Saturday, August 31, 2013

Part 3: The Uniqueness of Jesus in Contrast to Buddha

Whether we realize it or not, people today from the West are taking a look at and embracing some of the varying forms of Buddhism. Celebrities like Richard Gere, Orlando Bloom, Goldie Hawn, Kate Hudson, along with others are some of the influencers that are attracting people to this eastern world religion.  This posting will take a brief look at the key figure of Buddhism and examine him with the life and work of Jesus.  

Who was "the Buddha"?

Siddhartha Gautama, who became "the Buddha," was born around 560 B.C. to an upper-class family. His early years were very comfortable and sheltered. It would not be until when he was in his twenties before he realized that there was great evil and suffering in the world. In order to find some answers to this great problem, he studied with the Hindu masters and practiced asceticism for a brief time.  Realizing both extremes (indulgence and asceticism) to be futile, he chose the middle path of meditation. One day while he was meditating, he is said to have gained enlightenment and reached the state of nirvana. His writings and sayings that were attributed to him as the Buddha, were written approximately 400 years after his death. This being said, there is really no way of knowing if his writings are reliable or not. Gautama "Buddha" died of food poisoning around 480 BC.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Part 2: The Uniqueness of Jesus in Contrast to Socrates

Who Was Socrates?

Socrates was born about 470 B.C. when the Greek Empire was flourishing.  His parents were wealthy and he was well educated in philosophical matters.  He began his campaign to teach truth and right when he heard from the Oracle at Delphi that he was the wisest man in the world.  Socrates was sure that this could not be true, but after speaking with many other wise men, he concluded that it must be true because he was the only one who knew that he was not the wisest man in the world. However, Jesus is clearly superior in many respects.

Do We Have Any of His Writings?

Socrates did not leave any writings, but Plato, his disciple, wrote a great deal about him, though these accounts may reflect as much as Plato’s thoughts as Socrates’.  Plato presents Socrates as a man convinced that God has appointed him the task of promoting truth and goodness by making examine their words and deeds to see if they are true and good.  Vice, in his opinion, was merely ignorance and knowledge led to virtue.  He is credited as the first man to recognize a need to develop a systematic approach to discovering truth, though the system itself was ultimately formulated by Aristotle – a disciple of Plato.  

Similar to Christ, Socrates was condemned to death on the basis of false accusations from authorities who were threatened by his teaching.  He could have been acquitted if he had not insisted on making his accusers and judges examine their own statements and lives, which they were unwilling to do.  He was content to die, knowing that he had carried out his mission to the end, and that death, whether a dreamless sleep or a wonderful fellowship of great men, was good.  

So. . . How is Jesus Superior to Socrates?  

Despite Socrates' conclusions, that it must be true because he was the only one who knew that he was not the wisest man in the world, Jesus is still superior in the following ways:

Jesus had a superior basis for truth:  Jesus like Socrates, often used questions to make men examine themselves, but His basis for knowing truth about men and God was rooted in the fact that He was the all-knowing God.  He said of Himself, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6).  He was, in His very being, the fount from which all truth ultimately flowed.  Likewise, as God, He was the absolute goodness by which all other goodness is measured.  He once asked a young man to examine his words by saying, “Why do you call Me good?  No one is good except God alone?” (Mark 10:18).  Jesus was the ultimate truth and the good which Socrates wanted to understand. 

Jesus gave a more certain knowledge of the truth:  While Socrates taught many true principles, he often was left to speculate about many important issues, such as what happens at death.  Jesus, on the other hand, gave as sure answer to such questions because He had a sure knowledge of man’s destination.  Where reason (Socrates) has insufficient evidence to make a definite conclusion, revelation (Jesus) gives answers that would otherwise would not be known.  And Jesus is the only One who has died, and come back to tell us all about what happens after this life is done.

Jesus’ death was more noble:  Socrates died for a cause and did so with courage, which is certainly to be commended.  However, Jesus died as a substitute for sinners (Mark 10:45) to pay the penalty that they deserved.  Not only did He die for those who were and are His friends, but also for those who were and would remain His enemies (Rom. 5:6-7).  Such a demonstration of love cannot be equaled by any philosophy or philosopher.

Jesus’ proof of His message is superior:  Rational proofs are good when there are sound evidences for their conclusions.  But Socrates cannot support his claim to be sent by God with anything that compares to the miracles of Christ and His resurrection.  In these acts there is a superior proof that Jesus’ message was authenticated by God the Father as true.  

Jesus is the Word of God made flesh, and if we have the Word of God, we have the true message from God on how we should then live.  No philosopher or philosophy can match the teachings and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.  That is what makes Him unique to Socrates.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Part 1: The Uniqueness of Jesus in Contrast to Moses

This first part of comparing Jesus with the great religious leaders, actually comes on the heels of a conversation that I had today with a fellow who thinks that Jesus was nothing more than a great teacher or a great mystic. What I want to do is open this first comparison and contrasting series with a contrasting with one who is close to the Judeo Christian faith.  That personality is Moses.  

Who was Moses?

