Tuesday, August 7, 2007

EXAMINE THE CLAIMS

EXAMINE THE CLAIMS If God is to be a man, He must come into the world in a way that is very different from all other mortals. We come into the world through our parents and are conceived by our mothers. To ascertain whether Jesus of Nazareth is an ordinary person or the incarnated God, we need to examine His birth. If His birth was no different from ours, we have to conclude that He is nothing but a man. Not only does He have to pass the first qualification, but He needs to pass the second one. Do not hastily believe in a person simply because he claims to be God; we have to test him by our second criterion. If he is indeed God, he must be born in an extraordinary manner.If we study the birth of Jesus, we will find that it was very different from ours. He was born of a virgin. Both the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke in the New Testament tell us this fact. Jesus was born of a virgin, Mary.Before we go on, we have to realize that there are two ways to know God: by natural speculation or by revelation. According to natural speculation, one meditates and conjectures about God. In revelation, God speaks to man. We want to look at the revelation of God. We want to know what God says.The Gospels of Matthew and Luke show us that Jesus was born of a virgin, Mary. This important fact enables us to conclude that He is no ordinary person, and it justifies our being a Christian.The natural mentality cannot readily accept this fact. Some years ago, a big debate was conducted in England. On one side were prominent leaders of modernistic schools of theology. On the other side was a famous Presbyterian pastor-theologian. Four major topics were raised. Twice a day, for four consecutive days, each side took turns delivering a long speech for a total of eight messages. One of the topics was related to our subject—the virgin birth. The modernistic theologians asserted that one reason alone was enough to disprove the virgin birth—the event was biologically impossible. According to the law of biology, it is impossible to have the virgin birth.On the same day, their opponent gave the rebuttal. Let me briefly mention a few of his arguments. He said, "Our friends have denied the possibility of such an event on the ground of biological law. I am here to ask whether such an event happened. They asked, 'Can this happen?' They referred you to academic principles. I am asking, 'Has this happened?' I point to a historical occurrence. It is one thing to be academically justified. It is another thing to be historically recorded."As he was speaking, he drew out a newspaper from his pocket. In the paper was an article about an accident that had happened a few days earlier. A man was driving on a winding mountain road. Due to carelessness, the car slid and tumbled down a deep gorge. The car was totally wrecked. Not even a square foot of the vehicle was left untouched. It was thoroughly damaged. But the man on the ground was absolutely unhurt. Later, he rose up and walked away. The theologian read the passage aloud and said, "This car tumbled down a thousand feet into ruin. You cannot even find a square foot of whole metal, and yet the man was unharmed. My friends would ask, 'Could this man live?' But my question is, 'Is this man alive?' He is alive! If you consider the possibility, there is none. But if you consider the fact, there it is!"What we have is a historical fact. If we try to study the virgin birth from a scientific point of view, we may conclude that this is an impossible event. But my question is whether or not such an event occurred. The Gospel of Matthew says that Jesus was born of a virgin. So does the Gospel of Luke. At least you have to say that these records have said such a thing and that such an event was recorded in history. At least you have to believe that there is a historical event.I am not asserting that Matthew and Luke were inspired by the Holy Spirit when they wrote their books. Whether these books were divinely inspired or not, we will set aside for a moment. We are saying that there were a few people who followed Jesus. They wrote His biography. Both Matthew and Luke were contemporaries of Jesus. Matthew followed Him for more than three years. Luke was not as close, but he "carefully investigated all things" (Luke 1:3). I believe that when he wrote his gospel, the mother of Jesus was still alive. What did they say about the birth of Jesus? They all testified that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary. His birth was absolutely different from ours. Today, after almost two thousand years, some who never saw Jesus, never talked to Mary His mother, and never met Joseph His father, conclude that He was not born of a virgin. How can you say that He was not born in this manner? Are you ruling out the possibility of such an event and concluding that it did not happen because of some arguments you proposed in your study room or some theories you fashioned in the laboratory?Perhaps