Christianity centres around Jesus Christ.
The following are answers given to commonly asked questions about him.
The evidence for Jesus’ existence is incredibly strong. Obviously there is the evidence from the Bible itself but there are also many references to his existence from other ancient sources. Josephus, the Jewish historian, writing around AD 66 tells us that Jesus was called ‘the Christ’, was the founder of the ‘Christians’, was crucified by Pontius Pilate, had a brother called James and there was a belief he rose from the dead. Pliny, a Roman writer around AD 112, tells us that Jesus’ followers were called Christians and that they worshipped Jesus as ‘a God’. Tacitus, a Roman historian of the same period, tells us that Jesus was executed in Judea during the period when Tiberias was Emperor (AD 14-37) and Pontius Pilate was Governor (AD 26-36). He also tells us the movement (of Christianity) spread from Judea to Rome. A few years later, Suetonius (who was a biographer employed by Pliny) tells us that Christians existed by the time of Nero and were persecuted by him (AD 66). None of these writers were Christians and yet from them we learn that the broad outline of Jesus life which Christians believe today was accepted in the ancient world.
Sometimes people who have heard some of Jesus’ teaching such as ‘love your enemies’ suggest that Jesus was just a good man. But if we take seriously what the Gospels say about Jesus we cannot agree with that assessment. Jesus persistently claimed to be God and to be the only way to God. In doing so he was either self-deceived or was consciously deceiving others. As someone famously said he was either a liar, a lunatic or he is Lord - who he claimed to be. In his classic book Mere Christianity, CS Lewis helpfully addresses this question:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: 'I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.' That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic - on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg - or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
It is sometimes suggested that the early disciples made up the stories of Jesus to increase their authority or to somehow make their message more appealing. There are a number of reasons why this suggestion is flawed.
In the gospel records the picture that emerges of the disciples is that they are often lacking in faith, slow to understand and ultimately abandon Jesus in his hour of greatest need. The disciples no doubt could have influenced the content of the stories, for they were often their eyewitness accounts, but they clearly do not fail to tell of their shortcomings. This suggests they were telling events as they happened.
There are four independent Gospels and the writers would not have known that they would be bound together and could easily be compared. Yet when we do compare them we find that they agree with each other remarkably and again strengthen the case that they are recording actual events.
The Jesus the Gospels tell us of was not a figure who was likely to appeal to the thinking of the day. As Paul would later say, the message of a crucified Saviour was ‘a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles’. The Jews considered anyone who died on a tree to be cursed by God and therefore it would scandalous to suggest he was a Saviour. On the other hand the thinking current in the Gentile world suggested that the ‘gods’ should have nothing to do with the material world and therefore the idea of a God who took on humanity was contrary to what they believed to good.
The early disciples suffered greatly for what they believed. Almost all of the original disciples were killed because of who they said Jesus was and what this meant. It is inconceivable that they would have persisted with this position had they made up or even embellished the stories about Jesus.
These factors strongly suggest that the early disciples were indeed the reliable witnesses they claimed to be.
Even if the reasonableness of Jesus’ historical existence is accepted, people sometimes do not see what his relevance could possibly be for us today. If we are to take his claims seriously however, we may begin to realise why he matters today. What the Bible tells us about Jesus is that he is God’s Son come into our world. Amazingly the Creator becomes part of creation. He does not do this in order to rule over us but to serve us - and particularly to die for us. He is the one who has come to pay the penalty for our rebellion against the God who made us. This he did by dying on the cross. Although crucifixion was a terrible death, something much worse was happening to Jesus. He was bearing the sins of the world. The fact that he did this successfully was demonstrated by his rising from the dead.
It is through our faith (trust) in what Jesus has done that a person comes to know God today. This is the message that the early disciples took out into the world and which the church today continues to make known. So knowing Jesus is not just something that brings us forgiveness, meaning or contentment - it is how we have a relationship with God. That is what we were made for and that is why he matters.
Recently in Hill Street, we looked at three key questions about Jesus. You can listen to those talks by clicking here. There are also lots of very useful tools on the Internet to help consider what it means to become a Christian and how to follow the example of Jesus in our daily lives - check out these three great online resources! If you are interested in finding out more you would also be very welcome to come along to our Sunday Services or speak with one of our church leaders.