My intent in writing this monthly article is to provide you with a reasonable response to the many objections others throw up as reasons for rejecting the Christian faith. This, of course, comes under the heading of Christian apologetics (using evidence and reasons to express why someone should believe the truth claims of Christianity), which is rooted in 1 Peter 3:15 — “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
This month I would like to share a few thoughts regarding how the character of Christ provides a powerful reason for the hope that is in you.
Those who personally witnessed the life of Jesus had the opportunity to draw their own conclusions as to who He was. He said He was not “a way” to a relationship with His Father in heaven, but rather He is the way (John 14:6), and He backed up this incredible claim with both His miracles and His message. The first-century audience saw Jesus turn water into wine, multiply five loaves and two fish to feed thousands, walk on water, calm a storm and heal everything from blindness to leprosy. On three separate occasions, He even raised the dead!
Two thousand years later, we too have the opportunity to witness the life of Jesus from the testimony of the Scriptures in order to draw our own conclusions. To summarize what Oxford literary scholar C. S. Lewis said about the claim that Jesus is merely a legend, “No first century writer could have invented such a character as Jesus Christ.”
Is Christianity intolerant?
In my pastoral ministry I have many opportunities to speak with people who claim that Christianity is “intolerant” and “hateful.” But is it? To be sure, there are some who profess to be Christians who are indeed intolerant and hateful, but hatred is totally antithetical to the character of its Founder. Jesus loved the sinner, welcomed the prostitute, and spoke words of comfort to those ostracized by society. While He was hanging in unimaginable agony on the cross, He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Intolerant and hateful? Hardly! Jesus modeled a life of love for His followers then and His followers today. He loved those who loved Him, He loved those who were indifferent to Him, and He loved those who hated Him.
Jesus welcomed those the religious elite rejected. He welcomed the outcast and the downcast. He welcomed the despised and the diseased. He welcomed the hurting and the hopeless. He welcomed the socially unacceptable of every kind, often rebuking His own disciples for trying to block others from coming to Him.
The Pharisees and the teachers of the law—the religious elite—said accusingly, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus replied, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Luke 5:30-31). Jesus was invited to dinner at the home of a Pharisee named Simon; a sinful woman entered the house, stood behind Jesus, and began wetting His feet with her tears and wiping them with her hair. “If this man were a prophet,” Simon thought smugly, “he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is — that she is a sinner” (Luke 7:39). Of course Jesus knew who she was! And He promptly related a parable to Simon about loving those who needed forgiveness to prove it. The kind of humble, selfless, giving character that Jesus Christ displayed had never been seen before. It was, in a phrase, otherworldly, and His actions bore witness to the truth that He was who He said He was: the Savior of the world.
When Jesus was questioned by the Roman governor Pilate, after the religious elite had already condemned Him without being able to find two witnesses who could agree upon any of the false accusations brought against Jesus, Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man” (Luke 23:4). Pilate even tried to get Jesus released! Even the pagan, unbelieving Pontius Pilate could find no fault in the character of Christ.
And when Jesus had breathed His last on the cross, we have this testimony from the Roman centurion, who stood in front of Jesus and saw how he died and said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39). How remarkable to see that the character of Christ testified to the credibility of His claims—not only in how
He lived, but also in how He died.
The character of Christ
The skeptical nineteenth-century historian W. E. H. Lecky said this of Jesus:
“The character of Jesus has not only been the highest pattern of virtue, but the strongest incentive in its practice, and has exerted so deep an influence, that it may be truly said that the simple record of three years of active life has done more to regenerate and to soften mankind than all the disquisitions of philosophers and all the exhortations of moralists.”
H.G. Wells was an English writer who produced such science fiction novels as The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds. As one of the most famous and accomplished writers of the 20th century, Wells was not a Christian, but when writing on the historicity of Jesus Christ, he made a claim that is startling for an unbeliever:
“I am a historian. I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history.”
The libraries of the world are filled with autobiographies and stories of great people from the beginning of recorded history. All of them, as great as they may have been, were subject to the same character flaws that are present in all of us . . . all except One, and His name is Jesus Christ. The life Jesus lived testifies to the claims He made, and we all must decide for ourselves what we believe about Him.
It is my prayer that those you share the good news of the Gospel with will come to the same conclusion the disciples reached when Jesus asked them, “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered for the group, saying, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:13). The One who displayed such unparalleled character, He who knew no sin, became sin for us that in Him we might become the righteousness of God . . . and bear witness of His righteousness to a world that desperately needs a healing touch from Him.
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!
Tommy Boland is senior pastor of Cross Community Church in Deerfield Beach. He blogs regularly at tommyboland.com.