Most of the world seems to have an opinion about Jesus Christ. Those who aren’t Christians often view him as a good man, a great teacher or even a prophet. What is remarkable, however is that clearly, Jesus did not view Himself primarily in these ways, nor is it how He is portrayed in the Bible. In other words, what most of the world thinks about Jesus is not what Jesus thinks about Himself. These opinions about Jesus are not supported by the only records we have of his life and teaching.
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Matthew #24 . Matthew 7:28-29
When Jesus finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed by his teaching, because he taught them like one who had authority, not like their experts in the law. (Matt 7:28-29, NET)
I want to return again this week to Matthew 7:13-29. We looked in detail at some of the teachings of Jesus. But there is an underlying assumption in His words that we just barely touched upon. Let me set it up, and then we’ll take look at what he said.
Most of the world seems to have an opinion about Jesus Christ. Many Jewish people, even today, view Jesus as a Rabbi – a good teacher. Islamic people consider him a prophet. Hindus and Buddhists view him as a good moral man. Mormons and Jehovah’s witnesses have more complicated and strange views, but both of those religions also have something to say about Jesus. Even many atheists today view Jesus as a good moral teacher. Some people think of him as an admirable revolutionary. Even people who call themselves Christians often seem to think of Jesus mostly as a teacher and a great moral example for us.
What is remarkable about all of this is that clearly, Jesus did not view Himself primarily in these ways, nor is it how He is portrayed in the Bible. In other words, what most of the world thinks about Jesus is not what Jesus thinks about Himself. What most of the world believes about Jesus is not supported by the only records we have of his life and teaching.
In this passage, Jesus says that the gate and road which lead to life are narrow. John records that he said “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me.” The Greek word that Matthew uses for “road” is the same word John uses for “way.” In other words, Jesus explicitly claims to be the only way, the narrow road.
Back up now. These are not the words of a great moral teacher. The truth is, Jesus is not a good teacher unless his teaching is accurate and righteous. He is not a good moral person unless he tells the truth. And what he said about Himself is not that he was a moral man, or a prophet or a good teacher. He said he was the only way of salvation.
There have been a few people from time to time who have said that they appreciate my biblical teaching. Some people have even said I’m a good teacher. I’m grateful to hear that. But imagine if I started saying things like this:
On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name? ’ Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers!’
Would I still be a good teacher if I said that? I would be implying that I will be in charge of your eternal destiny on judgment day. I would be implying that I deserve the title “Lord.” I would be implying that people will (and should) do miracles in the name of Tom Hilpert. That sort of thing does not make me a good teacher, or a moral man. Quite the opposite. That sort of talk would make me either insane, or an evil cult leader, or both.
You see, what Jesus said and implied about himself was very startling, and very controversial. If what he said about himself was not true, then it would be ridiculous to call him a good teacher.
Let’s review a few more things he said in the “sermon on the mount”:
“The poor in spirit are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. (Matthew 5:2)” Wait a minute now. Who has the right say “the kingdom of heaven is theirs”? Jesus presumes that He has the authority to say to whom the kingdom will belong. That’s not good moral teaching. If He doesn’t have the authority to say it, it is mere arrogance and conceit.
How about this one: “If you are persecuted for my sake, you will have a great reward in heaven” (paraphrase of Matthew 5:11-12). Think on that again. To see how startling it is, imagine you said such a thing. All throughout this “great moral teaching,” Jesus assumes that He himself is the key to goodness, life and the kingdom of heaven. Who is He to say that what is inside someone’s heart (for instance, lust or hatred) is a sin? Who is He to say which person will receive a heavenly reward and which won’t?
Who is He indeed? That is the central question for every person on earth.
As I mentioned, Jesus says that on the last day, many will come to him and say “Lord, Lord…” This title of Lord is very significant. When God called Moses to lead the people out of Egypt, Moses essentially said “Who is talking to me?” God told Moses that his name is YHWH. There are no vowels in Hebrew, but it is generally pronounced “Yahweh.” This is God’s personal name, the name by which He interacts with His people throughout the Old Testament. After God instructed the Hebrew people not to take his name in vain, they began to pronounce it differently, incorporating the title “The Lord” into God’s name. (Incidentally, the result of that is the pronunciation “Jehovah.”) Many English translations today put “THE LORD” in where the Hebrew says “YHWH” because that reflects the Hebrew practice. The Greek translation of the Old Testament, finished two-hundred years before the time of Jesus, uses “kyrios” (“Lord”) for this personal name of God. Although “kyrios” can also mean “sir” or “person in authority” it is most definitely used for God’s personal name.
To sum it all up, when Jesus calls himself “Lord” (kyrios) he is claiming the name of God for himself. When the disciples call him Lord, they are doing the same thing. The phrase “Jesus is Lord” means exactly: “Jesus is Yahweh,” or “Jesus is Jehovah.”
Matthew uses the word “Lord” (kyrios) 73 times. Once, it refers to someone speaking with respect to Pontius Pilate. The other 73 times it refers to either the God of the Old Testament, or Jesus. [Sometimes it is used in parables told by Jesus, but in each case, the figure in the parable with that title represents Jesus or the Father].
So what it comes down to is this: Jesus claimed to God Himself, the personal God of the Old Testament. When we look closely at the sermon on the mount, we see that underneath all of His teachings is the presumption that this is true. We will see that presumption lies underneath everything Jesus ever said.
