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Trilemma: Liar, Lunatic, or Lord - Part 1

Tom Pennington • Mark 3:20-35

  • 2015-12-06 AM
  • Sermons


If I were to ask you this morning what is the most important thing about you, what would you say? What is the most important thing about you? Perhaps you might point to some character quality that you believe you have and that really is important to you personally. Perhaps you would point to some capacity, some ability that God has given you. Or maybe you would point to your family and friends. Or perhaps you would acknowledge the accomplishments God has enabled you to do, or the position that you have attained. What is the most important thing about you? In reality it's none of those things. The most important thing about you this morning is actually your answer to a two-thousand-year-old question: "Who do you say that I am?" That was the question Jesus posed to His disciples in Matthew 16. And that is still the most important question that you will ever answer. On the answer hangs not only your life here, but your eternity.

This month our world celebrates the human birth of Jesus Christ, arguably the greatest person in human history. Don't take my word for that. Listen to Yale historian, Jaroslav Pelikan. He writes this: "Regardless what anyone may personally think or believe about Him, Jesus of Nazareth has been the dominant figure in the history of Western culture for almost 20 centuries. If it were possible with some sort of super magnet to pull out of that history every scrap of metal bearing at least a trace of His name, how much would be left?" You see, today, as we sit here in this congregation, more than two billion people worldwide claim to be His followers, making the faith that He founded the largest in human history, the largest in the world. His adherents still worship Him as God 2,000 years after His time on earth. Truly a remarkable person. And in spite of that, however, every Christmas, liberals in the media and in the entertainment world link up with liberal scholars and theologians in an all-out attempt to erode the influence and the reputation of Jesus of Nazareth. I could promise you this. Over the next few weeks you will see programs on television purporting to be historical, you will read articles in national publications, you will read newspapers, you will hear on the radio—in every possible way you will hear wrong answers to the question: Who do you think that I am?

Let me tell you several of the primary answers that you will hear in answer to that question, the wrong answers you will hear. Many will answer the question, "Well, Jesus is simply a myth. He never really existed at all. In fact, He's really a legend created by His followers, not a historical personage whatsoever." Another wrong answer to that question will be, Jesus is a mystery. They'll say, "Yeah, Jesus was an actual person who lived in the 1st century AD in Palestine. But because of the scarcity of historical data, we know little about Him. Because we lack reliable, historical documents, we can never really be sure of who He was or what He did or what He taught." A third wrong answer you'll hear is that Jesus is a real man, but He never claimed to be God. "He never claimed to be anything but a Jewish rabbi and a religious reformer. And His misguided followers, fanatics, so distorted and embellished His image until the reality is hard to discern." A fourth wrong answer you'll hear is that Jesus is only a man in spite of His claims to be God. Those who hold this position will say, "Yeah, Jesus is a great moral example. You should follow the ethics of Jesus. He was a good teacher, essentially a good man, but He was not God." And they would argue that that's true in spite of the fact that He claimed to be so.

Over the next four weeks, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ our Lord, I want to answer those fallacious answers to the question Who do you think I am? I want to equip you to share your faith in these dark times. I want to give you an apologetic for believing in the Christ that we worship and serve, and I want to confirm and strengthen your faith. And if you're here and you're not yet a believer in Jesus Christ, what I hope to do over the next four weeks is to remove the intellectual excuses that you may be tempted to use for not becoming a Christian. I want you to understand, by the time we're done, that the reason you don't believe in Jesus Christ is not an intellectual one, but a moral one.

Now today, I want to address the first three of those mistaken answers to Jesus' question. And we're going to answer those first three from a variety of New Testament texts. Starting next Sunday, Lord willing, and for three weeks, we will address the final mistaken answer to Jesus' question. And we're going to answer that fourth answer from one remarkable passage in Mark chapter 3, a series of events that occur on an incredible day, one day in the life of our Lord. So, maybe the best way to think about today's message is this: in a sense it is the introduction to the passage that we will study the following three weeks. We're not even going to get to that passage this morning. I really just want to lay the foundation for our study in the coming weeks.

