Lord, Liar, or Lunatic?
Who is Jesus of Nazareth?
An excerpt from Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell and Bill Wilson:
Throughout history, people have given a variety of answers to the question, “Who is Jesus of Nazareth?” Whatever their answer, no one can escape the fact that Jesus really lived and that His life radically altered human history forever. The world-renowned historian Jaroslav Pelikan makes this clear: “Regardless of what anyone may personally think or believe about him, Jesus of Nazareth has been the dominant figure in the history of Western culture for almost twenty centuries. If it were possible, with some sort of supermagnet, to pull up out of that history every scrap of metal bearing at least a trace of his name, how much would be left? It is from his birth that most of the human race dates its calendars, it is by his name that millions curse and in his name that millions pray.”
How influential has Jesus been? In their book, What if Jesus Had Never Been Born?, Dr. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe attempt to answer this question, at least partially. They begin with the assumption that the church—the body of Christ—is Jesus’ primary legacy to the world. Then they examine what has happened in history that displays the influence of the church. Here are “a few highlights” they cite:
. Hospitals, which essentially began during the Middle Ages.
. Universities, which also began during the Middle Ages. In addition, most of the world’s greatest universities were started by Christians for Christian purposes.
. Literacy and education of the masses.
. Representative government, particularly as it has been seen in the American experiment.
. The separation of political powers.
. Civil liberties.
. The abolition of slavery, both in antiquity and in modern times.
. Modern science.
. The discovery of the New World by Columbus.
. Benevolence and charity; the Good Samaritan ethic.
. Higher standards of justice.
. The elevation of the common man.
. The high regard for human life.
. The civilizing of many barbarian and primitive cultures.
. The codifying and setting to writing of many of the world’s languages.
. The greater development of art and music. The inspiration for the greatest works of art.
. The countless changed lives transformed from liabilities into assets to society because of the gospel.
. The eternal salvation of countless souls!(Kennedy, WIJ, 3,4)
Anyone who has studied church history knows that the church has had its share of leaders and sects who have abused the lofty ideals established by Jesus and brought shame to His name. Often it has been those of one sect or within recognized Christendom who have propagated policies and practices completely at odds with the love of Christ. The persecutions of one supposedly Christian body against another stand as a sad example. And too often the church has lagged behind when some in the secular arena have advanced needed change. Civil rights for African Americans is one such example, although it must be added that the Christian faith was one of the primary motivations of the giants, the champions of racial freedom, such as Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr.
On balance, it is the followers of Jesus who have taken the great sacrificing steps to lift others out of the dregs of life. Jesus of Nazareth has been transforming lives for almost two millennia, and in the process He has been rewriting the progress and outcome of human history.
Some people believe Jesus is God because they believe the Bible is inspired by God, and since it teaches that Jesus is God, well then He must be God. Now even though I too believe that the Bible is the wholly inspired word of God, I do not think one needs to hold that belief in order to arrive at the conclusion that Jesus is God. Here’s why:
We have already seen that the New Testament books are historically accurate and reliable; so reliable, in fact, that Jesus cannot be dismissed as a mere legend.
The Gospel accounts preserve an accurate record of the things He did, the places He visited, and the words He spoke. And Jesus definitely claimed to be God. (See Mark 14:61-64 and John 19:7)
So every person must answer the question: Is His claim to deity true or false? This question deserves a most serious consideration.
In the first century, when people were giving a number of answers about Jesus’ identity, Jesus asked His disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” to which Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:15,16)
Not everyone accepts Peter’s answer, but no one should avoid Jesus’ question.
Jesus’ claim to be God must be either true or false. If Jesus’ claims are true, then He is the Lord, and we must either accept or reject His lordship. We are ”without excuse.”
Was He a Liar?
If, when Jesus made His claims, He knew He was not God, then He was lying. But if He was a liar, then He was also a hypocrite, because He told others to be honest, whatever the cost, while He, at the same time, was teaching and living a colossal lie.
More than that, He was a demon, because He deliberately told others to trust Him for their eternal destiny. If He could not back up His claims and knew they were false then He was unspeakably evil.
Last, He would also be a fool, because it was His claims to deity that led to His crucifixion.
If Jesus was a liar, a con man, and therefore an evil, foolish man, then how can we explain the fact that He left us with the most profound moral instruction and powerful moral example that anyone ever has left” Could a deceiver – an imposter of monstrous proportions– teach such unselfish ethical truths and live such a morally exemplary life as Jesus did? The very notion is incredulous.
Was He a Lunatic?
If it is inconceivable for Jesus to have been a liar, then could He have thought He was God but have been mistaken? After all, it is possible to be both sincere and wrong.
But we must remember that for someone to think He was God, especially in a culture that was fiercely monotheistic, and then to tell others that their eternal destiny depends on believing in him, was no slight flight of fantasy but the thoughts of a lunatic in the fullest sense. Was Jesus Christ such a person?
Christian philosopher Peter Kreeft presents this option, then shows why we must reject it.
A measure of your insanity is the size of the gap between what you think you are and what you really are. If I think I am the greatest philosopher in America, I am only an arrogant fool; if I think I am Napoleon, I am probably over the edge; if I think I am a butterfly, I am fully embarked from the sunny shores of sanity. But if I think I am God, I am even more insane because the gap between anything finite and the infinite God is even greater than the gap between any two finite things, even a man and a butterfly.
Well then, why (was not Jesus a) liar or lunatic? ……(A)lmost no one who has read the Gospels can honestly and seriously consider that option.
The savviness, the canniness, the human wisdom, the attractiveness of Jesus emerge from the Gospels with unavoidable force to any but the most hardened and prejudiced reader……Compare Jesus with liars……or lunatics like the dying Nietzsche. Jesus has in abundance precisely those three qualities that liars and lunatics most conspicuously lack; (1) his practical wisdom, his ability to read human hearts; (2) his deep and winning love, his passionate compassion, his ability to attract people and make them feel at home and forgiven, his authority, “not as the scribes”; (3) his ability to astonish, his unpredictability, his creativity. Liars and lunatics are all so dull and predictable! No one who knows both the Gospels and human beings can seriously entertain the possibility that Jesus was a liar or a lunatic, a bad man. (Kreeft, FOTF, 60,61)
He is Lord!
If Jesus of Nazareth is not a liar or a lunatic, then He must be Lord.
. “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Peter proclaimed. (Matt. 16:18)
. “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world,” confessed Martha of Bethany, Lazarus’ sister (John 11:27)
. “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed after seeing the resurrected Jesus standing before him (John 20:28)
. “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” Mark wrote as the opening line of the New Testament book bearing his name (Mark 1:1)
. “He (Jesus) is the radiance of His (God’s) glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power, “ stated the author of Hebrews (Heb.1:3)
Who you decide Jesus Christ is must not be an idle intellectual exercise. You cannot put Him on the shelf as a great moral teacher. That is not a valid option. He is either a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord. You must make a choice.
If your heart is burning within you and you want to acknowledge Jesus as Lord, not only of the universe, but of your heart and life, pray this prayer now:
I acknowledge you as Lord and ask that you would save me and come live with me as Lord of my life. I repent for attempting to live my life without you and look forward to getting to know you more and more everyday for the rest of my life. AMEN!
If you prayed that prayer please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can support you and encourage you in your new life god has given you. may god richly bless you!
McDowell, J., & Wilson, B. (1979). Evidence that demands a verdict: historical evidences for the Christian faith. Nashville, TN: T. Nelson.
Kreeft, FOTF, 60,61