I have never been interested in a historical Jesus. I should not care if it were proved by someone that the man Jesus never lived, and that what was narrated in the Gospels were a figment of the writer’s imagination. For the Sermon on the Mount would still be true for me ~ Mahatma Ghandi
I have recently been rereading Bruce Shelley’s Church History in Plain Language. In one of his chapters he makes the observation that many people approach Christianity the way Mahatma Ghandi spoke of the Sermon on the Mount. Shelley writes the following:
“Many people who profess to be Christians . . . approach Christianity just as Ghandi did. They try to separate what Jesus said from who Jesus was. They want to set aside the doctrine of a supernatural Jesus and exalt his ethical teachings. They find the beliefs of historic Christianity an embarrasment. They prefer to stress Christian behavior.”
We have all heard it said that “Jesus was simply a great moral teacher.” Once one considers exactly what Jesus said about himself, however, the idea of being a “great moral teacher” doesn’t seem like the appropriate way to describe him. If Jesus is not the unique Son of God, a better way to describe him, it seems to me, would be delusional. I say this because Jesus did not simply say that his teachings were true (though he did say that), he said HE was the truth (John 14:6).
The idea of separating what Jesus said from who Jesus was is nothing new. This is exactly what the liberals in the early 1900s did. A great critique of the liberal view is Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen. For the liberals, Jesus was an example for faith, but not the object of faith (this is not to suggest that trying to imitate Jesus is a bad thing).
What we must keep in mind is that, as Machen said, “[Jesus] invited confidence by the presentation of His own wonderous Person. Great was the guilt of sin, but Jesus was greater still.” Machen continues: “The Jesus spoken of in the New Testament was no mere teacher of righteousness, no mere pioneer in a new type of religious life, but One who was regarded, and regarded Himself, as the Saviour whom men could trust.”
In a discussion with the Jewish leaders of his day, Jesus asked, “Which one of you convicts me of sin?” (John 8:46). No one responded. He then went on to say, “Before Abraham was, I am,” claiming to be the God who appeared to Moses in Exodus 3:14. The audience clearly understood what Jesus meant, which is why they responded by picking up stones to stone him (John 8:59).
On another occasion Jesus said, “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:22-24). Now, if what Jesus says here is not true, then clearly he has mental issues. He is claiming that the destiny of every person hangs on what they believe about him. Machen’s observation is worth repeating:
What shall be thought of a human being who lapsed so far from the path of humility and sanity as to believe that the eternal destinies of the world were committed into his hands? The truth is that if Jesus be merely an example, He is not a worthy example; for He claimed to be far more. . . . How can a human being who lapsed so far from the path of rectitude as to think Himself to be the judge of all the earth–how can such a human being be regarded as the supreme example for mankind?
Also of interest, as Machen notes, is the fact that Jesus does not believe he is in the category of needing salvation! Jesus “is separated from us even more fundamentally by the absence in Him of a sense of sin. . . . Jesus is represented constantly as dealing with the problem of sin. He always assumes that other men are sinful; yet He never finds sin in Himself.”
It seems to me that either Jesus is who he says he is, or he was completely delusional. I would certainly not put him in the category of a “good moral teacher.” Moral people do not lie; and if Jesus isn’t who he said he was, then he was a liar.