I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, —The Apostles’ Creed
We have three options. 1. Jesus Christ never existed. 2. Jesus Christ was a mysterious historical figure about whom we know little for certain. 3. Jesus Christ is as the New Testament portrays him.
An honest look at history crosses out the first option. There’s little dispute that Jesus lived in the first century as claimed, in Israel as claimed, was a teacher, and was executed by the Roman government.
So the real debate is about who the historical Jesus actually was, what he actually said and did, who he claimed to be, and what his significance was, if any, in the great history of Judaism.
The Creed, naturally, pushes the New Testament Jesus. He not only existed, but he was the true Son of God, and, because God is one being, Jesus is God in human form. Accept that huge gulp and the miracles, the resurrection, forgiveness of sin and redemption are all just a tiny additional sip.
The difficulty with option two, the sanitized Jesus, is that you can toss out the more difficult to believe things like the miracles or the claim to be God’s Messiah, but if you toss those things out, exactly where do you draw the line? If you don’t accept Jesus taming the storm with a word or Jesus walking on water or Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, how can you hold on to Jesus teaching to love your neighbor, or Jesus saying that God loves little children? How can you believe that this apparently uneducated country boy came up with so many beautiful and insightful parables about life and faith, and so many learned but radical interpretations of Judaism all by himself? How can you give credence to any of it?
It seems to me that to construct a dumbed down Jesus you have to arbitrarily accept just enough to keep Jesus from being boring, but not so much as to make Jesus threatening.
When I’ve read mythology, it always has a certain unbelievable feel to it. Myth lacks the sort of verisimilitude we know from our experiences in life. When you hear legends, the trouble isn’t that they lack proof so much as they seem to stand apart from reality.
The weird thing about the Gospel accounts of Jesus is that they are four individual testimonies that strongly support each other, and they also feel very real, even though they are at times fantastic.
Furthermore, the auxiliary characters in the New Testament narratives all react to their encounters with Jesus as you and I might react today. The trajectories of these witnesses lives changed radically as a result of their encounters with Jesus. The Gospels are hard to believe, but they are written by people who are certain about what they say they saw and heard, people who reacted in very human (and often unflattering) ways to what they claimed to have witnessed, and people who had apparently nothing to gain by engaging in a mass hoax.
Quite the contrary, if you consider the disciples, there is nothing in these men that would lead any of them to want to set aside their lives for three years to become religious pupils. Nothing except that they seem to have felt compelled by the force of Jesus’ personality, his words, and the things he did.
And given the strong religious and authoritarian opposition to Jesus’ ministry as the years went by, it seems to me that the disciples would have seen the writing on the wall and ditched Jesus early on to save their own skins. But something about Jesus compelled them to stay, to risk their lives, in fact, to give up their lives, while never denying what they had come to believe, that Jesus Christ was God’s only Son, our Lord.
I have nothing to say that hasn’t been said a million times by others. I’ve come away from reading the New Testament convinced that the Jesus I read about there is the real deal. If you’re on the fence about Jesus, read the Gospel accounts with an open mind and ask the question, does this feel like hype or reality?
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