So let's begin then with wrong answer number one. In answer to the question Who do you think that I am?, the first wrong answer is, Jesus is just a myth. Obviously, this is a claim about the historicity of Jesus. Those who argue this approach say Jesus of Nazareth either never existed or probably never existed or may never have existed. They doubt His existence at all. It's best to think of Him instead as some sort of myth, some legend of history. You say, are there people who actually believe this? There are. Bertrand Russell, in his essay (written now many years ago) "Why I Am Not a Christian," wrote this: "Historically it is quite doubtful whether Christ ever existed at all, and if He did, we know nothing about Him." A popular history book from which our children are taught history across this nation reads this way: "Historical information about the beginnings of Christianity is unfortunately very limited. No external source, Jewish or classical, records the career of Jesus, and our entire knowledge comes from the subsequent writings of His followers gathered together in the gospels." That's an attack on the existence of Christ. We basically don't know that He existed, because we have no real historical record of it.

Now how would you respond to that false claim about Jesus? If someone in your life said to you, "Jesus is a myth; I don't even believe He existed."—how would you answer that? Well, there are a number of ways that can be answered. Let me give you two lines of defense that you can take, and that we should take.

Number one: secular sources confirm Jesus' existence and the key events of His life. Secular sources. Jesus' existence and the key issues of His life are documented in a number of secular sources that are contemporary with Him. In fact, let me put it to you this way. Within 150 years of Jesus' death, nine separate, secular, pagan authors, who are taken by historians to be historically reliable, affirm the existence of Jesus of Nazareth.

Years ago I came across the writings of the professor of history at the University of Miami. He was that for many years. He just retired in 2005 after a thirty-five-year career. His name is Edwin Yamauchi. Listen to what Yamauchi writes. He says,

Even if we did not have the New Testament or Christian writings {OK? So we didn't have anything Christian.}, we would be able to conclude from such non-Christian writings as Josephus, the Talmud {the Jewish Talmud}, Tacitus {the Roman historian}, and Pliny the Younger, that these things were true: number one, Jesus was a Jewish teacher; two, many people believed that He performed miracles; three, He was rejected by the Jewish leaders; four, He was crucified under Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius; five, despite this shameful death, His followers, who believed that He was still alive, spread beyond Palestine, so that there were multitudes of them in Rome by AD 64; and six, all kinds of people from the cities and countryside, men and women, slave and free, worshiped Him as God by the beginning of the second century.

Yamauchi says, you look at the evidence outside of the Christian writings, outside of the New Testament, and we know all of those things about Jesus of Nazareth.

You see, no legitimate historian doubts the existence of Jesus. If you watch and listen to the programs that will air this Christmas, you'll find out usually they are people who are theologically liberal. That's what drives them. Not their history. It's interesting, if you go back even during my lifetime, in the 1974 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica we read this about the secular witnesses to the life and ministry of Jesus. He writes, "These independent accounts {talking about the secular accounts, these independent accounts} prove that in ancient times even the opponents of Christianity never doubted the historicity of Jesus, which was disputed for the first time and on inadequate grounds by several authors at the end of the 18th, during the 19th, and at the beginning of the 20th centuries." In other words, for most of the 2,000 years since Christ was on the earth, the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth was never doubted. That is a recent concept. Bruce Metzger writes, "The early non-Christian testimonies concerning Jesus are sufficient to prove, even without taking into account the evidence contained in the New Testament, that He was a historical figure who lived in Palestine in the early years of the 1st century. Today no competent scholar denies the historicity of Jesus."

