Robert Jeffress - Jesus: Man, Myth or Messiah
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. Few reputable historians down out that Jesus existed. In fact, almost every major religion in the world agrees that he was a great teacher, maybe even a prophet from God, but Jesus himself claimed to be much more. Today, we're going to explore the answer to this pressing question. Who was Jesus Christ? My message is titled, "Jesus: Man, Myth, or Messiah?" on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
You know, this time of the year, you find a lot of different specials on secular television. You'll find a lot of articles in news magazines, about discovering who the real Jesus is, and that's natural at this time of the year, to be talking about Jesus. Interestingly, very few credible historians doubt that Jesus lived. Every historian agrees there was a man named Jesus who lived. Furthermore, most a of the major world religions teach that Jesus was a great teacher. They don't deny that. Even hardened secularists, doubters of Christianity, will concede that there was no one more moral than Jesus Christ.
I think about Thomas Payne, the deist, who doubted much of scripture was accurate, but even Thomas Payne believed in the morality of Jesus. He said, "Jesus was a virtuous and an amiable man. The morality that he preached and practiced was of the most benevolent kind, and those similar systems of morality had been preached by Confucius and by some of the Greek Philosophers many years before, by the quakers afterwards, and by many good men in all ages. It has not been exceeded by any".
Most men are willing to acknowledge that Jesus lived, that he was a great teacher, that his morality is unsurpassed, but here's the problem with saying Jesus was a great moral teacher. Jesus claimed to be more than that. He claimed to be much more than that, and if Jesus Christ was really who he claimed to be, not just a man, certainly not a myth, but the Messiah, if Jesus is who he said he was, that has tremendous implications for you and me today, and that's what we're going to talk about for the few moments we have today. Today, I'd like us to consider three reasons Jesus is unique. Why Jesus is different than any other religious leader who has ever lived.
First of all, I want you to consider his claims. Jesus made unique claims that no other religious leader made. There are four of them. First of all, Jesus claimed to be God. Now, all religious leaders and all Philosophers claim to point people to God, but do you realize no other religious leader ever claimed to be God himself? For example, think about Mohamed, the founder of Islam. He said, quote, "Surely I am no more than a human apostle". Whether you're talking about Mohamed, Moses, Confucius, Buddha, they all said, "We're nothing but sinful men. All we can do is point people to God". Not Jesus. Jesus said, "I am God". Remember in John 14, verse eight, Philip said, "Lord, show us the father, and it's enough for us," and in verse nine, Jesus said to Philip, "Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the father. So how can you say, 'show us the father?'" John 10:30, Jesus said, "I and the father are one".
Jesus has claimed to be God himself. Jesus claimed to be God. Secondly, Jesus claimed to forgive sins. Again, no other religious leader ever claimed the ability to forgive people of their sins. For example, Buddha said, quote, "In reality, there are no living beings to whom the Lord Buddha can bring salvation". That's quite an admission, isn't it? Buddha said "I can't forgive sins," but Jesus said, "I can". In Mark chapter two, remember the group of disciples who brought the paralytic to Jesus to be healed? Verse five, "And Jesus seen their faith said to the paralytic, 'my son, your sins are forgiven'". Verse seven. "'why does this man speak this way?'", the religious leaders say, "'he is blaspheming: who can forgive sins but God alone?'" the only person who can forgive sins is God himself, but Jesus said, "I'm going to forgive you of your sins". Jesus claimed to forgive sins.
A third thing that made Jesus' claims unique was his claim to conquer death. Repeatedly, Jesus said to his followers that he would be killed by his enemies, but on the third day, he would be raised from the dead. Matthew 16:21. "From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and the chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised up on the third day". Furthermore, Jesus said, that the signal proof to the entire world that he was who he said he was, would be that empty tomb, the fact that he was raised from the dead.
The fourth claim of Jesus that made him unique was this Jesus claimed he would return to judge the world. Jesus said, one day, he's coming back to reward righteous and to punish the unrighteous. You know, no other religious leader made that claim. Listen to what Jesus said in Matthew 25, verses 31 to 34. "But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him: and he will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats: and he will put the sheep on his right and the goats on the left. Then the king will say to those on his right, 'come, you who are blessed of my father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world'".
Now here's the distinction between Jesus and other religious leaders. Other religious leaders, other founders of faiths have said that people's eternal destiny depends upon their response to that founder's God, that religion's God, but Jesus said your and my eternal destiny depends upon our acceptance or rejection of Jesus himself. Not on some God, but our eternal destiny depends upon what we think, what we believe about Jesus himself. And ladies and gentlemen, if Jesus Christ is in fact Lord, the Messiah, that means everything he said is true, and that means you and I had better listen carefully and observed everything he says, because if he is God himself, what he says is true. And that leads to the second uniqueness of Jesus, above all other religious leaders, and that is his unique teachings.
