If you consider yourself a follower of Jesus, here is something to consider: Do you really believe that Jesus is uniquely different and superior to any other person or believe system? And if so, are we arrogant in thinking this? Is faith in Christ just another option in the spiritual smorgasbord set before us? What is wrong with someone choosing a different option?
These are questions that we need to think through as God gives us opportunities to talk with others about Jesus. The Bible is clear about the exclusive claims of Jesus. Do we believe that what it says is true for everyone or just true for us?
In the fall, I was working out in my neighborhood gym and entered into a conversation with a student from the University of Central Florida (UCF). I noticed that he had an accent, so I asked him where he was from. He answered that he was from a Middle Eastern nation. He was wearing a cross on his neck so I asked if he was a Christian. He said yes and that he grew up going to the Catholic Church in his country.
He shared with me a little of what it is like growing up in that part of the world. He began to tell me how in America we don’t realize how good we have it. He mentioned to me friends of his from other Middle Eastern countries who daily live with the uncertainty of violence and others that have died from it. I told him that God had used him to remind me of the need to pray for Christians and for the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the Middle East.
Isn't Christianity Like Any Other Religion?
When I said this he looked at me and said very politely that he does not usually talk to people about religion. He mentioned that he comes from a region of the world comprised of people from three religious groups: Jews, Muslims and Christians. These groups share a common history and origin yet there are hostilities and no real hope for peace. He began to say that both the Bible and Koran share many things in common as some of the same people are mentioned in these holy books and revered by both faiths (Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus to name a few).
As he finished, I interjected that this is true but what is said about these people does not always agree. For example what each faith says about Jesus is radically different. In particular, Muslims believe Jesus to be a prophet but not God incarnate. Whereas Christians believe that Jesus is not only a prophet but the Son of the Living God. Muslims do not believe in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead whereas these are the very fundamental truths of the Christian faith. He agreed that this was indeed true.
I went on to tell him that I do not like to talk to people about religion either. He gave me a strange look that seemed to say, "Then what have we been talking about?" I told him that to me religion is centered on man and it focuses on man’s attempts to appease, to find approval, to gain a right standing, or reach God in his own efforts (for instance, the five pillars of Islam or the baptism of Hindus in the Ganges River to wash away their sins). I told him that Christianity is radically different for it not focused on man’s efforts but God making a way for people to have a relationship with Him.
Then I began to share with him the simple message of the gospel as I said that all people share these three things in common:
- Every person who inhabits this planet was created by God (Acts 17:24-26).
- Every person has sinned against God (Romans 3:23).
- Every person finds themselves separated from God and deserving His wrath for our rebellion (Romans 6:23a).
In light of this universal human predicament, God has made a way for us to be forgiven of our sins and reconciled to God. In His love, God sent His Son to die for our sins and whoever believes in Him shall have eternal life (John 3; 16).
As I was sharing these points he was nodding his head in agreement. Yet the conversation would shift on what I said next.
I then said that Jesus is the only way to God (John 14:6). At this point he politely said to me that he did not mean to be rude but he wanted to know what I thought about Buddhism. I said, "Honestly, I don't know a lot about Buddhism but any belief system that lays out any other path to God apart from trusting in Jesus Christ is false." He then said to me (very politely) this is why there is so much tension in the world because just like you claim that Christianity is true, then so can someone else make the same claim about Buddhism or any other religion.
Then he asked me, "What makes Christianity different?"
I came to the gym for a workout. Yet I found myself in a deep spiritual conversation and in need of God’s help for what to say next.
1. The Resurrection
The first thing that came to mind and out of my mouth was "the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." I mentioned to him that there is historical documentation, from both Biblical and non-biblical sources¹, that we can look to as evidence for the life and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. I then told him, although we have historical evidence of Jesus’ life and death, his body has never been found. I then began to share with him why the resurrection of Christ from the dead is reasonable to believe. What follows is what God used me to share as we spoke that night.