There's a second line of defense to this idea that Jesus was just a myth. And that comes from the New Testament itself. And that is, Jesus personally selected eyewitnesses of His life. Jesus intentionally chose 11 men. Of course He chose 12, but He knew beforehand that one of them was a traitor. He predicted one would be, even which one would it would be. So He really chose 11 men who would accompany Him and who would bear testimony to what He did and to what He taught. In Luke 24, after His resurrection, Luke 24:46,

{Jesus} said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. {And listen. He says,} You are witnesses of these things."

In John 15:27, Jesus said to those same 11 men, He says, " You will testify {of Me}, because you have been with Me from the beginning." God chose in Christ these 11 men to be eyewitnesses of the life and ministry of Jesus.

This becomes evident in the Book of Acts. Turn to Acts 1:8. Just before the ascension we read, Jesus talking to the 11, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, …even to the remotest part of the earth." Now, we rightly apply this passage to us. We also are witnesses in one sense. But this text is specifically to the apostles. They are to be His hand-selected witnesses of all that they observed in His life and ministry. Go over to chapter 2, verse 32. During the sermon at Pentecost, Peter said, "This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses." Chapter 5. Again Peter, speaking on behalf of the apostles to the Sanhedrin, says in verse 32 after commenting on God's raising up Jesus from the dead, Jesus' crucifixion, why He had to die (to grant repentance to Israel, forgiveness of sins), "We {verse 32} we are witnesses of these things." Turn over to chapter 10. Peter, with Cornelius, in verse 36 says,

"The word which {God} sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus {the Messiah} (He is Lord of all)—you yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed."

In other words, listen, this didn't happen in a corner. This was something that happened historically. You're aware of it, because you live in this country. Verse 38:

"You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible, {Notice verse 41.} not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And {then} He ordered us to preach to the people, {And notice this.} and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead."

Witnesses. Of course Paul makes much of this in 1 Corinthians 15 where he recounts the basic gospel. And he includes there as part of the gospel that Christ was witnessed after His resurrection by more than 12 different groups and individuals, and at one point a crowd of more than 500. And Paul says you can go talk to them; most of them are still alive. Witnesses.

Turn over to 1 John 1. John the apostle makes much of this. He begins talking about Christ. In verse 1 he says, "What was from the beginning." This is just like his gospel. He's going back, really, to before creation, talking about Jesus. "What we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands." Think about that. John's saying, look, we saw Him. We actually touched Him. He's not a myth. He's not a fairy tale.

And the life {verse 2} was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us—what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also.

This was the mission of the apostles. You understand this was what God called them to do? Turn over to chapter 4, verse 14: "We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world." Jesus handpicked 11 men to be eyewitnesses of everything that He did and taught, and everything that He claimed. And the New Testament is simply the record of what those eyewitnesses He chose actually saw and heard.

The New Testament proves His existence. It documents His life. It consists, as you know, of twenty-seven different books all written in the 1st century, most of them written within 40 years of Jesus' life. And all of them written either by one of the apostles, who were eyewitness of all of these events, or under the auspices of an apostle. And in the New Testament there isn't simply one record of the life of Jesus, there are intentionally four separate records. And they all agree together. Jesus is certainly not a myth—whether you look at the secular data that proves it, or whether you look at the New Testament documents.

Now this brings us to the second fallacious answer to the question "Who do you say that I am?" The first one is that Jesus is a myth. We've answered that. The second wrong answer to that question is that Jesus is a mystery. This view says, "OK. I understand. I agree. The evidence is too great. Jesus actually existed in the 1st century. He lived during the 1st century in Palestine. But, we'll grant you that. At the same time, we can't be sure of what He did or what He taught." Thomas Paine, the author of Common Sense in the Age of Reason, said this about Jesus Christ: "There is no history written at the time Jesus Christ is said to have lived that speaks of the existence of such a person, even such a man." Now at first glance you might think he's denying that Jesus existed at all, but he didn't. What he is arguing here is that we can't know what Jesus really did or said. He took the approach of several others of our founding fathers who stripped much of the New Testament out and said that's not really historical. Listen to Bertrand Russell again. He said, "Historically it is quite doubtful whether Christ ever existed at all." But then he gives this caveat: "If He did, we know nothing about Him." Rudolf Bultmann wrote, "We can know almost nothing concerning the life and personality of Jesus."

