Why Follow Jesus?

At the end of what is called the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, the Bible says the people were amazed by the teaching of Jesus, not just because of what he taught, but also by the way he taught. He taught them with an authority unlike anything they had heard from other teachers of the word of God (Matt 7:28). Throughout the Gospels it is evident that Jesus speaks quite unlike any scribe or even any other prophet before him.

It was typical of teachers of the Bible to refer to other famous rabbis or the Bible itself as an authority; and it was typical of a prophet to speak with the authority of “Thus saith the Lord” wherein God Himself is the authority. Yet Jesus’ teaching was self-referential, meaning he referred to himself as the authority. Throughout the Sermon on the Mount he says things like, “You’ve heard it said but I say unto you …”  He never refers to any other human teacher as an authority and he never says “Thus saith the Lord” as was common among the Jewish prophets.  He spoke with a power and authority that most would think was only reserved for God.

In Mark 2, for instance, he claimed the authority to forgive sins to the alarm of the religious leaders who declared it, within the silence of their own hearts, to be blasphemy, for as they thought to themselves, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (v. 7). Although they never spoke a word with their lips, Jesus heard them loud and clear as if he was indeed the One to Whom all hearts are open (i.e. 1 Chronicles 28:9; Jeremiah 17:10); indeed, because He was and is (see Revelation 2:23). When He stills a storm on the sea His bewildered disciples ask, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (NRSV)  Who but the One Whom the Psalms declare is the one “who rules “the raging of the sea” and stills the rising waves (Psalm 89:9), the One who stills the storm and hushes the waves of the sea (Psalm 107:29). Who else could it be but the One who existed before Abraham as the great “I Am” (John 8:39-59)? Who else could command honor for Himself and faith in Himself along side of God Himself (John 5:19-29; 14:1), but the One Who was indeed God in flesh? (See John 1)

Jesus didn’t walk around with a T-shirt that said “I am God”, but He said and did many things that indicated that He thought he was.  The question is was he telling the truth?

Some people, those who don’t claim to be Christians and some who do, insist that Jesus was just a really good man, but a man only and nothing more. They assure us that they admire Him as a good moral teacher and even as a powerful prophet, but they can’t believe He really was God in the flesh. And even though Jesus Himself declares, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” and that “no one comes to the Father except through” Him, some insist that Jesus may be one way, but He certainly wasn’t and isn’t the only way to know God. C.S. Lewis reveals the folly of such sentiments.

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” (from Mere Christianity, chapter 3).

Often, I have found, people end up following a Jesus of their own imagination rather than the Jesus revealed in the Bible. I know that was true for me (Click on the Blog title and scroll down to begin reading my testimony). Throughout history people have found themselves quite uncomfortable with the God revealed in the Bible, hence the ever present, persistent temptation to idolatry. From the very beginning, beginning with chapter 1 of Genesis, through to the very end, the Bible makes the bold, albeit often hard to believe claim that there is only one true God whom all people should follow and worship. The worship of other gods and idols is the problem for which the revelation of the God of the Bible is the solution.

If we have followed the story line of the Bible closely and carefully we shouldn’t be surprised by the very stark and exclusive claims of Jesus in John 14:6. As the manifestation of the world’s only rightful Lord in human form, we should not be surprised at all. He claimed not to be a way, but the way, and in the context of the Bible, which insists, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3) we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that He is the only way. In light of Isaiah 45:22, which declares, “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other”, neither should we be surprised when Peter declares that outside of the name of Jesus “there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Jesus made some bold claims such that He really only leaves us three options. Either he was insane, a devilish deceiver, or He was and is Who he claimed to be.  Why should we accept Him? Why should we trust him and follow him? Is there any good reason?

Path down the Mount of the Beatitudes to the Sea of Galilee

The short answer is yes; and it is spelled t-h-e r-e-s-u-r-r-e-c-t-i-o-n.