we should read the genealogy of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. There are forty-two generations in the genealogy. Beginning from the first generation, it repeatedly says, "So-and-so begot So-and-so." This phrase is used through verse 15, which says, "And Eliud begot Eleazar, and Eleazar begot Matthan, and Matthan begot Jacob." Verse 16 continues, "And Jacob begot Joseph." The surprising thing is that the next part of the sentence does not continue with "Joseph begot Jesus." Rather, it says, "Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ." When the line reaches Joseph, the pattern is dropped. This is because Jesus Christ was born of the virgin Mary. His way of birth was very different from ours.We have seen that His method of coming into the world was an unusual one. Now we want to look at His way of departing from the world. As we shall see, this was also contrary to our ordinary deaths. No one can ever predict the place, time, and manner he or she is going to die. A hundred years from now, all of us here will be dead. But no one knows how we are going to die. Jesus of Nazareth, however, foresaw His own death. He knew exactly when, where, and how it was to happen.Once when someone told Him that He was going to be killed, He answered that it was not acceptable for a prophet to perish outside of Jerusalem (Luke 13:33). He knew that He was going to die in Jerusalem. One day, He told His disciples that the hour had come. Not only did He sense the imminence of His death; He told others that His death hour had come. He knew also how He would die. A number of times He mentioned that He would be crucified. This was recorded at least three times in Matthew. Not only was this man different in His way of entering into the world, but His manner of departure was no less extraordinary. Both His birth and His death were very unusual. Is this the Son of God?Let us consider the third qualification. What kind of morality did Jesus of Nazareth have? Was He the same as we are? Did He ever sin?I like the sentence Jesus spoke in John 8. Many were opposing Him at that time. They surrounded and cross-examined Him. In return He asked, "Which of you convicts Me of sin?" (v. 46). This was a tremendous challenge! Which one of us would dare to stand before everyone and challenge to be convicted of sin? Whoever dared do such a thing would be put to shame the minute his wife stood up to testify against him. Perhaps, in less than five minutes, seven or eight people would immediately rise up to expose his lies and unfaithfulness. But when Jesus made such a statement, no one was able to convict Him of sin. There has been a countless number of saints and sages throughout the ages, but none was bold enough to claim to be perfect and sinless. Why is it that Jesus alone dared to make such a claim?All I can say is that this man is either arrogant to the extreme or holy to the uttermost. A proud person may talk in an outlandish manner because he does not know himself; he has no realization of what kind of person he is. But when Jesus challenged, "Which of you convicts Me," there was no way He could be humble or polite about it. He is without sin, and He is holy to the uttermost.Jesus of Nazareth is not like Confucius, who said that given some more time, he would be rid of big, moral flaws. Jesus is sinless. When He made such a statement, He made it before His enemies. If there had been a slight misconduct on His part, the Jews would have caught it right away. The Jews are not prolific writers; they have not produced many books other than the Holy Scripture. But after Jesus, many books were written by the Jews to contradict Him. All these books deny His divinity, but none touch His morality. Of all the opposing writings, none can prove that Jesus ever sinned.Every philosopher or founder of religion, at one time or another, has said, "I repent," or "I regret such and such a matter. I will do better from now on." But Jesus of Nazareth never repented. A sinner must of necessity repent. But what does a sinless man have to repent of? Jesus never apologized to anyone; He never did anyone any wrong.When I was in England, some British friends asked for my opinion concerning their people. I said, "Among you, once ever so often, I hear, 'Excuse me' and 'I beg your pardon.'" To the English, anyone who does not know how to make these two remarks has to be an extremely base person, for he knows not his own mistakes. Anyone can make a mistake, but when one refuses to admit his mistakes, he makes himself vulgar. For this reason we have to say, "Excuse me" and "I beg your pardon" all the time.The amazing thing is that Jesus of Nazareth never said "sorry" to anyone. He never apologized. Could He be so evil as to ignore His conscience completely? Was He oblivious to His own errors? Or is He really sinless? If so, He cannot say, "sorry." It is not a matter of humility or politeness to Him, but a matter of maintaining His standing.I love the story about Jesus once walking down