Now as you sit there with your Bible on your lap, you're scratching your head thinking, how could he say that? It's because it is an attack on the Scripture itself. The second answer is really an overt attack on the basic reliability of the New Testament documents. It argues that we have no legitimate, historical documents of Christ. The New Testament, they would say, doesn't rise to that level. It was written by biased followers who turned the simple facts about the historical Jesus into the stuff of legends and myths. Now, if you'll remember back a few years ago, the Jesus Seminar, this is the approach they took. They didn't deny that Jesus existed. They simply went through the New Testament and by vote decided what He did say and didn't say, what He did and didn't do. And they removed much from the New Testament. They were really saying the New Testament documents are not reliable - we need to clean them up to find out the kernel of truth that might be there.

Now if someone told you this, how would you respond? If someone this Christmas says to you, "You know I believe Jesus existed, but He's a mystery. We can't really know anything about Jesus, because ultimately we can't trust the New Testament documents." How would you respond? Well let me give you two lines of defense as well for responding to this attack. First of all, point them to the existing New Testament manuscripts, both the number of New Testament manuscripts and the date. Do you realize that we have more manuscript copies of the Bible than we do of any other ancient document? Period. We have 3,000 manuscripts of the Hebrew Old Testament—which we're not talking about this morning. We have 1,500 of the Septuagint. That's the Greek translation that Jesus and the apostles used in the 1st century. And the numbers for the New Testament are far greater. We have 25,000 manuscripts of the New Testament. That includes Greek manuscripts, early translations like those in Latin, Syriac, and Coptic, as well as quotations from the New Testament that are embedded into the writings of the early church fathers. In fact, many historians discussed the fact that if we didn't have the New Testament, we could piece it back together almost entirely just from the quotes of the New Testament in the early church fathers.

Now to compare this embarrassment of riches of manuscripts of the New Testament with other ancient documents. You understand there are less than 20 manuscripts each for the majority of the classical Greek and Roman works? And yet no one says, "Well, I just don't think we can believe Tacitus said that." Let me give you a point of comparison. The second largest number of manuscripts that we have for any ancient document, the second largest, is for Homer's Iliad. We have 643 manuscripts of Homer's Iliad. Compare that with more than 5,700 surviving Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. Thousands of manuscripts that have been preserved. We can have confidence that the New Testament as we have it, that these are historically reliable documents, based on the sheer volume.

Now you might be tempted to say, yeah, but what if all those copies came later and were embellished? How do we know that they go back to the beginning? Well, let's look at the dates of the existing manuscripts. When you look at other ancient documents, you will find that there's often a large gap of time between the actual events or when the original document was written and the date of the copies that we have. Large block of time. The biblical manuscripts date closer to the events they document than any other ancient document, period. Let me give you an example. The time gap between the writing of Homer's Iliad and the date of the oldest surviving manuscript that we have is 400 years. In the case of the New Testament, we have a fragment of John's gospel that dates within 25 years of when John wrote it. We have manuscripts of complete New Testament books that date to within a hundred years of when they were written. And we have complete manuscripts of almost all of the New Testament that date to within 100 to 150 years of when the originals were written. So compare that. The earliest manuscripts we have of most of the classic Greek and Roman authors were copied 700 to 1,400 years after the originals were written. On the other hand, the earliest manuscript we have of the New Testament is a fragment of a papyrus, the John Rylands Papyrus. I've actually seen it. It's a fragment of John's gospel that dates to 25 years after John wrote. The bottom line is this: by every standard that is commonly used with ancient documents, the evidence for the reliability of the New Testament is overwhelming. It literally crushes the evidence for all other ancient documents. If they didn't hate what it said, no scholar would question its authenticity.

