Who is Jesus?

It’s understandable that inspired painters, sculptors and all kinds of visual artists have, over the centuries, done their best to create an accurate image of the Son of God. However, I doubt anybody will ever get it right. In the 1961 film, “King of Kings,” Christ was portrayed by the fair-skinned, blue-eyed Jeffrey Hunter and in ‘73 it was handsome Ted Neeley playing the Lord in “Jesus Christ Superstar.” It would seem the producers didn’t want to risk audiences staying away because the Messiah looked more like a swarthy carpenter of His era instead of a male model. As usual, box office receipts took precedence over authenticity. But it’s okay! If we had an actual photo of our Savior I dare say it’d be worshiped instead of Him. What we do have is a wonderfully explicit portrait of Jesus courtesy of the Bible. We need look no further than the Holy Word to view and study a detailed picture of He who was both man and God. That Jesus was God incarnate is the bedrock foundation of Christianity so those who strive to demean our faith do so by asserting specious speculations that an actual God/man is an impossibility. However, they know not what they do because our (and their) only hope of redemption from sin depends solely on the deity of Christ. Thus it’s important believers be knowledgeable enough about what the Scriptures say to defend that crucial claim.

Jesus was real. Lee Strobel authored a #1 best-seller entitled “The Case for Christ” all skeptics and fence-straddlers should read. He was an agnostic attorney who meticulously gathered evidence about the Messiah’s existence and assertions as if he was going to present it in a courtroom. Nothing admissible but the cold, hard facts, your Honor. In the end Strobel became convinced everything about the Christian faith was not only true but undisputable. Tacitus and Josephus, both of them respected first century Roman historians, mention Jesus in their writings and the latter even describes Christ’s crucifixion. They had no reason to include Him other than to be thorough and accurate. Jesus was the real deal. Not only that, His incisive intellect continues to set Him apart from all other men. Not one scholar or smarty-pants religious leader ever got one over on Jesus. He confounded every one of them. On one occasion recorded in Matthew 21 the chief priests and elders thought they had Him cornered. They queried, By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority? The men asking felt threatened and were indignant about His audacity. It’s been said it was as if a lowly janitor took the podium at a prestigious university and started teaching an astrophysics course. Jesus answered them with I will also ask you one question. If you answer me then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Where did John’s baptism come from? From heaven or from people? Jesus adroitly turned the tables on them. They knew if they said, from heaven,” He’d ask, Then why did you not believe him? They also knew if they responded with, from people,” the crowd would get jacked up because the general consensus held that John was a genuine prophet. I reckon they were too proud to childishly whine “we asked you first” so all they could utter was a weak, we don’t know,” to which Christ said, Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” Brilliant maneuver. Our Lord’s mental agility disarmed His enemies without a shot being fired.

Jesus was also fearlessly outspoken and frank, coming down particularly hard on the holier-than-thou Pharisees. He scolded them for being “…like whitewashed tombs that look beautiful on the outside but inside are full of the bones of the dead and of everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you look righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness (Matthew 23:27-28). So much for the idea Jesus was a codependent winnow, wanting everybody to like Him. He told the truth no matter what and his admonition to the overly-legalistic is still relevant today. Billy Graham wrote, “True belief in God is inward and has to do with a personal commitment and attitude, rather than strict observance of rituals and rules.” Plus, due to His openness and lack of bias, Jesus was able to put people from all walks of life at ease. He treated everyone as being of equal worth to the Heavenly Father. In Luke 7 we read where a Jewish bigwig named Simon had Jesus over for supper. The meal was interrupted by a repentant prostitute who barged in and began washing the Master’s feet with her grateful tears. The embarrassed host mumbled to himself that his guest obviously didn’t know what a lowlife she was. Jesus read his mind and told him a parable of two debtors. One owed a ton of money and the other a tenth of that amount. Their lender generously cancelled both debts. Jesus asked Simon, “…which of them will love him more? The man probably wondered where Jesus was going with this but still answered, I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.” Jesus said he was correct and then proceeded to point out that, as His host, Simon had rudely skipped granting Him all the basic courtesies of the day. You gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss of greeting, but she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with perfumed oil,He said. Jesus then turned to the woman and told her that her sins had been forgiven and to go in peace. The other diners almost lost their lunch. Who is this, who even forgives sins? they clamored. In other words, they and Simon missed the moral of the story altogether. They were as guilty of sin as the harlot. They couldn’t fathom why Jesus would treat her same as them. They also failed to realize the one they were eating with was the long-promised Messiah who could forgive their sins. They and others struggled with Jesus’ honesty about His true identity and His mission on earth.

