The Key to Christianity

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Did Jesus really exist?

Academics in the field of Ancient History (both Christian and non-Christian) agree that a person called Jesus existed in Israel in the 1st century. In fact, historians writing soon after Jesus’ time are clear that Jesus existed.

The evidence for this is there were both Christian and non-Christian writers of the time who referred to Jesus. The Christian writers are those recorded in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These now make up part of the New Testament but were originally 4 separate documents circulating in the Ancient Near East in the decades after Jesus’ death.

The Non-Christians writers include Josephus (a Jewish historian), Tacitus (a Roman historian), Pliny the Younger (a Roman senator), Mara Bar Serapion (a Syrian) and a handful of others. None of these authors were Christian. The implication is they had no reason to mention Jesus, other than that he actually existed.

To investigate further check out the Centre for Public Christianity, Existence of Jesus

Did Jesus say he was God?

Let me tell you a story. I once met a woman who became a Christian because she was sunbaking in her back yard! She was watching the ants march by and idly wondering whether they knew she was there. She was wondering how she’d communicate with the ants if they didn’t know she was there. As she thought about it, she realised she couldn’t speak to them or stand on them or even just breathe on them to communicate with them. She realised that she would need to become an ant to do that. And, she realised, if she became an ant to speak to them, then she would need to convince them that she was a human because she now ‘looked like an ant’.

And then she realised that was exactly what Jesus had done! He was God and became human to communicate with humans! The problem was they thought he was simply human. So, then he had to prove that he was God, over and over, before he could teach them.

Jesus spent the whole of his early ministry doing just that! He was proving to people he was God. Throughout his early ministry he showed he had the sort of power only God could have. He calmed a storm just by speaking (Luke 8.22-25); he healed people with a word or a touch (Luke 8.40-56); he raised a dead girl to life (Mark 5.21-43) and turned water into wine (Mark 4).

And once people began to recognise that he really was God, then he began to teach the disciples and others very seriously. His plan was always to teach: ‘Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”’Mark 1:38    

So, first, Jesus proved he was God by his actions!

 And then he told people he was God through his words.

Here’s an example:

Jesus is arguing with some Jews about his identity and mentions in passing that: ‘Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”

They question this because Abraham lived hundreds of years before: “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!”. And he responds with: “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!”John 8:56-58

The words translated ‘I am’ in English are the same words that God uses to describe himself to Moses. In one sentence Jesus claims to have existed before Abraham, claims to personally know Abraham, AND claims to Be God by using the ‘I am’ phrase!

How can Jesus pay for someone else’s punishment, someone else's broken relationship?

Let me tell you a story to illustrate.

Imagine there are 2 young men at University who study law together. Best friends, they graduate together. One eventually becomes a judge and the other a high-flying criminal.

Then the criminal is caught and ends up in court before the judge! He thinks ‘I’ll be let off!” But NO! The judge says: ‘That’s not justice!’ and convicts him. The punishment is a massive fine, but the criminal is unable to pay. And so, the judge, because of his love for his friend, pays the fine!

Now, if the judge had ordered someone else to pay the fine, that would also be unjust. But because he’s the judge and choosing to pay the fine, that’s justice.

Jesus (as God) is ‘the just judge, and the fine payer’. He can pay the fine because he’s the judge who says that injustice must be dealt with. He chooses the punishment we deserve. And he does this because of his love for us, his desire to be restored to us.

Why is a ‘not perfect relationship’ punished?

Another word for punishment is a consequence. A broken relationship inevitably progresses towards no relationship. And so, the logical conclusion of our inability to live a perfect relationship with ‘God, others, ourselves and the world’ is a rupture in the relationship with the one who created all these things.

In addition, God is the creator of humanity, and as such he knows how humanity functions best. Therefore, he has the right to determine how we should live, and what happens when we don’t live his way.  This question is similar to the perpetual teenage question ‘why do you have the right to say what I can and can’t do?’ and the answer is ‘Because I’m the parent, I care for you AND I know what is good for you.’ Now it’s not always true, that a parent knows what is right, since human parents are always fallible. But God does know what is good for humanity.

What does freedom look like?

Freedom in this illustration is primarily the freedom to relate to a perfect God, a God of justice, without shame. This includes freedom from the power of sin and guilt over our lives. We all know the burden that a guilty conscience is, and so Jesus’ death on our behalf removes the guilt between us and God. Our shame before God is also dealt with. We can face God without hanging our heads in shame because Jesus died in our place.

This doesn’t mean that if we’ve broken the law, we are simply excused. A truly repentant Christian would confess to the authorities and accept punishment graciously in recognition of the damage we’ve caused others. We are forgiven by God, but we still need to live with the consequences of our actions.

Nonetheless, there are many things that are ‘legal in Australia’, that are offensive to God. These include things like malicious thoughts, sexual infidelity, gossip, cheating and many other things. These things are often unfixable. We can’t take back the words we said, we can’t undo betrayal, but we can ask for forgiveness from the person we hurt, and from God. We need to attempt to repair the damage and accept that God forgives us through Jesus.

What’s the point of raising Jesus from the dead?

As I mentioned, if ‘Jesus stays dead, then he’s just one more dead man’ who made big claims. There were many around Jesus’ time who claimed to be the Messiah (the one sent from God to save), but they all died and remained dead. Their claims were without substance because they didn’t continue beyond their deaths.

But since Jesus rose from the dead his claims to be something other than an ordinary human are validated. He told people before he died that he would rise from the dead, and it happened! This means it’s more likely that his other claims are also true.

There are many other implications of Jesus’ resurrection, but this is the primary one.