THREE FACTS THAT MATTER

Copyright © 2003 - Robert H. Baylis

 

Many years ago when I was an army draftee I was walking back to the barracks with a friend late in the evening after a few beers at the PX and this chap began to ask me questions about my belief in God.  Well, the fact is that though I had been brought up in a home where my dad was a sincere believer and I went to Sunday school and all that, I was somewhat less than devout.  But I told my friend the little I knew.  Obviously this situation was unusual, and it was new to me.  Most people in our culture are just plain disinterested in exploring the God question.  Either that or they’re embarrassed to bring it up.  “Let’s not get into politics or religion” is what I’m used to hearing.  But in case you’re curious like my PX buddy I’ll pretend you’re interested and bring it up now.

 

Some time after this I was taking a class in public speaking at the university and we were all assigned to give a talk about a well known figure that we admired.  I couldn’t resist giving my speech about Jesus Christ.  In this completely non-religious setting the class was fascinated and asked me questions until we ran out of time.  This taught me something valuable.  Jesus and religion are two different entities.  Get on the subject of religion and people start shouting at one another.  I actually saw this happen when a Muslim and a Hindu got on the same tour bus in New Delhi.  But Jesus, though a formal faith is built around him, stands or falls on his own claims of who he is, and on the historical facts about him.

 

Back in the early days of World War II an Oxford don and popular lecturer named C.S. Lewis was starting to put what is sometimes called the “good news” about Jesus into plain English.  He was not a professional churchman, but he was a skillful teacher.  In the dark days of 1939 and 1940 he was traveling all over the south of Britain in what spare time he could afford giving talks to members of the Royal Air Force.  They didn’t care for religious jargon.  Lewis was so effective at doing this that he was contacted by the BBC, and the result was four series of 10-15 minute talks later combined into a book called Mere Christianity.  Now over fifty years later that book is still selling all over the world in many languages, and (literally) in the thousands.

 

Here is what Lewis said to begin one of his broadcast series:

 

“Everyone has warned me not to tell you what I am going to tell you in these talks.  They all say ‘The ordinary listener doesn’t want Theology; you give him plain practical religion’.  I don’t think the ordinary listener is such a fool.  I think any  man who wants to think about God at all would like the clearest and most accurate ideas about Him which are available.  You’re not children:  why should you be treated like children?”

 

This quote indicates that C.S. Lewis believed the Christian faith can appeal to people through their minds.  It makes sense.  He invited his listeners or readers to think.  So let me take Lewis’s cue and put before you three things to mull over about Jesus, three things that are totally unique, even shocking, which religion apart from Jesus can’t begin to claim.  Then it’s up to you to make up your mind.  Here are the three things:

 

1.      Jesus was born a Jew and he is the only person in history who ever perfectly kept the Ten Commandments.

2.      Jesus claimed to be God and he lived like it and spoke like it.

3.      Jesus predicted that he would be killed and rise from the dead, and he actually was killed and rose from the dead.

 

These three points are all self-evident in the New Testament, a book which can be obtained in any library or book store.  The New Testament is a collection of 27 documents consisting first of four accounts of Jesus’ life and the rest mostly letters.  The intention of the authors was to communicate clearly just as we do in correspondence today.  You don’t need me or even some religious expert to explain it to you.  It was written originally in Koine Greek, the everyday form of the international language used throughout the Roman Empire.  It was the language used by the residents of Judea where Jesus lived and taught, but it’s now a dead language – that is, it’s no longer used for everyday communication, so its form hasn’t evolved as living languages tend to do.

 

To give you an idea of how the original Greek reads in up-to-date English, here’s a sample of writing from the book of Acts, chapter 17 that my dad had me memorize when I was a kid about ten or eleven:

 

 “While Paul was waiting for them [his fellow travelers] in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.  So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.  A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him.  Some of them asked, ‘What is this babbler trying to say?’”, etc. (Read the rest of the account; it’s interesting)

 

Another important fact to note about the New Testament is that it makes reference in many places to contemporary people and events.  If these were phony it obviously would bear on the rest of the content.  Here are a couple of examples.  In the opening words of the second chapter of St. Luke we are told:

 

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.  This was the first census that was taken while Quirenius was governor of Syria.”

