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Why is Jesus so compelling?
April 13, 2022
The clarity of Jesus’ teaching places an almost irresistible draw upon our lives. Even after 2,000 years, his words still have not lost their appeal. But what is unique about Jesus’ teaching is not only what he said, but the direct way in which he said it.
Regardless of whatever else you might say about him, Jesus remains the most influential religious teacher in the entire history of the world. Two billion people around the globe—and counting!—identify themselves as Christians. Despite the decline of Christianity in the West, the number of Jesus followers is rapidly increasing in other parts of the world, such as Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Christian believers are now more numerous and make up a greater proportion of the world’s population than ever before. The reason is simple; Jesus has a magnetic effect on people. That alone should cause us to stop and ask: Why is Jesus so compelling?
The clarity of Jesus’ teaching places an almost irresistible draw upon our lives. Even after 2,000 years, Jesus’ words still have not lost their appeal. Jesus was famous for saying: Judge not, lest you be judged. Let the one who is without sin throw the first stone. Don’t be like the hypocrites. Beware of practicing your piety before others. Sound no trumpet before you. Do not worry about your life. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for today.
Turn the other cheek. Go the extra mile. Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. Give to everyone who begs from you. Do not refuse anyone who would borrow from you. Do unto others as you would have them do to you.
There is something about the teaching of Jesus that rings true. We sense that this is the best way to live a human life, even if we find Jesus’ demands deeply challenging.
But what is unique about Jesus’ teaching is not only what he said, but the direct way in which he said it. Jesus never hesitated or apologized. He never contradicted himself. He never had to retract or modify previous statements he had made. Whenever people heard Jesus, they marveled at his wisdom. They asked where he got all this—especially since he had never studied. He spoke with authority. And no one had ever heard anything like it. Unlike the religious leaders of his day, Jesus did not appeal to tradition. And unlike the ancient prophets, he did not say, “Thus says the Lord.” He simply stated, “This is what I say to you.”
And that is precisely why we must reconsider Jesus. It is not enough to merely accept his teaching as practical wisdom to live by because Jesus claimed to be far more than a great moral teacher.
Most spiritual leaders are self-effacing—or at least they try to be—but Jesus was self-advancing. Every other founder of a religious movement would say: This is the truth so far as I perceive it, follow it. But Jesus said: I am the truth, follow me. Other teachers would beseech you to believe in God. Jesus encourages you to believe in himself as the key to eternal life.
That’s why it will not do to think of Jesus as an exceptional moral teacher who was simply more enlightened—or in touch with the divine—than the rest of us. How could we consider Jesus as a great teacher if he was completely mistaken about one of his most essential subjects—namely himself?
If we cannot deny the brilliance of Jesus’ teaching, then we have to contend with the claims that Jesus makes about himself. We cannot separate Jesus’ claims from his teaching. So I'd encourage you to read through one of the gospels. Would the most gifted teacher you know say things like this about him or herself? Here's the test. How do you reconcile what Jesus claims about himself with the rest of his teaching?
Written by Jason Harris
Produced by Mary-Catherine McKee
Filmed and edited by Andrew Walker