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Friday, January 10, 2014

Why should I believe in Jesus?

I have always had a scientific mind. In fact, I knew as a child that I wanted to be a scientist. One of my girlfriends even called me a computer, long before computers were popular. I began my science career at about age 18, and continued until 2010. With a skeptical, analytical, and cynical mind, believing in Jesus was a challenge. So, how can I convince someone not only that Jesus was an actual historical figure let alone being God? After all, he lived 2000 years ago, long before cameras, tape recorders or the internet. 

It turns out that there is a lot of evidence not only that Jesus existed as a person, but that he is God. Most modern scholars believe that Jesus did actually exist (see in Wikipedia). Their testimony solves one part of the puzzle, that he actually existed, especially since it has been suggested that he was made up by the Catholic Church to parallel some secular gods. 

But what about Jesus being God? What evidence exists? There is obviously the testimonies of Jesus's followers. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and John were written by men that followed Jesus. They heard and saw Jesus first-hand. And, their writings were completed within 50 or so years after the crucifixion of Jesus which, for that time period, is essentially instantaneous.

You may say "Wait a minute. How do we know that these guys didn't get together and make this up?". Well, you have the fact that, between the day Jesus was crucified and Pentecost, something happened to these followers. A bunch of people, terrified for their lives and holed up in a room, suddenly got the courage to not only step out of the room, but to actively preach the gospel of Jesus. And, 11 of the 12 apostles of Jesus (including Judas's replacement) were executed for preaching of Jesus. Do you think they would have allowed themselves to be killed for something they knew to be a lie? And, these fishermen, tax collectors, etc, who certainly were not the well educated priests, Sadducees or Pharisees, were able to confound the religious leaders with their knowledge and insight into Jewish law and teachings.

In addition, much secular literature attests to the divinity of Jesus. From "Why Trust Jesus?: An Honest Look at Doubts, Plans, Hurts, Desires, Gripes, Questions, and Pleasures" we can read in Chapter 6: "Josephus, who was not a Christian, wrote: At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. Many people from among the Jews and other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders". Furthermore, "Dr. Norman Geisler and Frank Turek have noted: Including Josephus, there are ten known non-Christian writers who mention Jesus within 150 years of his life. By contrast, over the same 150 years, there are nine non-Christian sources who mention Tiberius Caesar, the Roman emperor at the time of Jesus. So discounting all the Christian sources, Jesus is actually mentioned by one more source than the Roman emperor. If you include the Christian sources, authors mentioning Jesus outnumbered those who mentioned Tiberius 43 to 10!" 

One more point involves St. Paul. Originally named Saul, he was a Pharisee, and a rabid practitioner and believer in Jewish law. He actively sought out and executed the early Christians. On his was to Damascus (Acts 9), it is recorded that Jesus (who had already been crucified) blinded him and spoke to him. Paul got his sight back after Ananais, a follower of Jesus, laid his hands on Paul. St. Paul then went on to preach the gospel of Jesus to the gentiles. St. Paul was eventually executed by the Romans for his preaching. How can one refute this testimony, this change of heart? Again, St. Paul certainly would not have suffered and died for something he knew to be a lie. What other explanation is there than that Jesus existed as a real person, and the Jesus is God?




References
Why Trust Jesus?: An Honest Look at Doubts, Plans, Hurts, Desires, Gripes, Questions, and Pleasures (2010) by Dave Stewart, ISBN 0802489729, Moody Publishers

The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, 2nd Edition