The MOST Theological Collection: Catholic Apologetics Today: Answers to Modern Critics
"Chapter 11: A Man Sent from God"
We have covered quite a bit of ground. So, before going ahead, let us briefly recall what we have studied so far. We saw that science itself, by rigid checks, proves that miracles do happen today and could have happened in the time of Jesus. Then we examined the proofs that there is a God and answered the objection that there could not be a good God when there are so many evils in the world.
Next we began a study of the Gospels, but looked at them just as ancient documents, rather than as inspired writings. We noted that historicists consider no writing reliable as historical accounts, including the Gospels. We countered their attack by making some distinctions. We acknowledge that the fears of the historicists have some relevance in regard to interpretations of things that are intertwined with ancient culture, but they have no real bearing on observing simple physical facts. Simple physical facts are what we need from the Gospels.
We checked next to see what type of literature the Gospels intended to be, for each type of literature has its own rules for understanding. We found that the Gospels intend to give facts (since the eternity of the writers was at stake) plus interpretations of those facts. We saw some fascinating new evidence of the meticulous care for accuracy that St. Luke showed.
Finally, we asked whether the Gospel writers were able to obtain the facts. That led to asking questions about the writers themselves. We found the evidence excellent, the objections without real basis.
So now we are in a position to ask the Gospels for a few very simple, physical facts (in contrast to interpretations). Actually, we will see that we need precisely six such simple facts to establish a basis for faith.
The first two are that there was a man named Jesus and that He claimed to be a messenger, a prophet sent by God. Later we will discuss whether He was or was not divine. Really, no one doubts that He was named Jesus and that He claimed to be a divine messenger. Yet it is interesting and not without worth to review the evidence.
Tacitus, an outstanding Roman historian, whose accuracy is admired by scholars today, comments in connection with Nero's persecution of Christians as scapegoats after the burning of Rome, "The author of that name, Christ, was executed during the reign of Tiberius, by the procurator Pontius Pilate."58
But we do not need outside testimonies to His existence because the Synoptics are full of things about Him.
Did He claim to be a messenger from God, a sort of prophet? Again, this is entirely obvious, but let us review some of the evidence. One of the most striking things He said in this regard was His claim of authority over the sacred law given by Moses. Not even the greatest of the prophets would have dared to say what He said repeatedly:
"You have heard that it was said to them of old: You shall not kill. And whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment. But I say to you, that whoever is angry with his brother, shall be in danger of the judgment ... You have heard it said to them of old: You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, that whoever looks at a woman to lust after her, has already committed adultery with her in his heart ... And it has been said, whoever puts away his wife, let him give her a bill of divorce. But I say to you, that whoever puts away his wife, excepting for the cause of fornication, causes her to commit adultery: and he who marries her that is put away, commits adultery."(Matt. 5:21-44).
The Jews of His day were so respectful of the Sabbath that they measured precisely how far a man might walk on that day and debated whether one might lawfully eat an egg if the hen had been working on the Sabbath to produce it! Yet Jesus dared to say, "Therefore the Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath also." (Mark 2:28; Matt. 12:8).
People rightly revered the great ancient King Solomon and the prophet Jonah. Yet Jesus told them, "The men of Ninive shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonah. And behold one greater than Jonah is here."
"The queen of the south shall rise in judgment with this generation and shall condemn it: because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold one greater than Solomon is here." (Matt. 12:41-43).
Once John the Baptist sent some of his disciples to Jesus to ask, "Are you he who is to come, or should we look for another? And Jesus in reply said to them: Go and tell John what you have heard and seen. The blind see, and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them." (Matt. 11:3-5; Luke 7:20-22).
It was obvious that He was claiming that He fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 35:5-6, "Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap like a hart, and the tongue of the dumb will sing out of joy."
Similarly, St. Luke tells how He came to His home town of Nazareth and went to the synagogue on the sabbath: "And the book of Isaiah the prophet was given to him. And opening the book he found the place where it was written: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me and he anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor; he has sent me to proclaim liberation to captives and sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, and to announce an acceptable year of the Lord. And closing the book and giving it to the attendant, he sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were attentive to him. He began to say to them: today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing... And they said: Is not this the son of Joseph?.... and he said: Amen I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his own country." (Luke 4:17-24; cf. Matt. 13:53-57; Mark 6:1-4).
Jesus read Isaiah 61:1-2 and declared that He fulfilled the prophecy. If so, He then is the Anointed One; and His comment at the end makes it clear that He is a prophet.
Finally, an especially clear claim, with deep implications, is shown in Luke 10:16 (cf. Matt. 10:40). Jesus tells His disciples as He sends them forth, "He that hears you, hears me; and he that rejects you, rejects me; and he that rejects me, rejects him that sent me." He makes it quite clear that He is sent, and sent by God.
Did He then claim to be a messenger from God, a sort of prophet? Obviously yes, and far more. He dared to revise the sacred law of the Jews; He claimed to be Lord of the Sabbath, greater than Jonas or Solomon; He declared He was the one foretold by Isaiah. He went so far as to affirm, "He who rejects you, rejects me, and the One who sent me."
Need we fear, with the historicists, that these texts are so affected by the culture of the time that we cannot be sure of understanding them? Hardly. The claim is so simple: He says God sent Him. Any nation, any culture can grasp the meaning of that statement with no difficulty.
Of course, the next question will be: Did He prove His claim? Our next chapter will take up that matter.
Note in Context:|
Tacitus, Annals 15.44.