Romans 11:33-36

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Real Jesus of History

Those such as John Dominic Crossan and his colleagues on the Jesus Seminar who have tried to “demythologize” the Bible have done so largely under the auspices of pursuing the quest for the historical Jesus. One has to look no further than the History Channel or Discovery Network for apparent documentaries that seek to discover who Jesus “really was”. This is not a new endeavor. Thomas Jefferson, one of the most revered founding fathers of this nation published a “gospel” wherein he attempted to separate the ethics of Jesus from His deity. Needless to say, it was only a few pages long and was cold and hollow. Few people have heard of Jefferson’s Bible and in another generation, Crossan will only be a short footnote in history. This is because their self-inspired humanist mission is impossible. One cannot separate the Jesus of history from the Christ of the Bible. When man attempts to have a Jesus that is removed from history, he inevitably will fall into one of three camps. Interestingly enough these three camps have existed as heresies since the earliest days of church history.

The first camp is total denial of the person and work of Jesus. People in this camp are rare and usually consider themselves hard-core Atheists. As self-proclaimed atheists, they have put blinders on with regards to all historical and philosophical evidence of the existence of the three members of the Godhead. They are philosophically dishonest in the face of overwhelming evidence.

The second camp is made up of those who accept that Jesus was a person who lived in Palestine in the first century A.D. (Those who believe this way typically use the more “tolerant” C.E. designating “common era”). Usually these people believe there was a charismatic young rabble-rousing Jew who lived in Palestine in the first century. He was wise, made some good ethical statements and had a small contingent of followers, but he was merely a man. He lived, died (we don’t exactly know how), was buried (Crosson believes he was eaten by dogs and scavengers), and rotted in the grave like all other men. According to them, Paul is the one who made Christianity into a religion. If Jesus is made to be a mere man, not only do you have to eliminate the Pauline epistles, you have to eliminate the Gospels as well. The Gospels are peppered with examples of Jesus claiming to be deity. If one denies the divinity of Jesus, he is faced with the dilemma so clearly stated by C.S. Lewis: if Jesus isn’t Lord, he is either a liar or a lunatic. The Jesus seminar escapes Lewis’ polemic trap by denying the validity of most of the statements Jesus made in the Bible. They did this by introducing a new kind of textual criticism never before used on any literary work. The members of the Jesus Seminar polled themselves as to whether certain statements of Jesus claimed by the Bible and other documents were, in their opinion, made by him. Judgments were made solely by their perceptions, biases, and opinions. You see, in order to separate Jesus the man from Christ the Divine, man has to destroy history and resort to speculation.

Finally, the third camp contains those who, while they say a person like Jesus might have lived, there is no way we can know anything about him. What is important is the message and the concept of Jesus. These are modern day mystics who attempt to syncretize their “spiritual” concept of Jesus with the spirit of man and the spirit of the world. This was prominently seen in several ecumenical services held during the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In Asheville, NC, where I lived at the time, there was a service at the University of North Carolina, Asheville, that featured a well-known local Baptist preacher, a Muslim Imam, a Wicca Priestess, a humanist poet, and what was billed as an African spirit drummer. All were spouting the venomous rhetoric that all religions were essentially the same and we just needed to tap into the spirit within ourselves to overcome evil in the world. The fact remains that when the anchor point of history – the history of the Bible – is removed, Jesus can be defined as anything. Modern New Age spiritists can define Jesus with the same meaning as Gaia or Buddha or Shiva or Shirley MacLean. If Jesus has no propositional grounding in history, he can be anything man wants to make him.

God chose to reveal Himself in history (Hebrews 1:1-2). He chose to reveal Himself in the flesh, as Immanuel, in a particular point in space and time. God the Son co-existed with God the Father in eternity, but humbled Himself to enter history, take on flesh, and become like me—except without sin. Then, 33 years down a specific, real, and measurable timeline, He willingly gave His life in the most excruciating death possible. His crucifixion happened at another specific point in space-time. The specific, real, and measurable timeline continued another three days while He lay in a specific, physical, locatable, identifiable tomb. Finally, at another specific point in space-time, He physically rose up out of that grave. His physically nail-scarred feet took actual steps and walked out of that tomb. He placed one foot in front of the other, each gathering dust and making a measurable, identifiable footprint. Had God not chosen to reveal Himself in that way, how could we have a relationship with Him? Without acknowledging the historicity of Jesus, it is impossible.


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