Christ’s capacity to forgive is astounding. He forgave even His torturers. Mark 15:30 says that many on Calvary hill made fun of His suffering, shouting, Save yourself, and come down from the cross! No one would’ve blamed Him if He’d told those crass barbarians in no uncertain terms where to stick it but the way Jesus reacted to them is beyond human comprehension. He spoke to God and asked, Father forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing(Luke 23:34). No matter how many times I hear those words I’m humbled by His incomparable graciousness and unwavering love for mankind. Therefore, when I see pictures that present Him as some sort of grinning, don’t-worry-be-happy guru I wince. Jesus was a strong, charismatic man of impeccable moral fortitude. Even the henchmen of the temple’s brutish guard sent to arrest Him were intimidated by His stately mien. When they came back empty-handed their superiors demanded to know why. The officers replied, ‘No one ever spoke like this man!’” (John 7:46). They’d never encountered anything or anyone like Jesus. Matthew 7:28-29 says their reaction wasn’t unusual. It tells us, “…the crowds were amazed by his teaching, because he taught them like one who had authority, not like their experts in the law.” Christ not only talked the talk but walked the walk without ever stumbling. Only God could live a perfect life on this fallen planet. Jesus’ proclamation that He and the Father are one is wholly supported by his uniquely flawless character.

Nonetheless, many consider Christ a remarkable footnote in history and nothing more. In that case I can only assume God has yet to remove their spiritual blindfold because during His short life Jesus displayed every known attribute of deity. Harry Rimmer opined such attributes to be “…those distinguishing characteristics of the nature of God inseparable from the idea of deity, and which constitute the basis for His various manifestations to His creatures.” The Bible makes clear in 2 Corinthians 5:19, “…in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself…” Jesus was no ordinary man so nothing about His life was ordinary. He was virgin-born just as Isaiah predicted hundreds of years earlier. If He hadn’t been He would’ve inherited the sins of Adam just like we did. But since He was conceived by the Holy Spirit He stands as the one person who entered this world spotless. His purity is essential. Otherwise His bold query in John 8:46, Who among you can prove me guilty of any sin? would disqualify Him from teaching anything to anybody. Christ, being God, was and is perfect. Yes, there are conundrums surrounding the incarnation we’ll never unravel. In 1 Timothy 3:16 Paul said the concept of God manifest in the flesh is, inherently, a mystery to us. And, in Philippians 2:6-7 he wrote that Jesus, “…who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature.” In other words, Jesus’ being God among us isn’t dependent on our ability to savvy how it happened.

There are certain traits Jesus displayed that confirm His deity. God is holy. The root of the word “holy” connotes “self-affirming purity.” We all know perfection is impossible for mere humans to achieve so anyone claiming to be God would have to be a beacon of absolute purity. Psalm 145:17 says God is “…holy in all his ways,” so if Christ committed even one sin He’s not who He said He was. Yet in all the New Testament there isn’t even a hint He ever sinned. Thus Jesus owned a characteristic only God can possess. God is just. To maintain His holiness God must uphold inerrant justice. Without His moral laws being strictly enforced sin would run amok throughout the universe and chaos would reign. But, while human justice is tainted by the prejudices and mores of the people who wield it, God’s justice is immaculate. Mistakes aren’t made. The Bible shows Jesus was always just. His actions, even when He terrorized the greedy temple merchants, were never out of line. And He put His money where His mouth was. His death on the cross was necessary for Him to pay in full the required penalty for our trespasses. Graham wrote, “When he died for our sins it was ‘the just’ dying for the unjust.” God is merciful. Perhaps no other characteristic was more evident. When the shamed adulteress was dragged before Him, Jesus showed the woman mercy when everyone else wanted to kill her. When He read from the Scriptures in His hometown He quoted from Isaiah:The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and the regaining of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:18). He described Himself to a tee.