We really need to understand first off is that Moses was not the founder of the Jewish faith.  The Jewish Nation has its beginnings with Abraham (circa 2000 BC), about 600 years before Moses.  Moses was born into a Hebrew family while they were in Egypt and reared by the daughter of Pharaoh to be a prince. After learning of his Hebrew heritage, he killed an Egyptian and then fled Egypt to become a shepherd. It was at this time that God would call him to free His people.

Moses is the author of the first five books of the Old Testament, known as the Pentateuch or Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Numbers and a great portion of Deuteronomy). Moses is often called the Lawgiver.  Being a Jew Himself, Jesus had no argument with Moses, the prophet who brought the Jewish Law and was faithful to YWHH in bringing the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage as an independent nation.

Moses and Jesus were prophets of the same God and Jesus even said that He did not come to destroy the Law (Moses' writings) but to fulfill it (see Matthew 5:17). Jesus implies that Moses' words are God's words (Matthew 19:4-5 with Genesis 2:24). At the same time, we do find that Jesus is superior to Moses in a few ways. 

How Jesus is unique to Moses.

Moses predicted Jesus’ coming:  In Deuteronomy 18:15-19, Moses predicted that God would raise up a Jewish Prophet with a special message from God.  Anyone who did not believe this Prophet would be judged by God.  This passage has been traditionally interpreted as referring to Messiah.  Genesis 3:15 is also understood by many to refer to Jesus as the seed of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent.  

Jesus had a superior position:  Moses is the greatest of the Old Testament prophets, but Jesus was more than a prophet.  As the Book of Hebrews says, “Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later; but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house” (Hebrews 3:5-6, italics added).  While Moses served God, Jesus was declared to be the Son of God with the right to rule over all servants.

Jesus’ miracles were superior:  Moses certainly performed great miracles of the same kind that Jesus performed, but Christ’s miracles were greater in degree.  Moses lifted up a bronze serpent to give healing to those who would look, but he never made the blind to see or the deaf to hear.  Also there is nothing in Moses’ ministry to compare with the Resurrection.

Jesus’ claims were superior to Moses:  Simply put, Moses was not God; Jesus is.  Moses never made a claim to be God and did nothing other than fulfill his role as a prophet.  Jesus did claim to be God and provided miraculous evidence to prove it.

As we can see, Moses was a great leader and prophet of Israel. While Moses was a servant of the Lord, he never got to see the promised land, but I do believe that when he died on Mount Nebo, it was God who buried him and took care of his body. Jesus shows prophesy by Moses fulfilled. Jesus ultimately made the greatest sacrifice by dying on the cross, but rising from the dead three days later.  Therefore, I must conclude that Jesus is by far superior to His servant, Moses.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Series Introduction: What Makes Jesus Unique?

Some of my deepest thinking is during the times I am prepping for the day. Sometimes I think the shower is the "think tank." The other day was one of those days, in thinking about the uniqueness of Jesus Christ.

As an evangelical minister/apologist, I was thinking of Jesus in line with His humanity. Many people, outside of the Christian faith like to see Jesus as merely a human being and nothing more. Others see Him as one who had special powers to heal, and sage words. But if we were to look at Jesus as merely a human being who spoke wise words and did great deeds, he would not be all that different than some of the other great human beings who carried with them similar virtues.

However Jesus was more than a virtuous human being. I have run into folks, professing a form of skepticism, who have claimed that they like the morals of Jesus, but they do not see the need to follow Jesus as their Savior.

What makes Jesus unique is not just His words about the Kingdom of God or man's fallen condition. What makes Jesus unique is not the fact of Him doing something miraculous (some attest magic) deed. No. What makes Jesus unique goes far beyond His works, short of His crucifixion and resurrection.  He also claimed to be God in human flesh.

Some would say that Jesus never claimed to be God or the Son of God. Oh really?

What should we do with His statements like, those who have "seen Him (Jesus) have seen the Father" (see John 14:9).  Jesus' other claims are many, and they vary.

For example, in John 8:58, He stated that He existed before Abraham.  In John 5, He stated that He was equal with the Father (vv. 17, 18).  In Mark's gospel, He claimed the ability to forgive sins (2:5-7); and this is something that the Bible teaches was something that only God alone could do (see Isaiah 43:25).

This posting is an introduction to the uniqueness of Jesus of Nazareth. In this posting, I have touched on briefly His claims to deity. Granted He did not come out and say, "Hey look everyone, I am God." He proved it by His words and backed it up with His actions of forgiving sin, and even raising Jairus' daughter and Lazarus.

In the next postings that follow in this series I am going address what makes Jesus unique to some of the other religious figures in history, i.e., Buddha, Moses, Mohammed, and others. In my think tank times I thought upon that fact that Buddha never claimed to be God. Moses as great of a man that he was, never claimed to be one with Yahweh.  Even Mohammed never identified himself as "Allah." Nor will we find a pagan religion like the one led by Zoroaster ever claiming to be Ahura Mazda.

No. What separates Christianity from the rest of the religions out there is not just the works of Jesus, but His claims to be divine and backing it up with His death and resurrection. No other religious leader did such a thing.