If you are new to Christianity, don’t know much about it, or are a committed skeptic about the validity of Christianity, you are so welcome to join us at any of our Sunday gatherings. We invite you to come and observe our worship, listen to the proclamation of the Word and interact with the people of Hope. We want you to know that this is a safe place to ask your questions and examine the claims of Jesus Christ as you give consideration to Christianity. The Bible instructs us to…
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 1 Peter 3:15.
It is our contention that God can defend Himself and the Bible has good credibility. We don’t have answers to every question, but we will appreciate the opportunity to hear your story, listen to your heart and hope that we can understand each other better.
Is Jesus the Son of God?
One way to look at that question is to ask if the Bible ever makes the claim that Jesus is the Son of God.
Consider the following:
- Mark says it at the outset of his gospel (Mark1:1)
- The angel told Mary her child would be the Son of God (Luke 1:35)
- John the Baptist said the same thing (John 1:34)
- Nathanael said it (John 1:49)
- Martha believed it (John 11:27)
- The centurion said so (Matthew 27:54)
- Jesus claimed that He said so (John 10:36)
- Jesus clearly implies it (John 11:4)
- The demons called Jesus the Son of God (Matthew 8:29; Luke 4:41; Mark 3:11)
- The charge against Jesus was that He claimed to be the Son of God (Matthew 27:43; John 19:7), a claim He never denied, and virtually admitted to be true (Luke 22:70)
- The Gospel of John was written to convince the reader that Jesus was the Son of God (John 20:31)
Why, you might ask, does Jesus not say so plainly? I think the answer is found in Matthew 16:15-17:
He said to them, “And who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “You are blessed, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven!” (Matthew 16:15-17).
Jesus did not want Peter and His disciples to believe He was the Son of God just because He said so. He wanted God to bring them to this conclusion, based upon the overwhelming evidence of Scripture and our Lord’s life and teaching.
Did Jesus Ever Claim to be God?
Not with the words, “I am God,” but with words that communicated to his audience in a way that was clear and compelling. In the following passage, Jesus is confronted by the religious leadership in response to what appears to be a simple teaching: "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one." Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, "I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?"
The response of the religious leaders indicates the claim that Jesus made:
"We are not stoning you for any of these," replied the Jews, "but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God." John 10:27-33 (NIV, emphasis mine)
You will need to respond to the claims of Jesus Christ.
The claim to be God is simply too significant to ignore or dismiss.
Consider the following from C.S. Lewis:
“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 patronizing 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.” Mere Christianity, p54-56
Is Jesus the Only Way to God?
It is sometimes suggested that Christians are narrow-minded and intolerant when, in a world full of religions, they tell people that Jesus is the only way to God. There is another way to look at this entire issue. Let’s frame the question this way: Does Jesus have the qualifications to declare the way to God? This is not just about how people get into heaven; it relates to the authority of Jesus. Does Jesus have the authority to tell us the way to God? Yes. The authority of Jesus is simply this:
- He came from God
- He entered the experience of death
- He came back from the dead
- He offers to take us to be with Him in the presence of God
Years ago, a tragedy occurred in California. A semi-religious group known as Heaven’s Gate committed mass suicide. The people followed the leader who said they could pass from this life to a better one. Essentially, he claimed to know a way. Jesus’ claim to be the way has much, much, much greater integrity. Jesus is able to say, in essence, I came from there and I am going there and then I will come back and take you to be with me. As the way, Jesus goes first. We can take this a step further. Not only does Jesus have the authority to give life, He has the power to give life as well. Staying within the gospel of John, here are seven signs – miracles – that are recorded as evidence of the inherent power of Jesus:
- Changing water into wine at Cana in John 2:1-11
- Healing the royal official's son in Capernaum in John 4:46-54
- Healing the paralytic at Bethesda in John 5:1-15
- Feeding the 5000 in John 6:5-14
- Jesus walking on water in John 6:16-24
- Healing the man blind from birth in John 9:1-7
- The raising of Lazarus in John 11:1-45
Jesus has both the power and the authority to promise and deliver eternal life to those who come to Him. All other competitors should be asked if they have better qualifications than Jesus.
