With a great deal of naiveté, I dive into this series with the expectation of keeping it to two parts: the myth and the teachings. Yet, even I see the real possibility of this ballooning into six or seven parts. Brevity has never been my strong suit. 🙂
I will break down the “myth section into four parts: prophecy, personage, power, and proclamations.
By way of introduction, I feel this may be my most controversial set of posts to date, so I thought they deserved a bit of explanation. Many worship Jesus as the anointed of god, and at the same time, as if he was god incarnate. This is a very unusual type of veneration that needs to be addressed. His disciples call themselves Christians, after what they perceive his title to be. They do not call themselves “Jesusites”. I find this quite telling as even the people who do not believe he was god, but only a great teacher, still call him the Christ, and themselves Christians, as in followers of the Christ. Jesusite would be much more appropriate, but is never used. Clearly, there is something more going on than the veneration of a great teacher.
There have been many great teachers, but to my knowledge, few have a discipleship that religiously follows them as if the teacher was something more than a teacher. No one drinks representations of the blood of Gandhi, or wears bullets as jewelry to honor the death of Martin Luther King. We also easily recognize the common human flaws of all great teachers. We do not pretend that they were the perfect archetype of humanity. Sometimes, we even dare to disagree with some of the teachings by those we respect as great teachers. None of these considerations are allowed when considering the teachings of Jesus. He was the perfect being (whatever kind of being he was). He knew everything that was important to know. And he was never wrong about anything he did or proclaimed.
With such an understanding about the one we call Jesus, he cannot be studied, understood, questioned, or doubted. He can only be worshiped. Which of us would not be inclined to bow down to perfection personified? Consider just a few of the things said of him: No one ever suffered a death a gruesome as he did. He was tempted in every conceivable way, and passed with flying colors. He had only healthy relationships with women, never lusting or desiring sexual relations with one, or objectising them in any way.
He was wise meek, yet strong as an ox. He loved everybody he ever met or might have met. There was no sin found in him. Jesus wasn’t even born in the normal fashion of men. God personally inseminated his mother. As such, he was born of a virgin who never knew the lust of a man. Even the stars rearranged themselves to announce his birth. Those who came to see him as a baby born of nondescript parents automatically knew him for the king he was and would become.
He was a child of prophecy. Almost every part of the Hebrew scriptures proclaimed his arrival. Everything that happened before him was but a shadow of his eventual life. All of history points to Jesus, his birth or death being the historical dividing line, whichever you prefer. He is the savior of the world, the door, the way, the truth, the life and light. He is the only way to the father. He is the sacrifice to end all sacrifices.
He did not die, as men die. Rather, he freely gave his life as a gift to humanity, paying a debt we could never pay. But death was only a brief detour. He didn’t stay dead for very long. Rather, he came back better than ever. He taught many. So compelling was his teachings that even the Roman soldiers had to acknowledge that never has a man spoke like this man. He didn’t just rise from the dead as if it was a well-earned nap, but he ascended into Heaven with promised to come back soon with rewards for the faithful.
While he was with us, he caused the lame to walk, the blind to see, the deaf to hear, and the dead to be undead. He calmed raging seas without effort and caused at least one fig tree to die just by telling it to. For him, walking on water was no more difficult than levitating into the sky. If he was not a god, then we have no need for gods. These are just a small sampling of that which is attributed to Jesus. It seems “myth” is a rather mild word for describing such a man.
Why is it so important to separate the myth from the man? After all, history is full of myths about men. Do the myths detract from the greatness of the men in question? Was there really an Alexander the Great, and did he do all that was attributed to him? Was there really a King Author? Did Shakespeare write his plays? Did George Washington cut down a cherry tree for no reason? Were the Write brothers really the first to fly? Was Benedict Arnold really a traitor? The answer to all of these questions, and more, is who cares! In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter because our lives are not formed around the truth or falsity of those particular myths. No one worries that their immortal soul is at stake based on the conquests of Alexander the Great.
Jesus, on the other hand, is a most important myth. If even some of the myths about him did not literally happen, then that changes the world for a great many people. We can afford to get all kinds of details wrong about all kinds of heroes because the outcome simply does not matter. Every detail about Jesus has attached to it, some fine point of doctrine. If Jesus was not born of a virgin, then he is not Jesus the Christ. If Jesus did not miraculously heal the sick, then we had best be spending a lot more money educating our kids in science and biology. If Jesus did not live a perfect life, then perhaps we should abandon that unrealistic expectation in our own lives.
I should have known this couldn’t be done in two posts. 🙂
Next time, I will talk about the prophecy and personage of Jesus.