There's a second line of argument or defense of this idea that we can't really know what Jesus did and taught, and it's internal to the New Testament: Jesus' own authorization of the New Testament documents. Just as Moses in Deuteronomy 18 provided us with evidence of those who would follow him as the conduit of divine revelation, Jesus did exactly the same thing. He preauthenticated the books of our New Testament. You say, how did He do that? He chose the 11 men who would be His apostles. We look at that word apostle, and to us it's kind of a label that doesn't mean anything. In the 1st century it meant something. It actually refers to "the one who is sent." It refers, in first-century language, to "an official representative, a direct representative who has the authority of the one who sent him." That person can act as his legal authority, as his authoritative messenger and representative. In other words, as his legal proxy. That's an apostle. Jesus intended that the apostles whom He appointed serve as His legal proxies. Then, He authorized His proxies, these official representatives, to write on His behalf. And in so doing, He preauthenticated the New Testament as the authorized record of His life and ministry.

Let me show you this. Turn to John, John chapter 14. This is in the upper room discourse the night before His crucifixion. Jesus says something utterly remarkable to the disciples. Verse 25: "These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you." Jesus said listen, I taught you a lot of things while I was with you. "But {verse 26} the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things." In other words, He's going to teach you everything else I want you to know. "And {He will} bring to your remembrance all that I {have} said to you." Now a lot of well meaning students have used this verse as their hope: Lord, help me to remember what I haven't studied. This verse has nothing to do with us. This verse is to the 11 apostles. Jesus is promising them that the Holy Spirit is going to teach them the rest of what He wants them to know, and, He will remind them of everything Jesus taught them. Why is that important? I mean, John writes his gospel as an old man, 50 to 60 years after all of those events occurred. How could he do that? Well obviously he experienced those things, but in addition, Jesus promised that the Spirit would bring those things to his remembrance.

Turn over to chapter 16, verse 12. He says the same thing here in slightly different language:

"I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; {Again, this is not for us. This is for the 11.} for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine {what I want to say to you} and {He'll} disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you."

Jesus, however, didn't just want them to understand it. Turn over to chapter 17. Here, in the High Priestly Prayer, He explains why He's giving them this memory and why He's sending the Spirit to teach them. Verse 20: "I do not ask {Father} on behalf of {the eleven} alone, but {I also pray} for those who {will} believe in Me through their word." Jesus is authorizing the apostles to speak and ultimately to write on His behalf. And He expects that there will be people like us who will come to believe in Him through His official, legal proxies who were eye witnesses of all that transpired.

You see, the teaching of an apostle was received immediately in the early church simply because it was written by an apostle commissioned by Christ. And because of Christ's preauthentication, the New Testament books were immediately recognized as inspired. We have examples of that in the New Testament. Peter talks about Paul's works being inspired. Paul talks about Luke's writings being inspired. Why? Because they were written by an apostle or under the auspices of an apostle. Those New Testament letters were imposed upon the churches by the apostles as having equal authority to the Hebrew Old Testament Scriptures.

Most of the New Testament is in the canon of Scripture because of direct authorship by the apostles. Only five books were not tied to apostles. Let me show you. First of all, clearly, you have Matthew, John, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2, 3 John, and Revelation all written by apostles. In addition, the 11 apostles recognized two other men as having been chosen by God to be apostles. James. You see that in Acts 15 and Galatians 2. And Paul. You can see that in Galatians 2 as well. And so now we can add their writings to our list of books in the New Testament written by apostles: James, the book that bears his name, and Romans through Philemon, all the Pauline Epistles.

