Last Sunday began the celebration of Easter. Amid the chocolate eggs, the baked ham and Easter bonnets, we commemorated the most important moment in Christian tradition: the resurrection of Christ. Jesus of Nazareth lived the first 30 years of his life quietly and only spent three years in public ministry before his execution. (That's one year less than a term of a U.S. president.) Yet 2,000 years later, Christ continues to influence our beliefs and actions.
Who was Jesus of Nazareth? There's no question that he existed -- historical evidence confirms this. Yet who was he? Many worship him as God, yet many also believe he was just a good teacher, a man who offered a new perspective on morality.
C.S. Lewis describes Christ, saying, "Among these Jews there suddenly turns up a man who goes about talking as if he was God. He claims to forgive sins. He says he has always existed. He says he is coming to judge the world at the end of time." This presents a quandary. Was Jesus who he said he was?
Christ forgave sins. We can (and should) forgive each other but we cannot forgive for each other. I find myself apologizing most when I'm elbowing through a clearance rack at a store with a dozen other women. There's always a lot of "I'm sorry!" being exclaimed as ladies, dazed by calculating 70 percent off tags in their heads trip over each other. If someone trips over me, it's perfectly normal that I offer a "no worries" to their apology. However, if someone bumps into the person next to me, it would be absurd for me to forgive them -- I wasn't the one offended. Yet, Christ did just that -- he forgave sins not committed against him.
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Consider what Christ said about himself and what he taught his followers. Christ drops the theological (and grammatical) bombshell of "Amen, amen I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I am." (John 8:59). Blatantly claiming that "The father and I are one" (John 10:30), Christ also asked his followers, "Who do people say the son of man is?" (Matthew 16:13). Peter replies, "You are the messiah, the son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16). Christ claims to be God. He claims to exist eternally. When his followers affirm this, Christ does not correct them.
As we wrestle with who Christ is, to say that he was not God, but simply a good teacher would be foolish. A good teacher does not make false claims. A good teacher does not allow his students to persist in misunderstanding. C.S. Lewis explained, "A man who was merely a man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic -- on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg -- or else he would be the devil of hell."
In the Acts of the Apostles we read that Peter stood up in Jerusalem and proclaimed, "Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both lord and messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified" (Acts 2:36). The apostles would go out, on foot, to the ends of the known world to share Christ with all they encountered. They would all die martyrs for this message -- with the exception of John, who died in exile. This is not the behavior of people caught up in a nice idea, but in the reality of an encounter with God himself.
Two thousand years later, we continue to celebrate the life, death and resurrection of Christ, and we must ask ourselves, who do we say that he is?