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Imaginary Jesus?

26 June 2012, 10:43

The continuing furore over a simple carpenter from an unimportant region of the Roman Empire is quite astonishing. Not only on these pages, of course. There are as many books written about Him, in praise, as well as condemnation, that they alone would form a substantial library. In fact, I think it fair to say more has been written about Him, than about any human who ever lived.

Philip Schaff has this to say:

Jesus of Nazareth, with­out money and arms, con­quered more mil­lions than Alexan­der, Cae­sar, Mohammed, and Napoleon; with­out sci­ence and learn­ing, He shed more light on things human and divine than all philoso­phers and schools com­bined; with­out the elo­quence of schools, He spoke words of life such as never were spo­ken before or since, and pro­duced effects which lie beyond the reach of any ora­tor or poet; with­out writ­ing a sin­gle line, He has set more pens in motion, and fur­nished themes for more ser­mons, ora­tions, dis­cus­sions, learned vol­umes, works of art and sweet songs of praise, than the whole army of great men of ancient and mod­ern times. Born in a manger, and cru­ci­fied as a male­fac­tor, He now con­trols the des­tinies of the civ­i­lized world, and rules a spir­i­tual empire which embraces one-third of the inhab­i­tants of the globe. There never was in this world a life so unpre­tend­ing, mod­est, and lowly in its out­ward form and con­di­tion, and yet pro­duc­ing such extra­or­di­nary effects upon all ages, nations, and classes of men. The annals of his­tory pro­duce no other exam­ple of such com­plete and aston­ish­ing suc­cess in spite of the absence of those mate­r­ial, social, lit­er­ary, and artis­tic pow­ers and influ­ences which are indis­pens­able to suc­cess for a mere man. Christ stands, in this respect also, soli­tary and alone among all the heroes of his­tory, and presents to us an insolv­able prob­lem, unless we admit him to be more than man, even the eter­nal Son of God.

Of course, there is a bias: he was a Christian. How about someone who wasn’t.

Napoleon purportedly made some remarkable statements about Christ while he was imprisoned on Saint Helena. This one was supposedly made to General Bertrand:

” Such is the fate of great men ! So it was with Caesar and Alexander. And I, too, am forgotten. And the name of a conqueror and an emperor is a college theme! Our exploits are tasks given to pupils by their tutor, who sit in judgment upon us, awarding censure or praise. And mark what is soon to become of me! Assassinated by the English oligarchy, I die before my time ; and my dead body, too, must return to the earth, to become food for worms. Behold the destiny, near at hand, of him who has been called the great Napoleon! What an abyss between my deep misery and the eternal reign of Christ, which is proclaimed, loved, adored, and which is extending over all the earth! Is this to die? Is it not rather to live? The death of Christ! It is the death of God.”

For a moment the Emperor was silent. As General Bertrand made no reply, he solemnly added, ” If you do not perceive that Jesus Christ is God, very well, then I did wrong to make you a general.”

And this statement, also to General Bertrand:

“The conversation at St. Helena very frequently turned upon the subject of religion. One day Napoleon was speaking of the divinity of Christ. General Bertrand said,

” I cannot conceive, sire, how a great man like you can believe that the Supreme Being ever exhibited himself to men under a human form, with a body, a face, mouth, and eyes. Let Jesus be whatever you please—the highest intelligence, the purest heart, the most profound legislator, and, in all respects, the most singular being who has ever existed—I grant it. Still he was simply a man, who taught his disciples, and deluded credulous people, as did Orpheus, Confucius, Brama. Jesus caused himself to be adored because his predecessors Isis and Osiris, Jupiter and Juno, had proudly made themselves objects of worship. The ascendancy of Jesus over his time was like the ascendancy of the gods and the heroes of fable. If Jesus has impassioned and attached to his chariot the multitude, if he has revolutionized the world, I see in that only the power of genius and the action of a commanding spirit, which vanquishes the world as so many conquerors have done— Alexander, Caesar, you, sire, and Mohammed—with a sword.”

Napoleon promptly replied,

” I know men, and I tell you that Jesus Christ is not a man. Superficial minds see a resemblance between Christ and the founders of empires, and the gods of other religions. That resemblance does not exist. There is between Christianity and whatever other religion the distance of infinity.”

And then of course, Flavius Josephus, who was so highly regarded as an historian by the Romans, that they built a statue in his honour. This from ‘The Anitquities of the Jews.’

Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day , as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named for him, are not extinct at this day.

The calendars were changed to read – BC or AD, then later changed to BCE and CE, but either one of those denotations acknowledges Christ. History has tried to banish Him to some dark corner, and even claim He never existed. He is, quite simply, the most important Man ever to have lived, and even people who deny His existence, do not deny the existence of Saul of Tarsus, or St. Paul.

This man was a Pharisee and a scourge of the early church. What changed him so much that he became, in a sense, the founder of Christianity. In fact many people have said he was the founder. Which would be strange, seeing as he was such an implacable enemy of the way, as it was then known.

Simon Greenleaf, Professor of Law at Harvard University said that, if he were presented with testimony such as the Gospels, with no sense of collusion to be found anywhere, he would have to assume that the witnesses were speaking the truth. He was regarded, in his time, as the leading expert in the world on judicial evidence.

If the other works of antiquity were subjected to the same scrutiny as the Bible, they would not be here today. No Homer, no Aristotle, no Socrates and, closer to home; no Shakespeare.

Many people have said that the earliest recorded manuscripts are two to three hundred AD. Luke wrote the Book of Acts largely as it was happening, and had the Gospel dictated to him by other disciples. John wrote his Gospel about 70 AD, and Peter dictated his story to Mark around 55 AD. That leaves Matthew, which dates to about 110 AD, well within the time frame where any lies they told would be cruelly exposed.

Compare that with the assassination of Julius Caesar, where the earliest manuscripts date back to 300 AD. No-one seems to question them.

As for the much-maligned resurrection: The authorities of the day, both Roman and Jewish, could have stopped Christianity in its tracks by producing the body. We are talking here about a terrified group of eleven men, who were leaderless and had no political power whatever. People don’t change overnight the way these men did, maintaining a moral standard which has seldom been equalled and all but one dying for the cause of the faith.

Chuck Colson wrote of the time Watergate exploded around them, and they all scattered, all running for cover and lying to save themselves. Were they to be killed for what they did?  No, they would suffer political disgrace and, if they were prepared to lie, which they obviously were, they would get out of serving any jail time. All except Chuck Colson, who became a Christian during that period, refused to lie, refused to implicate anyone else, and served his time in jail.

Now, who would die for a lie? Who would, knowing the penalty if caught, spread the Gospel in the face of persecution, not only from the Roman authorities,  but from the Greeks, the Jews and in fact anyone who opposed their message. Paul spent a third of his life in jail, and not jail as we’ve come to know it, but Roman dungeons. He was whipped many times, stoned to the point where they thought he was dead, faced wild beasts and nearly drowned. For a lie?

This humble carpenter, who had no home of his own, who had no place to lay his head, who ate what he was given to eat, because he had no money of his own; this humble carpenter set the world alight with his teachings, but it was more than this.

Many people have come along and taught many things, but Jesus did this one thing which made Him different. He pointed to Himself as the only way to God. He said that, without Him, you were lost. He also said that He would split asunder families with His words. Which He did. Not everyone from the same family believed, and the others felt so strongly that they often persecuted members of their own family.

Jesus said that hell was created for Satan and his angels, not for man, but man had a choice, and that choice had to be made in this life. Why would a loving God create hell, and condemn the majority of mankind to hell? Simple.

Let’s pretend, for the sake of this argument, that the God of the Bible is real, and the only God, as He says in His word. That means that, when we die, we go someplace else, and that place would be heaven. So, Adolf Hitler, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Robert Mugabe, all these people, would go to heaven. All the evil they committed in their lives, wiped out as if it had never happened. Would that God be just? If you were amongst the many millions who had been killed by these mass murderers, would you think God just if you saw them strolling along in heaven?

If God is real, then what we want from Him, is not justice, but mercy. And that is why Jesus died. His beloved Son, who committed no sin, so that our sins are paid. This is mercy.

What about the people who lived before? Why did God wait so long? Of all the people who have ever lived, 92% of them have lived in the years from then to now, and in fact nearly 80% of them are alive right now.

Now, if you don’t believe, that is your choice, because God created you with free will. However, the time will come, I believe, when we will all stand before God and give an accounting of our lives. And the only answer I can give is; Jesus died for me. He died for you as well, but will you accept Him?

That is the crux of the matter.

And that is why this simple carpenter was, and is the most important person in history.

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