Some, including many very brilliant scholars, dismiss the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which Christians have always believed to have been a bodily event in time and space, simply because they assume it couldn’t have happened because of the improbability. But improbable doesn’t mean impossible, nevertheless many scholars work under the assumption that it does. Since the early days of the Enlightenment and the growing prevalence of a deistic and eventually an atheistic worldview much of the scholarship on the Bible has filtered out miracles and divine intervention. What many don’t realize is that this “modern” worldview was just an updated version of an ancient worldview called Epicureanism. This is a worldview with it own set of presuppositions which are not themselves beyond question. As hard as it may be to accept we live in a universe with many things beyond human reason and empirical investigation, and it is not close-minded to believe that.

Serious scholars of history and the Bible from the past and the present have declared the resurrection of Jesus Christ to be the best explanation for the history that transpired thereafter. There are historical realities which require adequate explanation. We must wonder why movements of other would-be Jewish messiahs who were executed or killed on either side of Jesus of Nazareth disbanded or found another would-be messiah to follow in all cases that we know of except for the followers of Jesus who not only continued to follow Him but clearly worshiped Him and honored him as Lord and God.

The reason Jesus’ actual disciples gave was that He was actually raised from the dead. Keep in mind, here again, we are not talking about a merely spiritual experience of a mere apparition. The earliest disciples of Jesus believed and insisted that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead. Hence Luke’s story of Jesus insisting he was no ghost and pointing to his very physical flesh and bones in their presence, after which he ate a piece of fish in their presence (Luke 24:36-42), and John’s depiction of Thomas actually touching Jesus’ wounds from the crucifixion.

Doubtless there are countless questions that still arise and still plenty of mystery, but make no mistake the earliest disciples insisted that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead. As N.T. Wright has explained there would really be no other type of resurrection other than a bodily one in the ancient world (See “The Resurrection of the Son of God”), and then as well as now the possibility of resurrection was very hard to believe as the stories on the Gospels actually indicate. Yet Jesus’ followers came to believe in it wholeheartedly.  They took this to mean that Jesus really was Who he claimed to be; therefore they continued to follow Him as the Messiah of Israel and the hope of the world.

Even some of the most skeptical scholars know this to be a historical fact; that is that Jesus’ earliest followers really believed that he was raised from the dead, not that Jesus really was raised from the dead. It is a highly probable fact of history that the earliest followers of Jesus really believed He was raised from the dead to never die again. For Paul it was definitely the essential linchpin to the Christian faith and Christian proclamation (1 Corinthians 15) and an essential belief for salvation (Romans 10:9). It’s not so much a question of whether the earliest disciples of Jesus really believed He was bodily raised from the dead, they certainly did. The question is why? This is a historical question that needs to be answered.

Hence skeptics, those who rule out the possibility of resurrection on philosophical grounds, put forth alternative explanations. They put forth explanations because something has to be explained, namely the rise and expansion of the Church. None of them, however, have the explanatory power of the simplest – as paradoxical as that may sound to some – explanation. Jesus earliest followers believed that He was raised from the dead and continued to follow Him and to proclaim Him to be the world’s rightful Lord and its final Judge because He really was raised from the dead.  And because they believed this they risked, and many lost, their own lives to proclaim it.

Many will die for what they believe to be true when they are not in a position to know for sure whether it really is true, but the earliest followers of Jesus were willing to die for a claim that they were in a position to know for sure whether or not it was true. If Jesus were still really dead His followers would not have had any incentive at all to risk their lives for claiming He was bodily raised from the dead. If Jesus was not raised from the dead, like all the other followers of would-be messiahs, they would have disbanded or jumped on someone else’s bandwagon. As Paul said, if Christ wasn’t raised from the dead “why are we putting ourselves in danger every hour?” (1 Cor. 15:30).

This get’s to the heart of the matter and what we believe about this is a matter of the heart. I believe Jesus was raised from the dead? Do you? I confess Jesus Christ as Lord, and follow him accordingly, do you?  If so, then, praise God!, according to Romans 10:9-10 you are saved. Next time I’ll discuss why it is so important to believe in the resurrection and the difference it makes in our lives.

“Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” Romans 10:9-10 ESV

Maybe you’re thinking you could believe if you could see. But it is also true that if you can believe then you could see. You can believe! And there are plenty of reasons to believe in Jesus Christ and to confess him as Lord. Believe and you will see; trust and you will know; you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.

 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:29 ESV

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