In the last episode I spoke of Jesus being God’s Son, coming into human history because it was what his Father wanted and for the purpose of showing us what his Father was truly like: to reveal to us God’s identity in the most vivid manner. I also acknowledged that Jesus’ mission had great breadth of detail. For in revealing his Father’s heart to us we catch breathtaking glimpses of what God had in mind when he created humanity in his own image. But before we go on with our exploration of the scope of Jesus’ mission perhaps we ought to pause a moment and reflect on some of the words Jesus used to describe himself.
A good way of doing so is for me to relate some of what C.S. Lewis had to say about it in his classic work, Mere Christianity. The part I want to share comes after Lewis talks about the freedom God has given the human race and how we’ve used free will for both good and bad. He talks about the gift of our conscience where we have a sense of right and wrong that is universal. He makes mention of what he calls good dreams sent by God: “queer stories” that have come down through the ages that pop up in various religions about a god who dies and comes to life again and brings new life to mankind. Lastly, Lewis speaks of how God “…selected one particular people and spent several centuries hammering into their heads the sort of God He was —that there was only one of Him and that He cared about right conduct. Those people were the Jews, and the Old Testament gives an account of the hammering process.”
What Lewis says next encapsulates the challenge confronting each one of us.
Then comes the real shock. 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. Now let us get this clear. Among Pantheists, like the Indians, anyone might say that he was a part of God, or one with God: there would be nothing very odd about it. But this man, since He was a Jew, could not mean that kind of God. God, in their language, meant the Being outside the world Who had made it and was infinitely different from anything else. And when you have grasped that, you will see that what this man said was, quite simply, the most shocking thing that has ever been uttered by human lips.
One part of the claim tends to slip past us unnoticed because we have heard it so often that we no longer see what it amounts to. I mean the claim to forgive sins: any sins. Now unless the speaker is God, this is really so preposterous as to be comic. We can all understand how a man forgives offenses against himself. You tread on my toe and I forgive you, you steal my money and I forgive you. But what should we make of a man, himself unrobbed and untrodden on, who announced that he forgave you for treading on other men’s toes and stealing other men’s money? Asinine fatuity is the kindest description we should give of his conduct. Yet this is what Jesus did.
He told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured. He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned, the person chiefly offended in all offences. This makes sense only if He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin. In the mouth of any speaker who is not God, these words would imply what I can only regard as a silliness and conceit unrivalled by any other character in history.
Yet (and this is the strange, significant thing) even His enemies, when they read the Gospels, do not usually get the impression of silliness and conceit. Still less do unprejudiced readers. Christ says that He is “humble and meek” and we believe Him; not noticing that, if He were merely a man, humility
and meekness are the very last characteristics we could attribute to some of His sayings.
Lewis concludes with a crescendo of logic!
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 a 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.