For my high school apologetics class, I was assigned an essay presenting the strongest arguments about why to believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, sacrifice for man, risen Savior, and coming King. Despising the word essay, which brings to mind boredom and dryness, I decided to make it a bit more interesting. I am pleased to present my “essay” to you now.
I am addressing this essay to a fictional person who I named Austin. I have a cousin named Austin whom I don’t know as well as I wish I did. I know his younger brothers pretty well, but have only visited Austin a few times. He is my age, and I got the impression on those few visits that he is a sensitive, caring, deeply-thinking person who perhaps wonders about life, as most people our age do. He is aspiring to go into law enforcement, and I am very proud to dedicate this paper to my cousin. The Austin I am writing to in the essay is a lot like my cousin, and I hope it makes it a bit less dry to read it in this form than most essays are written in. So with no further ado…
August 31, 2016
How are you? I have been enjoying the long-distance discussions we’re having about the Bible and especially Jesus Christ. I wanted to let you know that I am continuing to pray for you.
Sometimes I try to put myself in another’s shoes – his worldview and way of looking at new things – and wonder what he thinks when he hears about Jesus Christ. If I wasn’t raised in a home that reads the Bible daily, goes to church weekly, and tries to honor God in all things, how would I view things?
Would Jesus Christ seem a strange but wise teacher who perhaps was simply a fable in someone’s book that people now believe is history? After all, a lot of people used to actually think the earth was flat, but now they know that was just a fable. Did Jesus Christ really live in a place of “space and time” as Francis Schaeffer says in his book The God Who is There? Was He a normal man who was raised by a family who loved Him, and then He suddenly got a notion that He was actually the Son of God –The God of the Jews – and lived a delusional lie for His adult life?
Jesus claims to be the Son of God. If He was a good teacher, as you say you believe, that claim of divinity must by definition be true, because if it was false, He would be a liar, and thus not a “good” anything! He would have led many astray by telling them many lies about Himself. Jesus Christ truly believed He was the Son of God. He knew that without any doubt. But many people have claimed to be a president or a great person from history (even Jesus Himself) and been found out to be delusional loonies. What’s the difference?
Gary R. Collins PhD says in Lee Strobel’s book The Case for Christ, that people who have psychological difficulties can claim to be someone other than who they really are. But psychologists look deeper than what they say. “They’ll look at a person’s emotions, because disturbed individuals frequently show inappropriate depression, or they might be vehemently angry, or perhaps they’re plagued with anxiety. But look at Jesus: he never demonstrated inappropriate emotions. For instance, he cried at the death of his friend Lazarus – that’s natural for an emotionally healthy individual.” Dr. Collins went on to say that Jesus “was obviously in contact with reality. He wasn’t paranoid although he rightfully understood that there were some very real dangers around him. … All in all, I just don’t see signs that Jesus was suffering from any known mental illness. He was much healthier than anyone I know – including me!”
So if a professor of psychology who has a doctorate in his area of expertise says that after studying Jesus he has found no problems with Him, that makes a good case that Jesus really was Who He said He was. So if He said He was the Son of God, how can anyone say that He was just a good teacher and nothing more? That’s not possible. He either is the Son of God, or He is a deceiver.
Austin, what do you believe? Do you believe Jesus was the Son of God who died for you to take the punishment for your sins so that you can join Him in Heaven? Do you believe He literally came to life after three days of being quite dead from innumerable lacerations from a harsh beating with whips that had sharp pieces of bone and metal in them, that may literally have shredded His back enough to see His ribs, and then being mercilessly crucified and thrust through with a spear?
You asked me last time we wrote about the evidence that Jesus truly died and didn’t just swoon or something. I read a fascinating book that touched on that topic!
Medical Doctor Alexander Metherell has studied the accounts of Jesus’ death in detail. He says in The Case for Christ, “Because of the terrible effects of this beating, there’s no question that Jesus was already in serious to critical condition even before the nails were driven through his hands and feet.” When they did take the critically wounded Jesus to the cross, He was most likely in hypovolemic shock, meaning He had lost so much blood, that His heart was racing and He was unable to carry His cross because of the weakness and pain He was in. When they drove the nails into His wrist, it crushed the median nerve that caused a pain so horrible that they had to invent a new word – excruciating- which means “out of the cross.”
But the pain wasn’t what killed Him. He died by slow asphyxiation. When He needed to take a breath, He had to push up with His feet in order to exhale. The position of His body was in a constant inhale otherwise. He had to continue pushing like this in order to breathe, but in His weary state, He reached the point of absolute exhaustion in a shorter amount of time than others had, and eventually succumbed to cardiac arrest and He also had pleural effusion, which caused the water to come out of the spear wound along with the blood.
