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Was Jesus a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord?
March 30, 2022
There was no inconsistency between Jesus’ words and actions. That is all the more remarkable when you consider the contrast between his claims and his character. Considering what we know about Jesus from the Gospels, he could not have been a mere human teacher, no matter how distinguished. If we are going to take Jesus seriously, we have to conclude that either he was a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord he claimed to be.
Year ago, the Oxford professor C. S. Lewis posed a famous trilemma when it comes to the identity of Jesus. Considering what we know about Jesus from the Gospels, he could not have been a mere human teacher, no matter how distinguished. If we are going to take Jesus seriously, we have to conclude that either he was a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord he claimed to be.
Some contemporary critics try to escape the force of the argument by suggesting that perhaps Jesus was simply mistaken about his role and purpose in life. Everybody makes mistakes, right? But that doesn’t make sense in light of the magnitude of Jesus’ statements. In addition to the direct assertions that Jesus made about himself, consider some of these indirect claims.
Jesus claimed to be able to forgive sins—all sins. At the very least, that should strike you as odd. It is one thing if you punch me in the nose, and I forgive you. It’s another thing if you punch someone else in the nose, and I forgive you. Yet this is what Jesus repeatedly did. He told people their sins were forgiven, and he acted as if he were the person who was ultimately offended in all wrongs. That only makes sense if Jesus believed himself to be the God whose love is wounded and whose laws are broken in every sin. Those who heard Jesus forgive the sins of others rightly asked: Who can forgive sins but God alone?
Second, Jesus claimed to be able to bestow life. Through our advances in science and technology, we may be able to promote, preserve, or prolong the natural processes of life, but Jesus declared that he could offer an entirely new dimension of life. He claimed to be the true bread and the living water and that whoever believes in him will never hunger or thirst. He suggested that human beings must draw sustenance from him like a vine from a branch and that apart from him we will shrivel up and die. Jesus not only said that he came so that we might have life but have it to the full. He said that God had given him the authority to bestow life to whomever he will. Jesus even had the temerity to claim that whoever believes in him will never die because he IS the resurrection and the life. Who do you know who would say anything remotely like that?
Perhaps most outrageous of all, Jesus claimed that one day he would judge the world. On several occasions, Jesus indicated that all people will appear before him on a final day of reckoning at the end of time. Just imagine if I said to you: Not only will I judge the thoughts and intentions of every human heart, but your eternal destiny depends on whether or not you acknowledge me in your life. You would rightly conclude that I was a megalomaniac. But that is not the impression we get of Jesus.
And that brings me back to our assessment of Jesus. Jesus’ character and life of love have been an inspiration to the world for two millennia. Many people have been turned off by religious leaders who say one thing and do another. But that’s not true of Jesus. There was no inconsistency between Jesus’ words and actions. That is all the more remarkable when you consider the contrast between his claims and his character.
He claimed to be able to forgive the sins of others, but he did nothing wrong that would require forgiveness himself. He claimed to be able to bestow life, but he willingly sacrificed his own life in order to grant it. He said that he would judge the world, but he washed his disciples’ feet. Jesus believed that he was the divine Son of God, but he never acted out of pride or insisted upon his own self-importance.
It is the seeming paradox between the self-centeredness of Jesus’ words and the un-self-centeredness of his actions that we find so striking. And that is why Jesus is so captivating. The essence of love is selflessness, and Jesus epitomized love with every breath.
If Jesus was deceitful or manipulative, we could believe he was a con artist. If he was unhinged and unbalanced, we could believe he was delusional. But Jesus was none of these things. Jesus’ character does not prove that he was the eternal Son of God, but it certainly lends support to his claims. That’s why C. S. Lewis said, you can call him a demon or a fool, but don’t come with any patronizing nonsense about Jesus being a great human teacher. He has not left that option open to us. He did not intend to.
Written by Jason Harris
Produced by Mary-Catherine McKee
Directed and edited by Andrew Walker