Easter Reflection: What Makes Jesus Unique?
(Watch 'WHO WAS JESUS?’).
Many people, thinking they're being tolerant, will say that all religions lead to the same destination, so it really doesn't matter what you believe.
Yet if two religious systems give very different answers to the basic questions of life, you can't say they're pointing in the same direction. It's like comparing two compasses. If one says north is this way, and the other says south is in the same direction, you know that one of them has to be faulty.
There are ways to test whether a religion is what it claims to be. For example, we might ask, how it has affected the people who've adopted it? Has it lifted people to a new level of life?
Perhaps the ultimate test of a religious faith, though, is the person of its founder. What does this person say about himself -- and what right does he have to speak to me?
This is where Christianity really stands apart. Only Christian faith is based solely on the person of its founder.
If you removed Buddha from Buddhism, you would still have a religious system. If you took Mohammed out of Islam, you would still have a religious system. If you take Jesus out of Christianity, though, you're left with nothing at all. Jesus didn't just point the way to God, he claimed to be God in human form.
C. S. Lewis, the celebrated author, started out a committed atheist and became a Christian only when he found that he couldn't explain Jesus away. When we think about who Jesus was, said Lewis, we only have three options. First, that Jesus was a master liar (but that doesn't fit with the moral integrity of his life).
Secondly, that Jesus was a deluded megalomaniac (that doesn't fit with the sanity of his teaching). Our only other option is that Jesus was who he claimed to be -- the Son of God. We can't say that Jesus was just a great man, because he did not leave that option open to us.
Jesus didn't challenge us to believe in his teachings or to follow his path -- he challenged us to follow him. He said that believing in him was the only way for a man or woman to be made right with God.
Most people like to think of Jesus as a nice guy in a caftan who said some amazing things. But Jesus was dangerous! He didn't say, "I know a way to God", he said, "I am the way".
One day, Jesus asked his disciples who they thought he was. One of them, called Peter, boldly announced, "You are the Christ (the anointed one), the Son of the living God." To the ears of the disciples, this was an astonishing statement.
Most Jewish teachers would have given Peter a sharp rebuke. After all, no man could claim to be equal with God. But Jesus actually congratulated Peter. He said, 'Peter, you've received a great revelation from God… and on this rock I will build my church."
Jesus' church was not going to be built not on a great philosophy or enlightened ethics. It would be built on who he was.
When the prophet Mohammed first received his revelations, he was not sure whether they'd come from God. He needed to be convinced by others. Buddha left his young wife and son on a long quest to discover religious truth. But Jesus' unique sense of identity was with him right from the very beginning of his ministry. Even as a boy of twelve, he knew he was God's Son and on a very special mission.
In many religious systems, no proof is given to back up the teaching aside from the teaching itself. But Jesus claimed to be the Son of God -- and he offered proof of his claims. First, there's the moral weight of his life. It's one thing to preach a certain lifestyle; it's another thing to live it out.
No man ever lived out his own teaching so completely and as consistently as Jesus. The Bible says he was without sin. No other faith makes that claim about its key figure.
Then there's the teaching of Jesus. Most of the world's religious teachers have given us lists of instructions to take us to some spiritual goal. Not Jesus: he did exactly the opposite.
Rather than adding new rules to our lives, Jesus told us that he had come to "fulfill God's law" on our behalf. Jesus lived up to all of God's laws in his lifetime and when he died, he did so in my place, so that my moral debts were cancelled.
A core part of Jesus' teaching was his insistence that God is a Father who loves us in a very personal way. Many religions see God as a stern disciplinarian. He may show mercy, or even compassion, but he will never have a personal relationship with one of his created beings. He is too far above us. Yet Jesus said, 'If God cares about small birds, how much more will he care about each of you?'
Jesus talked about a God of amazing forgiveness, who shows mercy when it is not deserved. Some other faiths do speak about God forgiving people who come in repentance. But Jesus took this further than anyone else ever has.
He taught that people could know in this lifetime whether they're destined for heaven in the next. In many religions, the eternal destiny of a person's soul remains a mystery until they die. Even in his last moments on the cross, Jesus told a repentant thief dying beside him, "Today you will be with me in paradise."
Jesus made bold claims about being the Son of God and he backed up those claims with his miracles. Unlike the stories of some other religions, where miracles take on mythical proportions, the miracles of Jesus were recorded by eye-witnesses as historical fact.
Every one of them is located in a specific place, and fits into a sequence of real events. Miracles were not dropped into the Jesus story to give it effect; they were a vital part of his daily life, and they often formed a part of his teaching.
One of the most remarkable aspects of Jesus' teaching was the way he linked it to his death. He talked about it as if what he was teaching would make no sense unless he died. Buddha made no such link between his death and his words; neither did Mohammed. According to Jesus, having the kind of rich life he was promising would only be possible once he had died to remove the barriers between me and God.
Of all the proofs Jesus offered us, one is most conclusive of all. He prophesied that on the third day after he died he would rise from the dead. This claim is totally unique among the founders of the world's religions. It's so important to the Christian faith that the apostle Paul said if Jesus hadn't been raised from the dead, Christian faith would be worthless.
With Christianity God has put stamp of approval on the message! Jesus didn't just crawl out of that tomb. He was so completely alive, that his own disciples were overcome with fear when they saw him. He appeared to them on many occasions before he ascended into heaven, walking, teaching and even eating among them.
This was no phantom: they were able to touch his body. This was no hallucination, either. He was seen by up to five hundred and fifty people at one time -- people don't have mass hallucinations like that. What's more, they weren't even expecting to see him alive!
There's a museum in Turkey where you can see the sword of Mohammed and what some people say are strands from his beard. Nobody disputes that he is dead. Some people claim to have found a tooth of the Buddha. Nobody disputes that he is dead. Moses is dead and so is Abraham -- nobody disputes that either.
Yet, Jesus left us no physical relics. No part of his body has ever been recovered. Why? Because he is risen from the dead, he is alive!
Jesus is totally unique among all the founders of world religions. He said he personally is the only way to God. Perhaps the biggest proof of Jesus' claims is the way he is still changing lives today.
I don't mean changing lives just through the memory of his example, or the wisdom of his words. I mean transforming people who've come into a here-and-now relationship with him.
Why do people still follow him? Because Jesus still heals the sick, calms troubled minds and mends broken hearts.
Watch the Special Easter Feature ‘WHO WAS JESUS?’ (12 minutes). Click here or visit YoutTube.com/EdgesTV.
Keywords: Easter | Jesus | Who was Jesus? | What makes Jesus unique? | Mal Fletcher |
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