a road. Many people were gathered around Him, hoping to see the resurrection of a dead person. It was so crowded that the people pressed upon each other. One woman, who suffered from an issue of blood for years, thought that Jesus would surely be able to heal her since He had performed all kinds of miracles. She did not come to the Lord directly. All that she did was touch the fringe of His garment, and the sickness was immediately healed (Mark 5:25-29).Jesus felt something, turned around, and asked, "Who touched Me?" How did the disciples respond? They said, "You see the crowd pressing upon You and You say, Who touched Me?" (v. 31). He should have asked, "Who pressed Me?" instead of "Who touched Me?" If I were Jesus, I would have said in a gentlemanly fashion, "Excuse me." But Jesus did not need to say that. When He said that it was a touch, He meant that it was a touch and not a pressing against. The disciples only knew that many thronged around Him. But He knew that someone "touched" Him. He knew what He was doing. There was no need for apology. He knows no sin because He is without sin.Let me mention another story about Jesus. One day He came to the synagogue in His hometown. Someone handed Him the Scripture, and He started to read from a passage about Himself. The people there, however, despised Him. He remarked that a prophet is always despised in His own place. For this reason, God would not choose them but would rather go to someone else. After they heard this, they were very indignant. They carried Him outside and tried to throw Him down a cliff. I like very much what Jesus did then. He passed through their midst (Luke 4:16-30). If someone tried to push us over a cliff, we would struggle to escape. But He was no ordinary person. He simply passed through the persecutors' midst. They could do nothing except let Him pass by! He is without sin.Again, you see the same Jesus preaching to a ruler at midnight in a house (John 3:2), while choosing to converse with a woman beside a well at midday (4:5-7). Everything He did was very proper. No one can say anything against Him. You cannot find fault in Him.Another time some opposers came to tempt Him. They asked whether or not it was lawful to pay tax to Caesar. The Jewish nation, as you know, no longer existed then, and Caesar of Rome was their king. If Jesus said "no" to the question, He would have been involved in a political issue, and the opposers would have had an excuse to condemn Him. If He said "yes," all the Jews would have counted Him as siding with the Romans and hated Him. The result, of course, would have favored the opposers. This was a question that could not be answered "yes" or "no."How did Jesus reply? He said, "Show Me the coin for the tribute" (Matt. 22:19). He was wise. He even had the opposing ones draw out the money from their own pockets. Then He asked, "Whose is this image and inscription?" (v. 20). They had to admit that it was Caesar's. Jesus gave an excellent reply: "Render then the things that are Caesar's to Caesar and the things that are God's to God" (v. 21). With that He dismissed the whole case. This is where His majesty lies. He never made a mistake. You cannot get a case out of Him.I cannot enumerate all His deeds. Everything He did bears such a mark of nobility that there is absolutely no flaw in His behavior. I will briefly mention His betrayal as a final example. It was very late in the night, and men armed with torches, spears, and swords came to arrest this empty-handed Jesus. He asked them, "Whom do you seek?" They said, "Jesus the Nazarene" (John 18:7). He replied, "I told you that I am" (v. 8). At that very word, the band of rogues whose minds were set on capturing Him fell back to the ground. If Jesus had not voluntarily given Himself over to them, they would never have been able to seize Him. Such calmness and majesty can only be seen in Him!As to the traitor, Jesus knew from the first day of his intention. Yet He allowed the same to follow Him and even let him be the keeper of the money. All the time Jesus knew that money was being stolen by him. Who can demonstrate such forbearance and uprightness? Here is a man who is absolutely different from all others. In every respect, He has been proven to be the Son of God.The fourth qualification we mentioned is that one who claims to be God incarnated must be able to perform what an ordinary person cannot. Has Jesus of Nazareth performed any supernatural acts? We are not His contemporaries; it was almost two thousand years ago that He walked on earth. Naturally, we cannot be His witnesses. But one thing is sure: the apostles who followed Jesus recorded, preached, and testified the things concerning Him. The four Gospels were all completed within thirty years after His departure. Most of the Jews who were then alive had seen Jesus. If the apostles' records were false, they would have been repudiated long ago. However, the Jews only argued that Jesus is not the Son of God. They never denied His deeds, for the