You know, James 1:17 says, "In God, there is no variation or shifting shadow," meaning God doesn't lie. Everything he has said is true, and if Jesus is God, it means everything Jesus taught us is true. What did Jesus teach that is unique above all other religious leaders? Write these things down. First of all, Jesus said, Jesus taught there are two possible eternal destinations when we die. When we die, we don't all go to the same place. Jesus said not everybody goes to heaven. There's not just one destination. There are two possible destinations. Some will go to heaven. Some will go to hell. Did you know Jesus talked more about hell than he did about heaven in the New Testament? Just add up the verses. Jesus taught there is both a heaven and a hell. In Matthew 25, verse 46, Jesus said, "These," that is the unrighteous, "Will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life".
You can't say, "Well, I accept what Jesus said about heaven, but I'm just going to ignore what he says about hell". That's intellectually dishonest, too. Jesus said there are two possible destinations when we die. Secondly, and more disturbingly, Jesus taught that the majority of mankind will spend eternity in hell. Did you know that? Jesus said most people are going to hell. In fact, Jesus goes on to say many of those on the road to hell are people who think they're Christians. "They're people who call me by name". Look at verses 21 to 23 of Matthew 7. Jesus continues, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven: but he who does the will of my father who is in heaven. For many will say to me on that day," that is the Judgment Day, "'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy your name, and in your name cast out demons, and in your name perform many miracles?' and I will declare to them. 'i never knew you: depart for me, you who practice lawlessness'".
Wouldn't that be the worst surprise of your entire life, to awaken after you die in the presence of God, and to realize you were on the wrong road the entire time? Jesus said many people are going to have that surprise, not just the hardened atheist, but many professors of Christianity who will be surprised on the Judgment Day. And that leads to the unique teaching of Jesus that ensures you won't have that surprise, and that is, Jesus offers an exclusive way to heaven. Jesus offers an exclusive way to heaven.
You know, every now and then, I'll be on a talk show and people will say, "Well, pastor, you're just being intolerant when you say that people have to trust in Jesus to be saved. That is just intolerant. That is narrow". And whenever people accuse me of that, I always have the same response. I say, "Well, you know, that's not me saying that. That's what the founder of our faith, Jesus, said". Jesus said in John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes to the father except by me". That's Jesus' claim. There are not many ways to heaven. There is one way to heaven, and it is through him. And by the way, the reason Jesus taught that was he didn't want to keep people out of heaven. He wanted to have as many people come to heaven as possible, but he said, "There's only one way, and that way is through faith in me". John 5:24. "Truly, truly," Jesus said, "I say to you, he who hears my word and believes in him who sent me has eternal life and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life".
Hear me this morning, even sincere followers of other religions are not exempt from this truth. There is only one way for a person to go to heaven, and it is through faith in Jesus Christ. I don't think it's accidental that Jesus gave his greatest teaching about what it means to be a Christian, how a person can have saving faith. He gave that discourse not to a hardened atheist, but to a sincere follower of another religion. Remember in John chapter three, Nicodemus came to Jesus. Nicodemus was a Jew, who came, by the way, to Jesus, who was a Jew, and he wanted to know how he could have eternal life. Now look, if anybody should have qualified for eternal life, it should have been Nicodemus. He was a Jew, one of God's chosen people. He was a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling class of the Jews, part of the elders of the Jewish people. He kept the law as best he could from the time he was born.
If anybody should have been able to earn eternal life by living a good life, it should have been Nicodemus. But Jesus said no in John 3:3. "Truly I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God". Well, that raised all kind of questions for Nicodemus. Born again, what does that mean? You mean climbing back into your mother's womb, and going through that ordeal again? No, Jesus says. You have to be spiritually reborn. Jesus, I still don't understand what you're talking about. And then Jesus gave this illustration, the clearest illustration I know of anywhere in the Bible to explain how you can know for sure you're going to heaven one day. John 3, verses 14 to 16. "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so the Son of Man must be lifted up: that whoever believes may in him have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in the him should not perish, but have eternal life".
What is that about Moses, some serpent, some pole? What in the world is all that weird stuff about? Well, Nicodemus knew the story well. It came from the Old Testament in numbers, chapter 21. Consider the unique claims of Jesus, his unique teaching, and that leads finally to his unique solution. What makes Jesus different than any other religious leader? He offers a unique solution to man's deepest dilemma. You're going to be surprised that I say this, but listen carefully. Not all religions are wrong about everything. I mean, all religions, there's a kernel of truth somewhere in those religions. That's not about the important things, but they get some things right.