Claims of Christ
Fortunately for the skeptic, Jesus made claims that were emphatic and extreme. These claims give us a chance to evaluate Jesus simply and clearly. Even though Jesus lived over 2000 years ago, His credibility can still be examined today by giving consideration to His claims.
For instance, let’s consider these two claims made by Jesus:
I am the way, the truth and the life.” John 14:6
I am the resurrection and the life.” John 11:25
These claims are both emphatic and extreme. They are emphatic in that they point only to Jesus. They are extreme in that they can only be totally true or totally false. These claims cannot be partially true and partially false. It’s either all or nothing.
Jesus did not say that He can ask God for life.
Jesus did not say that He knows the way to life.
Jesus did say, “I AM the life", John 14:6. Then He also said, “I AM the resurrection and the life”, John 11:25.
Jesus claimed to have resurrection power. “I am the resurrection.” That’s a huge claim but then Jesus surpasses that with another claim. “I am the resurrection and the life.” Jesus claimed to be BOTH, the resurrection AND the life.
Jesus did NOT say that He will bring about the resurrection or that He will cause the resurrection. Jesus claimed to BE the resurrection. In making this claim, Jesus clearly points to Himself as the one who gives resurrection power to those who believe in Him:
"I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies." (John 11:25)
Not…believe anything you want. Not…doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere. Believe in me. Jesus eliminated all other options for the recipients of His resurrection power.
This is what’s so great about Jesus. He could look at people and know – some of you are going to hate me; some of you are going to crucify me; some of you are going to believe me – but for all of you, I am going to tell you the truth.
A simple application of logic can help you to evaluate these claims:
If Jesus made these claims and they were NOT true and He knew they were not true, He was a deceiver.
If Jesus made these claims and they were NOT true without knowing they weren’t true, He was deceived.
If Jesus made these claims and He was accurate, He is deity.
What you cannot do is hold to the position that Jesus was a good religious teacher.
Jesus is not a good religious teacher if He was a deceiver. That would make Him liar.
Jesus is not a good religious teacher if He was deceived about His identity. That would make Him a lunatic. It’s simply not logical to say He’s a good man.
Jesus is only good if He is exactly who He claimed to be.
With the ability of resurrection and life, Jesus would have to be deity. That would make Him Lord.
When examining the claims of Christ, your only options are Liar, Lunatic, Lord.
Can We Trust the Bible?
Jesus trusted the Bible. Perhaps that’s the best reason of all to trust the Bible. Jesus openly and willingly trusted the Bible. The Old Testament authors declared that they spoke the very words of God (Exodus 20:1–4; Deuteronomy 8:3; Isaiah 1:2; Jeremiah 1:1–13) and Jesus accepted that. If ever there was a chance to say the Bible is an old outdated book, Jesus could have said that about the Old Testament when He was here; but instead, He affirmed the Scriptures. In fact, Jesus trusted the Bible so much that it cost Him His life. When the soldiers came to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, He saw them coming. Due to the lay of the land and the fact that it was at night, Jesus had maybe 5 -10 minutes lead time. If Jesus wanted to get away, He could have done so easily. Jesus chose to stay and allow Himself to be arrested knowing the horrific events of the crucifixion were soon at hand. He gave one reason:
"Am I leading a rebellion," said Jesus, "that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled." Mark 14:48-49
We can add to that mounds of empirical evidence that points to the veracity of Scripture, but here’s just one. The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947. Among these well-preserved scrolls were fragments of Scripture and an almost complete copy of the book of Isaiah. What the Dead Sea Scrolls did for us was verify the accuracy of the transmission of Scripture. In other words, we claim that Scripture was free from error as it was originally given. Ok, but what about the copies of Scripture, or the transmission of Scripture down through the ages. Are the copies good? Is what we have in the English Bible what God wanted us to have?
Yes. The Dead Sea Scrolls imposed upon us a verification of one thousand years of copying Scripture! Before 1947, the oldest Hebrew manuscript dated to AD 900. But with the discovery of 223 manuscripts in caves on the west side of the Dead Sea, we came into possession of Old Testament manuscripts dated by paleographers to around 125 BC. These scrolls were a thousand years older than any previously known manuscripts. 77 FAQs About God and The Bible, p156
Is There Evidence of Jesus Outside of the Bible?
