“Jesus Christ? He was a great moral teacher.”
“Yeah, Jesus was a wise and spiritual guy, the founder of one of history’s most popular religions.”
“If everyone was as kind and loving as Jesus, the world would be a much better place.”
“That Jesus, man, he was a really cool dude.”
Yes, Jesus was a great moral teacher. He was wise and spiritual, and Christianity is one of the world’s most popular religions. No doubt His love and kindness are wonderful examples for us all. And I suppose you could even say, speaking in the current vernacular, that Jesus was a really cool dude.
These opinions about Jesus are true. He definitely was all of these things. But these views about Him only scratch the surface. They don’t get to the heart of the matter, the true identity of Jesus: He was, and is, the only Son of God. Jesus is divine. He is God, one-in-being with the eternal Creator of the universe.
The Bible teaches that Jesus has always existed as the second person of the Holy Trinity; through Him all things were made way back at the dawn of creation; and for a little more than three decades He took on human flesh and walked the earth so mankind might be reconciled back to its Creator.
Many people nowadays cringe at statements like that. “Oh, for crying out loud,” they moan, “Why do you have to go overboard about that divinity thing? Why can’t you just focus on Jesus’ teachings? Why do you have to deify the guy? Don’t you realize more people would be interested in Christianity if you weren’t so intolerant and fanatical about that stuff?”
Well, some Christian denominations have un-deified Jesus in the last half-century, and the results have been drastically shrinking membership rolls. But that’s besides the point. The purpose of religious faith is not to devise the most successful marketing ploy; the purpose of religious faith is to present the truth.
And the truth about Jesus’ identity—no matter how unpopular it may be in today’s sophisticated, relativistic culture—is that He is God. No if, ands, or buts.
Don’t take my word for it. Don’t even take a priest’s or a minister’s word for it. Instead, check out what Jesus Himself said. In this week’s gospel reading Jesus proclaimed, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”
Just as today, the people who heard Jesus could not believe that He was anything other than an ordinary man. They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
Jesus immediately replied, “Stop murmuring among yourselves.” (Isn’t that great advice for practically any situation? It ought to be the 11th Commandment: Thou shalt not murmur among thyselves.) He went on to explain that no one except Himself has ever seen the Father in Heaven, and that He alone is the bread of life which came down from Heaven.
He compared Himself to the manna from Heaven which fed the Israelites in the desert after their exodus from slavery in Egypt. But unlike those who ate the manna and eventually died, Jesus said that anyone who eats the bread of life He brings will not die. He said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
Now, do these sound like the words of a man who considers himself a mere mortal, however wise, moral, loving, kind, and dudishly cool he might be? Hardly. These are the words of a man who is convinced that He is God in the flesh.
It may seem incredible that the supernatural Creator of the universe would love us enough to lower Himself and become a man. To modern sensibilities, stripped of almost all spiritual and supernatural discernment, the whole idea is simply juvenile and ridiculous.
No matter what your personal view of the issue, you can’t dismiss Jesus’ words. He believed it. He was convinced that He was God. We each must decide whether or not He was telling the truth or whether He was a lying nut job — which is most definitely not dudishly cool.
In this week’s reading, Jesus also explained what is at stake. He said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.” The flip side is obvious: whoever does not, does not.
Our decision about Jesus’ identity will determine the eternal fate of our souls. This is why the most important question we will ever answer is the one Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?”