God is love. There’ve been times in my life if God didn’t love me nobody would’ve. Even though I’ve done bad things that caused others to turn their backs on me my Heavenly Father never has. He proved His love for us all that dark day when Jesus was executed in our place. Even unbelievers know what John 3:16 says but how many Christians stop to contemplate what’s implied by “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” That statement should make us kneel in gratitude every time we hear it. God is omnipotent. Jesus could do anything. He fed thousands with little more than a happy meal. He restored sight to those blind since birth, etc. The list is long. He once announced, All power in heaven and in earth has been given to me(Matthew 28:18). God is omniscient. Jesus knew everything there is to know. He perceived what folks were going to say even before they did. Jesus, knowing their thoughts…” (Matthew 9:4). He knew all people He knew what was in man (John 2:24-25). God is omnipresent. The idea of being in two places at once baffles us but so does the fact that God is a singular entity and three-in-one. Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father yet present whenever two or more of us gather in His name (Matthew 18:20). Plus, Jesus was never trapped in time. He said, “Before Abraham was born, I AM (John 8:58) and Paul wrote in Colossians 1:17, He is before all things.”  When Jesus said He is God He wasn’t being abstract or coyly figurative. He avowed without condition, I and the Father are one (John 10:30) and, The one who sees me sees the One who sent Me (John 12:45). In John 8 He faced another rude gang of religious leaders and told them He’d been sent by His Father. They snidely asked Him, Where is your father? to which He replied, You do not know either me or my Father. If you knew me you would know my Father, too. …You people are from below; I am from above. You people are from this world; I am not from this world.”

The initial question I ask folks who quiz me about my faith is “Who is Jesus?” If they say He was a “very good man” I ask if they consider liars and con artists “very good” as well. Of course they say “no.” I point out that since Jesus claimed to be the great I AM there’s no middle ground. He’s either who He said He was or He was a basket case with a serious God complex. I tell them the proven veracity of the Scriptures and the unimpeachable fact that Christ strolled from His tomb days after being publicly executed can only lead an intelligent person to conclude He is God and, thus, worthy of their devotion. If they say the Bible isn’t a reliable source of data I tell them that, in contrast, everything known about Alexander the Great was recorded some 500 years after his death yet we think we’ve got everything about him down pat. The New Testament books were written while most who personally knew the Lord were still alive. God’s Word is the most trustworthy of all ancient documents in existence. In light of that I tell them they should think long and hard before labeling Jesus a charlatan out to make fools of everyone. Their very soul is at stake.

It’s a miracle Christ never stops knocking. The great C.S. Lewis was once a man who considered Jesus a fake but finally concluded the evidence for His deity was overwhelming. He wrote, “You must picture me alone… night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady unrelented approach of Him who I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me… I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England… The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the gates to a prodigal who’s brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape?… The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.”

Author Ken Gire related a simple story of a little girl who got lost in the woods. Exhausted, she fell asleep while the whole town searched for her to no avail. Night fell. The next morning her father finally spotted her and shouted her name. She awoke, ran to his arms and exclaimed, “Daddy, I found you!” When Mary came looking for the body of Jesus she didn’t realize the person she met was the risen Lord and that He had come looking for her. Many think they’re searching for God when, in fact, they’re the ones lost and whom He’s looking for. Jesus is God and He’s not dead. On the contrary, He’s alive in the most magnificent sense of the term.

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