wk 3 | Liar, Lunatic, or Lord
Intro and recap of series.
While many have asked and offered to answer the question, “Who is Jesus?”, no one can deny the evidence that He was a real historical person and that His life radically altered human history. As world-renowned historian Jaroslav Pelikan put it: “It is from His birth that most of the human race dates its calendars, it is by His name that millions curse, and in His name that millions pray.”
People of all different religions speak highly of Jesus. One of the main things people say about Jesus who don’t believe in Him as Savior is that He was a good teacher, or a great prophet.
The first message of this series, we looked at who Jesus claimed to be—God. He didn’t just claim to be God, but He acted like it. Based on this reality, C.S. Lewis, in his famous book Mere Christianity proposed a trilemma. Three options of who Jesus could be based on His claims and actions.
C.S. Lewis said,
“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 … Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.”
If this doesn’t make sense to you, he even wrote it into The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. After Lucy went into Narnia and told her siblings but they didn’t believe her, listen to what Lewis has the Professor say to them about the situation:
“Logic!” said the Professor half to himself. “Why don’t they teach logic at these schools? There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn’t tell lies and it is obvious she is not mad. For the moment then, and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume she is telling the truth.”
Jesus was either liar, lunatic, or Lord.
Was Jesus a liar?
If Jesus knew He was not God and taught and acted like He was, He would be a liar.
If Jesus knew He was not God, then He was lying. But if he was a liar, then He also was a hypocrite, as He told others to be honest, whatever the cost. If that’s the case, then we can say that would make Jesus unspeakably evil, as He deliberately told others to forsake their religious beliefs and trust Him for their eternal destiny. And He even died for his claims and actions.
If Jesus was a liar, He was also a hypocrite and a fool.
Could such a massive deceiver teach unselfish, ethical truths and live the morally upright life that Jesus did? This notion is ridiculous.
In his book Cold-Case Christianity, cold-case homicide detective J. Warner Wallace lists three motives at the heart of any misbehavior: financial greed, sexual or relational desire, or power.
Jesus wasn’t interested in any of them. He actually denounced all of these in His teachings. The New Testament writers tell us that He taught His disciples to give to the needy, and to not store up earthly treasures. And no evidence exists that Jesus was motivated by lust or relationships, but was a single celibate His whole life.
The Gospels stress the respect that Jesus displayed toward women, including those who followed and supported His ministry. And rather than gaining power for Himself, Jesus modeled serving others and giving without expectation getting anything in return, even to the wicked and ungrateful. He taught His disciples to do the same. If Jesus had been interested in power, He would have just done what everyone long expected of the Messiah. They thought He was going to be the king who took over the government from Roman oppression. Instead, He shunned that power.
There is absolutely no indication that Jesus was a liar. There is actually much evidence to the contrary.
Was Jesus a lunatic?
The passage we read in Mark 3 is very revealing in regards to these next two points.
We clearly see what His family thought when He started doing the things he did and saying the things He said. I want you to think about your siblings. What if they started saying some of the things Jesus said? What would be your response? “You’re crazy!”
If Jesus wasn’t actually God but was saying the things He said, and actually believing them, He would be a lunatic. Could He have sincerely thought He was God? After all, someone can be both sincere — but also sincerely wrong.
Christian philosopher Peter Kreeft clearly shows why we must reject the option of Jesus being a lunatic:
“A measure of your insanity is the size of the gap between what you think you are and what you really are. If I think I am the greatest philosopher in America, I am only an arrogant fool; if I think I am Napoleon, I am probably over the edge; if I think I am a butterfly, I am fully embarked from the sunny shores of sanity. But if I think I am God, I am even more insane because the gap between anything finite and the infinite God is even greater than the gap between any two finite things, even a man and a butterfly. Well, then, why not liar or lunatic? But almost no one who has read the Gospels can honestly and seriously consider that option. The savviness, the canniness, the human wisdom, the attractiveness of Jesus emerge from the Gospels with an unavoidable force to any but the most hardened and prejudiced reader.”
