When I was 22, I moved to the Republic of China, also know as Taiwan, to teach English to school-aged children, and businessmen and women.
At this time in my life, I grew to have an affinity for diver's watches, and so I spent some of my free time looking at different styles and pricing them out. On one particular day, an individual showed me a "Rolex" for only $30 dollars! A friend who was with me informed me that this was a copy watch, a counterfeit. This imitation looked real except for the second hand. It ticked, unlike a real Rolex in which the second hand sweeps. Upon hearing that a few moments later, the "salesperson" brought out another copy Rolex with the hand sweeping just like the real thing! Its price was $50.
We can also have that kind of a bare minimum attitude when it comes to our understanding of the God of the universe. As individuals that live in a highly consumeristic culture, we can avoid "hard teaching" or anything that has to do with the "c" word -- commitment. This can open one up to or make one susceptible to teachings that are "prettied up" to gain our approval.
Last week in this column, it was pointed out that Jesus Christ is linked in one way or another to the major religions of the world. A summary of the world religions would teach that Jesus had great spiritual knowledge and insight, was a moral leader, a charismatic teacher and an altruistic healer. A leader in the early church, Paul, upped the ante about Jesus, advancing these thoughts in a passage from the Bible found in 1 Timothy 2:5-6, "For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people." Some may criticize statements like "one mediator" and "a ransom for all people" as being narrow and insensitive to other paths to God.
But what did Jesus say? Who did Jesus claim to be? In one of the most quoted verses in the Bible, John 14:6, Jesus communicates to his burdened followers, "I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me." Similarly, in John 10:9, Jesus expresses, "I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture." While dealing with a woman who had just lost her brother in John 11:25, Jesus reveals, "I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die." Jesus claims to be "the way" to live this life, "the gateway" to eternal life and invites all to put their trust in him. According to Jesus he is the answer to the "ultimate questions" in life.
And Jesus said even more difficult things. In John 8:58, Jesus said to a group of religious leaders, "Before Abraham was born, I AM." This claim of preexistence was not well received. On another occasion, Jesus plainly expressed his deity, "I and the Father are one." In Matthew 16:15-16, when Peter states that Jesus is "the Christ, the Son of the living God," Jesus not only accepts the titles but also calls Peter blessed and declares the profession as a divine revelation. Jesus, the man from Nazareth, claimed to be God!
So what is true? Was Jesus just a good man, an interesting teacher and an insightful leader? Or is he "the way"? Is he God? In the book "Mere Christianity," C.S. Lewis provides a great summary to the dilemma about Jesus -- "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 patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."
I encourage you when it comes to the ultimate questions in your life to not settle for what might be a mere imitation. But do begin a quest and discover for yourself the real Jesus!
Norm Byers is the lead pastor of Genesis Church, which meets 9:30 a.m. Sundays at the Petoskey Cinema and 11 a.m. Sundays at Boyne City elementary. For more information, visit www.genesiswired.com.