about a claim of man being God.
- If 1st century Palestinian Jew would have made up a legend it wouldn’t have sounded like the Gospels. Legends are generally to stabilize and give a culture a hero. Jesus was a cursed and crucified Messiah. He made divine claims of His authority and was worshipped by His followers. This would have been heresy in their culture. Also, no Jews believed in individual resurrection before end of age.
- There is not enough time to develop a legend. For example Buddhism took 500 years to develop him as “a” god. In contrast in 20-50 years after Jesus’ death Paul and other Gospel writers were referring to Jesus as “the” God.
- The Gospels claim to write history and read like sober history. A historical document is usually assumed true unless reason to believe otherwise. In contrast, because the Gospels contain miracles they are assumed untrue unless proven true.
- The Gospels give evidence of being written early. In many cases names of people still living at the time of their writing, and also very public names of politicians and leaders are used in the writing. If it was a legend, these claims could have very easily been disproven.
- The Gospels give every indication of being based on eye witness accounts. There is a lot of superfluous detail (e.g. John 20:1-8) and unexplained detail (e.g. Jesus’ head linens rolled up in tomb, 2k swing jumping off cliff, Mary Magdalene not being able to touch Jesus, etc) in the Gospels. A legend is very tidy and explains everything. This is not what we find in Gospels. Additionally in the Gospels there are many counterproductive details which are aren’t usually present in legends.
So the question we come to given the evidence presented is which option is more reasonable? If the story is true, then it changes everything for us. This becomes the single most important fact in human history. The love we long for is actually rooted in history, and Jesus becomes the center, the reason, and fulfillment of everything. It takes faith to believe either way, but Greg’s argument is that believing Jesus is Lord goes slightly beyond the evidence we have whereas believing it all a lie or legend actually goes against the evidence we have.
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