“The Riddle of Jesus Christ,” by Andrew J. Schatkin
Who Jesus Christ or, rather, Jesus of Nazareth was is a question that has fascinated and teased men and women from the time of his death to the present day. Albert Schweitzer wrote an important book entitled “The Quest of the Historical Jesus” in which he attempted to outline the history of criticism and research as to who Jesus was, or rather who Schweitzer thought he was. For believing Christians, Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died for all mankind, offers them eternal life if they believe in him, reigns in Heaven, and promises to return to establish a new world and cosmic order.
For atheists and agnostics, he is largely nothing. For the modern secular person, he is an interesting person who makes and made rather outrageous claims about himself that they find hard to give credit to. For the modern man of woman, the world is comprised of the natural order and the Biblical worldview as represented by Jesus Christ is quaint, interesting and largely outdated. At the same time, Jesus of Nazareth retains a great attraction if not compulsion for many people to this day both in the West and in the third world, Asia, and Africa. Yet the question remains: “Who is He?”
Let me take a walk through the Gospel of Matthew as an example and see what it says about Jesus Christ and what he did. In the second chapter, Matthew says that three wise man came to Jesus at his birth, guided by a star. In the first chapter, Matthew states that Jesus was born of a virgin and was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Jesus’s life begins with two miraculous events, birth without the aid of a human father, and a star in the sky guiding sages to his birthplace in Bethlehem. In the third chapter of Matthew, Jesus is baptized and at that time a spirit of God descends on him and says he is pleased with Jesus. In the fourth of chapter of Matthew, Jesus is represented as tempted by Satan and offered the kingdoms of this world if he will fall down and worship him. Jesus declines the invitation. In the fifth chapter of Matthew, Jesus engaged in some rather cryptic statements saying the poor in spirit are blessed, the meek will inherit the earth, and those who mourn shall be comforted. In that same chapter, Jesus says that being angry with your brother is the same as killing him and looking at a woman with lust is the commission of adultery in your heart. He also says that everyone who divorces his wife except on the ground of unchastity makes her an adulteress.
Jesus says in the seventh chapter of Matthew that the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life and those who find it are few. In the eighth chapter, Jesus cleanses a leper. In that same chapter, he heals a centurion’s servant by saying a word. In the eighth chapter, Matthew reports Jesus as calming the raging sea. In the ninth chapter of Matthew, he cures a paralytic, stating that his sins are forgiven. In chapter ten of Matthew, the Apostle reports Jesus as saying that he comes not to bring peace but a sword and that he has come to set a man against his father. In the twelfth chapter, Matthew says a blind and dumb man is made to speak by Jesus and regains his sight. In chapter 16 of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is reported as feeding five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fishes, one of many miracles attributed to Jesus of Nazareth. Also in this chapter, Jesus is reported by the apostle Matthew as saying that whoever will save his life will lose it and whoever will lose his life for his sake will find it. In the seventeenth chapter of Matthew, Jesus is transfigured on a mountain, shines like the sun, and his garments become white as light, and Moses and Elijah appear talking with him. In the eighteenth chapter of Matthew, Jesus tells people to become like children to enter the kingdom of heaven. In the twenty-first chapter, Jesus drives the money changers from the temple and heals the blind and lame. Finally, at the end, Jesus is crucified as a criminal and in Matthew appears again to the disciples resurrected from the grave.
What are we to make of this person who says that he has control over nature and even over death itself? For many, he is a myth. After all, people reason how can one person defy the laws of nature and claim to be God himself and overcome death? These stories are myths, some say. Myths, I think, are different. The anthropomorphic myths of the Greeks in which their gods engage in comic and antic peccadilloes bear no resemblance to the elevated ethical teaching and claims of Jesus of Nazareth.
The basis and fundamental point is either Jesus said what he said and did what he did or he didn’t. The adventures of Zeus and the Roman Jupiter and Apollo bear little resemblance to the profound sayings and events found in the Gospels. I have looked at a few of the sayings, deeds, and events in Jesus’s life as reported in the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus of Nazareth is either insane, crazy, or what he said and did was true. Despite the technologically-advanced age in which we live, the person of Jesus Christ and Jesus of Nazareth continues to attract people. He offers them integrity, love, and valuation that no other system of thought and person offers. He makes an outrageous if not insane claim to be God himself and the sole way to God. Whether we accept or reject that claim, it must be said that no man or woman is intellectually in court unless they examine the claim and determine why, after 2,000 years, this man brings people to his person and personhood as no other person in history has done.
Karl Marx, in the l9th century, wrote The Communist Manifesto. He thought he had a solution for the world’s ills. Communism is now gone and passé and has had its day except in a few isolated countries such Cuba and North Korea. Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations, defining capitalism, and one must wonder whether that system will outlast 2,000 years of dynamic, growing, and compelling Christianity, which finds its basis not in a book, a car, not in any one thing, but in a person. It is that person with whom we must at some point in our lives have to come to terms with.
This essay is taken with alterations and modifications from my book entitled “Essays on the Christian Worldview and Others Political, Literary and Philosophical,” chapter 4, published by Hamilton Books in 2011.