That leaves us with only five New Testament books that were not directly written by an apostle: Mark, Luke, Acts, Hebrews, and Jude. So why were they accepted? Well, we have very clear evidence of that. It's because they were written under the direction and auspices of an apostle. Mark: we have early testimony that Mark wrote under the direction of Peter. It's essentially Peter's gospel. Luke: in Acts Luke traveled with Paul. He wrote under the authority of the apostle Paul. Hebrews: we'll come back to. Jude: Jude was the half-brother of Jesus and the brother of James the apostle, and therefore the writing of Jude was accepted for that reason, under the authority of James. Hebrews is the only one we don't know a direct tie to an apostle, but most agree that it was under the auspices of the apostle Paul. I believe it was written by Apollos. But we can't be absolutely sure. But nevertheless, under the authority of Paul.

What I want you to see is that the life and ministry of Jesus is not a mystery. We have more evidence of the basic reliability of these documents than any other ancient document. And, it is an authorized version of the life and ministry of Jesus. R. Laird Harris writes, "The Lord Jesus did not give us a list of the 27 New Testament books. He did, however, give us a list of the inspired authors. Upon them the Church of Christ is founded, and by them the Word was written." Jesus is most certainly not a mystery.

The third wrong answer is that Jesus is a real man who never claimed to be God. The way this view goes, Jesus never claimed to be anything other than a Jewish rabbi and a religious reformer; His well-intentioned but over-eager followers so embellished and so distorted the real, historical Jesus that the real Jesus has been completely obscured. In fact, those who hold this view would say something like this: "If the historical Jesus could return to earth today and see what His followers have done with Him in making Him divine, He would be embarrassed." Is that true? Well, once you have established the historical reliability of the New Testament, as we just have, this answer simply cannot stand, because Jesus, the Jesus whose life is officially recorded on the pages of the New Testament, made remarkable, even audacious, claims for Himself.

I don't have time to take you through all the remarkable claims. Let me just give you a few examples. He commanded the wind and the sea to obey Him in Mark 4. If I tried that you would consider me certifiable and lock me away. He claimed that He would and could conquer death in John 11:25. He claimed authority to forgive sins, sins against God, in Mark 2:5. By the way, even His enemies understood this. They said, "Who can forgive sins but God alone," what are you doing?—because they didn't believe He was God. He offered eternal life in His own name, John 10:28. He accepted the worship of people. Now remember, He's Jewish. He lives in a country where everyone understands there's only one God, only one personage in the universe deserving of worship, and that is the living and true God. And yet in Matthew 14:33, He accepts the worship of others of Himself. That is a claim to be worthy of worship. It is a claim indirectly to be God.

But as amazing as those things are, even more amazing is that Jesus actually claimed to be God. Now I don't have time to take you to the many different references I went through this week. Let me just take you to my two favorite. Turn to John 8:48. Jesus is talking to the Jews, and they say, "{Did} we not rightly say that You are a Samaritan and {You} have a demon?" You're demon possessed. You're not what You're pretending to be. "Jesus answered, 'I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me.'" And then in verse 56, He makes this remarkable statement: "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, …he saw it and was glad." Now Abraham lived 2100 BC, twenty-one hundred years before. He was as far removed from Jesus in the past as we are removed from Jesus. "So the Jews said to Him, {verse 57} 'You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?'" They're mocking Him. It's like, "You're still young. What do You mean Abraham knew something about You 2,100 years ago? That's ridiculous." To which Jesus said in verse 58, "Truly, truly." Amein, amein. Or in English, amen, amen. This is Hebrew for "verily this is true." "I say to you, before Abraham was born {2,100 years ago}, I am." Now notice what Jesus doesn't say. He doesn't say, before Abraham was born, I was. That would imply that He was very old, but He may have some beginning. What He says is "Before Abraham was born, I am." In Greek, ego eimi. That is exactly the same word, the same two words that God uses with Moses in the Septuagint in Exodus 3. When God shows up in the burning bush to Moses and Moses says what's Your name, God says ego eimi. That's exactly what Jesus is claiming here. He's claiming to be Yahweh. He's claiming to be God. And they got it. Verse 59: "Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him." Because if it wasn't true, it was blasphemy.

