Jesus once asked his disciples point-blank, “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”16 Perhaps Peter gave such an answer because he had no alternative. More than anyone else, he knew the life and wisdom of Jesus. Converting this knowledge into equations and solving for Jesus’ identity, he was convinced that Jesus could not be a lunatic or a liar.
Probably few people think that Jesus was a lunatic who just considered himself the Son of God, when he was in reality only a human being. In fact, people claiming to be great, powerful, or omnipotent are not scarce. Mental asylums are full of people claiming to be emperors, Napoleon, or even Jesus. They were confined because nobody believes in them, except perhaps patients in the same institution. People do not believe in them because their lives are not consistent with their claims.
On the other hand, in Jesus’ case, not only do many people believe in him, but he also had a more profound influence on the world than anyone else. He was born into a poor carpenter’s family, but he has conquered the world much more than Alexander the Great. He had no college degree, but his teachings have allowed people to see themselves and God more clearly than any other philosopher. He never traveled more than 200 miles from his birthplace, but his reputation has been spread all over the world. He never wrote a book, but books written about him are more abundant than books about anyone else. He never wrote a song, but songs praising him are sung throughout the world.
People believe in Jesus because all the other aspects in his life are consistent with his claim of divinity.
Now if Jesus were really the Son of God, he must have been sinless. This doesn’t simply mean that he was never convicted for doing harm to others, but entails much more. It means that he was above sinful human nature. It is true that, with our limited knowledge, we cannot prove that Jesus was absolutely sinless. But we can say that while many people have attacked him and his teaching, but they have not been able to prove his sinfulness. Once, he challenged his detractor, “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?”17 Nobody answered.
Mark records that the Jews accused Jesus of four sins. The first was blasphemy, because he claimed to be the Son of God. The second was friendship with people of ill repute, such as tax collectors. (To his accusers, these people were scoundrels that needed to be avoided.) The third was ignoring religious traditions because he didn’t instruct his disciples to fast weekly. The fourth was healing and letting his disciples pick some heads of grain during the Sabbath, which according to the Old Testament was the day that everyone had to rest.18 Let us look at each of these accusations.
As for the first accusation, if Jesus were actually the Son of God, why would it be blasphemous to say so? Indeed, it would have been lying to deny it. The second accusation that it is sinful to be friends with sinners is equally absurd. As a Vietnamese proverb goes, God “can be in the mud without smelling muddy.” He doesn’t have to avoid people of ill repute in order to keep himself clean. Furthermore, according to Jesus, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”19 Considering the third accusation, if fasting is to express sorrow20, why would his disciples have had to fast when they were near him?21 And as for the last accusation, if the Sabbath was the day that God instituted for man, and if Jesus really was the Son of God, then why would he be restricted by it? He once stated, “The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”22 How profound!
During his last days, when he was arrested and brought before the Jewish Supreme Council, those who opposed him hired false witnesses to testify against him in an effort to discredit him. Unfortunately for them, these witnesses contradicted each other. So then the high priest asked Jesus point blank, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One.” When Jesus replied, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the mighty one and coming on the clouds of heaven,” the high priest tore his clothes, saying, “Why do we need any more witnesses. You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” The Council responded by condemning him as worthy of death.23 All of this was based on Jesus’ claim of being the Son of God.
At that time, the Jews were under the authority of the Roman Empire. Thus Jesus’ death sentence had to be approved by Pontius Pilate, the provincial governor. Not convinced by the arguments, Pontius Pilate many times tried to avoid the responsibility of sentencing Jesus. Finally, he acquiesced under strong pressure from the Jews and agreed to have Jesus executed. However, before doing so, he washed his hands in front of everybody and declared, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. It is your responsibility.”24 He asked, “What crime has he committed?”25
When we are around people of low moral standards, we do not feel as sinful as when we are near those of higher standards. When we are contrasted with perfect purity, we feel dirty; when we stand beside perfect beauty, we feel ugly. This was the perspective of the Jews: Although they may have looked down on others, none of them in their right mind claimed to be absolutely sinless, since they knew of the absolute righteousness of God. The Bible tells the story of the prophet Isaiah seeing God in heaven, sitting on a glorious throne. His immediate reaction was, “Woe to me. I am ruined, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.”26
Yet, while Jesus proclaimed that he was with God, he did not feel sinful. “The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.”27
If I say, “Einstein likes to talk to me because he thinks I’m very smart,” then people would view me either as crazy or as exceptionally smart. Likewise, if we put ourselves in the perspective of the Jews at that time, we would have had only two choices: Either Jesus was a shameless impostor or he was the Son of God, absolutely sinless and always doing what was pleasing to God.
