Timothy Keller wrote in this book The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism: “If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.”
Most people don’t have anything in particular against Jesus. They typically think he was a good man who taught good things. People may like Jesus but may not believe He is the Son of God. People may have some level of respect or admiration for Jesus but not think that His death was any more significant than the death of Mohammed or Buddha. In other words, people can and do consider this fellow Jesus and embrace what they like about Him and reject or ignore the rest.
Keller’s words challenge us to think differently. Is it possible to be so selective when it comes to who Jesus is? Well, obviously it is possible since a great many people do it. Perhaps a better question is “Is it wise?” There are consequences for adopting a buffet-style approach to Jesus.
C. S. Lewis wrote quite bluntly in his classic work Mere Christianity: “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
Of course, you might suggest that there is another alternative – Jesus is more of a legend like Paul Bunyan or John Henry. Perhaps there is some nugget of truth, some carpenter turned would-be prophet name Jesus whose followers made Him larger than life. Personally I believe there are a great many people who would put Jesus in the “legend” category.
Among the many arguments against the “Jesus as Legend” view are the facts that: (1) Jesus’ disciples were willing to die to sustain the legend they created; (2) Many of the historical details given in the Gospels have been confirmed; (3) Non-Christian historians state that Jesus believed Himself to be the Jewish Messiah and God; and (4) The Gospels do not try to make the disciples look good but instead portray them with all their flaws, thus it appears the Gospel writers were concerned with accuracy. These are not conclusive arguments but when considered with the totality of the evidence, what we find is convincing to many who have approached the subject with an open mind.
When we boil it all down, we are left with this question – Do we believe that Jesus rose from the dead after being brutally beaten, crucified, and laid in a tomb for some part of three days? If so, then can we afford to ignore the reality of who Jesus is and the implications of it?
In the Apostle Paul’s argument for the resurrection of Jesus, he writes, “And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). That pretty well sums it up for us. If Jesus was raised from the dead as Scripture tells us, then His resurrection has implications for our lives and our eternities. If not, why bother with Jesus if at all?