I mean, remember a broken clock is right twice a day. And so some religions get some things right. For example, almost all the major world religions say that man is flawed, that we have an internal problem. Most of the religions of the world say that that problem is selfishness, and because of selfishness, we are missing out on what God or some other deity has planned for us. We're all infected with selfishness, but all the other world religions say the solution to that dilemma begins with man. The solution to man's dilemma begins with man. For example, Eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism say that meditation is the answer to selfishness. If you will just meditate, they don't really tell you exactly what to meditate on, but if you'll meditate, you can rid yourself of that cancer of selfishness.
Judaism and Islam, as different as they are, are really alike in this way. Both Judaism and Islam say no, meditation won't do it. You need to keep a list of rules and regulations to satisfy God, to earn your forgiveness. Now, Judaism and Islam differ. They have different Gods and they have different lists of regulations, but they both say the way we get right with whoever God is, is by keeping the law. But Christianity is altogether different. Christianity, first of all says, our dilemma is much more serious than selfishness. At the root of our problem is sin, our rebellion against our Creator, and the Bible says we're all guilty of it. Romans 3:23. "For all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God". And not only that, Roman 6:23 says that the wages, what we deserve for our sin is death, eternal death and separation from God.
Some people say, "Well, I can earn God's forgiveness. I know I've messed up here and there, but maybe I can earn forgiveness". Here's the problem with that, and here's the problem with Judaism and Islam. God doesn't allow selective obedience to his laws. God doesn't say, "Well, as long as you keep 70% of the law or 80% of it, you're okay". In Galatians 3:10, Paul was writing to those who were trying to justify themselves by keeping God's laws, and he reminded them, "For as many as are of the works of the law are under a curse: for it is written," the Old Testament, "Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them".
Do you remember in high school or college every now and then you might have one of those pass/fail courses? Did you all like those as much as I did? I loved pass/fail classes, because as long as you just kept a minimum requirement, just did a minimum amount of work, you passed, and as soon as you met that minimum requirement, you know, you could goof off the rest of the semester. You didn't have to worry about your GPA or earning a higher grade, because it was pass or fail. That was it. Well, you know, when it comes to God's judgment of our lives, did you know God grades on the pass/fail system? He doesn't grade on the curve. He grades on the pass/fail system. That's the good news. Here's the bad news. The minimum requirement to pass and go to heaven is 100% obedience to God's laws. 100%.
In fact, James said it this way in James 2:10. "For whoever keeps the whole law of God and yet stumbles in one point, he has been guilty of all". One little mistake, you fail. You have to be perfect. You have to keep all things written in the book. You say, "Pastor, that's impossible for anyone to do". Bingo. Exactly. That's God's whole point. None of us is good enough to earn God's forgiveness, and that's why God instituted a rescue plan to save us from the punishment we all all deserve for our sins. That's why, 2.000 years ago, he sent his perfect son Jesus to live a perfect life, and yet to die on a cross and suffer the hell, the separation from God, from his father, that you and I deserve to suffer.
And here's the great thing that happens. When you trust in Jesus to be your Savior, when you believe that he paid the penalty that you deserve for your sins, two transactions take place. Jesus suffers. He suffers the penalty for our sin. And secondly, we experience the reward for his perfection. When you trust in Jesus as your Savior, believing that he died for your sins, he suffers the penalty for your sin. He suffered separation from God in some inexplicable way so that you and I never have to be separated from God. But not only that. We get to experience the reward, heaven, because of his perfection.
The apostle Paul said it this way in 2 Corinthians 5:21. "For God made him, Jesus, who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him". Christianity doesn't require that we earn God's forgiveness. In fact, Christianity doesn't even allow for it. Paul said in Ephesians 2:8 and 9, "For by grace you have been saved through faith: and that not of yourselves. It is a gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast".
A number of a years ago, there was a symposium in Great Britain on the world's great religions, and one afternoon, there was a breakout session and some leading scholars were discussing what it is that makes Christianity different from all the other world religions. They were getting into a heated debate, when all of a sudden cs Lewis, the Oxford scholar I mentioned earlier, walked into the room. He heard all of the discussion. He said, "What's the rumpus about"? They said, "Well, we're discussing what is it that makes Christianity unique than all other world religions"? He said, "Oh, that's easy. It's grace".
Grace. Every other religion in the world is spell spelled D-O. Do this, do this, do this, and you might have a chance at heaven. Only Christianity is spelled D-O-N-E. It's all been done. It's been done by Jesus Christ, and nothing, nothing you can do can add to that. And perhaps that is what makes Jesus and Christianity different than all other religions, because Jesus offered the unique solution to our greatest dilemma. It's the dilemma that job expressed in job 9:2, when he asked, "What can a person do to be right with God"? It's all that matters. What can we do to be right with God? Every other religion answers that question work, but Jesus answers that question, grace. For by grace you have been saved through faith.