Saturday, December 24, 2005

"Who do you say that I am?"

May I take this opportunity to wish you and yours a happy, healthy and safe Christmas!

Here, without comment, is something I read the other day in an excellent book by Douglas Groothuis contrasting the New Age `Jesus' with the real Jesus.

Jesus of Nazareth. No other name has inspired greater devotion, evoked greater reverence, or ignited greater controversy. ... In a cover story entitled "Who Was Jesus?" Time observed that "if the furor surrounding Scorsese's Last Temptation of Christ proves one thing, it is that in any era, seismic emotions are involved when people probe the nature of the man who is worshiped as God by well over a billion souls." Seismic shocks are seldom absent when deity is debated, and Jesus, whom John's Gospel calls God in the flesh (Jn 1:14), has triggered more intellectual, emotional and social earthquakes than any other historical figure. The evidence of his influence is everywhere, as esteemed historian Jaroslav Pelikan has observed:
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."

Yet the crucial question remains, "Who was Jesus?" ... Jesus himself, according to the canonical Gospels, displayed considerable skill in eliciting the opinion of others toward him.

"When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples: "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets." "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." (Mt 16:13- 16)
Notice how Jesus deftly moved from the general to the personal, beckoning Peter from the opinion poll to the confessional. After one of his frequent "hard sayings" many half-hearted disciples deserted Jesus. He then asked the Twelve, "You do not want to leave too, do you?" And Peter responded, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God" (Jn 6:67-69).


Recent Gallup polls reveal that the large majority of the American public highly esteems Jesus in one way or another, and few, New Age or otherwise, actively oppose him. ... When asked if Jesus was God or just another religious leader like Mohammed or Buddha, seventy per cent affirmed that he was God. When asked, "In your own life, how important is the belief that Christ was fully God and fully human," eighty-one per cent responded that this belief was either "very important" (fifty-eight per cent) or "fairly important" (twenty-three per cent). Some ninety-one per cent believe that Jesus existed as an historical figure. After reviewing an impressive array of statistics regarding Americans' evaluation of Jesus, Gallup concludes that "virtually all Americans are, in some measure, drawn to the person of Christ."

The actual nature of the magnet, however, seems a bit fuzzy in many minds, and so the resulting religiosity is amorphous at best. This ties in with Gallup's further observation of widespread biblical illiteracy: Only forty-two per cent of respondents knew that Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount; only forty-six per cent could name the first four books in the New Testament; and only seventy per cent knew that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. The lack of knowledge also betrays a lack of commitment. Gallup says that despite our religiosity as Americans, "probing more deeply through surveys indicates that even if religion is an important force in our lives it is not the center of our lives. It does not have primacy. Interest may be high, but commitment is often low."

The Jesus of the New Testament is the avowed enemy of all vague religiosity and superficial spirituality. He called for decision, claiming for himself spiritual primacy and ultimacy-like someone who had reality down pat and wasn't afraid to say so. Before commissioning his twelve disciples he instructed them, "Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven" (Mt 10:32-33). In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus proclaimed, "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me" (Mt 5:11). For Jesus discipleship is not a psychological hobby or an interesting social activity, but a radical commitment to serve and obey him-even to the knife-point of persecution. Neither is self- denial optional for Jesus' followers: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Lk 9:23).

In light of the Gospel record Jesus should be an issue of debate, dialog and discussion. He himself was a controversialist, but not in the sense of stirring controversy for controversy's sake. Rather, Jesus engaged in controversy for the sake of truth. As John Stott points out:

He was not "broad minded" in the popular sense that He was prepared to countenance any views on any subject. On the contrary ... He engaged in continuous debate with the religious leaders of His day.... He said that He was the truth (Jn 14:6), that He had come to bear witness to the truth (Jn 18:37), and that the truth would set His followers free (Jn 8:31-32). As a result of His loyalty to the truth, He was not afraid to dissent publicly from official doctrines (if he knew them to be wrong), to expose error, and to warn His disciples of false teachers (Mt 7:15-20; Mk 13:5-6, 21-23; Lk 12:1). He was also extremely outspoken in his language, calling them "blind guides" (Mt 15:14; 23:16, 19, 24, 26), "wolves in sheep's clothing" (Mt 7:15), "whitewashed tombs" (Mt 23:27; Lk 11:44) and even a "brood of vipers" (Mt 12:23; 23:33).
If these records are correct and Jesus is who he said he was, religious neutrality is impossible. Jesus said, "He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters" (Mt 12:30). We must choose sides. "Who do you say that I am?" remains the question of the hour.

(Groothuis D.R., "Revealing the New Age Jesus: Challenges to Orthodox Views of Christ," Inter-Varsity Press: Leicester UK, 1990, pp.9-15)

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
"Problems of Evolution"

"One may not know all sorts of things and be none the worse for it, but if God really lived on earth as a man and said and did the things that the Gospels report, then not to know these sayings and deeds, or to disregard them, is to be missing the one key that is capable of unlocking everything else. That is why it is of supreme importance that the good news must be made available to everyone, whether or not they choose to believe it. The most devastatingly negative judgment must be made of any educational system which insists, as the schools of most nations do now, that students should not be taught the information they need to give an informed answer to the question posed by Jesus: 'Who do you say that I am?'." (Johnson P.E., "The Right Questions: Truth, Meaning & Public Debate," InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove IL, 2002, p.173)

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