Let me take you to my other favorite. Turn back to Mark 14. It couldn't be any clearer here. Mark 14:60. It's about 2 am on Friday morning of the crucifixion. Jesus is at the house of the high priest. Specifically, He's at Annas' house, and He's being questioned. Verse 60 of Mark 14: "{Caiaphas} the high priest stood up and came forward and questioned Jesus, saying, 'Do You not answer?'" Now, this is a meeting of the Sanhedrin, the council of 70 who oversaw the nation. At least a quorum, and probably most of them. "'Do You not answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?' But {Jesus} kept silent and did not answer. Again {Caiaphas} was questioning Him, and saying." Now stop there. If you compare this with Matthew's gospel, it's very clear that at this point Caiaphas does something remarkable. He puts Jesus under oath. He says I put You under oath, answer this question. Look again at verse 61: "'Are You the {Christos, the Messiah}, the Son of the Blessed One?' And Jesus said, 'I am.'" And then He quotes from a Messianic passage in Daniel chapter 7: "'And you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.'" Jesus said, I am the Messiah, I am the Son of God, I will approach the Ancient of Days as described in Daniel 7. To which the high priest responds in verse 63,

Tearing his clothes, the high priest said, "What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy {He claims to be God, the Son of God, the Messiah}; how does it seem to you?" And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death.

Don't ever believe the nonsense that Jesus never claimed to be God.

So these are all wrong answers to the question Who do you think I am? Jesus is not a myth. He actually existed. He lived in the 1st century in a real place you can still visit today. And by the way, if you go there, even those who don't believe in Him will not deny His historicity. He was and is as real a man as I am. You cannot legitimately question the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth. Secondly, Jesus is not a mystery. The New Testament documents meet and exceed the standard for historically reliable documents. We know what Jesus did. We know what He taught. We know what He claimed. You cannot legitimately question the basic reliability of the New Testament documents. Thirdly, Jesus of Nazareth did in fact claim to be, in unequivocal terms, God Himself. You cannot legitimately question that He made these remarkable claims.

Now Christian, what we studied this morning should really encourage and strengthen your faith. Our faith stands on history. Our faith stands to reason. I also hope that it will equip you and prepare you, because you will hear these very claims about Jesus as you interact with family and friends and coworkers during this Christmas season. Don't be ashamed of Him. Open your mouth and kindly, gently, present the truth.

If you're here this morning and you're not a believer in Jesus, you need to understand this. Jesus of Nazareth, whose birth we celebrate this month, was a real person, is a real person. We know what He claimed. He claimed nothing less than to be your Creator, and to be your rightful Lord. He claimed that He came from heaven, became fully a man in order that He could accomplish forgiveness of sins, so that you, if you're willing, could be forgiven for the sins against God that you have committed. He claimed that He came to purchase that forgiveness by His death and by His resurrection. And He demanded that you repent of your sins, that you turn from what you know to be sin in your life, and that you acknowledge Him as your rightful Lord, that you put your faith in Him for the forgiveness of your sins.

Why should you believe His claims? Well that leads us to the only really legitimate question about Jesus. Are His claims true? And that's the question we'll begin to look at next week. And there're only three possibilities. Jesus made the claims. Either He was a liar, or He was a lunatic, or He was in fact the Lord He claimed to be. Let's pray together.

Father, thank You for Your truth. Thank You for the confidence we can have, that You've not left Yourself without a witness in so many different ways. Father, may it confirm and strengthen our faith, and may it open our mouths to be a witness for Him as well in the lives of the people around us. Father, equip us to be courageous—gentle, kind, loving, but courageous in our defense of Jesus Christ. And Father, I pray for those here this morning who have never acknowledged Him as their Lord. Strip away the excuses, Father, and help them to see their resistance for what it is, for an unwillingness, for moral reasons, to bow their knee to Jesus Christ. And may this be the day when they turn to Him. We pray in Jesus' name, Amen.