Monday, February 02, 2009

Finding Jesus Christ: What he claimed about himself

Click here for an explanation about this series: "Finding Jesus Christ."

Now that you've watched The Gospel of John movie (see my recent post in this series), you've been exposed to the entire contents of the New Testament's Gospel of John word for word. I hope it was enlightening for you to hear the story about Jesus straight from the source. Just be aware that there are three other gospels in which other teachings and miracles of Jesus are recorded. We're going to stick with John for now because we've got to start somewhere.

At the very end of the movie we learn the reason why this story is called the Gospel of John. It is because one of the disciples, John, is the storyteller who claims to be giving an eyewitness report of Jesus' life on earth. (You may recall that he is guy the movie freeze-framed just before the credits rolled.)

So that's great. Another disciple of a charismatic leader makes fantastic claims about his leader's exploits, with the result that a lot of simple-minded, superstitious people buy into it and, behold, a religion is born!

Maybe. But I think what John reports about Jesus' teachings is utterly unique because of one important thing. According to John, Jesus' primary demand was that his followers believe in him, and believe the things he said about himself. That came across pretty clearly in the movie, didn't it? Jesus demanded that his followers believe that he came down from heaven. That is, that he preexisted his life as a human being. He also said that he was sent from heaven by God, whom he claimed was his Father. When you combine the sent-by-his-Father claim with the preexistence claim, you can only conclude that Jesus is claiming to be the Son of God with a capital "s."

In case you have doubts about whether you heard him right, you might also recall the scene where Jesus was teaching near the construction site. Workers were hanging off the scaffolding and handling loose stone. Jesus held up his hand amidst the crowd and said, "I am telling you the truth! Before Abraham was born . . . I am." People were enraged and sought to stone Jesus because he was quoting from a famous passage in the Old Testament, where God revealed himself to Moses as "I am." (Exodus 3:13-14) "I am" means "I am the one who simply exists. I never had a beginning and I won't have an end. I just am." It is a claim that can only be made by someone equal to God. That's why many of these devout Jews sought to kill Jesus for blasphemy.

These were the claims Jesus asked his followers to believe about himself. In doing so he made clear what kind of response he did not want. He did not want to be patronized. He did not want to go down in history as another mythological figure or patron saint about whom cute stories are told, so that people could say, "Well, who knows whether the stories are true, but that's beside the point! The point is that when I think of him I feel so much hope, so much love, so much inspiration!"

Jesus was not going to let people get away with that nonsense. He called them to a calm, sober belief in himself. And not an easy belief either. His followers had to believe that he was the revelation of God in human form, that his miracles testified to the truth of his identity, and that he not only raised others from the dead but in the end he raised himself. The challenge is the same for those who seek him today.