“Jesus has in abundance precisely those three qualities which liars and lunatics most conspicuously lack: (1) His practical wisdom, His ability to read human hearts …. (2) His deep and winning love, His passionate compassion, His ability to attract people and make them feel at home and forgiven, His authority; and above all (3) His ability to astonish, His unpredictability, His creativity. Liars and lunatics are all so dull and predictable! No one who knows the Gospels and human beings can seriously entertain the possibility that Jesus was a liar or a lunatic, a bad man.”
Remember what C.S. Lewis said about this point. This would put Jesus on the level of a poached egg. There is zero evidence that Jesus was crazy, as our Mark passage demonstrates. And we can see this more clearly from the next point.
Was Jesus Lord?
I think the family of Jesus is good testimony to this point. The same ones who were saying “He is out of His mind” ended up believing in Him and following Him.
His brothers didn’t believe in Him and His mission at first.
John 7:5 – For not even his brothers believed in him.
But I want you to see their reaction after His death and resurrection. And let it fill you with awe and wonder. And let it drive you to make the same decision about Jesus.
After the resurrection, see who is present in the upper room with the disciples.
Acts 1:14 – All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.
His brothers believed in Him and followed Him after His resurrection.
What were they all in one accord with? Their belief and mission. That Jesus really was who He said He was. And they should live their lives to proclaim this truth.
We can see this evidenced by His brother James. He became the leader in the church in Jerusalem and was listed among the apostles.
Galatians 1:19 – But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother.
Galatians 2:9 – and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.
We see also that James wasn’t the only brother who believed.
1 Corinthians 9:5 – Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?
The best explanation for James’ change of heart is that he saw his brother after He was raised from the dead. If you think someone is either a liar or a lunatic and then you see everything they said come true, what would you do? You would change your mind. You would say, “They weren’t lying! They’re not crazy!” That’s what happened here. They didn’t believe in Him, but He died, their mom was even right there, and then they saw Him alive, just as He said would happen.
1 Corinthians 15:7 – Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.
If Jesus is not liar or lunatic, He must be your Lord.
How do we know James really believed this? How do we know James made Jesus Lord of his life? There are many early accounts of what happened to James, recorded outside of the Bible. Here are some.
Clement of Alexandria relates that “James was thrown from the pinnacle of the temple, and was beaten to death with a club.”
Hegesippus cites that “the Scribes and Pharisees placed James upon the pinnacle of the temple, and threw down the just man, and they began to stone him, for he was not killed by the fall. And one of them, who was a fuller, took the club with which he beat out clothes and struck the just man on the head.”
Eusebius wrote that “the more sensible even of the Jews were of the opinion that this (James’ death) was the cause of the siege of Jerusalem, which happened to them immediately after his martyrdom for no other reason than their daring act against him. Josephus, at least, has not hesitated to testify this in his writings, where he says, ‘These things happened to the Jews to avenge James the Just, who was a brother of Jesus, that is called the Christ. For the Jews slew him, although he was a most just man.’”
Eusebius also states that the scribes and the pharisees…“threw down the just man… [and] began to stone him: for he was not killed by the fall; but he turned, and kneeled down, and said: “I beseech thee, Lord God our Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
And, while they were there, stoning him to death, one of the priests, the sons of Rechab, the son of Rechabim, to whom testimony is borne by Jeremiah the prophet, began to cry aloud, saying: “Cease, what do ye? The just man is praying for us.” But one among them, one of the fullers, took the staff with which he was accustomed to wring out the garments he dyed, and hurled it at the head of the just man.
And so he suffered martyrdom; and they buried him on the spot, and the pillar erected to his memory still remains, close by the temple. This man was a true witness to both Jews and Greeks that Jesus is the Christ.”
In the first century, when people were given a number of answers about Jesus’ identity, Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:15-16). Like Peter, and like James, both pillars of the first church or Jesus, and both who suffered and died horribly for their belief, we can decide to believe that Jesus made truthful claims about being God — and then accept or reject Him as our personal Savior.
God’s Word tells us that we must decide for ourselves whether Jesus is Lord. And we must act on it.
John 3:16-17 – For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
John 21:31 – These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.