Yes. Not only is there evidence of Jesus outside of the Bible, but some of that evidence comes from hostile sources. These are individuals or groups of people who were not writing to corroborate the historicity of Jesus but to demean the followers of Jesus. Their remarks serve as non-biblical corroboration of the veracity of Scripture. For example...
Josephus, Jewish historian, AD 37-100, described Jesus in his work, The Antiquities of the Jews.
“At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. His conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.”
Tacitus, Roman historian, AD 56-117, referred to Jesus and to Christians in his work, Annals. From a section in which he described Emporer Nero’s response to the great fire in Rome:
“Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the and of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moments, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.”
As we compile the description from the ancient writers outside of the Bible, we find a description of Jesus that matches the Biblical record. Josephus, Tacitus, Thallus, Phlegon and Mara Bar-Serapion mention these things about Jesus:
- He lived in Judea
- A virtuous man
- Had wondrous power
- Could predict the future
- Was the “Wise King” of the Jews
- Accused by Jewish leaders
- Crucified by Pilate
- During reign of Tiberius
- Darkness and earthquake at his death
- Reportedly raised from the dead
- Believed to be the Messiah
- Called the Christ
- Followers called Christian
- A “superstition” about him spread
For further reading: Cold-Case Christianity, J. Warner Wallace
What is the Gospel?
The Gospel in Four Words:
The gospel begins in the heart of God. The Bible tells us that God loved the world and demonstrated His great love by addressing our need.
God is holy and we are not. That’s a problem. God in His perfect holiness must always respond to sin with judgment and removal. This means we have a predicament that we cannot solve on our own. Fortunately for us, God loves us and chose to intervene on our behalf.
God sent Jesus to be a sinless Savior who did not share our predicament. Jesus stepped in and took the judgment of sin that was due to us. The death of Jesus Christ on the cross is a substitutionary sacrifice for all sins for all time. The crucifixion of Jesus is the heart of the gospel. His resurrection is the power of the gospel. His ascension is the glory of the gospel.
God has made an offer to people. Some will accept that offer. Some will reject. God’s offer to us is free, but it’s not automatic. Forgiveness, salvation and eternal life are free because they come at the expense of Jesus. They are not automatic in that we need to admit to God that we are sinners and ask Him for the gift of life through Jesus. At the heart of all sound doctrine is the cross of Jesus Christ and the amazing privilege that redeemed sinners have in glorifying God because of what He has accomplished. Therefore, we want all that takes place in our lives and in our Church to proceed from and be related to the gospel.
“For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 (HCSB)
GOD - PEOPLE - JESUS - RESPONSE
Are the Gospels Legends?
Is it possible that the New Testament stories are something similar to our “urban legends” of today? How do we know the four gospels in the Bible are reliable? There are a number of reasons why it is reasonable to embrace the gospels as credible. I’ll just give you one in this post:
The timing of the events of the life of Jesus and the writings about the life of Jesus. The time gap is the crucial element. Timing is everything.
There simply wasn’t enough time for legends about Jesus to have developed and been included in the New Testament documents. The source documents for Jesus’ life are very close in time to the life of Jesus. Consider this:
Paul’s Letters: 48-66AD
The Four Gospels: 50-70AD
Josephus, Jewish Historian: 75-94AD
Tacitus, Roman Historian: 98-117AD
The gospels were written about real people who actually lived, real events that actually occurred, and real places that actually existed. When the gospels were first circulated, there were people who could have refuted these writings as spurious because of personal names, events or places that were named in those writings. It has been suggested that stories about Jesus were passed on through the generations and ultimately, fact became fiction. Interesting theory. However, the timeline doesn’t support this.
There is simply not enough time between the death of Jesus and the writings of the gospels for legends to have made their way into a specific community.
The most crucial aspect of time is not the gap between the evidence and today.
The most crucial aspect of time is the gap between the evidence and the event.
Evidence is not bad just because it’s old. If the gap between the evidence and the event is short, then it doesn’t matter how long ago the event occurred. The evidence is still good.