One and Only

What does it take to be great?  Everybody and their uncle appears to have ideas about that these days, given the number of books, blogs, video series, and other media devoted to helping you attain your maximum potential.  It’s one thing to think positively about yourself.  But the ability to influence how others view you, particularly those who come after you?  That’s a much trickier thing to control.

Thanks to Chuck & Linda for dropping off a copy of this op-ed that ran last week.  Mr. Hutchinson provides a brief overview of competing ideas about who Jesus of Nazareth really was.  The assumption is that the reader is not convinced that Jesus was who He claimed to be, the Incarnate Son of God sent to deliver us from our sins, but that the reader likely subscribes to some other theory, or perhaps is not inclined to accept or care about any of them.  Perhaps the reader is committed to the idea that in a “pluralistic society” it is offensive that any one person or ideology should be give special treatment.

But the fact remains, as the article points out, that Jesus is easily the most influential person in all of human history.  What can explain this?  While Bart Ehrman offers various theories, none of these are very compelling.  History is full of villains and heroes of varying degrees and abilities.  None of them can boast of changing not just their communities but the entire world with their work.  Nobody even comes close.

Now, this is not the fallacy of appealing to numbers or popularity. The fact that a lot of people believe not merely in a historical Jesus but in a divine Jesus does not in and of itself prove that the Christian assertions are true. But it ought to give someone reason to investigate further than the rudimentary and flimsy alternative theories that are often offered.  If Jesus is really a historical person, what sort of historical person could have this sort of impact on the world?

There have been no shortage of “apocalyptic prophets”, just in the Bible alone let alone in all of human history and experience!  But none of those have had the impact that Jesus of Nazareth has had.  Likewise the world has had no shortage of violent revolutionaries or wisdom sages.  And there have been plenty of people who have died for misunderstood reasons and false accusations.  Yet these people don’t ignite world-wide followings.  These people don’t change the course of human history.

How many people do you imagine were killed by the Romans?  Just in Palestine alone?  Thousands?  Tens of thousands?  We know of multiple people who tried to rouse people to revolution during the first century AD and failed.  Do they have followers around the world who center their lives around them?  Hardly.  Even people like Mother Teresa who enjoy the respect of many don’t spawn religions.

Jesus makes the impact He does specifically because of who and what He claims to be, the divine Son of God incarnate, through whose death and resurrection humanity has the promise and hope of salvation and eternal life.  Being nice or kind or wise are all wonderful attributes but they don’t spawn religions and in general people are not overly willing to suffer and die for someone with those character traits.  Trying to separate out who Jesus claimed to be from his impact on history doesn’t make much sense.  Only when He is investigated based on his self-understanding can we appreciate how He could have the impact He does, even two thousand years later.

 

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