deeds were all facts.Today, when we read the four Gospels, we have no apprehension about their authenticity. If there had been a slight error when they were written, there would have been grave problems because many of the contemporaries had actually seen and heard Jesus. There was no chance for any fabrication. Hence, these books cannot be a hoax. If the Jews could not attack these books, there is even less of a basis for an attack today.Let us examine some of the deeds of Jesus of Nazareth. Matthew 11:2 and 3 say, "Now when John heard in the prison of the works of the Christ, he sent word through his disciples and said to Him, Are You the Coming One, or should we expect another?" John wanted to make sure that Jesus was the Christ sent from God. If He was not, John would wait for another.Verses 4 and 5 say, "And Jesus answered and said to them, Go, report to John the things that you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; and the dead are raised and the poor have the gospel announced to them." Jesus answered neither "yes" nor "no." He only asked the messenger to tell John of the things heard and seen. He wanted John to think about them and decide for himself if Jesus was the Christ. Jesus proved His divinity by the miracles He performed. Here is a man who accomplished things that are impossible for human beings. You cannot help but confess that He is God.John 7:31 says, "But many out of the crowd believed into Him and said, Will the Christ, when He comes, do more signs than this man has done?" Many people testified that He performed all kinds of miracles which no man could do.John 10:24 says, "The Jews therefore surrounded Him and said to Him, How long will you hold our soul in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly." On the one hand, the Jews hardened their hearts and refused to acknowledge His divinity, and on the other hand, they were puzzled by the many supernatural miracles that He performed. They gathered around Him and pressed for an answer. There is one thing in which Jesus never gave in: His claim to divinity. He performed what mortals could not. These acts testify to His divinity. He told the people clearly, "The works which I do in My Father's name, these testify concerning Me" (v. 25). On the one hand, He made His claim, and on the other hand, He performed miracles to justify His claim.In John 14:11 He said to His disciples, "Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me." This is the same as saying that He is the invisible Father. "But if not, believe because of the works themselves." If He had not done anything impossible, this word would have had no value at all. If He had not performed any extraordinary acts, they would have asked back, "What works have You done? We do not know what You are talking about." But the disciples knew of the acts He did. All these acts prove that He is the Son of God.We have to check Jesus of Nazareth against a fifth qualification. If He is God, He has to show us what He is. Is He kind, or is He severe? Is He gentle, or is He fierce? What kind of a God do we have? As a matter of fact, Jesus did show us what God is.This is a most wonderful thing. The eternal, invisible God is now seen by us. There is no need to conjure up an untouchable and far transcendent God or imagine what He is like; He has revealed Himself to us. He has dwelt in our midst and walked among us. Jesus of Nazareth is the very God dwelling among and with man. He has manifested God's nature and attributes to us. There is no need to search for God anymore because He has revealed Himself. Our mentality is too limited. Our hands are too short, and our viewpoint too narrow. If we were left to ourselves to study and search for God, we could only conclude that He is the unknown One. Now we know that God desires to reveal Himself. In fact, He has revealed Himself to us already.We have said that the two means whereby God communicates with us are the written and spoken language. For this reason, the Bible and Jesus of Nazareth are the two indispensable factors in our faith. When you take away either one, God becomes the gravest problem in the world. Hebrews 1:1 says, "God, having spoken of old in many portions and in many ways to the fathers in the prophets." These speakings constitute the Bible. "Has at the last of these days spoken to us in the Son" (v. 2). This is Jesus of Nazareth. Whoever is in Christ now may know Him. To have heard the words of Jesus of Nazareth is to have heard the words of God.Dear reader, what is your attitude towards Jesus of Nazareth? Thomas confessed, "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28). Peter proclaimed, "You are...the Son of the living God!" (Matt. 16:16). Martha said, "I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God" (John 11:27). Even a Roman centurion exclaimed at the sight of Jesus hanging on the cross, "Truly this was the Son of God" (Matt. 27:54b). I hope you will make the same confession.

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