Some have argued that the disciples stole the body and hid it. I told him I think that this is highly unlikely. When Jesus was arrested by those sent from the Jewish leaders and turned over to the Roman authorities to be crucified his disciples scattered from Him (Mark 14:43-50) and the ring leader Peter denied that he had been with Him (Mark 14:66-72). They were utter cowards who scattered, hid and did not want to be associated with Jesus in His death. Yet seven weeks later we find Peter preaching, along with the other disciples, that Jesus who had been crucified was raised by God from the dead in the very city (Jerusalem) where Jesus was condemned to die (Acts 2:14-36). What changed for these men? What turned them from cowards to courageous? The fact that they had hidden a corpse? Or that these men had seen Jesus after He had risen from the dead (Acts 1:3)?
It is reported that 11 or the 12 apostles suffered violent deaths for their preaching of Jesus Christ and not one of them recanted or renounced their faith.² It is often said that many people have died for a lie. But how many have died for a lie knowing that it was a lie? If the disciples had stolen the body, then they would have known that the resurrection was a lie. And you would think if that were the case, at least one of them would have recanted their testimony in the face of extreme torture and violent death.
Persecution and death for preaching Christ was true not only for the 12 apostles but for those who received their teaching. It is difficult to believe that these people would willingly die for Jesus Christ if they knew and believed it was a lie. The martyrdom of thousands of these Christians was based on the fact that they believed the truth of the statements in the Gospels about Jesus and were willing to die as martyrs rather than deny their faith in Him. In the face of Jewish and Roman opposition and persecution, Christianity had spread all throughout the Roman Empire in 300 short years and it has not stopped. I also mentioned that if the Romans and Jews had known where the body of Jesus was all they had to do was wheel it down the street on a cart and Christianity would have died in its inception.
2. The Claims of Jesus about Himself
In addition to the resurrection of Jesus, I began to talk with my new friend about the claims of Jesus Christ about Himself. Some people will say that Jesus never claimed to be God that is only something that others have made up. I mentioned to him that Jesus did not come to a culture of people that were ignorant about God. He came to the Jewish people who were God’s chosen people and monotheistic (one God) in their beliefs. Jesus did and said things that clearly alluded to His deity which was not missed by the religious leaders He interacted with. Here are four examples of this:
- He claimed to have the authority to forgive sin and the religious leaders thought to themselves that He was blaspheming (Mark 2:5-7).
- He called God His Father and equated His work with the Father’s and they tried all the harder to kill Him (John 5:17, 18).
- He said that He and the Father are One and they picked up stones to kill Him because they said He was blaspheming (John 10:30-33).
- He said that He would sit at the right hand of the Mighty One and come on the clouds of heaven and they said He was blaspheming and they condemned Him to death (Mark 14:61-64).
I mentioned that these are just a few of many examples and that Jesus did not leave it open to debate who He is. I reminded him again that Jesus actually said, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).
At this point, I said to my friend that it is not because people proclaim Jesus to be the only way that has the world so messed up. It is messed up because we have a world full of people who are determining for themselves what is right or wrong with no regard for God. We have denied that there is such a thing as truth (which in and of itself is a truth claim), we have ignored who Jesus claims to be, and have become our own gods. With that being the case, we look at every belief system as being equally valid and right as any other. We act like everything is okay until what someone else believes contradicts what I believe. Our selfishness leads to disputes, conflicts and wars³. At this point he interrupted me, saying that he enjoyed our conversation and would like to hear more but he realized that he was running late to meet a friend. With that we shook hands and said goodbye.
Lastly: Who Do You Say That Jesus Is?
So when it comes to the real identity of Jesus, we need to ask ourselves, "Who is Jesus?" Let me leave you with a popular quote from C.S. Lewis about the only real options that we have when we answer the question.
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. 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 the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. 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.” – Mere Christianity
Jesus is either Lord of all or He is Lord of nothing. Look at these words of the Apostle Paul found in the book of Philippians.
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)
May we as God’s people continue to share Jesus with boldness and love. As the Apostle Peter reminds us, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) As we do this in obedience to our great King, may many call upon the name of the Lord and be saved (Romans 10:13).
1. For Historical Evidence about Jesus, see http://www.grantjeffrey.com/article/historicalev.htm
2. See the last section titled ‘The Martyrdom of The Apostles’ at http://www.grantjeffrey.com/article/historicalev.htm
3. I write more about this perspective in my blog post "Why Coexist When There Is So Much More?"
For more information on the identity and claims of Jesus, see these excerpts from Jesus Without Religion by Rick James.