 

For a long time scholars questioned the accuracy of this statement, not about the census but because of the reference to Quirenius – until it was confirmed by archaeological findings.  Or take the Acts of the Apostles chapter 18, verse 3, where we learn that Aquila and his wife were ordered out of Italy by Claudius because they were Jews.  This would have occurred around A.D. 50 to 52 as Paul met them in Ephesus in 52.  You’ll find plenty of  information about Claudius and the ejection of the Jews from Rome in non-biblical sources. 

 

            So now let’s look at the three unique things about Jesus:

 

First, I said that JESUS WAS BORN A JEW AND HE IS THE ONLY PERSON IN HISTORY WHO EVER PERFECTLY KEPT THE TEN COMMANDMENTS.  The Ten Commandments are found in the Old Testament book of  Exodus chapter 20.  Here is a summary:

 

You shall  have no other gods before me

You shall not make for yourself any idols

You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God

Remember the Seventh Day by keeping it holy [or distinct]

Honor your father and your mother

You shall not murder

You shall not commit adultery

You shall not steal

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor

You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or anything that belongs to him

 

Jesus obeyed these commandments perfectly. So far as I know, nobody else in all of human history has.

 

Second, JESUS CLAIMED TO BE GOD AND HE LIVED LIKE IT AND SPOKE LIKE IT.  If you read any of the first four books of the New Testament you will find that Jesus makes no bones about his identity.  He refers to himself constantly as the Son of Man, which is a euphemism for “God’s Son,” and he makes it clear that he can forgive sins, which only God can do.  For example, in the second chapter of St. Mark Jesus is preaching in a typical middle eastern house and some men come along carrying a paralyzed fellow to be healed.  Jesus says to the man, “Son, your sins are forgiven,” meaning “You’re healed.”  But the religious experts in the crowd are thinking, “This guy is cursing; nobody but God can forgive sins.”  So Jesus, knowing what they’re thinking, says, “That you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . .”  and he turns to the paralytic and orders, “Get up, take your mat and go home!”  And the healed man does exactly that.

 

And third, JESUS PREDICTED THAT HE WOULD BE KILLED AND RISE FROM THE DEAD AND HE ACTUALLY WAS KILLED AND ROSE FROM THE DEAD.  If you read any of the Gospels you will find Jesus often speaking to his disciples about his upcoming suffering and death.  They of course didn’t have a clue.  They thought that he was leading them to restore Israel to a theocracy again and to get rid of the Romans.  So here is what happens on the evening before he was arrested and crucified:

 

“When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, ‘As you know, the Passover is two days away – and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified . . .  But after I have risen I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”  Matthew 26:1,2,32

 

In the final chapters of any one of the Gospels you will get a realistic description of the arrest, trial, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.  And if you read the book called the Acts of the Apostles you will find out what his disciples did afterward.  By the way, secular history records that all of the disciples but one died violently for insisting that Jesus rose from the dead.

 

Let me add just one more point to finish this out. I said near the beginning that Jesus and religion are two different entities.  And the most controversial thing about Jesus is the resurrection.  Near the end of his first letter to the Corinthians that brilliant communicator St. Paul discusses the issue of the resurrection of Jesus.  Even though there were plenty of people alive at the time who had witnessed the risen Jesus, many others found this hard to take.  So here’s what Paul says:

 

“If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless, and so is your faith.  More than that, we are found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Jesus from the dead.”

 

So I leave you with three facts to ponder about Jesus. If the last one isn’t true then you can forget the others as well.  But if this makes sense to you, then I suggest that you talk to another intelligent person who is a follower of Jesus.  Or read the New Testament. 

 

Robert H. Baylis

Sonoma, California

RobertBaylis_1@juno.com

 

Web posted:  June 21, 2003

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