“What are they saying about me?” It’s a question we’re all preoccupied with, isn’t it? Even Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do men say that I am?” (Mark 8:27). Apparently, he was curious to know what people were saying about him. His disciples told him that people thought he was another prophet in the long line of prophets sent by YHWH (God).
That’s what a lot of people have been saying ever since. They don’t use quite the same language, but they essentially mean the same thing. They say things like, “He’s a good man,” or, “He’s a great moral teacher,” or something akin to that.
But all this talk about Jesus being a good moral teacher doesn’t square with the way the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) portray him. Take, for instance, this passage from the Gospel of Mark: “[The disciples] were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid” (Mark 10:32). “Amazed and afraid” aren’t words I’d use to describe a good moral teacher. How about you?
There’s something troubling, dangerous, and subversive about this man, Jesus of Nazareth. He’s unlike any other religious leader in history. He makes claims that no other teacher has ever made. And, in one sense, he is completely unqualified to make these statements about himself.
For instance, Jesus grew up in obscurity. He came from an obscure part of the world—from Bethlehem in Judea. Apart from the astonishing events surrounding his birth, and a brief glimpse into his adolescence (Matthew 1:18-2:23; Luke 1:26-38, 2:1-52), we know almost nothing about his first thirty years. He was not given formal religious training to be a scribe, or a Pharisee, or a temple priest. He was most likely trained to be a carpenter. So Jesus was, what we’d call today, a layman.
And yet he emerges on the public scene around 30AD in a most extraordinary way. In the hills of Galilee this layman-carpenter begins to preach and teach with an unprecedented authority (Matthew 7:28-29). He even claims personal authority over the Torah (Matthew 5:17-48). (The Torah was and is the final appeal of authority for any Jewish rabbi.) Jesus also performs astounding miracles of healing and demonstrates complete control over the forces of nature (Mark 2:9-10, John 11:38-44, Matthew 14:22-33, Luke 8:22-25). The Gospels tell us that great crowds gathered around Jesus. They were amazed by him, and they were wondering, “Who is this man?”
Which brings me back to the question Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” The disciples’ reply doesn’t satisfy Jesus so he asks them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter says, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:13-20), and Jesus blesses Peter for giving the correct answer.
So, who do you say that Jesus is? I agree with C. S. Lewis in that Jesus never meant to leave us the option to accept him as a great moral teacher, but reject his claim to be God in the flesh:
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 (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity).
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