If Jesus isn’t who he claimed to be, in fact, the Lord, he’s either a liar, or a lunatic. What he most definitely cannot be is a just a moral man, prophet or a good teacher. C.S. Lewis put it like this:
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 a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell.
Just to encourage our faith, let’s consider these two other alternatives. Was Jesus a liar? Was he just pretending to be divine? People have reasons for the things they do. So what convincing reason would Jesus have to pretend to be God, even when he knew he was not? To ask it another way, what did he get out of it?
Cult leaders in this day and age often collect women for themselves and father children with dozens of their followers. They keep their followers insulated from the world around them, and set themselves up in opposition to the powers that be. So they gain sex and power over others from their lies. Many cult leaders also amass wealth, usually by getting their followers to turn over their assets to them.
Jesus did nothing like this. He did not marry even one woman. He did not gain power or wealth. He wasn’t even in charge of the finances of his little group, and there is no record of him asking anyone for money, though he did tell one person to give money to the poor (not to himself). He didn’t isolate his followers from the world around them.
Jesus turned away potential followers by the hundreds. He told many people not to speak of his miracles. He slipped away from a crowd that was ready to call him King and follow him (John 6:15). Even at his death, he continued to act as if he believed he was God (John 18:36; Luke 23:39-43). Surely, if he was deliberately lying he would have given it up before they killed him. To put it simply, from a human perspective, speaking and acting like he was God did not benefit Jesus in any discernible way. It is simply not realistic to suppose that Jesus deliberately lied when he claimed to be God. Everything he gained by pretending to be God, he gained in eternity, not this life. In other words, if it wasn’t true, he got nothing for his deception. Such a person would be utterly pathetic and pointless. But Jesus clearly acted like a man on a mission. There is nothing pathetic about him.
The second of the three alternatives is that Jesus was insane, that he truly believed he was God, but was not. We have evaluated his behavior as a liar, and found it is simply not plausible. So let me ask this. Does Jesus act like a crazy man?
Bear in mind, we aren’t talking about being “mildly unbalanced.” Consider this analogy. If I think I am the greatest writer of my generation, I am arrogant, and out of touch with reality, but it’s likely that I can still communicate lucidly, and get around in life just fine. I might need to be taken down a peg or two, but I don’t need to be institutionalized. However, if I think I am the 19th century author Charles Dickens, that is much more removed from reality. People speaking with me would leave with the impression that there is something seriously wrong with me, and I would need significant medical intervention. Now, suppose I think I am a skunk, and I behave accordingly. I am so far removed from reality that I won’t even communicate effectively. I would be, to put it clinically, “bonkers.”
A man truly thinking he is the God of the Old Testament God is not just someone with an inflated ego. It is an even bigger break from reality than a man who thinks he is a skunk. If Jesus was wrong, he wasn’t just a few sandwiches short of a picnic – he was short the basket, the blanket and the entire outdoors.
If Jesus believed he was the Lord, and he was mistaken, his words would be the ravings of a lunatic. So I put it to you – does he sound like that to you? Does he come across like a man who thinks he is a skunk, or even a man who thinks he is a celebrity from a previous century? Are his words and ideas nonsensical?
I think anyone who has read the gospels knows that Jesus doesn’t sound or act like a lunatic. On the contrary, he seems to have a very clear grasp on human nature. His parables reveal an incisive awareness of the world around him, and how other people think and behave. He exhibits compassion and humor and even appropriate anger. Though he didn’t try to gather a large group of followers, certainly many people were drawn to him. Can you imagine large crowds following someone today who claimed to be Charles Dickens? How about someone who acted like a skunk? No, I don’t see this as a plausible alternative either.
The finally possibility – the only remaining reasonable alternative – is that Jesus is indeed Who and What He claimed to be, that is, the Lord. He was not a great teacher unless what he said is true. He was not a moral person unless his claim to be God is true. If he was a liar, he was surely the most pathetic and pointless figure in history. If he was crazy, then we are all skunks.
I bring all this up for three main reasons. First, I want to encourage you in your faith. There are many opinions about Jesus. That in and of itself should be a clue. Almost no one can manage to ignore Him. And we find out that that what Jesus says about Himself turns out to be the most reasonable and reliable alternative, though it is also undoubtedly the most remarkable one. Faith is still required. We cannot see Jesus in our day and age, but he still asks us to trust him. But perhaps the leap is not quite as far as you had thought. All things considered, it certainly sounds like Jesus was who He claimed to be.
Second, I think these things are good for us to know when we talk with others about Jesus. Again, faith is required, but reasonable investigations suggests that what we believe is quite likely to be true. It may be helpful for some of your friends, neighbors and co-workers to have the information in this sermon. It may help someone to decide to make that leap of faith. Because in the end, only two opinions about Jesus matter – His own opinion about Himself, and yours about Him. According to Jesus, eternity hinges upon those two things.
Third, I bring this up because I want make sure that in all the details and teachings, we don’t lose sight of Jesus Himself. The gospel message is about our salvation, yes. But more than that, it is about Jesus. Jesus is the focal point of all history and all creation. Our faith isn’t about ourselves, it is about Jesus Christ. Sometimes I get wrapped up in myself and how God can work in my life. But I think God prefers that I get wrapped up in Jesus, and how I fit in to His life. I need to be reminded to take my focus off myself, and put it on Jesus. The writer of Hebrews puts it this way:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus. That is the way to avoid growing weary, and losing heart. Why don’t we put that into practice right now?
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