This morning on CNN’s home page I read an article called “Separating religious truth from myth: Scholars argue if Jesus existed”. The article lays out arguments from both sides. Some scholars believe that Jesus is the culmination of many stories about a hero who was martyred as the “son of god”. On the other side of the argument exists the more traditional view that Jesus was, in fact, a Jewish man who existed in history. His personality is vibrant in the gospels and his apostles would not have simply died for a myth.
The article is worth reading for those who are interested but it was another part of the article that caught my attention. Prior to discussing whether or not Jesus is an actual historical figure, the writer asks, “Does it even matter if Jesus existed? Can’t people derive inspiration from his teachings whether he actually walked the Earth?”
This is a question worth pondering.
Does it actually matter if Jesus existed or not?
If Jesus existed simply to inspire, then his existence matters in the same way that Oprah’s existence matters. Oprah’s existence matters because she has dignity but the message she is spreading does not depend on her existence. It could be given by anyone. With messages such as “live a happier life” and “meditation experiences now”, Oprah’s message is not unique. It’s self-help. Her whole purpose is to provide a place for inspiration and she has never claimed to be the source of inspiration.
Jesus by His own words, however, did not come simply to inspire. His claims in the New Testament are often anything but feel good.
Here are four examples:
“Jesus heard that they had put him out; and finding him, He said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered and said, “And who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him? ”Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you.” And he said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped Him.”
“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
To another, he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” But he said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
Jesus replied, “Philip, I have been with you all this time, and still you do not know Me? Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
Jesus spent the last three years of his life claiming to be God. He was killed for this. He demanded that his followers leave EVERYTHING to follow Him. He promised His apostles that they would have trouble in this life and then claimed that He had “overcome the world”. I’m not sure that we can get through one chapter of Jesus’ words without Jesus making a radical statement about who He is and what He expects from His followers.
Jesus also claimed to be THE truth. If we are to be a society that cares about finding the Truth and following it, then we should all care about the truth of Jesus’ existence and the validity of His claims.
If Jesus walked this earth and said the things He said, then He can be one of three things according to C.S. Lewis. He can be either a lunatic, a liar, or our Lord. He did not give us room to make him into a good teacher. Any inspiration that He was able to give, depended completely on the idea that He is the source of that inspiration.
So what does all of this mean for us today? Well, if it were somehow proven that Jesus did not exist in history, then everyone who claims to be a Christian should stop. We would be basing their life on a lie.
If He did exist, which is widely accepted among believers and unbelievers, then we are left to ask ourselves if He was telling the truth. If we come to the conclusion that yes, Jesus is telling the truth about who He is, then we are left with no other option but to follow Him, to worship Him with every part of ourselves just as His apostles did.
Again, C.S. Lewis, in all his genius, said, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”
So does it matter if Jesus actually existed in the lives of we who live in 2017? It matters deeply.
Maybe this is the year for your to find out what you believe about Jesus of Nazareth. If you find yourself believing that He is real and He is who He says He is, then take the leap and give Him your whole self. I promise it will be worth it.