“Was Jesus Just a Good Teacher?”Categories: M. W. Bassford, Sermons
Every so often, you run into something that makes you scratch your head. So it was with a survey I read about last week. Though the full results of the survey won’t be released until the day after tomorrow, the survey conductors released a few advanced snippets. Among these, they found that a majority of Americans no longer believe that Jesus was God, which is sad but not surprising.
However, the one that blew my mind was that 30 percent of self-identified evangelicals also agreed that Jesus was a good teacher but not God. Even the supposed Christian conservatives in our country are beginning to question the deity of Christ! That shocks me, and when I see such a surprising result, normally I start questioning the integrity of the survey conductors. However, the outfit in question is Ligonier Ministries, a respectable group that has been doing surveys like this for years.
I decided, then, that we need to talk about this. Lots of people apparently think it’s reasonable to believe that Jesus was merely a human being who said lots of good things. Is it? This evening, let’s ask if indeed Jesus was just a good teacher.
In order to answer this question, I think there are three main pieces of evidence we need to consider, evidence from the mouth of Jesus Himself. The first of these is that HE CLAIMED TO BE THE SOLE SOURCE OF TRUTH. Look at His exchange with Thomas in John 14:5-6. We are very used to this idea. We sing hymns that praise Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life. Many of us can quote John 14:6 from memory.
However, I think that because we are so used to it, we no longer are able to see how shocking the words of Jesus are here. To illustrate how shocking they are, let’s take them out of the mouth of Jesus and put them in somebody else’s mouth—mine.
Imagine, brethren, that I’m preaching along one Sunday morning, and in the middle of the sermon I say, “I, Matthew W. Bassford, am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” What would you think of that? I strongly suspect that if I were to say such a thing in deadly earnest, by next Sunday, I no longer would be employed by the Jackson Heights church!
Why? Because for a mere human being to make that claim would be extraordinarily arrogant. Even Moses, the great giver of the Law, never claimed to be the way, the truth, and the life. In making that claim, Jesus put Himself over every other teacher of the Law. He condemned every other religion in existence as false.
What’s more, He even put Himself over the Law itself. Think about it. For thousands of years, the Jews had regarded God’s word as truth. It was their way to pleasing Him. If they obeyed, God would give them life. In saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” Jesus is telling His hearers, “You need to quit following the Law and start following Me instead.”
Anybody who makes that claim about themselves cannot be merely a good human teacher. Either they are leading people astray, or they are a being of such transcendent wisdom that it is right to reject everything else in favor of them. Jesus did make that claim, so it is impossible for us to believe that He merely is a good teacher.
Second, HE CLAIMED TO BE THE MESSIAH. Look at the exchange between Jesus and the Samaritan woman in John 4:25-26. This, I think, is another shocking claim that has lost its shock value because we are so used to it. In our society, it’s probably true that most people think that “Christ” is Jesus’ last name.
Of course, “Christ” is not a name. It is a title, and it means the same thing that “Messiah” does. It means “Anointed One”. Even this doesn’t mean a whole lot to people in the 21st-century United States, but it would have meant everything in first-century Palestine.
Under the Law of Moses, three classes of people were ceremonially anointed: prophets, priests, and kings. Various prophecies throughout the Old Testament predicted the coming of one who simultaneously would be a prophet like Moses, a priest like Melchizedek, and a king like David. When He came, this Anointed One would deliver God’s people from their enemies once for all.
More than anything else, the people of Jesus’ day wanted to see the Messiah come. Not surprisingly, lots of people tried to take advantage. Both the New Testament and secular historians record false Christs, people who claimed to be the Messiah and weren’t.
It was possible for somebody to be a false Christ. What wasn’t possible was to make that claim and simultaneously be a good human teacher. If you said you were the Christ, either you were, or you were a deceiver on a massive scale. If you were the Christ, then you also were the Redeemer, the Savior, the Holy One of God. The true Christ wasn’t somebody who came to pass along a few wise little parables. He was somebody who came as the greatest fulfillment of divine prophecy ever to be.
Finally, of course, Jesus could not merely be a good human teacher because HE CLAIMED TO BE GOD. Consider what Jesus says to some opponents of His in John 8:56-59. Jesus begins this exchange by asserting something that others in His day would have found ridiculous—that Abraham, 2000 years ago, looked ahead prophetically and rejoiced to see the coming of Jesus.
Naturally, the Jews jump all over this. Who does Jesus think He is, to make such a claim? In response, Jesus tells them, “Before Abraham was, I am.” This is not Jesus mixing up His verb tenses. Instead, He is taking the divine name of God from Exodus 3 and He is appropriating it for Himself. He is claiming to be eternal, pre-existent, and divine.
The Jews understand perfectly well what Jesus is saying here, so well, in fact, that their next action is to pick up stones to stone Him to death. These aren’t Greeks who accept the existence of gods and demigods in human form. For them, for any human being to claim to be God is blasphemy. Such a one deserved to die.
I’m sure that throughout this sermon, some of you have been thinking about C.S. Lewis’s “Liar, Lunatic, or Lord” argument, and this is where it comes to a point. Jesus claims to be God. That means that one of three things must be true of Him. Either He was a con artist, He was out of His mind, or He really was the God He claimed to be.
Indeed, this claim completely forecloses the possibility that Jesus merely was a good human teacher. Good human teachers don’t claim to be God. Evil human teachers might make such a claim, or crazy human teachers, but not good human teachers.
In order to believe, then, that Jesus was a good human teacher and nothing more, these 30 percent of evangelicals must reject the words of Jesus Himself. Whatever they say about themselves, they are not Christians in any meaningful sense. For us to be Christians, we must accept not only His goodness and humanity, but also His exclusivity, His Messiahship, and His deity. There is no other way.