JOHN PEARRELL: Will you accept the authority of Jesus or follow what you want to believe?

Last week we began a written dialogue on the new spirituality, the idea that we can have our own designer gods. When one suggests that maybe such an approach is not right, immediately the names start to fly. He's "intolerant," "narrow-minded," "bigoted."

The problem comes when we stop to realize that if the Bible is correct, Jesus made this claim for Himself, didn't he? "Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'" (John 14:6, NIV).

Please note that in this claim, Jesus invokes a universal negative: "No one" means exactly that.

Normally, we try to get around this claim by once again resorting to our designer spirituality argument or the Jefferson approach.

We begin to cut and paste, taking what we don't like of the Scripture and claiming that it wasn't a part of the original, that Jesus never made such a claim, but that His followers foisted that claim upon Him.

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, that is where we will take our stand and we will not be convinced by any amount of hard evidence that may lead us to have to honestly deal with the claim.

One of the reasons for this is that if we do admit that this good moral teacher made such a claim, now we have to call Him intolerant, narrow-minded and bigoted.

Just a quick aside here. Jesus is the only religious leader to ever make such a claim. None of the others would have dared to make such a claim. All other religions declare their way to be the right way, but these leaders never claim to be that way themselves: Jesus did. You've got to consider that.

In John 8, Jesus is having a debate with some who in verse 31 claim to be people who had believed in Him, but who are now arguing with Him over His claims about Himself. If you read to the end of the chapter, they finally pick up stones to stone him. They get the fact that He claimed to be the Yahweh of the Old Testament (John 8:58-59).

One has to ask, why would those who believed in Him (John 8:31), end up arguing with Him and then seek to kill Him? Perhaps for the same reason many who claim to be Christian today do the same thing. They accept some of his teaching but reject the core of his message.

Like these early followers, many pay attention to Jesus' teachings but they refused to commit themselves to Him. The core of the Christian message is not what Jesus taught, it is who He claimed to be. The vast majority of people in Jesus' day found that claim clear and offensive enough to murder Him (though only by His willingness to die -- see Matthew 26:53-54).

C.S. Lewis was right when he penned, "We may note in passing that He was never regarded as a mere moral teacher. He did not produce that effect on any of the people who actually met Him. He produced mainly three effects: hatred, terror, adoration. There was no trace of people expressing mild approval."

That seems to be true in Jesus' day and it remains true today.

The real question is, are we going to follow a path of spirituality based solely upon what we happen to want to believe, or are we going to accept the authority of the only man whose life and deeds backed up His amazing claim to be God in the Flesh?

Yes, I know that there have been lunatics and megalomaniacs down through history who claimed to be God, but none of them could back up that claim. Jesus did.

He performed many recorded miracles, the apex of which was His own physical resurrection from the dead. Josephus, a non-believer and early Jewish historian, wrote of this Jesus that He was indeed a doer of many miracles and writes that His body did indeed vanish from a tomb guarded by 30 Romans and 1,000 Temple Guards.

He observes that with this much security, the body couldn't have been stolen and says, "Some people actually assert that he had risen; others retort that his friends stole him away. I for one cannot decide where the truth lies. A dead man cannot raise by his own power; but he might rise if aided by the prayer of another religious man.

"Again, if an angel or other heavenly being, or God Himself, takes human form to fulfil his purpose, and after living among men dies and is buried, he can rise again at will." (Josephus: "The Jewish Wars").

Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information visit the Gateway website at www.gatewaycommunity.org