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus always taught that people were sinful. Yet, there is no evidence that he considered himself sinful.
Actually, if he had any secret sins, it would be hard for us to imagine that he could be the author of the many excellent sermons recorded in the Bible. Here are a few excerpts from the Sermon on the Mount.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.28
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.29
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.30
These sermons are not irrelevant teachings, but have authority. The Jewish leaders once asked each other, “How did this man get such learning without having studied?” Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.”31
Should we believe him, or did Jesus simply have a knack for boasting?
You might say, “Do not listen to what Jesus said, but look at what he did.” Let us do that.
According to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Jesus did many things that can only be regarded as miracles. He walked on water32, converted water into wine33, made five loaves of bread and two fish into food for five thousand people34, made the lame walk35, the mute speak36, and the blind see37. He held the hand of a child who was already dead, and the child stood up38. He laid his hands on the coffin, and the man inside sat up39. He called “Lazarus, come out,” and Lazarus came out of the tomb, although had been buried for three days.40
It is easy to be suspicious of these miracles and say that they were just figments of their authors’ imagination. Perhaps the following two arguments will diminish some of the doubt.
First, these miracles were normally performed before a crowd, not before some pre-selected group. The Gospels were written not very long after the recorded events, within one or two generations after the witnesses. If they were fabricated, surely someone would have disputed them. But for example, after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, Jesus’ enemies didn’t deny the miracle, but rather they gathered together, and said things like, “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him. Then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”41
Jesus contemporaries, from his disciples to his enemies, all admitted that he could perform miracles. However, his enemies claimed that he was the devil, using the power of the prince of demons to drive out demons. To this accusation, he explained, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then, can his kingdom stand?”42
Secondly, if we suspect that these miracles were fabricated, we must consider the disciples’ motives for the miracle accounts. The disciples did not record these miraculous stories to prove that Jesus was the Son of God or to make anybody believe in him. Jesus often told those whom he healed not to tell anyone about the miracle. Whenever he was challenged to perform miracles to prove his abilities, he always declined. For example, at the beginning of his ministry, Satan tempted Jesus:
The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ “ Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ “ Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ “43
To Jesus, miracles were not clothes he wore to impress people. He even taught his disciples to be wary of those who did profess to perform miracles, because in the last days, “false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs to deceive even the elect, if that were possible.”44
Nevertheless, Jesus still performed miracles. If I were a medical doctor, I would not need to put on a white coat and wear a stethoscope around my neck so that people would recognize that I was doctor. I could warn other people not to be deceived by quacks. However, if I saw a sick man, I would try to heal him. If people asked how they could know that I was a doctor, I could tell them to look at my work.
That was Jesus’ attitude. His miracles were not performed to show off, but to glorify God and to help other people. They are performed with grace and love, bringing many valuable lessons to those who look for a God, and harmonized naturally with his character and his ministry. Yet, when John the Baptist questioned Jesus’ identity, he replied to the messenger, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard. The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”45
Such was also the attitude of the disciples when they related Jesus’ miracles. They did not do so to make others believe. To them, Jesus’ performance of miracles was the same as a doctor healing, a professor teaching, or an athlete exercising. They were an integral part of his life, and therefore had to be reported.
The fact the he performed miracles without the intent of convincing people that he was the Son of God makes them more convincing. However, for those who still do not believe but want to know more about his miracles, then there remains his greatest miracle, the one that nobody else has ever performed. During the last 2000 years, many people have tried without success to discount this miracle in order to destroy Christianity. If this miracle never occurred, then the foundation of Christianity would collapse. If it is untrue, Paul wrote that of all the people in the world, Christians should be pitied the most.46
Let us analyze this greatest miracle.