Austin, if you have any more doubts about whether Jesus really died, I would encourage you to get your hands on a copy of The Case for Christ and read chapter 11, titled The Medical Evidence. The whole book is fascinating, but I know that with your studies you may not have the time to read it all. Don’t worry, it’s less than 14 pages in length, and it’s a fairly easy read. It’s gruesome, but since it really happened, it’s important to know.
For a shorter book on the same topic as The Case for Christ, Josh McDowell wrote a 128 page book called More than a Carpenter. It covers a lot of ground! It would answer a lot of your questions. The chapter on “What about science?” was really quite good. Lots of people say you can’t prove Jesus was Who He said He was scientifically, so it isn’t logical to believe in Him. But you can’t even scientifically prove that you were at your morning class or ate lunch today! You can’t repeat those events in a controlled situation, which is how they scientifically prove things.
To answer your question about why Jesus had to be a sacrifice for us, I will have to lead you back to the creation account. I know that you believe in theistic evolution, but just humor me awhile and say that God really did create Adam and Eve as the first intelligent humans who were made in His image and were without sin. He placed them in a beautiful garden and gave them the job of working in it and having dominion over the animals. He also told them they weren’t allowed to eat from the one tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
You see, God didn’t make two little robots that were programmed to be loyal to Him. He made personal beings that could choose to love Him. Wouldn’t it be weird if your girlfriend was just automatically programed to love you and you didn’t have to earn her love with flowers or notes, or kind words? (Don’t try that on Courtney! She would NOT like that! And I wouldn’t want to get into trouble! :))
Anyway, God made Adam and Eve so they could choose, and they did. The problem was that they chose not to love God but instead to rebel against Him. They ate the fruit and God had to punish them. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 3:23. Do you see now, that because of our sin, God couldn’t let us live forever in a beautiful garden with no consequences for the action that brought horrible sin into His perfect world? Think of how many things we’ve made go wrong through our sins? It’s sad. How would you like it if your uncle never had to pay for how he treated that girl a few months back? That was awful, and he had to pay for it. Did you know that your feelings of justice actually were given to you by God? His character is still in you, even though it’s warped and not at all perfect anymore because of sin.
God still loves us though, as you know from John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” He still wants to have a relationship with us, but now that sin is in the way, He had to make a way to make the relationship whole again. We blew it and just turned away like a spoiled teenager just spitting in his dad’s face and leaving. Well, our Father came and ran after us, turned us around, and said “I still love you. Come back – I forgive you and want you to live with me. All you have to do is come back to me and live by the rules I put down to protect you and help everyone to get along together. ” Okay, so that wasn’t a very good illustration, but you get the point. The Father actively still loves us.
But you also know God’s justice. He is a holy, perfect God, who can’t tolerate sin. He is a Judge Who must see the sinner make it right. Just look at the first five books of the Bible, the Torah. But since His ultimate punishment is death, He had to make a way for our eternal soul to be reunited after death. He had this plan before we even sinned! Can you imagine, Austin? That’s amazing; to purpose that your only son would die for your little creations that purposefully rebelled against you.
When Jesus died, He took the punishment that we deserved. But that wasn’t the end of it of course. He also rose from the dead. Can you imagine being one of the disciples and seeing your teacher – the one you spent three years following and learning from – being beaten mercilessly, hung on a ruthless instrument of torture from His wrists and feet, and struggling for breath… only to die. To die, and, naked and lifelessly limp, be taken down in the premature darkness of God’s wrath, and put in the tomb of a kind and brave man. A borrowed tomb for the King of kings.
How sad it would be to watch! But when the women who were with Him so long went back to the tomb and found a great shining angel sitting on the enormous stone that had sealed and closed their Rabbi’s body in His death chamber, they were not expecting the joy that would be theirs when they saw Jesus, whom the Most High had raised from the dead. Would you expect your friend Jimmy to come back after being gone these three years? Of course not! But Jesus was no ordinary man.
When He arose, God restored Him to an almost whole body again. He had the scars of the cross, but He was restored to being able to walk, talk, and eat with His friends. A crowd of 500 people saw Him all at once, and when the apostle Paul wrote the creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”
As Paul admits himself, many witnesses were still alive to call him out as a liar. But no one did that. The enemies of Christianity couldn’t deny that Jesus’ body was missing from the tomb, and they couldn’t argue with dozens of people reporting that they had seen the risen Savior with their own eyes – multiple times!
Isn’t it wonderful how God told us all about this plan in the Scriptures? Many others have written books to prove from a human standpoint that Jesus is Who He said He was, and they are so helpful. But really, all they have to do is look at the Bible, take it as the Truth it is, and they’ll be on their way to understanding if they trust God to show them.
Have you done that, Austin? I hope so. I want nothing more than to see you in Heaven someday. You know we’re not given the knowledge of when we’ll die, or when Jesus will come back to take us to be with Him. Since He was obviously telling the truth about everything He talked about, that means He will be coming back on the clouds just as He went up to Heaven.
Are you ready for that, Austin? Please be sure – your eternal life depends on it.